In early May, the British entertainment industry resolved to take more serious action against harassment and misconduct claims, causing the BBC to revisit accusations from the set of Doctor Who. After The Guardian detailed accounts of alleged sexual harassment and misconduct from Doctor Who actor Noel Clarke (Bulletproof, Brotherhood), former Doctor Who cast and crew members came forward to add to the existing twenty testimonies. The BBC’s recently renewed stance to take such accusations seriously thus led to a reexamination of John Barrowman’s previously addressed behavior on the sets of both Doctor Who and Torchwood, leading to the Jack Harkness’ actor’s removal from the upcoming interactive theater show Doctor Who: Time Fracture and the cancellation of Torchwood audio-drama Torchwood: Absent Friends.
— ComicBook NOW! (@ComicBookNOW) May 15, 2021
While Barrowman’s previous misconduct allegations, of exposing himself behind the scenes of Doctor Who and Torchwood, were first confronted by producer Julie Gardner (Torchwood, A Discovery of Witches) in 2008, they have resurfaced in the wake of the British entertainment industry’s new approach to accountability. According to The Guardian, over nine-hundred members of the British entertainment industry signed an “open letter” in May that demanded “an end to this culture that turns a blind eye to predators and harassers operating in plain sight.”
Noel Clarke accused of sexual harassment on Doctor Who set https://t.co/dxoVgnyIMW
— The Guardian (@guardian) May 7, 2021
The recent and numerous allegations levelled against Clarke – which the actor’s lawyers have denied – brought focus to Doctor Who and the BBC. According to The Guardian, “some Doctor Who crew members described an overly relaxed, at times unprofessional culture on set in the early seasons of the show.” While the unprofessional culture described might have lent itself to behavior that Barrowman later-disclosed as “fun banter” that “went too far,” the accusations against him and Clarke are extremely different in nature, via The Guardian.
“It was kind of accepted that it was his thing,” an anonymous source told The Guardian about Barrowman’s many instances of alleged self-exposure on set. A video the Doctor Who cast made to commemorate the end of David Tennant’s (Good Omens, Broadchurch) run as the Doctor – entitled “The Ballad of Russell and Julie” – even sees Tenant reference Barrowman’s reputation. Unlike the alleged behaviors of Clarke on the set of Doctor Who, those who reported on Barrowman expressed that they did not feel threatened by the actor’s alleged activity or deem it sexual in nature.
However, regardless of the actor’s stated comedic intention, Barrowman’s alleged behavior was not seen as amusing, according to The Guardian, and it landed him on Gardner’s radar. In 2008 the producer said she spoke to the actor, his agent and other members of the production team to “make it clear to both John and his agent that behaviour of this kind would not be tolerated” (The Guardian). Following the meeting with Gardner, Barrowman made a public apology for exhibiting similar behavior on BBC Radio 1.
While no reports of Barrowman continuing his alleged exposure on sets have surfaced since 2008, his “conduct has come under scrutiny in recent days in the wake of sexual misconduct allegations made against his former co-star” (BBC). The actor made his return as the beloved Doctor Who companion Jack Harkness in the most recent season of the series as well as the New Year’s holiday special. At the time, BBC, aware of the past allegations against Barrowman, seemed content to welcome the actor back – a stance they now appear to be reexamining.
On Wednesday BBC reported that a video Barrowman recorded as Jack Harkness was to be removed from the upcoming immerse theater experience Doctor Who: Time Fracture. Gizmodo editorialized that “the decision to remove the actor from a current project at least seems to indicate that the BBC is looking at Doctor Who’s relationship with the actor in a different light for the moment.”
Over the weekend, BCC’s doubled-down on their decision to shelf Barrowman by cancelling upcoming Torchwood audio-drama Torchwood: Absent Friends, via BBC. This was a particularly detrimental blow for Doctor Who fans, as Torchwood: Absent Friends would have seen the reunion of Jack Harkness and Tenant’s Tenth Doctor as well as seen Gareth David-Lloyd (Torchwood, I Am Alone) return as Ianto Jones. Comicbook included a testimony David-Lloyd’s gave on Barrowman – in which he reiterated many of the points made by former cast members regarding Barrowman’s alleged behavior – claiming that his former costar’s behavior on set was a result of “blurred” personal and professional lines that, though misguided, was not meant to be harmful of malicious.
I miss hanging out with this guy pic.twitter.com/hALIjbmjgg
— Gareth David-Lloyd (@Pancheers) May 13, 2021
The fact that Barrowman’s alleged past activities on the set of Doctor Who and Torchwood have recently been relitigated by the BBC has destressed many fans of the franchise. As Barrowman’s behavior has been addressed and seen as a mostly open-and-shut case since 2008, many find it disappointing to see him tied into Clarke’s recent investigation, especially when considering the disparity in the two cases. Additionally, BBC’s efforts to rectify the situation have directly impacted ongoing storytelling within the Doctor Who universe, further upsetting fans. Still, others commend the BBC, and the British entertainment industry at large, for taking action to address misconduct claims in a more serious manner across the board.
While the BBC came to the decision to cut Barrowman from two upcoming Doctor Who projects last week, it’s currently unclear whether the network will revisit their relationship with the Jack Harkness actor down-the-line. The BBC also noted that a decision has yet to be reached regarding Barrowman’s continued inclusion as a judge on the upcoming season of Dancing on Ice.