Queer Representation and Visibility in Doctor Who - River Song
Along with Captain Jack Harkness, River Song is one of the few recurring queer characters we see in Doctor Who. She first appeared in Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead before becoming a recurring character, appearing in several episodes each series. It is during this first appearance that we learn River is, as has recently been confirmed by Steven Moffat, bisexual. This is revealed during an exchange she has with Mr Lux in Silence of the Library.
Lux: Professor Song, why am I the only one wearing my helmet?
River: I don’t fancy you.
Since this initial illusion to her bisexuality, River’s non-normative orientation has not been mentioned again. In fact many fans of the show aren’t even aware of River’s sexuality.
Though there may be many possible reasons that River’s orientation doesn’t feature heavily in her storylines, the fact is Steven Moffat created a bisexual character. Regardless of his reasons for doing this (I doubt it was to increase the visibility of queer folk in the mainstream media) he had an responsibility to do justice to that characters orientation. What he actually did was ignore River’s bisexuality in favor of a storyline where River is completely stripped of her autonomy as her entire existence revolves completely around The Doctor.
I personally find this erasure to be incredibly hurtful. By not making River’s bisexuality explicit in canon Moffat implies that queer folk are not worth the time and effort it would take to give us representation. We are not worth interesting, complex character arcs and storylines. We are not worth the representation which is given to heterosexual folk by default.
It suggests to me that Steven Moffat has no desire to actually improve the representation of queer folk in the media, though he has implied otherwise, citing fans annoyance at a lack of queer characters in series 5 as “the one criticism I’ve ever listened to”.
I also feel it is symbolic of a shift in the representation of queer folk on Doctor Who. Whilst under RTD representations weren’t flawless, they were subtly executed and really served to normalise queerness. Moffat, on the other hand, lacks the understanding of erasure and marginalisation, which RTD clearly had, which results in poorly executed, heavy handed representations.
River Song had the potential to be another really great queer character but, ultimately, she is just another female character Moffat has fucked over.