Bi Baiting in Doctor Who?

We have heard a lot in recent years about ‘queerbaiting’. The careful construction by TV show producers of characters in TV shows so as to suggest that otherwise heterosexual characters might be bisexual or gay. Programme producers have to play the innocent while the fan base hypothesise what might be going on beyond the ‘canon’ of the show’s scripts, and if the possibilities the fans come up with encourage more queer viewers to tune in it’s only good for the ratings.

This fan reinterpretation dates back at least as far as the original series of Star Trek with the suggestion that Spock and Kirk had a thing going on. It’s a difficult thing: on the one hand, you could never have got away with showing a relationship between two men on a programme like that when it was made, on the other it’s a sad reflection of what range of closeness between two straight men is allowed if they can only work together so long and so well if there’s a secret romantic dimension. If they are a couple you have to admire Jim’s commitment to misleading the crew through a long trail of romantic entanglements with the women of every planet they visit.

But the suggestion of secretly queer characters continues today, even though you can show gay and bi characters a lot more easily these days. Perhaps most often cited modern programme is American show Supernatural, but you don’t have to cross the Atlantic to find examples. Whether Arthur and Merlin bickering like an old married couple in Merlin or the intense closeness between Holmes and Watson in Sherlock, there’s a fair bit of it about.

It mostly seems to be about male pairings: but then, so much television focuses on male characters.

Which brings us to Doctor Who, currently produced by Steve Moffat. It was Moffat who back in the 1990s gave us the TV show Coupling. One of the six central characters of that show, Jane, was eager to proclaim her bisexuality whenever she felt she wasn’t the centre of attention, but all her flirting and dating was with men, opening up the question of whether this was bi representation at all, let alone positive.

Saturday’s Doctor Who, episode four of the current run “Knock Knock” seemed to give a rare bit of bi baiting with gay characters though. Bill, who was introduced as the new sidekick character three weeks earlier rocks this time up in a pink, purple and blue striped teeshirt (a full-on bisexual flag: as soon as we find out where she got it, it’ll become staff uniform at BCN Towers). The joy of the bi flag in this context is that so few cis heterosexual viewers know what it represents compared to a rainbow, but compared to the relationship between Kirk and Spock it’s a klaxon wailing.

It would be disappointing in a way. All the publicity and plot thus far says she’s the first lesbian sidekick, and telly needs to represent all our LGBT strands.

But pair the bi flag top with how Bill handles a failed bit of flirting with her by a young man: she rebuffs him with “I get that you’re into me but, um, sorry you’re not my type. Just that I tend to go for girls usually, so…”

For the bi representation hungry viewer, there’s plenty to be read into a bi flag and her being “usually” into women. After all, if this were an assumed-straight character we’d be reading a lot of hints into that.

Is Bill letting an eager young man down gently or are Auntie trying to queerbait a bi audience with hinting Bill isn’t as lesbian as the press releases claim? And if so, is it any better being teased from the other side?


Doctor Who still: BBC