Well, that episode was a lot of fun – I enjoyed it immensely.
It was not without its problems – fairly significant problems in fact. I will say that these are largely down down to high expectations and the sole trans character having to represent a whole lot in very little time, but… problems remain.
It should come as no surprise that what follows contains spoilers (for Star Beast, for Orphan Black and for Big Finish Once and Future) and criticisms of a generally good episode.
Problem the First
“You’re assuming ‘he’ as a pronoun” – Did we really need this? The transphobic stereotype of (particularly young) trans folks. Designed to portray us as angry and unreasonable. There could have been better ways of handling this – Rose asking The Meep earlier and correcting the Doctor, for example – showing the process coming from respect rather than the challenge it is here.
And then… “My chosen pronoun is the definite article, I am always The Meep” – err… Russell, do you not know what a pronoun is?
And then The Doctor – “Oooh… I do that.” No, Russell T Davies apparently does not know what the difference is between a pronoun and a name. And nor does The Doctor.
This feels kinda like the problems that RTD has with bi representation – he just doesn’t get certain aspects well and presents them badly. I don’t think it’s a bigoted thing – just ignorance and possibly belief that the joke outweighs the damage.
Problem the Second
Binary – Non-binary… Probably seemed such a clever ruse to tie in DoctorDonna’s ending lines. But… again…
Throughout the episode we are introduced to Rose as “daughter” as “she” as a trans woman. Not as a non-binary person. Trying to pull a non-binary identity at that point felt like it came out of nowhere just to satisfy that dichotomy. There wasn’t enough time to explore a change from trans woman to non-binary identity in just this one episode, so why not make the non-binary identity the more prevalent and conspicuous one from the start?
EDIT TO ADD: I meant to include originally, this doesn’t mean that Rose cannot be a female presenting, she/her-using non-binary trans person. But it would have been nice to see some indication of the non-binary element before the MetaCrisis got unlocked in her and Donna. If it was a change, it needs further exploration that a “finally me” line and hints that the MetaCrisis unlocking also unlocked her identity…
It means it has a slight tinge of “not a real woman” about it too.
Problem the Third
“Something a male-presenting Time Lord will never understand” – just what the fuck?
Look, I can head-canon my way around this. There are some fascinating issues around identity that can be had with The Doctor – with this Doctor in particular – around maintaining and releasing identities.
You build in the Big Finish stuff and how The Eleven can’t discard his old personas at all – and how that played out across Once and Future. It could tie so tightly into the themes of Ten being back and the whole Guardians of the Edge stuff from Jodie Whittaker’s forced regeneration.
There’s another show I love – Orphan Black – featuring clones. There’s a single episode which features a trans clone – Tony – and, again, it’s not perfect, but he has an attitude I love. When confronted with the fact he’s a clone – one of hundreds – the rest of CloneClub is expecting him to break down, to need support, to have questions at least. His actual response is basically “I’ve already done my identity crisis thank you very much. I know who I am.”
With that sort of discussion around identity, the “Let it go” solution to the MetaCrisis would be fantastic. Rose has let an identity go – the male-presenting identity she built up through her youth. Her mother, Donna has watched her give up that identity – seen it happen. It makes sense that they can see the idea of letting go of this. The Doctor meanwhile kinda keeps his old personas around. The tenth Doctor wanted to cling to his tenth incarnation – and has returned to that incarnation. It makes sense that The Doctor – this Doctor – would struggle with the idea of Letting Go.
I think with more time – and having Rose join them, we could have explored this identities issue a whole lot more and made this ending a whole lot more satisfying.
But instead, we’re left with this “male-presenting Time Lord will never understand” faux-feminism “girl power” WTFery.
Anyway, I enjoyed it, but I am pulling in quite a lot to fill some holes and waving away problems that didn’t need to be there. I would love to have more Rose – maybe she’ll be back with the third special – that looks to be back in present-day Earth, but I doubt there is the desire to make space for those identity conversations in the way my head-canon wants. There is still the “why is Ten back?” question which could have some parts of those conversations, but solving the MetaCrisis this early and without those conversations does rather remove the impetus to hold them.