How Doctor Who Failed The Unspoken Queer Relationship With The Doctor And Yaz

I thought my days complaining about queerbaiting in beloved genre shows died when Tumblr removed NSFW content, but the completion of the "Doctor Who" centenary special has me coming out of retirement to criticize the blatant queerbaiting injected into the relationship between The Doctor and her companion Yasmin Khan (Mandip Gill). As the first female Doctor in the show's decades-long history, Jodie Whittaker's run with writing by Chris Chibnall has been ... complicated, to put it kindly.

In her review of "The Power of the Doctor," our resident Whovian expert Hoai-Tran Bui described the Chibnall/Whittaker era as being "mired in clunky writing, nonsensical plots, half-realized characters, and empty spectacle" all while "missing the heart that made those kinds of quirks bearable." Whittaker and her historic first female Doctor deserved better, as did the queer fans who were seemingly promised genuine representation for the very first time, only to have it tossed to the side like an unimportant plot device ... because that's exactly what happened.

For the uninitiated, "queerbaiting" is a term used to describe a marketing technique for fiction and entertainment, where writers hint at, but do not depict, queer romance or other forms of LGBTQIA+ representation. The intention is to entice LGBTQ+ audiences (who are often very vocal on social media) with the suggestion or possibility of relationships or characters that appeal to them. 

I have a complicated relationship with the term queerbaiting, because I often find that it's being used incorrectly by ship-obsessed fans who confuse genuine kindness or friendship for romantic connection. But when it comes to the most recent run of "Doctor Who," the "Thasmin" (Thirteen + Yasmin) relationship was textbook queerbaiting.

Built up only to be knocked down

Throughout the 13th series, there always seemed to be romantic tension between the Doctor and Yasmin. The writers have admitted the "Thasmin" plotline wasn't planned but was added after seeing how much fans loved it. "Doctor Who" has toyed with a romance between the Doctor and human companions before, and Thirteen and Yasmin followed a very similar will-they-won't-they plot progression as Ten (David Tennant) and Rose (Billie Piper), which had many believing Whittaker's Doctor would be saying goodbye to Yasmin pre-regeneration in the form of finally admitting how she feels. 

This wasn't fan speculation or an instance of people "seeing something that wasn't there," as Chibnall himself mentioned in an interview with The Guardian back in April that the duo would finally address the "suppressed feelings" they had for one another in the Easter special "Legend of the Sea Devils."

When that didn't happen, fans looked toward the finale, which featured Thirteen being fatally injured by the Master, and the Doctor taking Yasmin on a final trip to the stars to say her goodbye. The scene had the ultimate set-up for a romantic farewell, but nothing happened. No kiss. No "I love you." Zilch. Yasmin was dropped off in Croydon to spend the rest of her days, and the Doctor regenerated into ... not the previously announced new Doctor played by Ncuti Gatwa (THERE ARE SPOILERS IN THAT LINK, YOU'VE BEEN WARNED!).

The lack of closure felt intentional

Yaz's feelings about the Doctor were well documented, and a major part of her story arc as a companion was rooted in her romantic feelings. It's not the end of the world that the Doctor and her companion didn't have a relationship, but it sincerely feels as if the romantic subplot between the two was built up for an entire series, only to be completely ignored in Whittaker's final hurrah. That does a massive disservice not just to the queer fans who loved the story, but also to the characters. 

Marc Burrows, a writer for The Guardian, took to Twitter with his complaints, acknowledging that the lack of payoff wasn't just annoying for those invested in the story, but was a fundamental misstep in storytelling. "Final thought on 'Doctor Who,'" he wrote, "not paying off Yaz being in love with the Doctor, teasing it in the last season as a major dramatic point and not even *mentioning* it feels totally untrue to their relationship. And, if I'm honest it feels like queerbaiting." 

Ellie Wilson of The Phase Magazine was writing about the series' queerbaiting implications all the way back in February, saying "I was pretty convinced that nothing substantial would come of the ambiguity surrounding Yaz's feelings for Jodie Whittaker's Doctor and that maybe it was all in my head," only to be excited in the very next sentence with "The queerbait wasn't bait! No spiky hook, just tasty gay fish all the way down!" 

She was referring to Yaz's canonical feelings about the Doctor in this instance, and I'm anxiously awaiting her thoughts after "The Power of the Doctor."

Unrequited love is fine, queerbaiting is not

If you watch "The Power of the Doctor" as a standalone special without the context of Thirteen and Yaz's relationship throughout the series, the two just look like your regular ol' Doctor and companion relationship. The two don't speak of the feelings they have for one another, and Yaz leaves at the end as though her feelings don't mean anything. Sure, the Doctor could have felt the same way about Yaz but wanted to spare her the pain of living a life without her after she regenerates, but it's never mentioned. If the Doctor didn't reciprocate Yaz's feelings and wanted to spare her the pain that'd also be perfectly fine, but again, it wasn't even acknowledged.

Queer relationships don't have to be perfect and romantic and end with the two riding off into the sunset together, but teasing it for an entire series only to act as if it never happened in the finale is unacceptable. If you want the sweet clout of retweets on Twitter and gifsets on Tumblr from the extremely active queer online communities, you can't dangle queer themes in front of our faces like a carrot and act brand new when we're upset that the carrot was a cardboard cutout all along.

Fans aren't mad that the two didn't end up together, they're mad that closure wasn't on the menu. The season built up to this massive, emotional moment, only for it to be completely ignored. If they didn't want the Doctor and Yaz to develop a romantic relationship, so be it, but making these unspoken feelings a canonical plot point, only to abandon it in the final hour is insulting, disappointing, and yes, queerbaiting.