This Season “Doctor Who” Loses its Head For Gay Characters

Warning: This post contains plot details for for Doctor Who “A Good Man Goes to War.” The episode aired Saturday night in the UK, but won’t air on BBC America until next Saturday, June 11.

How about last night’s mid-season finale of Doctor Who? Not only did we get one of the most heart-wrenching, game-changing reveals in the history of the Who-verse; we also added two more gay men to the Who-canon!

The first two episodes of this season — “The Impossible Astronaut” and “Day of the Moon” — featured Canton Deleware III, a former FBI agent from 1969 who helped the Doctor banish The Silence. After saving the earth, he told Richard Nixon he wanted to marry his boyfriend. And last night’s episode featured a married gay couple who introduced themselves only as “the thin one” and “the fat one.” (It also featured an inter-species, samurai sword-wielding lesbian couple who landed one of the naughtiest jokes Doctor Who has ever aired.)

We meet the gay couple at the beginning of the episode. They are used mostly for exposition, but their presence also provides an emotional punch in the middle of the episode. First, they explain to us that the Doctor is coming to Demon’s Run, the asteroid where they’re stationed.

The fat one: A whole cyber legion, though! He just blew them all up!
The thin one: We’re being paid to fight him, not to praise him. Praising costs way more.
The fat one: I heard he chased the Atraxi off a planet and then called them back for a scolding!
The thin one: Fight him, not praise him.

Then they explain the headless monk situation.

[Spaceship announcement as two headless monks walk past] Do not interact with monks without divine permission.
The fat one: You’re not supposed to stare at them. If they think you’re trying to see under their hood, they’ll kill you. On the spot.
The thin one: Why are they called headless monks? They can’t really be headless.
Lorna Bucket: They believe the domain of faith is the heart and the domain of doubt is the head. They follow their hearts, that’s all.

The thin one: You’re Lorna Bucket, aren’t you?
Lorna Bucket: Yeah.
The thin one: Hello! I’m the thin one. This is my husband; he’s the fat one.

Lorna Bucket: Don’t you have names?
The fat one: We’re the thin/fat gay married Anglican marines. Why would we need names as well? [Headless monks show up] Oh! Looks like I’m off. Time for my conversion tutorial. [To his husband] See you in a bit! [To the monks] Do you lot have Lent? Because I’m not good at giving things up.

Unfortunately, what “the fat one” gives up is his head when he’s forced to join the monks. The next time we see him, the captain of the army is giving a speech about not being afraid of the Doctor. By direct order of the Papal Mainframe, the captain is going to show the army what is under the hood of the headless monks, and what is under the hood of the headless monks is … nothing. Because they really are headless.

There’s a heartbreaking shot of “the thin one” when he realizes what’s happened to his husband.

If you’re keeping score, that’s three out of seven episodes so far this season that have featured gay men as guest characters. Doctor Who just keeps getting queer-er and queer-er — which is saying something since David Tennant’s tenure as the tenth Doctor was rife with double entendres, suggestive quips and, you know, Captain Jack Harkness.

What’s different about this season is that Steven Moffat seems to be using the gay characters to add a little gay social commentary to the gadgets and hijinks and time-traveling shenanigans. If Canton Delaware III was a nod to marriage equality, the gay couple in last night’s episode was a nod to allowing gay soldiers to serve openly in the military. The message: Gay soldiers are just as willing/able to lose their heads in the service of their country as straight soldiers.

The episode’s expository scenes would have worked just as well without two gay men. It could have been any two people, really; we didn’t even need to know who they were. But Moffat took the time to paint the men as a fun and fun-loving gay couple.

In 1965’s The Dalek Masterplan a station sergent said to Steven “You seem to know all the queer people.” Of all the accidental prophecies made by Who characters over the years, that’s the one that has been most true, over and over and over again.

It’s just one of the reasons I can’t wait until this fall when the Doctor returns with “Let’s Kill Hitler.”

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Heather Hogan is a freelance writer/editor from Atlanta.