For the longest time, sex, love and marriage in Doctor Who were alien concepts for the show’s Time Lord protagonist. That makes sense, since the long-running British sci-fi series started as a children’s program, and remains one in many ways.
But Doctor Who matured along with its original audience, and references to relationships of all kinds started slipping into the series — a pattern repeated with gusto when it returned to television for a second incarnation in the 21st century. After a couple of years of new adventures, the Doctor started snogging! And there were hints — and, later, outright confirmation — of deeper romantic connections.
It’s getting hot in the TARDIS … so let’s explore the role of sex, love and marriage in Doctor Who with a tour of the Time Lord’s major loves …
Patience (various Virgin/BBC Books)
Who, you ask? When Doctor Who began on television in 1963, the character traveled through time and space in his TARDIS with young Susan, who called him “Grandfather.” We never learn what happened to her parents, but the natural assumption is that one of them was the Doctor’s offspring — which would mean there was a woman who had been dear to him.
Virgin Publishing’s range of novels, and some of the BBC Books volumes that followed them, would perhaps have us call her Patience, a native Gallifreyan woman who was married first to the founding Time Lord (and later Doctor Who villain) Omega, then to a mysterious figure known as “The Other” who would go on to be reincarnated as the man (or men) we know as the Doctor.
To really muck things up, according to this storyline, Patience, Omega and The Other were womb-born Gallifreyans, from a time before regeneration; at some point the culture loses natural reproduction and introduces “looms” that spin Time Lords into being — and The Other gave birth to the Doctor by throwing himself into one of these devices.
This complexity is a hallmark of the Virgin novels, and many of the same writers carried these threads into the BBC Books range as well as the Big Finish Audio productions, all of which kept the fires of Doctor Who burning in the void between the old series and the new. And many of them would go on to pen episodes in the relaunched series, such as Paul Cornell, whose “Human Nature” sees the Doctor hiding in plain sight as a human and nearly giving his heart to another woman.
She wouldn’t be the first, nor the last.
Cameca (“The Aztecs”)
The First Doctor (William Hartnell) was an irritable old goat, but he knew how to woo a woman when it suited his purposes. In this early adventure — notable for a headstrong companion intentionally trying to rewrite history — the TARDIS crew is stranded in pre-conquest Mexico, at the mercy of a scheming high priest with their time machine locked away in an impenetrable temple. Hoping to find a way back inside, the Doctor cultivates a relationship with Cameca, an Aztec widow who may know the secret — and accidentally ends up engaged to her after sharing a cup of cocoa.
Ultimately, Cameca (played by Margot Van der Burgh) further helps the Doctor and his companions get away by providing a vital distraction, knowing that it will keep them forever apart — and the Doctor leaves with a brooch given to him by his betrothed as a token of her love.
Romana (sort of)
Romana (full name Romanadvoratrelundar) was a Time Lady introduced as a companion for Tom Baker’s Fourth Doctor played by Mary Tamm — but it wasn’t until the character regenerated into a form played by Lalla Ward that wedding bells were heard in the vicinity of the TARDIS — off-screen, however.
Baker’s marriage to Ward was stormy and brief, and the closest it ever came to their fictional personae was a set of TV commercials for computers in Australia that showed them, in character, courting and popping the question.
And Romana, like all the Time Lords except for the Doctor, was presumed dead after the events of the great Time War — events that have been averted, apparently, so who knows if she’s around now?
Still, the two will be forever linked in fans’ minds as one of the defining Doctor Who duos — a match made in TV heaven, if nowhere else.
Scarlette (“The Adventuress of Henrietta Street,” BBC Books)
Near the end of the BBC Books range of novels starring the Eighth Doctor (portrayed earlier in a 1996 Fox TV movie by Paul McGann), the Doctor found himself alone and without his memories (and without his TARDIS) at the dawn of the 20th century — all this after erasing the Time Lords from existence in a titanic struggle for creation that mirrored the Time War of the modern TV series. He’s forced to live the century by his still not inconsiderable wits and ultimately is reunited with his companion and the TARDIS — but still has no memory about much of his identiy and purpose. Even worse, he’s horribly ill — one of his two hearts is dying, and without a world of his own he realizes that he needs to be rooted to the Earth once and for all.
Amid all this, the Doctor and his companions Fitz and Anji find themselves allying with a courtesan-sorceress named Scarlette, whom the Doctor ultimately marries to cement his allegiance to Earth in the most primal way. Many trials lay ahead for this Doctor before he meets his end, and exactly how it all works into the continuity of the TV series is open to anyone’s interpretation.
River Song (spoilers!)
Ever since she first appeared with David Tennant in the Tenth Doctor two-parter “Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead,” it was clear that archaeologist River Song (Alex Kingston) was somebody special in the Time Lord’s life. Destined to always meet him in the reverse of the order in which he met her, she becomes a major figure in his life and, it’s hinted, his personal fate.
Now we know she is the daughter of his most recent (from his perspective) traveling companions, Amy Pond and Rory Williams, conceived in the TARDIS as it traveled through the time vortex — giving her the same ability to regenerate after suffering fatal wounds multiple times as a Time Lord (an ability she sacrifices to save the Doctor from her own poison after she realizes the man she has been manipulated into assassinating is her one true soul mate).
Stolen from her parents really before her birth, River Song (aka Melody Pond) was shaped into a time-traveling killing machine by The Silence, a movement that is determined to avert the Doctor’s role in a future event it cannot allow to happen.
But as River puts it: “Take a child, raise her into the perfect psychopath, introduce her to the Doctor … who else was I going to fall in love with?”
Try as the Silence might, he lives and her hands are clean … but what’s next for these time-crossed lovers?
Did I leave anyone out?
- Rose Tyler is often referred to as the great love of the Doctor’s many lives, and may in fact be married to the “human” version of the Tenth Doctor in an alternate universe after his meta-crisis at the end of Series 4.
- Archaeologist Bernice “Benny” Summerfield flirts with him like mad in Virgin’s books — and is a likely inspiration for the River Song character. In the rare Eighth Doctor novel The Dying Days, she steals a kiss!
- Captain Jack Harkness, no doubt, has his unspoken wishes.
- In a case of temporal-fictional incest, David Tennant (the Tenth Doctor) is married to Georgia Tennant (nee Moffett), who played a “daughter” cloned from his Doctor’s DNA — and is the real-life daughter of his predecessor, Fifth Doctor actor Peter Davison.
- The Tenth Doctor actually marries Queen Elizabeth I in the 50th anniversary special “The Day of the Doctor.” There are reasons. It’s an event that was foreshadowed and mentioned in Tennant’s last official appearance before this, “The End of Time.”
- The Eleventh Doctor “accidentally” accepts a marriage proposal from Marilyn Monroe in the 2010 holiday special “A Christmas Carol.”
- Series Six even had an episode titled “The Doctor’s Wife,” written by Neil Gaiman, which saw the TARDIS personified as a batty woman named Idris (Suranne Jones, pictured with current Doctor Matt Smith) who argues constantly with the Doctor in a love-strife metaphor for his relationship with his eccentric vehicle — who claims she stole him rather than the other way ’round.
Who, if anyone, would you see the last of the Time Lords wed if the prospect of marriage in Doctor Who comes up again?
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