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Russell T Davies opens up about transgender representation in Doctor Who

The first 60th anniversary special explores Donna Noble's daughter Rose's identity as a transgender woman

Doctor Who (BBC)
Doctor Who's first 60th anniversary special features a storyline around Yasmin Finney's Rose and her identity and experience as a transgender woman (BBC)

Doctor Who showrunner Russell T Davies is known for bringing progressive stories to the screen, and he was keen to do the same with the iconic sci-fi show by introducing Yasmin Finney's character Rose.

The Heartstopper star's character is Donna Noble's (Catherine Tate) daughter, and her identity as a transgender woman and the stigma she faces because of it is explored in The Star Beast, the first of three specials celebrating the 60th anniversary of the BBC show.

Read more: Doctor Who: The 60 best stories

At a press conference about the episode, Davies opened up about the need for transgender representation on screen and why he felt compelled to include it in the series: "It's not just a Doctor Who thing for me, it's something I and a lot of other writers are very keen to do, to be progressive and to reflect more of society.

"And it's funny in casting Yasmin, [Rose] was a 15-year-old of mixed race there's very few people we could have and it's like she came down from heaven and there she was, before Heartstopper actually.

Doctor Who (BBC)
Showrunner Russell T Davies has said he included the storyline as he wants all his writing to "be progressive and to reflect more of society" (BBC)

"It was just so powerfully meant to me, and I think she does the most amazing job, and it's an absolute privilege to work with her, to get her on screen."

Read more: How Doctor Who celebrated its milestone anniversaries

Davies went on to lament how transgender representation can be vilified in the press, adding: "[There are] newspapers of absolute hate, and venom, and destruction, and violence who would rather see that sort of thing wiped off the screen destroyed. Shame on you, and good luck to you in your lonely lives."

The screenwriter also spoke of how the modern TV landscape has changed to be a "more open door" to representation of all kinds, including for those with disabilities as represented by UNIT Shirley Ann Bingham played by Ruth Madeley.

Doctor Who (BBC)
Davies said he felt Yasmin Finney :does the most amazing job, and it's an absolute privilege to work with her, to get her on screen." (BBC)

"I wrote, in 1999, Queer as Folk where I had an entire almost an entirely white cast, the three leads were white. That's simply inconceivable now and so that's naturally changed, led very much by our casting directors."

He adds: "It's a more open door, we're still opening it further and further, as much as we can, it's heavy that door and it keeps on slamming shut and you still watch plenty of things at 9pm on all channels that haven't pushed at that doorway.

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"So it's a constant effort to help people through that door, so that's the biggest change... it's the mind that you go into it with, and across the industry, this is not just a Doctor Who thing. Across the whole industry that mind is more open."

Doctor Who 60th anniversary special The Star Beast is available on BBC iPlayer now, and the next two specials will air on BBC One every Saturday at 6.30pm.

Watch the trailer for the 60th anniversary specials: