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Dr Who and Torchwood under spotlight at lecturer’s BFI discussion

Hit television shows such as Doctor Who, Torchwood and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine came under the spotlight when Dr Stacey Abbott from the University of Roehampton took part in a panel discussion at the British Film Institute.

Posted: 11 December 2014

image for news story Dr Who and Torchwood under spotlight at lecturer’s BFI discussion
Dr Stacey Abbott (right) at BFI’s 'Gays of Fear and Wonder: Queer Sci-Fi' event with fellow panellist Dr Lorna Jowett from Northampton University and Dr Ewan Kirkland from University of Brighton

Dr Abbott (Department of Media, Culture and Language), who is an expert in cult television, was part of a panel discussion looking at both the past and future of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender roles in TV sci-fi as part of the BFI’s 'Gays of Fear and Wonder: Queer Sci-Fi' event. 

At the sold out event, Dr Abbott explored why television has proven a more radical space than cinema to challenge conceptions of gender and sexual identity. The panelists discussed how science fiction TV utilises its long-form serial narrative and emphasis upon character development over plot to, explore notions of what is considered to be ‘normal’, through stories of cyborgs, clones, time travellers, and aliens.

Dr Abbott used the example of Captain Jack Harkness (played by John Barrowman), a character first introduced on Doctor Who, and later given his own spin-off Torchwood, as an example of ‘queering’ the Sci-Fi hero. Harkness’ sexuality, first described as omnisexual, is the model of fluid sexual identity not limited by race, age, gender, or even species. Dr Abbott argued that on Torchwood, Jack became a highly disruptive force to the notion that heterosexuality is taken as normative within society. This spilled over to all of the characters who each began to question, as the series unfolded, their own conception of gender and sexual identity.   

The panel also discussed Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Battlestar Galactica and Orphan Black, each of which opened up considerations for gender and/or sexual identity, whether that be for one of the first Lesbian kisses on US television in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine; or the recent transgendered Master on Doctor Who

Dr Abbott was invited to take part in the panel discussion, held at BFI Southbank, because of her extensive research around genre and cult television with particular emphasis on, science fiction, horror, and the vampire and zombie in film and TV. She teaches students on both the undergraduate and postgraduate film courses at Roehampton.

The panel discussion was part of the BFI's three month celebration of science fiction: Days of Fear and Wonder. 

Dr Abbott will be returning to the BFI Southbank to introduce a screening of the film Serenity, a follow-up to the cult TV series Firefly on the 23rd of December. You can book tickets here

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