“Neuroqueer” is a verb. While commonly also used as a noun and personal label, at its conception, it was intended to emphasize action: to neuroqueer is “choosing to actively engage with one’s potentials for neurodivergence and queerness, and the intersections and synergies of those potentials” (Walker, 2021, p.124). Doctor Who’s hyponymous character offers a case study of the active, positive power of divergence.
The matter of the Doctor’s gender has been widely debated, and the most recent (2017-2022) regeneration has made history as the first official iteration of the character as a woman. Jodie Whittaker’s Thirteenth canonized the possibility of gender variant regenerations, which had been floating as a hypothetical since the 80s. In 1986, actor Patrick Troughton declared that “Having established that the Doctors could change […] there was no real limit to what is […] the sex of the Doctors” (Pepsi Man, 2017). Furthermore, despite having previously filled a more traditional, masculine hero role, the Doctor’s alien status already placed them somewhat outside of gender normativity and conformity (Jowett, 2017).
Such nonconformity is a consistent trait for an otherwise ever-changing character, and one many neurodivergent people have found kinship and comfort in. After all, in the Tenth Doctor’s words himself, “I'm many things, Sugar MacAuley, but neurotypical has never been one of them” (Abnett, 2010 28:47).
In its sixty years on (and off) screen, Doctor Who has garnered a wide fanbase of neurodivergent (and especially autistic) folks. The Doctor looks human but isn’t: while they might at first be mistaken for one, a conversation will reveal many idiosyncrasies and peculiarities such as echolalic catchphrases, fixations on extravagant items of clothing or food choices, repetitive hand movements, racing thoughts and streams of words which confuse their companions – and all such peculiarities are widely loved and quoted by fans, who embrace them.
While textual, explicit representation of human queer and neurodivergent identities can be vital, in this case, little does it matter whether the Doctor is diagnosable as autistic, or would describe themself strictly as nonbinary, genderfluid, or any other specific label: the doctor does not simply inhabit an intersection of diagnosable neurodivergence and queer identity – rather, they travel through Time and Space neuroqueering the universe with them.
[Pepsi Man]. (2017, June 17). Patrick Troughton on the possibilities of The Doctor's regenerations [Video]. Youtube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lMZuVfQgRCo&ab_channel=PepsiMan
Abnett, D. (2010). The Last Voyage. [Audiobook]. BBC Audio.
Jowett, L. (2017). Dancing with the doctor dimensions of gender in the doctor who universe. I.B. Tauris.
Walker, N. (2021) Neuroqueer Heresies: Notes on the Neurodiversity Paradigm, Autistic Empowerment, and Postnormal Possibilities. Autonomous Press