Contains minor spoilers for Doctor Who from “Voyage of the Damned” through to “The Next Doctor”.
I’ve been compiling a list of all the characters who are wheelchair users in New Who. For everyone who has no earthly idea what I’m talking about, I’m referring to British television show Doctor Who (which is well worth watching by the way) specifically the episodes airing since 2005 after a long hiatus. The show had, shall we say, not the world’s greatest history of representing disability up until that point. I’d noticed a trend of characters who are wheelchair users (or users of SF-ish devices meant to echo wheelchairs) in recent years, and some rather sinister commonalities. Here they are (though if I’ve forgotten any, do add them in comments):
- Davros: The creator of the Doctor’s enemies, the Daleks. Evil as they come, wanting to destroy reality itself at the end of series 4!
- Max Capricorn: The villain of “Voyage of the Damned,” who wanted to crash a ship into Earth and frame his former cruiseliner company for mass murder.
- Mercy Hartigan: I can’t remember “The Next Doctor” so well, but seem to recall her being wired in a chair in the CyberKing towards the end, shortly before her death.
- John Lumic from “Rise of the Cybermen” and “The Age of Steel”. Dying and desperate to stay alive, he invents the parallel universe version of Cybermen, kidnapping homeless people to experiment on and seeking to “upgrade” all of humanity. Cybermen convert him into one of them against his will.
- Timothy Latimer: From “Human Nature” and “The Family of Blood”. A noble and brave young man who saves the day, we see him as a old man in a wheelchair towards the end of TFoB.
- Colonel Hugh Eddison: From “The Unicorn and the Wasp”. He reveals himself to have been faking needing a wheelchair for many years in order to keep his wife at his side (presuming she’d do so out of obligation or pity, I guess).
As we can see, the trend with wheelchair-using characters in this show is that they’re evil and must die at the hands of our charming able-bodied hero. Of the two exceptions, one is a Faker™. The other is only shown in his wheelchair right at the end; he’s allowed no dialogue.
Doctor Who makes me sad because, as much as I love it, those running the show clearly have a fair bit of contempt (or contemptous indifference) regarding PWD. We’re represented very narrowly: when real, when having agency, wheelchair users (because disabled characters are always wheelchair users) are bitter villains. The very few disabled characters aren’t allowed to be anything other than caricatures. There’s nothing grand or beautiful or important or good about them, they just exist as plot points to help the story along or to be obstacles for the Doctor to overcome.