Doctor Who has been wearing its queer credentials on its sleeve since Russell T Davies brought it back to TV screens in 2005 (and the recent casting announcement of Ncuti Gatwa, best known for playing gay character Eric on Sex Education, as the next Doctor doesn’t hurt). But with Doctor Who: Redacted, it has put LGBTQ+ stories and a bright new trans actress front and center for the first time. Is this the queerest Doctor Who story ever? For sure!
While the main TV show has finally made the mutual attraction between the Doctor (Jodie Whittaker) and travelling companion Yaz (Mandip Gill) clear, things are moving forward in leaps and bounds in the Doctor Who audio world.
Doctor Who: Redacted, the new podcast based audio drama now reaching the midpoint of its 10 episode run, focuses on a trio of university friends and their conspiracy-theory podcast “The Blue Box Files”, linking together the rumoured appearance of a strange blue box at major paranormal events. As they investigate all the weird stories floating around, things take a more dramatic turn as everyone who has ever met or knows about The Doctor starts to disappear… and become completely forgotten.
The core of the trio is a trans woman, Cleo—played by trans activist Charlie Craggs in her debut acting role—who is the first to realize that there may be more going on than some hysterical stories and disappearances. Her podcasting mates are her best friends; the ever skeptical lesbian Shawna (Holly Quin-Ankrah) and bisexual Abby (Lois Chimimba), who not only broaden out the queerness of the drama, but provide an emotional core to the stories.
Written by YA author Juno Dawson, Doctor Who: Redacted has so far woven itself through the history of the show, discussing the events of past episodes from the perspective of your average Briton. Did you hear about that hospital that disappeared, only to reappear a few hours later? Or that journalist who claimed to see aliens while investigating weight loss company Adipose? And what about those people from Sheffield who disappeared recently, including a young police officer? Dawson knows her Who, having already written a number of spin-off audio works and novels.
The show even brought back the character of Rani Chandra from the Doctor Who spinoff TV show The Sarah Jane Adventures and promises to feature appearances from lesbian Silurian Madame Vastra and UNIT alumni Kate Stewart and Osgood, as well as The Doctor herself. But this isn’t just an excuse for fan-service. Redacted kicks into high gear as more people disappear, and historical events start to shift… and are they right in thinking some person called The Doctor is actually killing these people?
Presented in part as recording sessions for their podcast, as well as phone calls and interviews, Redacted blends audio mediums to provide a surprisingly thorough story. There’s an immediacy to overhearing Cleo’s conversations with her friends and her family (including her transphobic mother) that draws you into the story. Craggs’ performance is vivacious, real and engaging.
Redacted is playing with the best traditions of Doctor Who; telling an intriguing tale without the Doctor being present, much like the brilliant TV episode ‘Blink’ starring Carey Mulligan. While it’s not the first time that a trans actress has had a major role in an official Doctor Who spin-off (Rebecca Root played Tania Bell in the award-winning Doctor Who: Stranded audio series from Big Finish), Cragg’s Cleo has certainly gained more mainstream attention thanks to Redacted’s presence on the BBC Sounds app, and the status of Dawson as writer. If you want a bit more on relating to Doctor Who as a trans allegory, check out Eric Malinsky’s excellent Imaginary Worlds podcast where trans comedian Riley Silverman talks through the affirmation she felt seeing the Doctor regenerate into her current body (played by a Jodie Whittaker).
So far Doctor Who: Redacted has presented a gripping mystery, steeped in Doctor Who lore, that is completely queer by design, which feels like a logical step for a series that has championed LGBTQ+ representation on screen for close to two decades. And let us be among the first to beg Russell T Davies to bring Cleo to the TV series as a companion to Gatwa’s Doctor when he takes over again in the new year.
By Chad Armstrong
Listen to Doctor Who: Redacted on the BBC Sounds app, available on all mobile devices and online. Find out more about Doctor Who: Stranded (starring Paul McGann, Nicola Walker and Rebecca Root) on the Big Finish website.