Are You Happy That The Doctor Will No Longer Be Flirting?

Sex, dear reader. With a new Doctor’s debut episode hurtling towards us from the near future, the age-old questions about what kind of character the Doctor should be are rising from the murky depths of fandom. And front of the queue is sex…

Not sex sex, of course but implied sexual attraction – flirting. Since Russell T Davies’ triumphant re-imagining of the series in 2005, the Doctor has not only flirted with a number of women (and a tree and Captain Jack), he has outright snogged them and stated his appreciation of his most recent companion’s short skirt.

If you said this to a fan from 1989 just after the show was taken off the air, lower lip trembling and tears dripping from their chin, they wouldn’t have believed you. A majority would, I think, have told you “then that’s not the Doctor.” But we’ve seen it. It’s happened and the buffy-inspired New Who has gained a whole new international fan base and in particular, lots of previously rare female fans. And it most definitely is Doctor Who…

Capaldi might just bring us some fire, some ice and some rage… and if that means he’s not going to flirt and comment on short skirts, I’m all for it!

However Peter Capaldi recently said in an interview for the Sunday Times Magazine,

“There’ll be no flirting, that’s for sure. It’s not what this Doctor’s concerned with…”

Hang on a minute – the 2005 season finale involved a universe-saving cosmic snog. The second involved trans-dimensional heartbreak and an un-uttered, “I love you” and the sixth series finale involved a universe-saving marriage-snog montage… I’d say it’s very much what the Doctor has been concerned with!

Capaldi, like Davies and Moffat, is a fan from the Classic era. And while some have argued that the Doctor has always had sex as a part of his life (he had a granddaughter and got engaged to an elderly Aztec lady etc.) I don’t really believe that. He was sexist, yes – especially in the 60s and 70s – but he was never sexual. Not until Paul McGann’s kiss in 1996 though even that erred on the side of joyous celebration rather than carnal desire. And I’ve argued before that there are reasons to keep sexuality away from the central character in the series.

What’s for definite is that Capaldi’s Doctor won’t be paying close attention to Clara’s hem-line,

“It’s quite a fun relationship [between the Doctor and Clara] but, no, I did call and say ‘I want no Papa-Nicole moments.’ I think there was a bit of tension with that at first but I was adamant.”

For those Kasterborites too young to recall the brilliant Papa-Nicole advertising campaign by Renault, it involved a wealthy father and daughter in the South of France who were politely oblivious of the love affairs each knew the other was having (and which relied on the speedy yet discrete Renault Clio). While it wasn’t about a potential couple flirting there was something subtly flirtatious about the relationship. At the very least each acknowledged the fact that the other had a sex life in their one-line exchanges. Take a look:

And just because I can’t resist, here’s Reeves and Mortimer’s take on Nicole’s eventual wedding:

Back to business. An article in the Radio Times has indicated from a mysterious ‘inside source’ that there was never any disagreement and Moffat was all for a change of direction. The Radio Times were told,

“There was never any intention for a Doctor and Clara romance. It was a shared intention of Steven and Peter not to have a romance.”

So there’s a question-mark over where the new direction has come from. Perhaps there was always agreement that it would be different but the Beeb were not keen for an absolute veto. Who knows. It does beg the question of how much the new slant is because of the very visual Papa-Nicole age gap between Capaldi and Jenna Coleman compared with Smith’s Doctor, and how much is for the sake of a fresh start.

But MORE importantly – what do we think about this? There are those who see the Doctor as a romantic figure. As Moffat has put it: the perfect boyfriend. Some have foretold a mass exodus of younger fans who will miss the simmering flirtation and heart-wrenching love stories. Others are confident that the companions and other characters can carry that side of things (the Ponds, for example) without the Doctor being a sexual character per se. In fact there are those – Capaldi included, it seems – who think the character shouldn’t be concerned with sex at all.

Tennant was a brilliant Doctor and built on the huge success of the first series, he wasn’t really “fire and ice and rage”.

A lot of this falls down to what we think flirting means and what kind of character we want the Doctor to be. Personally my view of the Doctor is of a more avuncular, Merlin-like character. The wise-old-man archetype. I’m all for a return to the good old days of adventures between best mates, one of whom happens to be an ancient alien madman. Flirting – while essentially harmless – does imply a sexual attraction or desire. When I think about the character of the Doctor and what he thinks when he looks at his companion, I want him to be thinking about how much they have to learn, how brave they are, how amazing they’ll find the universe, their hopes and fears and everything – except for how sexy they look in their mini-skirt. I have no objection to flirting on telly and characters having a real sexuality, but the Doctor feels like a special case…

Recall how the semi-psychic school boy from series 3’s Family of Blood described the Doctor,

“He’s like fire and ice and rage. He’s like the night, and the storm in the heart of the sun. He’s ancient and forever… He burns at the centre of time and he can see the turn of the universe… And… he’s wonderful.”

Now, forgive me, but while Tennant was a brilliant Doctor and built on the huge success of the first series, he wasn’t really “fire and ice and rage”. He was more a clever, cheerful wise-cracking snog-puppy with cool hair. And that might even do as a description of Smith’s (also brilliant) Doctor. He was occasionally a bit cross but he certainly wasn’t “the storm in the heart of the sun”. Now – when Capaldi donned the Doctor’s costume for the Sunday Times photo-shoot, the interviewer noted,

“His eyes are firing lasers around the studio and, well, he’s no longer the very relaxed, very happy Glaswegian will-o-the-wisp. He’s a full-on Gallifreyan nutjob. But in a good way.”

BBC Releases New, Shorter Series 8 Trailer

While it’s too early to comment on Doctor number 12, I think (I hope!) Capaldi might just bring us some fire, some ice and some rage… and if that means he’s not going to flirt and comment on short skirts, I’m all for it. Flirting can be delegated!

One way of seeing things is that we’ve had a love-and-kissing Buffy phase which has brought a new fan-base to the show. And now the world is ready to be re-introduced to the Doctor as he used to and arguably should be. Another way of seeing it is that a tried, tested and loved formula is being thrown out with unknowable consequences. We shall soon find out!

Now over to you. What do you think Kasterborites? Should the Doctor be a fun, flirty Byronic love-object or an avuncular hero with laser-eyes? Let’s have it out below. No biting or scratching…

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  1. vidarraven says:

    Time for a change to a more traditional Doctor, a friend a teacher but not a boyfriend

    • When I think of how I like the Doctor to behave in this sense I always go back to the Fourth Doctor’s wonderfully disinterested acknowledgement in CITY OF DEATH that Catherine Schell’s character probably was attractive. Can’t recall the exact words but it was brilliant. I’m not opposed to some subtle, unspoken sexual tension, such as what we saw between the Fifth Doctor and Todd in KINDA. Add some genuine class and underplaying to it is my opinion.

  2. yoyo says:

    Yes. The romantic approach towards the companion or side characters was used for Doctors Eight (skipping John Hurt) to Eleven. Time for something different. Although I wouldn’t mind seeing River Song again…

  3. Laz says:

    The only actual flirting took place with Rose, and it made perfectly sense when it happened.

    After that, we’ve only had River Song. No real flirting with Amy and no real flirting with Clara (not from the Doctor, at least). I have no idea why anyone would have expected Clara and the Doctor to start flirting now, I think no one even thought of that before this interview, where nothing but the obvious is stated.

    Should we see River Song again (not this year, I guess) flirting should (and no doubt would) be back in a second. She is his wife after all.

    • It is the end..... says:

      I totally agree, Laz. I think the whole ‘Doctor-as-a-sexual-entity’ is massively overblown. The odd snog occassionally rears it’s ugly head, but I don’t think it’s major. I even think the romance between River and the Doctor is mostly inside her head, derived from her teenage fantasy as seen in Let’s Kill Hitler’ (at least, that’s what I tell myself).

      It’s interesting therefore how much is made of sex and the Doctor, given its lack of prominence in the show, and how some articles I’ve read suggest that its a risk to ‘desexualise’ him, as though a romantically bonking Doctor is why the show is so successful. If only Sylvester McCoy had snogged Ace the show would never have been cancelled!

    • francis cave says:

      What about Martha?

      Her doughy-eyed lusting after the Doctor was one of the mains reasons I thought the character was one of RTD’s few failures.

      • It is the end..... says:

        Martha proves my point, I would argue. Her’s was a case of unrequited love and the Doctor wasn’t interested in her in terms of romance. I am not suggesting that romance hasn’t been a feature of New Who, merely that the Doctor himself isn’t generally a romantic protagonist.

      • I though her eyes were more beignet..

  4. Christine says:

    Actually, although I don’t like everything becoming too romantic (especially not between Doctors who could be the grandfather 10 times over of the companion), I don’t mind a bit of a flirt. In fact, I rather liked the take of Captain Jack on this score who flirted with everybody. But I am all for a more matey kind of relationship (like Tom Baker calling Sarah his “best friend” in the seeds of doom) between the doctor and his companion. Like between Donna and the Doctor. That wasn’t romantic, that was being best friends, and I always feel she was the best best companion of the new series. They were just two good friends having a ball (and sadness as well, as friends share the good and the bad). So I really am looking forward to the 23rd!

  5. I am absolutely looking forward to an end to the endless flirting with companions (and almost everyone else). I’ve been a fan since the classic series and I’m looking forward to a return to that type of dynamic between the Doctor and his companions. And I say that as someone who was a fan of the Doctor/Rose relationship. That relationship made sense in my mind given where the Doctor was in his timeline. Eccleston’s Doctor was incredibly lonely and emotionally damaged immediately following the Time War and in many ways Rose’s trust in him and commitment to him helped heal him and brought him out of the instability he was plagued with. But once that relationship ended, that type of relationship no longer seemed necessary from a character development standpoint. I was uncomfortable with the romance-of-the-week dynamic during Tennant’s tenure (with Reinette and Astrid and Lady Christina, etc.) and the continuation of that during Smith’s time as the Doctor. It seemed to serve no purpose except to try to attract a younger audience. After hearing Capaldi’s comments in the recent interview, I (and many of my friends) are more energized and excited for the return of the show in ways we haven’t been in years.

  6. Ranger says:

    Good article and I agree with Christine about Donna being the best nu-Who companion because she was friend’s with the Doctor.

    I would like the Capaldi Doctor and Clara relationship to be like that of Ace and the Seventh Doctor – caring and affectionate. But I think this will have to grow from initial uneasiness on each side: for Clara this is a totally new person and for the Doctor it seems that, at least in the beginning, he has amnesia.

    I have to say, with every word spoken from Capaldi, he is more and more sounding like the Doctor I have longed for since 2005. Not that I didn’t love Tennant.

  7. The flirting is not a problem. The sexualization shouldn’t be as well. Up to 11 how many Doctors had fun sex? O-Who fans simply had a child and a granddaughter show up like they there the product of some British allowed Gallifreyan pon farr. 11 and Tasha Lem, and 11 and River certainly went beyond that. The greater experiment will be if American fans will like an O-Who type of Doctor? This may be the Eccleston Conundrum everyone alludes to but dare not speak its name. I believe that the successes of 10 and 11 proves that a Nu-Who Doctor can be wildly successful but we will see if the world-wide audience can be held with a crazy-laser eyes atavistic one. If no, I predict the Eccleston Conundrum V.2…

    • teddybowties says:

      I’m American, and I appreciate it. However, every Doctor before this had a bit of compassion… I wonder how this one will be different. Obviously something huge has happened to him, so if tehy play this right, it could be phenomenal. But if they miss the mark, well… eeeeek. I just want it to be as deep as it should be, and please please, go a bit deeper! And maybe not so rushed. we need time to build it up in our heads while it’s running, too. 😉 an excellent example of this is The Aztecs, Edge of Destruction, Image of the Fendahl, or Pyramids of Mars. And Black Orchid.

    • I’m starting to think Capaldi’s first line should have included “I’ve a new prostate: its orange!” With new kidneys, he’s in for problems there.

  8. Rupert says:

    Is flirting/sexuality one of the key factors that has made Dr Who so great over half a century? Clearly not. Its loss should not, therefore, be a big problem.

    That’s not to say there’s anything wrong with a little bit of flirting, sex, and romance every once in a while. As a key component of the human equation, it’s nice (for us as humans) to see it in there occasionally. I just don’t think it needs to be part of the Dr Who formula.

  9. TimeChaser says:

    The last few Doctors have brought out the romantic aspect more, but the Doctor is a constantly shuffling group of different personality traits, so I am all for a change of direction back to a more patrician type of character, angrier and more distant from his human friends than he has been lately.

    • Al says:

      But they have to be careful. The last time they did something like this was with Colin Baker and we saw how well that turned out. It’s like folks who would like nothing better than a Star Trek TV series featuring Klingons. It would appeal to some fans, but the mainstream is what keeps the show alive. What they have planned for Capaldi’s Doctor may be a dream come true for longtime Whovians, but it’s the ones who tune in to see the Doctor snog his companion who keep the show on the air and they’re the ones that need to be convinced. They also have to be careful not to scare away the kids, too. Capaldi may have a great rapport for children off-camera, as we have seen, but if they get alienated on screen (as again happened with Colin Baker), the show is in trouble. I’m not one of those predicting doom and gloom. I’m just saying they need to be careful and maintain balance.

      • Paddy says:

        Major difference between Colin’s first season and now – the writing. I still say Colin Baker was a damn fine Doctor and managed to elevate some diabolical hack scripts to a watchable level, but in terms of writing and establishing a new Doctor I think we are on much safer ground with Moffat.

        The flirting etc in new Who is generally subtle enough that I don’t mind, but it has occasionally gone a bit far for my Classic Series tastes, particularly in Smith’s run. Tennant got snogged a lot but generally seemed somewhat oblivious to it all, whereas Smith’s Doctor actually engaged with it towards the end of his run which didn’t sit that well with me.

        I cannot remember being as excited for a new Doctor as I am for Capaldi. I think a change in tone is welcome and I have confidence in the people charged with implementing it.

      • It is the end..... says:

        Out of interest, what is your evidence for suggesting that Doctor Who’s audience numbers are maintained by people who ‘tune in to see him snog his companion’? I would refute this assertion entirely, but am happy to reconsider.

        But it is worth questioning the initial logic of this assertion, as we wait for the evidence to emerge. So: in how many episodes since 2005 has the Doctor snogged his companion? I can think of four instances, or is it five? Anyway, none of them were actually romantic in origin, although no doubt this too could be debated.

        Whatever: 5ish lipsmacks with companions isn’t an awful lot, so I am bound to ask: given the paucity of snogs, how has Doctor Who remained so popular all these years?

  10. Al says:

    Every Doctor is different, and it’s clear from the location filming pics that Capaldi and Coleman have great chemistry together. If the intent is to go back to the Doctor-Sarah Jane dynamic, no problem there. Just as long as it’s not due to ageism. Just because someone is in their 50s that doesn’t mean they’re automatically disqualified from being attracted to attracting someone in her 20s. And they made too big a deal of Clara’s attraction to the Doctor in the Christmas special and Series 7 to handwave it away, so I’m sure it’ll be a plot point, most likely a variant of the Martha Jones scenario.

  11. vortexter says:

    I think the only flirting on the show should be between The Doctor and the TARDIS. In many ways it was appropriate with the previous 4 Doctors but lets have a change and concentrate on the stories and the plots. Not the endless ‘will they, wont they’ teases.

  12. DonnaM says:

    If the Doctor wants to engage in a bit of flirtatious banter, or wishes to notice another character’s attributes, that’s fine with me. Just as long as that character isn’t a human a couple of millennia his junior.

    It has nothing to do with the relative ages of the actors – that would be hypocritical, adults are adults, and nobody squealed with outrage over River looking noticeably older than Eleven. I simply find the idea of an ancient alien being romantically interested in a human girl in her teens or twenties faintly ridiculous.

  13. Barb says:

    A big fat yes. The flirting was not part of the original show and it worked fine. That’s part of the reason I enjoyed Donna because she and the Doctor were essentially pals completed to all the other female companions in new Who. I want the focus on the Doctor and his adventures not bloody mysteries behind his companions taking the spotlight.

    So far, I am looking forward more and more to the new series (my interested waned considerably during the Smith years essentially due to bad writing and unmemorable stories for the most part).

  14. Castellan Spandrel says:

    The snogging, sexuality, whatever of the Doctor is something I’m not that keen on (it’s not what I watch the programme for) but which nevertheless doesn’t ruin the whole shebang for me.

    I don’t see much actual romance or sex in there at all. I see it as the kissing ‘money shot’ moment in certain episodes, a contrived incident in the story ensuring that the Doctor and his companion must share a kiss, whether it’s to remove the time/space vortex from his companion, to obtain a genetic swab, or whatever. And it’s that glib contrivance that annoys me more than any of the actual snogging itself, as it suggests that the producers are saying, “The Doctor must snog. He’s the main character in a TV show, so he must be like most other main characters in TV shows, and snog!” They may think that viewers are of a similar mindset.

    Rona Munro’s comments on this issue are interesting, in that she described it as ‘lazy writing’. There’s something in that; why should the Doctor *have* to snog, etc? Is it because that’s what TV serial drama protagonists do? And if so, wouldn’t it be more interesting to buck the trend?

    I can’t help harking back to my friend’s comment to his missus when they were watching the Eccleston Doctor kissing Bad Wolf Rose to remove the vortex from her: “You see – it’s science!”

  15. Castellan Spandrel says:

    So…. yes, in relation to the above, I’m happy with the direction Mr Capaldi wants to go in!


  16. Andy Blake says:

    I look at it like this. The Doctor is obviously a sexual being or he wouldn’t be a grandfather. But then, it didn’t work out with his original wife or he wouldn’t have jumped in the TARDIS and left her. He actually falls in love very rarely. In fact we’ve only really seen it once. I suggest that is because he takes such matters very seriously and he has all of time and space to wait for a soulmate.

    Joan Redfern doesn’t count: he wasn’t exactly himself. Reinette he kept at arm’s length until he realised he’d trapped himself on “the slow path” and might as well make the best of it. And River Song isn’t The One. Frankly that relationship strikes me as poisoned and abusive. She, all smutty and smug and holier-than-him – but exploited as well. He, contemptuous of her love and leaving her to stew in prison for a murder she didn’t do. (Ok, so he broke her out for nights ‘on the town’ but that was an afterthought.) I’d agree with the comment that their romance was more in her head than in his.

    In fact the one love of his life is Rose Tyler. RTD told us over and over that they were soulmates. Piper, Eccleston and Tennant have all affirmed that this really was a love story. We’d never had a Doctor/companion love story. I don’t care that it was a radical departure from the formula: change is supposed to be what this show is all about. I also don’t care if the Doctor looks a lot older than the companion: it’s all illusion. He is a child in an adult body, or he is an inconceivably old man in a biologically young body. The Doctor is meant to be inwardly ageless. 19 years old is as good as 90 when you’re 900.

    Romantic doesn’t have to mean soapy or frivolous either. There is something potentially epic about the Doctor/Rose story – the idea of the lonely traveller who has just this one person out of the entire universe who can begin to make his loneliness bearable. Someone who can get inside his soul and be the Doctor’s own doctor. This is indeed the stuff of legend and I would like the show to come back to it someday and take it onward to the next stage. That story was cut short before its power could be exploited to the full, and what I am always getting from Rose Tyler fans is a wave of dissatisfaction that it was not closed in a worthy or credible way. And/or it is too good to close anyhow.

    So give the Doctor a serious romantic interest, but let it be just that one great love which he now realises he was an idiot to have ever thrown away. No, he wouldn’t be moping. He would be doing something positive to fix matters. Even if it’s like those 60s Marvel comics where the Silver Surfer strives issue after issue to find his way back to his beloved Shalla Bal. Let the show surf on that to places where it hasn’t been before.

    And use it to put some emotional distance between him and newer companions. It’s right that he shouldn’t keep on falling in love after Rose. She was special, so don’t cheapen her. What in the world did Moffat think he was doing in Series 7 with all those suggestions that Eleven and Clara fancy each other? Well, actually I think it’s pretty obvious that Clara was referencing Rose, more or less in every episode. But why…if a Doctor/Clara romance was never on the cards?

    Perhaps the right question should be, what might the referencing foreshadow? If this Doctor is going to be consumed by the need to rectify his past mistakes, a quest for his lost love might be exactly where we’re headed. We know from ‘Let’s Kill Hitler’ that he suppresses a burden of guilt over Rose (the others too, but for different reasons). After all, he abandoned her to live a lie with a facsimile, and that is a dreadful and soul-destroying fate for one so devoted that she tracked the real Doctor across universes and would’ve followed him into a black hole. If, however, the walls between parallel worlds were open when the Time Lords were running the universe – doesn’t that suggest that the road to Gallifrey is also the way back to…?

    I see the Twelfth as the Doctor of the Hunt. So I can believe he’ll have more pressing things on his mind than flirting with his fellow travellers. What happens when he reaches his destination – THAT’s a whole other game. And if Peter Capaldi is still the Doctor by then, it would be a pleasure to watch him shake up the formula yet again and jolt everybody out of their youth-obsessed, age-gap-scandalized, too-old-for-love ageism…

    • Simon Magellan says:

      “But then, it didn’t work out with his original wife or he wouldn’t have jumped in the TARDIS and left her”

      That’s a leap. Who’s to say she was still alive, especially given his age when he left.

      To my knowledge, there’s never been an official explanation as relates to his wife that would suggest he “left her”.

      This is another case of fans making up backstory totally without need.

      • Perhaps she’s still there, waiting, up to her elbows in dirt. “That bloody Doctor, bloody do-gooding all his life since he left me, and what good has come of it, eh? Only a bloody Time War and the prospect of reality folding in on itself! Tim, get your hands out of that old Dalek casing, it’ll have em off at the elbow!”*

        (To be read with this voice:

  17. It’s not about the snogging alone. It’s about the acknowledged sexuality of The Doctor. One of my favorite scenes is where Sexy had a transparent control room floor and Amy was in a short skirt looking down at 11 messing with those damned cables. Hilarious. Would 12 have looked up and said, “lovely knickers, duck, Marks ‘n Sparks?”

  18. Elliot Paige says:

    I am a fan of Classic Doctor Who.
    NuWho was never to my taste, I dipped in and out but it was all far to flirty, tongue in cheek aren’t we clever for my taste.
    I’m really looking forward to the new series, and the hope with Capaldi and a more serious tone I could become a regular viewer again.

  19. cassey12RICK says:


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