For some reason, the British public get a bit funny when they see sex on their television, (usually just two people under a sheet, kissing a bit, for shame) or any nudity (Irene Adler. Destroying the innocence of our children! Burn her!) or even characters overtly discussing sex.
It is, bizarrely, a controversial topic, and it used to be even more controversial when it was non-heterosexual in nature. Luckily, things have gotten better.
TV writer Russell T Davies has been rather good at ‘normalizing’ homosexuality, and to a degree, bisexuality, for the viewing public. His show Queer as Folk, running for two series from 1999-2000, was extremely controversial when it aired. It was about gay people, and it had gay sex scenes in it. Surely not!
People got quite annoyed about that, but they were idiots; television needed something like this to say “actually, there’s no reason why this shouldn’t be on TV”. It was no different to the endless mountain of shows about heterosexual people going about their ordinary lives and doing sexy things, and blazed a trail for LGBT representation on TV.
RTD, as he is known on the internet, continued in the same vein when he brought back Doctor Who in 2005, in what fans termed his “Gay Agenda”, a somewhat reactionary term for the number of homosexual characters in his “Whoniverse”.
The most famed of these arrivals is Captain Jack Harkness, played by John Barrowman, one of the most prominent examples of the fluidity of sexuality on television today. In his debut story, the Doctor offhandedly notes that as a 51st century guy, Jack is “just a bit more flexible when it comes to dancing”; this is not presented as a threat or worry, but a fact of Jack’s character.
When forced to say goodbye to the Doctor and Rose, Jack kisses them both on the lips, in exactly the same way. He has been referred to as “omnisexual” (as he flirts with aliens as well as humans) but he’s a good figurehead for bisexuality and pansexuality, and will hopefully lead to more characters like him.
Spin-off Torchwood has occasionally been panned for its immature relationship with sex, but as the show grew, the writing and the characters matured too. In short, British science fiction, under RTD’s guidance, has become an effective vehicle for equal representation on television.
Nevertheless, beyond his work, many still question the realism of certain representations, particularly of the lesbian community. Shows such as BBC3’s Lip Service (the televisual equivalent of being sensually smothered to death by sentient candy floss) or the latest teenage lesbian story line in Coronation Street continue to demonstrate that female sexuality is often still represented in a voyeuristic or immature fashion, with a lack of cogent characterisation and camera work that would suggest a predominantly male audience.
Nevertheless, contemporary television is at least more normalized towards the presence of LGBT characters; the more stories are told, the more intelligent these representations will become, and Davies has certainly made an invaluable contribution.