Although we still have quite a long wait for new episodes of the main Doctor Who series, there’s been plenty of new content to enjoy during the lockdown, including an ambitious multi-platform event. The Big Finish audio line is now set to achieve a landmark though by casting its first openly transgender companion for the Doctor, to be played by Rebecca Root as part of an adventure involving Paul McGann’s Eighth Doctor.
There’ve been some trans characters in Doctor Who before, of course, including within the novel adaptation of “Rose” as well as Eleanor Blake in another Big Finish audio installment. In addition, trans writers have contributed to Doctor Who comics and novels, and Adèle Anderson has contributed voice talents, while Bethany Black became the first openly trans actress on the show back in season 9. Root’s casting, though, is more significant for making a transgender character a crucial part of the Eighth Doctor’s story.
Root is playing Tania Bell in Doctor Who: Stranded, which will be one of the final adventures in the Eighth Doctor’s series. Bell appears to be one of a set of characters who connects with the Doctor when they become stuck in present-day London without the TARDIS and forced to live a (semi)-normal life.
Root had this to say about playing Bell:
“She’s a person like all the other people I have played and hope to play in the future. She’s not perfect, but she’s not a mess, and certainly, I don’t think her gender identity has any influence on her behavior in the story.”
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The latter point is particularly important, as it seems that Tania Bell’s gender identity will not be played up for novelty value in the serial. Root has, however, acknowledged the importance of the character to Doctor Who history, commenting as so:
“It would have been amazing to see a Trans person in a show like Doctor Who. In fact, to see a Trans person period would have been amazing. But I [grew] up in the ’70s and society was differently populated back then, and gender ID was not really “a thing.”
It’s a busy time for Doctor Who audio fans, with Arthur Darvill returning as Rory for a Lone Centurion spinoff and recent news including a David Tennant and Tom Baker team-up. The four-part Stranded series, meanwhile, is available from July, and we’re looking forward to seeing where the Big Finish team end up taking McGann’s Doctor in future adventures.