British writer Steven Moffat doesn’t pay much heed to critics of his work. And given his list of credits, which include the original Coupling, quite possibly the funniest sitcom of all time, as well as his work on Doctor Who, Jekyll and Sherlock, not to mention his numerous BAFTA nominations (including three wins), why should he? But one criticism did get to Moffat: the fact that since he’d taken over Doctor Who there had been almost no gay content.
Yes, Doctor Who is the show that gave the world Torchwood‘s Captain Jack Harkness played by out actor John Barrowman. And Moffat even wrote “The Empty Child,” the episode in which Captain Jack first appeared. But make no mistake, Captain Jack was the brainchild of Russell T Davies, the man who revived the Who franchise in the first place.
But the latest season of Doctor Who has seen not one, not two, but three episodes with GLBT characters. The first two episodes of this season — “The Impossible Astronaut” and “Day of the Moon” — featured Mark Sheppard as Canton Delaware, a former FBI agent who ends up coming out to none other than President Richard Nixon. Then the mid-season finale “A Good Man Goes to War,” included a gay couple who were also soldiers.
What accounts for the sudden uptick in Doctor Who‘s queerness? We talked to Moffat at the Television Critics Association press tour to find out.
AfterElton: The first two episodes of this season with the Canton Delaware character were terrific. I love what you did with the character, and I wonder if you could talk about where the idea came from and sort of the genesis of it.
Steven Moffat: I wanted a sort of kick-ass American agent, but he’d have to be someone off-centered because he’d have to be good with the Doctor. Someone who would trust the Doctor more than the President, which is a weird thing. Well, two things. One, I wanted to find ways that he wasn’t your typical agent, and I wanted to really annoy Nixon. [laughs] And I thought that would do it.
But also someone pointed out to me [that] in the previous Doctor Who, the first one I had run, there were no gay or bisexual characters and I was sort of slightly appalled. I was thinking, I’m not like that at all. I would never have done that. So I was thinking, “Dammit, it’s the one criticism I’ve ever listened to. Good point, Doctor Who should always be…” It’s not because it’s politically and morally correct. It’s right for Doctor Who, isn’t it? It’s cheeky and off-centered. And fun.
AE: I’ve think you’ve done such a good job with all the different characters and representing the world the way it is. At some point, not having a gay character is like not having a black character.
SM: Yeah. But you can’t be driven by that. I just think you should be open to it. It makes Canton more fun. The moment you hear that a whole other life just unfolds in your head.
Mark Sheppard as Canton Delaware
AE: Any chance we’re going to see Captain Jack dropping in on Doctor Who any time soon?
SM: People keep asking and I’m sure we will at some point. It was actually me who wrote him in the first time. We will when we have a great story. One of the great dangers of bringing back someone for the hell of it is all you get is a great entrance and then what are you going to do? What are you going to do after that? You just brought him back to do something with him. There is no rule against it. There is a rule against, I think, the Doctor turning up on Torchwood. You know, it’s too naughty. And kids would want to watch it and that wouldn’t be right.
AE: What about Russell Tovey? Will we see him again?
SM: I think Russell Tovey was great. I love the little thing that happened with Captain Jack. That was really sweet cause because it gave them both a little happy ending. I think it’s a measure of how much attitudes have changed, that’s how people really think. I think that the most remarkable things from Doctor Who from that point of view was, if you remember in Utopia… It has a scene where Captain Jack and the Doctor are lightly comically flirting with each other and it’s rather charming. It’s just played for charm, it’s not really suggestive that they are really flirting. Just silly old souls. And that is, I think that’s how you change attitudes. It’s warm and lovely and normal, and no one worries about it.
AE: Thank you very much.
SM: My pleasure.