Boldly going nowhere: @burgewords on the inequality of Sci-Fi

Phoenix Five, exploring the galaxies in 2500 AD (clipping courtesy of Patsy Trench).

Phoenix Five, exploring the galaxies in 2500 AD (clipping courtesy of Patsy Trench).


“When I was nine years old Star Trek came on,” Whoopi Goldberg told Gene Roddenberry, creator of Star Trek, at a casting session for the show’s reboot in the early 1990s, “I looked at it and I went screaming through the house: ‘Come here, mum, everybody, come quick, come quick, there’s a black lady on television and she ain’t no maid!’ I knew right then and there I could be anything I wanted to be, and I want to be on Star Trek.”

That ‘black lady’ was African-American actor Nichelle Nichols, in the role of Lieutenant Uhura, a character who inspired even Dr. Martin Luther King to follow the voyages of the Starship Enterprise.

Goldberg’s moment of validation and inspiration is now half a century behind us. In fifty years from now, will stories emerge about children today who saw themselves in the current crop of mainstream science fiction titles, or has Sci-Fi lost its edge within today’s asteroid belt of conservatism?

A bit of time travel might unearth some answers.

When George Lucas relaunched the Star Wars franchise in the late 1990s, he created a character whose name still draws ire across the geek chat rooms: Jar Jar Binks.

Designed to appeal to younger audiences in a similar manner to the Ewoks of Return of the Jedi, Jar Jar, a Gungan from the planet Naboo, with his exaggerated mannerisms and flamboyant voice, seemed to have the opposite effect, and he was subsequently toned down and written into the sidelines of two further prequels.

The fear of flamboyant space travellers and aliens was not always so keen. Doctor Zachary Smith in Lost in Space (played by Jonathan Harris) camped and shrieked his way through the series, defying any notion of being sidelined.

Dr. Zachary Smith in Lost in Space.

Dr. Zachary Smith.

That he was a comically selfish villain, opportunistic in his attempts to get back to Earth, leaving the Robinson family behind, didn’t seem to matter. Flamboyant was fine, as long as you were the bad guy.

More recently the Doctor Who franchise (and its spin-off, Torchwood) experimented with alternate sexuality in the form of the bisexual Captain Jack Harkness (played by John Barrowman), but his intergalactic promiscuity, and the untimely death of his longest love, ensured audiences never had to countenance this high-profile non-heterosexual character in a relationship as progressive as a commonplace same-sex marriage.

Sci-Fi lesbianism is even more marginal, offering only a handful of onscreen same-sex kisses and a whole universe of subtext in everything from Alien: Resurrection to Xena Warrior Princess.

Here in Australia, TV producers were quick to jump on the bandwagon of popular TV series set in the future, with a crop of titles on our small screens by the end of the 1960s.

One of these was Phoenix Five produced by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation from 1968-69.

Amongst the show’s stars was Patsy Trench, in the role of Cadet Tina Culbrick, the only female in crew of three on the galactic space patrol ship of the show’s title, tasked with protecting the known universe from an evil humanoid and a rebel scientist in the year 2500.

Trench spoke with No Fibs this week from her home in London.

“It was certainly not a progressive series, not in any sense,” she said. “It made no social statements, it was just a series of adventures featuring three humans versus a number of weird aliens”.

“As for gender equality, the characters were all pretty well asexual. We wore identical clothing – a yellow tunic-type top (very cliché Sci-Fi) and very unflattering black ski pant-type trousers. There was absolutely no sense of sexual tension between the three of us and no sense of gender – equality or otherwise. Tina may have objected from time to time to being patronised by her male crew members, but that’s about as far as it went.

“Every single episode I had to say ‘space phenomenon ahead’, whatever that was supposed to mean. It became a running joke. I remember pressing a series of buttons without having a clue what they were or what I was supposed to be doing. Nowadays a director and actor might pay a bit of attention to that kind of detail, but not then.”

I asked Trench whether she believes Australia was capable in the 1960s of imagining a future that had racial/sexual equality?

Cadet Tina Culbrick (left) and a 'space phenomenon'.

Cadet Tina Culbrick (left) and a ‘space phenomenon’.

“Probably not,” she said. “When I was living there in the late Sixties I did not get the impression the Aboriginal people featured much in people’s consciences, certainly not as they do now. I’m not sure when they were given full voting rights, but I think it was around that time, and I had no idea it had taken so long – the issue was never discussed.”

Does Trench think Sci-Fi has a role to play in imagining a more equal future?

“Of course, because the limits are as huge as our imaginations,” she said.

Territory upon which only the boldest equality explorers tread is one which has long been a source of some of Science Fiction’s most renowned characters: disability.

Few children of the Seventies will have missed the blind, wheelchair-bound Davros who first appeared in the 1975 Doctor Who ‘Genesis of the Daleks’ episodes, probably the most prominent example of a physically disabled humanoid character ever to feature on television screens in our living rooms at prime time.

In her enlightening feature ‘Disability in an alternative universe’ for the ABC’s Ramp Up disability discussion forum, Leah Hobson gets right to the point: “As a fan of science fiction and fantasy – genres which most often ask ‘what if?’ in more playful and profound ways – I notice the dearth of ‘good’ stories about disability”.

“If a character is portrayed with any sort of disability,” Hobson wrote, “a realistic depiction means you’re typically male, and you’re typically either bound to a bitter and/or evil existence with a good dose of sexual openness thrown in just to really show you’re evil.”

Exploring whether there is any positive purpose to depictions of Transhumanism (the human condition enhanced by technology) in Sci-Fi, Hobson found more questions than answers.

Is it fair to say that there will be no disability once consciousness or creating bodies is done by machines? I’m not sure it is, and I feel like the science fiction writing community is, by and large, taking the easy way out by not exploring it further.

I started to enjoy Doctor Who when River Song (played by Alex Kingston) became a regular character, and, in geeky conversations at work about the future of the show, I threw in my view that the show’s producers might be grooming River Song to be the series’ first female Doctor.

And why not? She was riveting, charismatic, intelligent and kept taunting viewers on her backstory with her cheeky warning: “Spoilers, sweetie”.

During 11th Doctor Matt Smith’s unsuccessful regeneration in ‘The Impossible Astronaut’ episode, I hoped to see River’s signature curls emerge from the amniotic glow to be reborn as his replacement. Sure, she was standing right there watching, but this is Sci-Fi, anything could happen, right?

The Doctor was killed (to tell you more would be a spoiler), along with all my hopes for River Song, who joined Amy, Rose, Martha, Tegan and Sarah Jane, playing second fiddle through time and space.

Dr King made a resounding point when he learnt that Nichelle Nichols wanted to leave the cast of Star Trek. As she recalled, he said: “Gene Roddenberry has opened a door for the world to see us. If you leave, that door can be closed, because, you see, your role is not a black role, and it’s not a female role, he can fill it with anything, including an alien.”

Until mainstream science fiction producers start opening a few more doors, and opening them wider than Roddenberry ever did, equality in Sci-Fi will remain far, far away.

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  1. Great article – I have occassionally suggested on twitter and eslewhere that the next Dr Who should be female (I have many options in mind) but Dr Who fans seem to think it is a bridge too far. A testament to how far we have yet to go.

    • Thanks Jan, we can live in hope! BTW who are your casting options for a female Doctor?

      • You have certainly generated lots of comment – well, I am a Dr Who fan of sorts and agree, the character is not a man, and no reason it could not appear as female… here goes with a few for a start:
        Miranda Richardson (Blackadder, The Crying Game)
        Rosario Dawson (Trance)
        Gillian Anderson (The Fall, Bleak House, Great Expectations)
        Maxine Peake (Silk)
        Olivia Colman (Broadchurch)

      • I’d love to see any show with these women as protagonists (i.e. in the pilot’s seat)!

  2. Opening doors, breaking down walls and fences…is a very important ability of creative writing and the new creative mediums, to expand the possibilities and challenge limits. While Star Trek was not fully the kind of Utopia I had in mind, it did push the limits from very early on and make an attempt at envisioning a possible moral future which we could reflect upon. Some of the best science fiction does this.

    Ursula Le Guin’s Earthsea fantasy series featured a lead character who was brown skinned and provided an important role model in children’s fantasy – there are not many wise black or brown wizards in children’s fantasy – but when it came time for a telemovie to be made HBO cast a white actor in the lead role. The producers took substantial meaning away from the story. Le Guin, although listed as a consultant, was never properly brought in to the decision making and wrote a scathing attack on the Earthsea telemovie.

    I know I get criticised for saying it, but Le Guin’s Earthsea is far more imaginative and thoughtful than JK Rowling’s Harry Potter books. These are some thoughts I put together on Le Guin more than ten years ago – some of the writing dates even farther back to the late 70’s – oops, now I’m showing my age….

    I share your hope in that one day we will see a female Doctor Who. It would certainly provide different tangents for character development.

    And you raise interesting thoughts on seldom seeing stories with people with disabilities, or challenging gender stereotypes. And the same goes for the poor, or working class: it mostly doesn’t exist or get written about in Science fiction. More is the pity.

  3. I am an outspoken anti-sexist and often receive searing condemnation from misogynists and hateful remarks from sexists when I point out the underlying sexism of society all around us. Dr Who was certainly formed at a time when sexism was more prevalent and less remarked upon and were it to be written now, I would hope more thought about the female role would go into it.

    Nevertheless, he is a beloved character just as he is and to change his gender would alter him utterly. Those of us who are enlightened enough to notice the systemic sexism all around us love the show because we grew up with it, and DESPITE its flaws.

    By all means, let’s introduce many more sci fi shows, or shows in general, with women as leads and not just props or sidekicks. But if you try to alter the Doctor so fundamentally you will destroy the character and the show. And if you don’t see that, you are just not a Dr Who fan. We just love him. It is a deep, ridiculous and unquestioning love. You tamper with that at your peril.

    We absolutely need adequate female representation in all areas of media – we’re not even close to that goal – and I would love to see the Bechdel rating become standard on movies everywhere. There is a long way to go and much to be done. But tampering with the gender of the Doctor would anger millions. It will give those who love to shriek “it’s political correctness gone mad I tell you!” something to whinge about, and it won’t change a bloody thing.

    The Doctor is a man. Let’s move on from that and focus on getting more women out there in their own roles, written for them, rather than trying to shoehorn one into a spot already taken and alter out of all recognition a beloved childhood icon. It would be an enormous mistake and do equality no favours, no matter how well intentioned the motives may be.

    • Brilliant argument Alison. You’re quite right, I am not really a Doctor Who Fan, although I’d tune into a River Song spin-off over Doctor Who any day of the week.

      I have seen enough of the show over the years, however, to know that the Doctor is not actually a man – he’s not human, he’s a Time Lord, a time-travelling humanoid alien. There is nothing about that description which means the character must be played by a male actor.

      • You are kind. Without wishing to appear rude I have to say that I think just from this short paragraph I would safely already have known you weren’t a fan, even if you didn’t state that. The Doctor IS a man, just an alien man. He’s not played by a man. He IS a man. To us, he is real. (How I wish he was real! I am still waiting for the TARDIS to arrive.) Yes, of course we KNOW he’s not real. But he still is. A real, alien male Time Lord.

        Let’s keep pushing for more new Sci Fi shows and shows in general, which promote equality that you (and we) can love as much as true fans already love Doctor Who. We already know that fairly represented female role models do very well with audiences, both male and female – I am thinking of Olivia from Fringe and Katniss in particular when I say that. We need a LOT more women like those – women who do not play embarrassing 2 dimensional shadow characters – in all genres of TV before we will even come close to fair representation for women.

        But, with respect, please leave our beloved Doctor alone.

      • I support your call for new shows if existing examples cannot countenance moving towards more equality, Alison.

        Your beloved Doctor Who need not fear me – he has far more high profile naysayers to contend with!

        My favourite episode of the reboot era was “Blink”, the first appearance of the weeping angels, I think?

        Interestingly, the Doctor is only a minor character in it. The protagonist was played by Carey Mulligan. You could take that episode in isolation and show it to an audience without them having to know anything at all about Doctor Who, Time Lords, or the usual power structures of the show’s heritage.

        I waited for more episodes of that quality, but they never came, in my opinion. I suspect “Blink” was an experiment.

        Some of the Catherine Tate episodes explored similar themes, and I enjoyed those too, but I got more and more disappointed tuning in with the hope that the storylines would be of interest to me, making me wonder who the producers were aiming to entertain?

        They can’t please everyone, of course, and they are certainly pleasing the majority, but that is no reason to not critique a show of this magnitude.

      • Blink was marvellous, Donna was my favourite traveller actually, I loved that she had zero sexual interest in the Doctor and was quite happy to tell ensure he wasn’t getting too conceited, their relationship was somewhat unique for one of his “companions”. Just don’t get me started on talking about my favourite things about Dr Who, or I will be here all day. I am fine with critiquing the show, but despite its rather glaring flaws (and I do not count the Doctor’s gender as one of them) I’ve loved the Doctor at 4, and now at 44, and if I am still around I hope to still love him when I’m 64, to misquote a rather famous song.

        I haven’t commented on the paucity of non-Caucasian earth folk (Martha being an obvious exception) or minority groups in general solely because I don’t feel particularly qualified to do so as a white, able bodied heterosexual – not from lack of interest. I certainly would be on board with more disabled people, gay people or any other excluded group being introduced with a more realistic frequency though. The stories told, and the people who meet and interact with the Doctor, are only constrained by the writers’ imagination.

      • Ugh. Typos.

  4. Dan Rowden says

    Hi Michael,

    Following our brief exchange on Twitter, here’s some observations about your references to Dr Who. Actually, they’re not mine, precisely. My partner is a much greater (and passionate) fan of the modern Doctor than I am, so this is really her reply:

    Okay, firstly Captain Jack is not bisexual (you really can’t trust Wiki), he is omnisexual, being sexually attracted to everything that breathes regardless of gender or species. He has lived back and forth for millenia so his ‘promiscuity’ is more a result of his vast travels throughout so many different times. He is certainly an incorrigible flirt but also capable of great and enduring love as his tragic relationship with Ianto proved.

    You say that in Doctor Who “audiences never had to countenance a place or time where something like same-sex marriage was commonplace.” Not commonplace? I believe the commonplaceness is well taken care of. Not unusual, not overwhelming, simply commonplace: In the Gridlock episode The Doctor meets an elderly married lesbian couple while car hopping. The recurring characters Madam Vastra and Jenny are not only in a same-sex marriage in Victorian times but it is also an inter-species marriage. Canton Everett Delaware iii, in the Impossible Astronaut episodes is a former FBI agent who helps the Doctor save the day from the evil Silence. He was sacked from the Bureau because he wanted to, in Nixon’s 1969, marry his black boyfriend. In The Power of Three episode Amy agrees to be bridesmaid at her lesbian friends’ wedding without batting an eye. (Because the time and place for same-sex marriages being commonplace is modern day Britain don’t you know…)

    You started to enjoy the show more when River Song became a regular character, you record, and wanted the tenth doctor to regenerate into her. Let’s leave alone for now the fact the Doctor can’t actually regenerate into an existing other person(!) and look at the facts. Professor Song became a regular character well after David Tennant had already regenerated into Matt Smith. Before that she had been in precisely one adventure -the two-parter Silence in the Library – and all her riveting charisma and taunting was yet to occur. So, you are remembering what you wanted in the wrong order. Over time we learn that she has Time Lord DNA, has regenerated a few times, could pilot the Tardis better than the Doctor, her sonic was way more sophisticated than his, she could handle Vortex Manipulator time travel with ease (it gives The Doctor stomach cramps) became the Doctor’s actual legal wife and was second fiddle to nobody!

    Okay, I see now you’ve admitted you’re not a huge Doctor fan, and that’s fine. Right up to the point you try to make a case about sci fi television and its lack of serious gay content and include Doctor Who in your article. Not being a huge Doctor fan, it seems to me the reasonable person test would make it imperative that you research the show before making your claims. And had you Googled the words Doctor/Who/Gay, you would have found endless accounts of homosexual characters, married and otherwise, and also the interesting fact that there are many fans and reviewers who have suggested the new generation of the Doctor has an overtly ‘gay agenda’ which offends and appalls certain sections of the community. There’s a story for you.

    In closing, Time Lords have specific genders. They marry and have children along traditional lines. Unless they are all thoroughly bisexual it would be bizarre for them to be able to regenerate into their opposite gender. What about pregnant Gallifreyan women? If traumatised to a mortal extent they could regenerate into a bloke? What would happen to the foetus? It’d get stuck in some guy’s kidney. Come on, the blokes are blokes and the chicks are chicks. The Doctor is not a non-gender-specific employment category! It is surely silly to suggest their chromosomes could alter that much on regeneration. If they could we could fiddle with 21 and have a Down Doctor some day. Perfectly reasonable and inclusive you say? Nah. My sweet special dude with Down Syndrome would love the sonic screwdriver and the noise the Tardis makes, but deadset, when it came time to ‘Run!’ he’d be pretty much screwed.


    • I stand corrected on some of my Doctor Who ‘facts’ (insofar as fiction can be factual), thanks Dan and partner.

      But, thinking of the vast scope of galaxies, worlds and time zones imagined in Doctor Who, yes, I still call for “more please” on equality in 2013 Sci-Fi writing, and Doctor Who is not exempt.

      Portrayals of same-sex attracted characters and themes is not “endless” in the series, far from it. The groundwork has been laid, that’s all.

      Negative reactions to portrayals of equality (like that Christian group’s, which I had already seen) is not proof that equality has been reached.

      Until we witness another retrospective Whoopi Goldberg-type validation of the Sci-Fi in our era, we simply do not know if equality is being portrayed.

      “Blokes are blokes and chicks are chicks” is not an argument even remotely effective when debating equality.

      It is the drawing of a line (as you do when deciding a Doctor Who with Down’s Syndrome would not work) which limits equality. If Science Fiction writers and producers cannot create the future as a place with more equality, without drawing a line, then their version of the future will never seem futuristic.

      Doctor Who has always been exactly what his writers wanted him to be. I did not invent the call for a female Doctor Who, and that extra info you provide about River Song only makes it even more ridiculous, in my view, that the writers did not simply make her one of the Doctors.

  5. I’m sorry, Michael, are you suggesting that the depiction of a Dr Who with Down’s Syndrome would be a meaningful thing to do?

  6. Well, firstly, it would mean depicting a Down’s person in a way that is utterly divorced from reality. I don’t see how that helps anything. Is your notion of “equality” grounded in reality or not? Or are you suggesting that in a fictional setting, reality doesn’t matter, so that we could have a Down’s person whose intellectual and physical capacity is off the charts even though that’s contrary to reality?

    • I don’t imagine the writers of Doctor Who are concerned about being “utterly divorced from reality”. They have often glossed over reality for dramatic license and for practical casting requirements. That’s how the Doctor’s regeneration began – they needed a new actor to play the role, so they imposed a surreal plot device to manage that.

      Sci-Fi can sew the head back on another body, it can bring the dead back to life, it can make people fly … it can do all that and more, so why should we not expect it to push the boundaries of reality where equality is concerned?

      I suspect people grappled with Lt. Uhura’s place on the deck of the Starship Enterprise in the 1960s, and suggested it was not representative of 1960s realities, and they certainly did grapple with the kiss she and Captain Kirk engaged in, because in reality that would have seen the characters committing a crime in some US states at the time, but they did it anyway. Roddenberry did not draw a line underneath equality, he stepped over it.

      I am only asking if Sci-Fi writers and producers are as courageous today, given the rise in conservatism?

      You suggested a Down’s Syndrome Doctor Who, so you will need to explain your idea. I am only saying I would watch the show with such a character and not have a problem with it by definition.

  7. There are plenty of great female leads in sci-fi. Dollhouse, Dark Angel, Lost Girl to name a few. Even Buffy for the mainstreamers. Plenty of gay-friendly action too. (How devastated were we when Willow lost her girl on Buffy??) How about a dead main character on Lexx. That’s a fair disability to overcome, if not one that exists today. Plus the numerous Dr Who examples as already mentioned, not to forget Time Lady Romana (who was great). Your experience of sci-fi is apparently very limited to be making such sweeping commentary on the genre – I humbly suggest you spend a decade or two becoming acquainted with some real sci-fi first!

  8. Netty, if Whoopi Goldberg had to dig so deep, waaaay out of prime time, to find Lt. Uhura, would she have found her? The only example that could redress the imbalance, for me, is a female Doctor Who, or a gay one, or a black lesbian one, like Helen Mirren suggested when she was talked-up for the role. But it’s got to be on my free-to-air TV screen at dinner time. Equality means something when it’s prime time equality.

  9. #DiversityIsNot found in mainstream #SciFi as much as we think it is #sciencefiction #equality

  10. #DiversityIsNot found in mainstream #SciFi as much as we think it is … via @NoFibs #sciencefiction #equality

  11. Sad to say bigotry in Sci Fi is not limited to the small or large screen. Some of my favourite authors are so guilty of this that I sometimes cringe as I read their otherwise inspiring words. I think the bigger problem is that many people would watch/read such bias and not cringe.

    My daughter (far as I know, straight, but that’s her business) gets quite enraged about the fact that, if a gay couple is permitted a realistic romance in popular fiction, one of them then dies. I was just reprimanded most severely for mentioning (re”omnisexual” amendment) Captain Jack and Ianto. She’s still not over it. I love that about her.

    As usual, a thought-provoking read, Micheal. And I love that about you;-)

    • Love that you’re giving your daughter all the options she needs from a young age. Thanks for the feedback. I sometimes read my childhood favourites and find terrible homophobia and anti-semitism!

  12. Hello Michael, read your article but was quite underwhelmed, really. Though I agree with the premise, the examples you gave were not very convincing, and sometimes even wrong. Also, I would give as a premise that scifi is one of the very few genres that really makes taking on inequality a possibility (no other genre askes the question “What if’ so strongly).
    On your article: it does not feel as if you did any real research on the subject other that what you had on hand. So I’ll do the same. Top of my head. And without any sort of structure.
    (In my reply, I might cover some ground already covered in the replies above, I haven’t read them all. Apologies for that.)

    You give examples of a limited number of tv-shows and with only one movie series included, which does not do your article good. It’s mainly focused on your interview with one actress, a research and examples of a few series that you, by your own admission, viewed on mainstream tv.
    There are many more series than you mention. From the seventies, you might have used the example of Star Maidens, which totally revolves around the subject of gender inequality. You might mention that in Above and Beyond, the squad of pilots is lead by a female squad leader, not a male. There are a lot of examples from other series in the replies above, so I’ll leave that.

    About Dr. Who: it must have been a long 50 years for you if the show only really got intresting when a possible female Doctor came in view. River Song has at least some Time Lady qualities, and let’s not forget his daughter is out there somewhere. Also, notice that at least the last few female companions were quite strong characters with a lot of self-will and humor, and a lot of the stories were written around them. Not bad for a series focussing on a male character. Changing him into a female is possible, I’m fine with it, but to challenge the basis of the series because you need to see equality no matter what, is not done. The best choice would be to make a brand new show, not piggybacking on the success of Dr. Who.

    Also, I feel that your use of examples is somewhat biased. I wouldn’t call Jar Jar Binks ‘flamboyant’, he’s not what flamboyant IS, he acts ‘funny’ and he sounds like he has a speech impediment. Dr. Smith IS flamboyant, and so, for example, is Q from Star Trek, and some Doctors are. Not all necessarily evil.

    Star Trek addressed more inequalities than you mention.
    A native Indian became second in command on the USS Voyager,I remember Geordy LaForge being blind, though technologically enhanced. And they did have the physically very impaired Stephen Hawking on the show a few times. Maybe 7 of 9 might qualify, as Data, for struggling to aquire human traits. The Voyager is run by a female captain, on DS9 the second in command is a male in a female’s body (I think).That’s just characters: I don’t know them by heart but I’m sure a number of episodes address inequality as a subject, and discrimination in at least one movie (Insurrection).

    It does not say that Scifi could not do more (why not mention that Nichelle Nichols’ lines on Star Trek rarely went further than the lines of Patsy Trench?), but you treat it as if it is never enough for the time being. My impression is that for you, it’s no good unless it goes all the way. I don’t think that’s how it works. Scifi takes steps, like society does. But it takes steps ahead of society. I think that’s inherently a good thing.

    Finally some mistakes and, I must say, a noticable deception.
    First, re: Netty, on examples of female leads. Sorry Michael, but what are you saying here: that there is a lot of inequality in scifi, or that it only counts when it is redressed in prime time TV? These are two arguments really. Netty’s examples are valid, and Buffy IS prime time. But you can’t blame the series for NOT being prime time! (Also, as far as I know, Star Trek wasn’t THAT prime time in the beginning.) Equality means something always, not only on prime time. that would be, err… inequal.

    Secondly, re: contriteshadow: about the death of Ianto. Formally, she’s an alien in love with a Time Lord. Physically, and as a viewer you can’t negate this, it’s a woman in love with a man. The woman green and has some physical traits, but she’s still a woman. Also, she’s not in love with the omnisexual Jack Harkness, but with the Master (in disguise). So in all honestly the example does not bear out the statement that all same-sex relationships end in the death of one of the protagonists. There are a lot of straight relationships that end in the death of one of the lovers too. It’s very much a dramatic event, in all and any case. Though I feel the same ache as contriteshadows daughter: Ianto deserved better.

    Finally, and here you really warp the truth: on Nichelle Nichols wanting to leave Star Trek. The reaction of Whoopi Goldberg is very telling on how revolutionary that role was, and so how much it addressed the inequality of the black community at that time. But the quote from Dr. King is not apt. I think it’s taken out of context, and I think Dr. King was wrong. Out of context, because it was Dr. King himself who convinced Nichelle Nichols to stay on being a role model. I think you know that, and here I blame you for selectively using the facts. The notion of Dr. King is also wrong because there is no way in hell Roddenberry would have compromised his idea of an ideal society by taking out a female black role and replace it with, say, an alien. Not then, not in the US. It was, at the time, really boldly going where no man had gone before. It should be the highlight of a case FOR the role of scifi in breaking barriers of inequality, but you manhandle it to brush it aside.

    I would have wanted a more thought-through and researched article, and one less led by your own feeling that the bringing about of equality can’t happen too soon. I DO agree with the latter, and of course Scifi is still lacking in the use of its possibilities, but you can’t just use the data you like and leave aside the data that do not correspond with your view. It’s up to you if you can, or whether it remains scifi.

  13. my mistake, for writing off the cuff. I thought Ianto was the green female from the episode Utopia, but on re-reading the comments I understood it was the character from Torchwood. Please ignore this part of my comment.
    Also, spelling mistakes. Wasn’t clearheaded enough. Also English isn’t my native language.
    Finally: I know your main argument is that present-day scifi isn’t as bold as before, not that there was NOT ENOUGH addressing of equality, but I treated it the way I did because in your article you diverge from that premise, for example when you write about Phoenix Five, and barely return to it. For me, the stated conservatism in modern-day scifi in your article remains far, far away.

    • Hi Antal. My article is now eighteen months old. Pivotal same-sex-attracted characters in long-term relationships have appeared on Doctor Who since I published it, and the Time Lord character known as The Master has regenerated as a woman, meaning there’s no barrier to the Doctor being portrayed as a woman, apart from prejudice. If you feel I have been deliberately deceitful and biased, and you believe a speaker and writer like Dr Martin Luther King was wrong, there’s really nothing I feel like debating with you, apart from pointing to the work of other writers who have since ruminated on the inequality of the Doctor Who producers not putting a female Doctor in the driving seat of the Tardis as yet. I’m waiting to watch the new Star Wars movies with an eye on equality. That will be fascinating.