So today’s Doctor Who’s feature was very kindly done by Maggie. Who will also be doing some guest book reviews in the future for me. As a self confessed Doctor Who nut, she had plenty to say. I hope you enjoy.
It seems that every time an actor announces he is stepping down from playing The Doctor, the press and the public start asking the same question – “Is it time for a female Doctor?”. While I think it would be interesting to see how our favourite Time Lord responds to regenerating as a woman, I don’t think it’s the solution to any feminist issues with Dr Who.
Here’s the thing: to my mind the original concept of Doctor Who pitches it as a show for children, and girls in particular. Yes traditionally science-fiction, fandom and all the associated geekery are more commonly associated with a male audience but think about it – a young woman (Susan Foreman) goes on an adventure, through time and space, with her grandfather. If we take the companions as audience surrogates, it is so much easier for us as female viewers to picture ourselves in the place of Susan, Vicki, Polly, Jo, Sarah, Tegan, Ace, Rose, Donna or Clara.
The problem is the characterisation of these women. In some cases they are meaningful, important characters, and the stories centre around their adventures with The Doctor as a means to taking them there. At other times, the companions feel like a plot device for The Doctor, someone to be captured and rescued, or only there as someone The Doctor can show off to. And much as I love Steven Moffat’s writing, since he took over as show runner the assistants have tended towards the latter. While not swooning, simpering damsels in distress, both Amy and Clara became more about the ultimate purpose they fulfilled in the Doctor’s personal story-arc.
A quick glance at the roll-call of writers across the 50 year history of the series and it’s not difficult to conclude that the dearth of female writers might just be a contributing factor to these issues. There are only six women with episode writing credits – and two of these appear to have been given a (co)-writing credit by their partners, without having officially contributed to the scripts in any way. Even looking at the novels, there are only 6 women among the list of about 60 on Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Doctor_Who_novelists). This includes Dark Horizons by J T Colgan, recently issued in paperback and featuring Vikings, mystical fire, and chess. Of course, J T is better known in her chick-lit writing alter-ego, Jenny Colgan – but I suspect the use of initials is in the great sci-fi/fantasy tradition (JRR Tolkien, JG Ballard, GK Chesterton), rather than the trend of female writers hiding their gender from male potential readers (JK Rowling, KA Applegate).
The impression is that the writing team for Doctor Who is a bit of a ‘boys club’, and this can never be a good thing. In this interview on Outpost Skaro (http://www.outpostskaro.com/v2_5/index.php/interviews/324-steven-moffat-interview), Stephen Moffat even states that when it comes to writers he is “looking for showrunner level writers who’d give their right arms to write a Doctor Who story” and therein lies the problem. I know plenty of female writers who have said, on record, that they would love to write for the series – but it seems the doors won’t be open to them without the experience (gosh, isn’t that always the way?).
Putting tokenism aside, everyone would benefit from having more women sharing the writing for the series. Female writers would not only add a rounded perspective to the female characters, but also the male characters, historical characters, aliens, monsters and imaginary worlds. The Doctor himself is an established character, almost certainly written to a set of guidelines, but the companion – who is supposed to be the audience’s window to the adventures – needs the roundness that only a proper diversity of writers can provide.
To follow Maggie on Twitter: @maggiebob
To check out Maggie’s own blog:
A huge thank you to Maggie for taking part I really appreciate it.