When Doctor Who rolled out its eighth season on BBC and BBC America last weekend, a tyrannosaurs rex made a 250 million year leap from the Mesozoic era to Victorian London — but that was nothing on the enormous step the show itself took toward doing right by its gay fans. The first episode of the new season, titled “Deep Breath,” faced the monumental task of helping the audience of the forever-running sci-fi bastion fall in love with Peter Capaldi as the new Doctor. And showrunner Steven Moffat did it by surrounding Twelve with a pair of universally beloved recurring characters: Madame Vastra, a lesbian lizard-woman from the dawn of time, and her human wife Jenny.
First lets talk about what happened, and then let’s talk about why it was a such a Big Damn Deal.
When a T-Rex shows up in the Thames River, the Victorian-era cops come looking for Madame Vastra, who is notoriously good at solving seemingly supernatural conundrums. It doesn’t take her long to realize the dinosaur has swallowed the TARDIS, and it takes even less time to realize something even wonkier is afoot. To wit, the Doctor has regenerated and no longer looks like every nerd’s imaginary boyfriend, Matt Smith. Like all regeneration episodes, the Doctor’s usually frenetic energy is amped up a million jiggawatts as he runs willy-nilly through the streets trying to figure out what his deal is and why he chose his new body.
Madame Vastra has known the Doctor for ages, so she quickly takes him to her house and sets to work. First, she tricks him into resting by asking him to project a perfect image of sleep into her mind. Despite his protestations that the creating a psychic link with him will make her feel like she got piano dropped on her brain, she insists. And he conks himself right out. Jenny asks if Madame Vastra thinks all people are monkeys, and she says that all people are apes; men are the ones who are monkeys.
Next, she decides to figure out if the Doctor’s companion, Clara, has what it really takes to travel through space and time with a madman in a box. She explains to Clara that she and Jenny are married but that they maintain the pretense of madam and maid in public to keep speculation in check. (“Doesn’t exactly explain why I’m pouring the tea in private,” Jenny quips.) Vastra says that the Doctor changed his appearance so drastically because he’s thousands of years old and he wanted to be sure he didn’t look like Clara’s boyfriend, which makes Clara fly off the handle because she’s not interested in him for sex; she’s interested in him for time travel and heroics and adventure. She yells so much Vastra gets a little flirty, but Jenny playfully thumps her and says, “Oy! Married!”
Clara asks Jenny what she would do if Vastra changed, if she wasn’t still the woman she likes, and Jenny replies: “I don’t like her, mum; I love her.”
While Clara and the Doctor go off to bond and figure out who torched the T-Rex (yeah, the T-Rex died) and why someone would torch the T-Rex, Vastra asks Jenny to pose for her for a painting. But really, she is just working on a crime board and she likes Jenny to be near her with mostly no clothes on. It turns out a group of cyborg aliens are kidnapping people and stealing their body parts (and making a very, very gross blimp out of human skin), and when the Doctor and Clara find themselves kidnapped in the cyborg lair, Vastra and Jenny (along with their curmudgeonly companion Strax) drop in to save them.
The cyborgs only fight people who are breathing, so the battle requires a lot of breath-holding from the group. Vastra, big ol’ flirt that she is, uses it as an excuse to kiss Jenny right on the mouth, to “share her oxygen.”
Nothing bonds together a Doctor and a companion like thwarting a group of homicidal aliens, so Vastra and Jenny wish Clara and the Doctor well and send them on their way.
The reason Vastra and Jenny’s apperance in the episode is such a huge deal is that they finally kissed, for starters. But mostly it’s important because Steven Moffat chose to use Vastra as his mouthpiece to make commentary on the new Doctor. With her help, he batted down the complaints Capaldi is too old for the role, swiped at commentary that there is only one suitable personality for the Doctor, and pleaded with fans to give the new guy a chance. The eleventh Docto, made a surprise cameo at the end of the episode, begging the audience for the same thing, but the majority of the meta dialogue came from Madame Vastra, which means, of course, that Doctor Who’s highest profile lesbian lizard-lady is so universally adored that Moffat was counting on her popularity with fans to cushion the blow of a new Doctor.
The interspecies lesbian couple lent empathy to the straight white dude. How awesomely wibbly wobbly timey wimey is that? Maybe it’s time to get get serious about that spinoff.
How did you feel about Madame Vastra and Jenny’s appearance on the new season of Who?