When the Doctor Who revival landed on the BBC in 2005, I was nine years old, which was really the optimum age to be swept into the TARDIS and whisked off on adventures through time and space. Buffy had finished airing in the UK the year before, and to say that I was obsessed with it would have been a serious understatement – seemingly from birth, I have been inexplicably drawn to spunky blonde women fighting off monsters. Seeing Billie Piper gleaming down at me from the promotional billboards around Manchester, her angular face full of defiant scowl and dressed head to toe in mid-00s Topshop clobber… I was sold.
My dad could barely contain his childlike glee; he was a huge fan of Doctor Who as a kid, and I’m sure the prospect of watching his son fall in love with it alongside him at the start of a new century was something to be giddy about. The teaser trailer alone – featuring Christopher Eccleston promising us “the trip of a lifetime” in his gruff Salford accent, and Piper’s Rose Tyler uttering the immortal line, “I’ve got a choice. Stay at home with my mum, my boyfriend, my job… Or chuck it all in for danger!” – had us hooked.
When Who returned in 2005, helmed by Queer As Folk creator Russell T Davies, there was an innate campness coursing through its intergalactic romps from the get go: omnisexual Space Captains shagging men, women and aliens, robot versions of popular TV fashionistas, and a soap opera-esque melodrama to its dialogue that made everything feel sharp, charming and suitably over the top.
Between the formative ages of nine and 14, when I came out as gay, I was knee deep in a Doctor Who obsession that consisted of subscriptions to the weekly magazine, novels, glossy encyclopaedias and over 100 action figures: Gallifrey had vomited its universe all over my childhood bedroom.
Doctor Who, where queer culture and acceptance is so understated and commonplace, featured characters that really made it easier to come to terms with my own sexuality and identity. Though there was danger and peril at every turn during the Doctor’s adventures, the sex-pos aliens also created for me a real sense of safety and comfort. To honour that, here are 12 of the campest cosmic queens that created the queer writing this piece today.
12 – Chantho
The blue babe at the end of the universe. Chantho was a brief but brilliant icon in her time in season three’s “Utopia”. Gays love her because yes, she’s an ingenious scientist – but she isn’t afraid to have a good time with the girlies, like when she broke her kind’s politeness protocol with Martha Jones, just for the hell of it. Got majorly fucked over by an older man that she was in love with, which is more than a little bit relatable for the gays.
11 – The Cat Nuns
The nurses at the hospital in “New Earth” were the feline femme fatale Sisters of Plentitude, graceful cat girlies dressed like they’re in Kylie Minogue’s “Can’t Get You Out Of My Head” video. If this didn’t scream “gay rights” enough on its own, they also refuse to use guns because they have claws.
10 – Madame De Pompadour
Sophia Myles’ portrayal of real-life French aristocrat Reinette Poisson, aka Madame de Pompadour, is one of constant fire and glamour. Brave, horny, forward thinking, open minded about the future and willing to take time travel in her Renaissance shoe wearing stride – she owns every scene she’s in and looks 10/10 doing it.
9 - Jabe
Last year, I asked a really important question on Twitter: which random Doctor Who character would be the best pop star? Everyone’s answers were great and it kickstarted a thread of famous singers and their Who alter egos. We’ve got Sarah Jane Smith as Cher, Missy as Lorde and the Parisian clockwork drones in masquerade costume as Girls Aloud in the music video for “Can’t Speak French”. Anyway, I consulted with the science and the academic theory and finalised that the best Doctor Who pop star has to be Jabe. She’s made of wood. The acoustics on her vocals would just be unmatched. The Beyoncé of Space!
8 – Nancy
There’s something about Nancy’s Cockney wartime resilience as a determined single mother looking after a dozen kids who’ve lost the parents to the Blitz that just really rings true with LGBT struggle. The odds are stacked, things look bleak, bombs are falling from the sky… but she never falters. Her annihilation of the butcher that she was robbing food from to feed the kids is one for the gay history books. “Oh yeah… THERE’S the sweat on your brow.”
7 – Trinny & Susannah as Robots
The biggest fashion critics of 00s television recreated thousands of years in the future as TRINE-E and ZU-ZANA remains one of the most iconic things I’ve ever seen on TV – and that’s before they “defabricate” John Barrowman until he’s naked. It’s painfully camp and they have really-circular-and-completely-unnecessary-for-anything-other-than-aesthetic-purposes tits, which is always a win in my book. Even their death was gay since John Barrowman killed them with a lazer gun that he hid up his arse. Classic telly.
6 – Donna Noble
Casting Catherine Tate as a bride who has been inexplicably launched onto the TARDIS on Christmas Eve was more than a stroke of genius. Donna Noble dominated season four, showing another side to Tate: she could make us cry on cue with her heart and compassion. Also had a relatable “just friends” relationship with the Doctor and a testy relationship with her ma… gay culture.
5 - Margaret Blaine
So camp in her debut two part episode they brought her back later in the season for her own tour-de-force storyline. A Slitheen alien hiding in the skin of a frumpy hun who has managed to become Mayor of Cardiff, she’s an absolute hoot of a villain. At one point she tests everyone in the TARDIS, daring them to look her directly in the eye, and the only thing that stopped it being an all-out Bond villain scene was the absence of a white cat. We need her as a judge on Drag Race.
4 – Captain Jack
Someone asked me the other day if it was acceptable to fancy John Barrowman. The speed in which I bellowed “NO” was unparalleled – but I quickly followed it up with a clause: unless he is in character as Captain Jack Harkness.
He’s the only man to make this list for a reason. I don’t think there’s a character in the Doctor Who universe or in ours who wouldn’t shag him. His all-American jock swagger and the fact that he’d bang anyone, including aliens, is why he’s every nerd’s sexual awakening. We’re phwoaring!
3 – Rose Tyler
While not the campest, Rose makes us gay because she’s the girl we want to be. She’s who we picture ourselves as: a young, gorgeous Brit working in a shop and spending her days eating chips only to be whisked away by a mysterious northerner for romps in time and space.
She’s stunning, she’s clever, she’s funny and she’s played by a former pop star. What could be better?
2 – Cassandra
Lady Cassandra O’Brien Dot Delta 17 is gay culture personified. She’s had six husbands and so much plastic surgery to prolong her life that she’s now just a stretched bit of skin that has to be permanently moisturised. Skinny!
She’s vicious, self-centred and evil… but when watching the destruction of Earth in the year 5,000,000,000 on Platform One in “The End of the World” she put on Britney Spears’ “Toxic” and told the guests it was a “classical Earth ballad” so we’ll let her off.
1 – Jackie Tyler
Camille Coduri’s stint as Rose’s mum Jackie is one for the ages. She is the human embodiment of Eastenders – a Cockney council estate queen who takes no prisoners.
She’s loyal, fiercely protective and camp as tits. She always brings the looks; whether she’s in trackies and trainers or a black ball gown – the original inspiration for “get you a girl that can do both.” She’s a hun through and through: maternal and full of attitude. The Bet Lynch of science fiction!
Her campest moments include flashing her knickers to a stranger in the launderette, demanding Rose get compensation for being near an explosive shop, and trying to seduce the Ninth Doctor in her sexy dressing gown literally the moment she meets him, despite her daughter being in the next room with the door open.
She was, and always will be, the gay icon we never knew we needed.