For as much as Doctor Who’s first 60th anniversary special, “The Star Beast,” was a celebration of the old, it also brought plenty of new with it—including Heartstopper’s Yasmin Finney as Rose, Donna Noble’s trans teenage daughter. But for as important as Rose became to the episode, for showrunner Russell T. Davies, it was equally important to show the realities of her existence as a young transgender person.
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Early on in “The Star Beast” as Rose and her mother walk home, a brief scene sees a trio of young boys on bikes accosting Rose—catcalling her as well as deadnaming her (the act of derogatorily referring to a trans person by the name of their former gender identity)—much to the fury of Donna. For as immediately shocking as it was for a show like Doctor Who to explicitly showcase such a moment of abuse, for Davies, he felt it was necessary to portray what can often be a reality for trans people after coming out.
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“To get that across and to get the prejudice that’s being shown towards Rose by those bullies and thugs in the street, we actually have to have a scene of deadnaming,” Davies said on the first episode of the new Doctor Who official podcast, released alongside the premiere of “The Star Beast” this past weekend. “Is that a good thing to do? Is that a wise thing to do? Is that a difficult thing to do? I personally think we should stare into difficult stuff like this, but equally, what a nice easy life I’ve got, and I’m ready to be told otherwise.”
Speaking further about the moment alongside Finney on the behind-the-scenes series Doctor Who Unleashed, Davies hoped that the brief scene would also reflect on young boys like those shown abusing Rose watching the show. “Those boys on bikes are watching Doctor Who,” Davies noted. “So I hope they’ll watch it and think ‘Oh, maybe I shouldn’t do that. Maybe that’s wrong.’ It’s true, that’s part of our audience.”
Given the increasing hostility towards trans people in the UK in this current moment—in an act of unfortunate serendipity, “The Star Beast” aired just before the beginning of the highly publicized murder trial of trans teenager Brianna Ghey, whose stabbing earlier this year sparked a wave of condemnation of the UK media for their approach to covering the case as a potential hate crime—it’s good to see a show as socially progressive as Doctor Who, as it always has been over the last 60 years, explicitly center the story of a young trans person in its highly-anticipated anniversary celebrations. While Rose’s story in “The Star Beast” is ultimately a joyous one, getting to save the Doctor and her mother in its climax, and getting to see her family be loving and supportive of her (even if they occasionally worry they’re not doing it right), it was equally important to at least show an unfortunate side of what it means to be a trans teen in 2023 as well.
And what is Doctor Who great at, if not balancing good and evil, reality and science fiction all at once, to talk about the issues of the day?
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