Doctor Who: Oliver Harper and the Future of Homosexuals in Doctor Who
Here in the United States we are undergoing a social shift that is simply staggering in its speed and scope. Anti-same-sex marriage laws all over America are falling so fast that it's honestly difficult to keep up with them at this point. Equality for our LGBT brothers and sisters is actually close to being in our grasp.
And it's something that The Doctor has always known would happen.
Recently I discovered a new companion that easily fits into my top 10. Meet Oliver Harper, associate of the First Doctor and Steven Taylor who was introduced as part of the Big Finish audio stories, the first new companion created for the First Doctor in Big Finish.
Played by Tom Allen, Harper is a commodities trader in 1966 London who suddenly finds himself on the run from the police, though we don't find out why in his first adventure, "The Perpetual Bond". While he is fleeing, he stumbled across a human slavery ring headed by his old boss, who is actually a fungal alien in disguise conducting his business quite openly with the blessing of aspects of the British government desperate to help the still recovering economy. With Harper's help, The Doctor and Steven stop the trade, and Harper is invited to travel in the Tardis despite Steven's leeriness of the Harper's motivations.
Their next outing, "The Cold Equations", takes them to a broken down satellite far above the Earth of the future. Harper and Steven end up trapped together in what they think will be their grave in space, prompting Steven to ask Harper for the reason he was on the run.
Harper admits that he was evading pursuit of capture for falling in love with the wrong person. In this case a man named George. It wasn't until 1967 that Britain decriminalized homosexual acts that had been illegal since the passage of the - and I'm not making this up - Buggery Act of 1533 (Passed by Henry VIII because of course it was). Henry's edict made sodomy a capital crime punishable by death for the next 300 years.
This story continues on the next page.
By Harper's time the shift to decriminalize homosexual had begin, but was in no way fully realized. The change gathered momentum with the 1957 Wolfenden report that was sparked by the arrest of several prominent members of society for unnatural acts. The report ultimately recommended that homosexual acts between consenting adults no longer be subject to criminal charges. Ten years later, shortly after Harper boarded the Tardis, that would happen.
Coincidentally enough, one of the homosexual men that was key in giving testimony for the report was Patrick Trevor-Roper, who in order to protect his true identity was given the alias of "The Doctor".
Upon confessing his "shameful secret" to Steven, the older man simply laughed. Steven explained that by his time in the 22nd century the idea of discrimination due to sexual orientation was simply ridiculous. It was, in his own words, no big deal.
Harper was relived, but still worried about telling The Doctor. Of course, The Doctor had already known, and waved away Harper's concerns with "I consider it society's crime, not yours." From that point on, Oliver became one of the most gung ho and trustworthy of the First Doctor's companions... even dying to save the old man and his friend Steven.
Though his life was short and troubled, Oliver went to his rest knowing that eventually homosexuals would no longer feel the need to flee an oppressive state, and that even someone such as The Doctor would find immeasurable worth in people like himself. For a time, Harper existed in the Tardis as an energy projection brought about by his death at the hands of the Vardans in "The First Wave".
As The Doctor prepared to regenerate, ending his primary life, Harper summoned all the remaining energy he had to manifest fully in the old man's presence. It was just enough for The Doctor to see him, give one small wave, then collapse, never to rise again as the same man. At peace, Harper finally faded away, secure in the knowledge that The Doctor would live on, and that he would be out there protecting people.
All of them, without reservation about who they love.
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