I can’t explain how excited I was when Doctor Who got a black companion

I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t a Whovian.

Even when the original series of Doctor Who came to an end in 1989, I continued adding to my collection of memorabilia, reading the novels and hoping that one day, the show might come back.

The show also influenced my decision to become a journalist as I grew up watching the adventures of companion, Sarah Jane Smith and the Fourth Doctor. In my young mind at the time, it made sense to become a journalist because hey, maybe I could be chased by robot mummies like SJS, who if you remember, was a journalist by trade.

This declaration confuses some people who ask me why I chose my current occupation. I know I’m supposed to say something like “I wanted to be on TV” or “I wanted to make a difference” and although the latter is true, it came after my decision to want to be Sarah Jane Smith.

Now that may sound strange coming from someone who identifies strongly as a Torres Strait Islander woman, but it never occurred to me as a young girl growing up in a mining town on the western side of Cape York that Sarah Jane Smith wasn’t like me.

That’s the thing about seeing yourself reflected on the TV screen or a film screen – I didn’t realise I was “different” until someone pointed it out to me.

I thought I was like everyone else. Yes, I got questions from other children in my primary school who were curious about why my mum was white and why my dad was black, but I never thought it was strange. One time, after getting a few of these questions in grade five, I thought taking my mum in for show-and-tell might be a good idea, until she told me to stop being lazy and come up with a better topic.

That was until I experienced racism (and understood what it was) for the first time as a nine or 10-year old. I actually had no clue what the word was that the young boy had called me on the oval during big lunch, until I got home and asked my mum what it meant.

It was pretty clear from her reaction that she wasn’t happy.

It sounds weird, but that was the moment when everything changed for me. I realised I was different and that my skin wasn’t the same colour as most of the kids in my class.

It was then that I really started searching out “others” who looked like me on the TV shows I watched, the films I saw and the books I read.

In its nearly 54-year history, Doctor Who has only had two women of colour as companions (and Mickey, best known as the boyfriend of companion Rose Tyler of the ninth and 10th doctors).

I can’t explain how excited I was when Freema Agyeman was announced as the Doctor’s first black companion, Martha Jones, in the show’s then 43-year history (and now Pearl Mackie has joined that club).

What it really meant to me was that my nieces and nephews would now have someone who looked like them in my favourite TV show, which they would love even if they didn’t want to!

They’re growing up at a time when they can turn on the TV and see Cleverman, RAN: Remote Area Nurse, Aboriginal presenters (and other people of colour) on Playschool, Jessica Mauboy singing on a national stage, and channels like NITV.

They can read stories from Magabala Books, see Samantha Harris on the front cover of Vogue Australia, or go to the movies to see Finn from Star Wars: Force Awakens and T’Challa in next year’s Black Panther feature film.

Even though it seems they’ll see themselves represented more in film and on TV, that doesn’t mean that more can’t be done to add to what feels like a slowly turning tide.

Seeing how excited they get when they meet someone they recognise from a film or TV programme that has someone like them on it is something money can’t buy, but it speaks volumes to me, as their aunty, about how important it still is to see themselves represented in a positive way.

Sarah Jane Smith made me want to become a journalist, but maybe my nieces will grow up wanting to become doctors like Martha Jones.

This article was first published by Guardian Australia on 22 August 2017 as part of their partnership with IndigenousX

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