Queer Representation and Visibility in Doctor Who - Sky Silvestry

Sky Silvestry appeared in the episode Midnight. She was one of a group who were trapped, with The Doctor, during a trip across the “diamond planet” to see a Sapphire Waterfall.

The episode begins with The Doctor getting to know his fellow passengers to pass the time as they travel across the planet. It’s during a conversation between Sky and The Doctor that we learn she is queer.

The Doctor: I’ve done plenty of that—travelling on my own. I love it! Do what you want, go anywhere.
Sky Silvestry: Well I’m still getting used to it. I found myself single rather recently, not by choice.
The Doctor: What happened?
Sky Silvestry: Oh the usual. She needed her own space, as they say. A different galaxy in fact. I reckon that’s enough space, don’t you?

The revelation of Sky’s non-normative orientation is very subtle, if you weren’t paying full attention you could easily miss it. The result of this, combined with The Doctor’s reaction (or lack thereof) is that Sky’s sexual orientation is completely normalised. It is mentioned in passing, exactly the same way a straight women might talk about an ex-boyfriend.

In a society where portrayals of queer folk in the mainstream media must be justified through jokes, or where the implication that two characters of the same gender might share a romantic or sexual relationship is met with firm denial and cries of “no homo”. In this world the normalisation of non-normative sexual identities, such as we see in Midnight, is an incredibly powerful thing.

Sky, however, does not spend the majority of the episode as the women we initially meet as, soon after her conversation with The Doctor, she taken over by an mysterious alien. Aside from completely erasing Sky’s identity, this creature, now using Sky’s body, begins manipulating the people in the cabin, turning them on each other and nearly causing The Doctor to be murdered by his fellow passengers.

On the one hand, it could be argued that, this creature is a separate character and therefore you cannot make judgements about Sky based on this second characters actions. However I would argue that, although Sky has become the monster, she’s still referred to as ‘Sky’ and ‘Mrs Silvestry’ and she appears to be the same person. These two characters may be separate but they are likely to be conflated, to varying degrees, in the mind of the audience.

For the majority of the episode, then, Sky is the threat The Doctor faces this week and fulfills the psycho lesbian trope. She becomes murderous, attempting to cause The Doctor’s death, with no apparent motivation. For the only queer-identified character to become the villain, and ultimately end up dead, has very troubling implications. When we look at the history of queer characters in fiction, until incredibly recently, the vast majority end up dead. Often, it has been argued, as punishment for their violation of social norms, and this is a trope that still persists today.

There are many aspects of Sky’s characterisation which are really disappointing. She is just another queer character who ends up dead, fulfilling an incredibly archaic stereotype. That being said there are certainly some positive aspects to her character, leaving Sky as quite a mixed bag when it comes to portrayals of characters with non-normative sexual orientations.   

Queer Representation and Visibility in Doctor Who - Sky Silvestry

Sky Silvestry appeared in the episode Midnight. She was one of a group who were trapped, with The Doctor, during a trip across the “diamond planet” to see a Sapphire Waterfall.

The episode begins with The Doctor getting to know his fellow passengers to pass the time as they travel across the planet. It’s during a conversation between Sky and The Doctor that we learn she is queer.

The Doctor: I’ve done plenty of that—travelling on my own. I love it! Do what you want, go anywhere.
Sky Silvestry: Well I’m still getting used to it. I found myself single rather recently, not by choice.
The Doctor: What happened?
Sky Silvestry: Oh the usual. She needed her own space, as they say. A different galaxy in fact. I reckon that’s enough space, don’t you?

The revelation of Sky’s non-normative orientation is very subtle, if you weren’t paying full attention you could easily miss it. The result of this, combined with The Doctor’s reaction (or lack thereof) is that Sky’s sexual orientation is completely normalised. It is mentioned in passing, exactly the same way a straight women might talk about an ex-boyfriend.

In a society where portrayals of queer folk in the mainstream media must be justified through jokes, or where the implication that two characters of the same gender might share a romantic or sexual relationship is met with firm denial and cries of “no homo”. In this world the normalisation of non-normative sexual identities, such as we see in Midnight, is an incredibly powerful thing.

Sky, however, does not spend the majority of the episode as the women we initially meet as, soon after her conversation with The Doctor, she taken over by an mysterious alien. Aside from completely erasing Sky’s identity, this creature, now using Sky’s body, begins manipulating the people in the cabin, turning them on each other and nearly causing The Doctor to be murdered by his fellow passengers.

On the one hand, it could be argued that, this creature is a separate character and therefore you cannot make judgements about Sky based on this second characters actions. However I would argue that, although Sky has become the monster, she’s still referred to as ‘Sky’ and ‘Mrs Silvestry’ and she appears to be the same person. These two characters may be separate but they are likely to be conflated, to varying degrees, in the mind of the audience.

For the majority of the episode, then, Sky is the threat The Doctor faces this week and fulfills the psycho lesbian trope. She becomes murderous, attempting to cause The Doctor’s death, with no apparent motivation. For the only queer-identified character to become the villain, and ultimately end up dead, has very troubling implications. When we look at the history of queer characters in fiction, until incredibly recently, the vast majority end up dead. Often, it has been argued, as punishment for their violation of social norms, and this is a trope that still persists today.

There are many aspects of Sky’s characterisation which are really disappointing. She is just another queer character who ends up dead, fulfilling an incredibly archaic stereotype. That being said there are certainly some positive aspects to her character, leaving Sky as quite a mixed bag when it comes to portrayals of characters with non-normative sexual orientations.   

Posted on 15 May 2012
Tags: #Queer representation and visibility in Doctor Who  #Midnight  #Sky Silvestry  
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    ^ This one
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    I think New Who, for all the problematic portrayals of minorities it sometimes features, still has claimed a small...
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    I would respectfully disagree with this assertion that Sky was meant to be read as a ‘psycho lesbian’. The crew and...
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