It’s frustrating. I honestly believe they are looking for more women writers, but then again, it’s been six years. Actually, even if a woman writes an episode for Series 9, it will have been seven years since a woman wrote for Doctor Who. That’s just…I don’t know.
I’m not doubting Neil Gaiman or Jamie Mathieson when they say that Moffat and the Doctor Who team has been making a sincere effort to find women to write for the show. And I don’t really want to try to make “recommendations” about what else Moffat or the Doctor Who team could do because I have no idea what they’ve been doing, who they’ve been asking, and why those writers who have been asked couldn’t make the commitment.
But still, it’s frustrating. And it’s really just a symptom of a much more massive problem within the sci-fi community and the broader television industry.
To start with, there’s a massive gender gap in television writing. The Writer’s Guild of America found that during the 2011-2012 season, 30.5% of staff writers were women. I can’t find data for the number of TV writers in the UK broken down by gender, but the British Film Institute’s 2014 statistical yearbook found that about 14% of British film writers were women. So my guess is the gender gap is about the same, if not worse, in the UK television industry. This Guardian article compares the number of women who have written for Doctor Who to the number of women writing for other popular UK sci-fi/fantasy shows and finds it to be pretty comparable.
The science fiction community in particular has a huge problem with recognizing and nurturing women writers. And don’t even get me started on the problems within the community regarding the outright harassment, abuse, and misogyny directed at female creators and fans.
I’m not discussing this to excuse the fact that no women have written for Doctor Who for so long. I just want to point out that when we talk about the lack of women writing for Doctor Who, we need to be mindful of the fact that this isn’t a problem isolated to one particular show or showrunner. It’s an industry-wide, community-wide problem.
But we should keep talking about the lack of women writing for Doctor Who. Keep pressure on the team to find women to write for the show, and make sure that they know that we think this issue should be a priority. There are so many amazing writers that I would love to see on the show, and Doctor Who can be be a real leader on this issue by promoting women writing for science-fiction.
You really want to know what my favorite episode of Doctor Who is, don’t you?
Sorry to disappoint you, but…
2/2 - It’s a space train set hundreds of years in the future, is it really that unbelievable that women could do science too? Would love to hear your thoughts, thanks
I actually took a look into this and I think this perception brings up a fascinating point.
So, if you take a second look at all of the scientists, the group is actually a little bit more diverse than you remember.
Here’s half the scientists:
And here’s the other half:
Ignoring the four named characters (Quell, Perkins, Moorhouse, and the Doctor) I count eleven unnamed scientists. Seven are men, four are women. So men definitely outnumber women, but there was definitely more than one woman scientist.
So why, thinking back on the episode, do we forget the other women are present? Why, when we remember the science scenes, does it feel so heavily male? I think it has to do with which characters were named and which characters got to speak.
As I said above, there are 15 people present in the room but only four, to my recollection, are named and have lines, and all of them are men. They are the ones who are most actively involved in the science and deductions. Quell and Moorhouse provide data as they die, and Perkins bounces off deductions with the Doctor. For most of these scenes, the other scientists sit in the background with lab coats on. We’re meant to infer that they’re doing vaguely science-y things, but we don’t actually know what they’re doing for the most part. There is one woman who provides information about who they’ve deduced is the next victim, but that information is passed on wordlessly to Perkins, who then passes that information on to the Doctor.
When we look back and think about these scenes, we remember the characters which are most distinctive, particularly those who are named and have lines. None of the female scientists are named and have lines, and there’s only one who does something that appears to contribute to the plot. I think that’s why we forget how many women were actually present.
The Bechdel Test isn’t necessarily designed to capture things like this, but it can provide a useful framework for how to think about representation of women in situations like this. Remember, the three conditions of the Bechdel test are that the female characters must 1) be named, 2) talk to each other, and 3) talk to each other about something other than a man.
The Bechdel test touches on three important elements of representation in film: which characters, by virtue of being named, are given extra importance by the narrative; which characters get to speak; and what do they get to talk about? It is important because it helps illustrate how few women are given prominent roles, and that when they do get prominent speaking roles, they tend only to talk about the male characters.
The female scientists are present. But most of the important scientific and deductive work is done by the men. There are a lot of scientists in the background who don’t get any lines, and Clara and Maisie do contribute to uncovering the mystery of the Foretold and the Orient Express, so I’m not particularly bothered that those female scientists didn’t get any lines. But I understand where your perception that most of the scientists on the train were men comes from. The female scientists just didn’t receive that much attention.
(For the record, “Mummy on the Orient Express” passes the Bechdel test. And the Bechdel test even received a subtle call-out in the episode! Clara, trying to get Maisie to stop talking about the Doctor, says “Seriously? We’re stuck in this carriage, probably all night, and all we can talk about is some man?”)
"Mummy on the Orient Express" is another standout episode from Series 8. Like the Agatha Christie novel from which it gets its name, it was a wonderfully crafted murder mystery with a compelling cast of characters, a nail-biting mystery, and a curious sense of morality. It also continued a critical examination of the Doctor and Clara’s troubling dynamic, and though it ended on a upbeat note, I have a feeling that their relationship can only end disastrously.
The episode begins in the midst of the Doctor and Clara’s awkwardly painful breakup. Clara’s temper may have cooled somewhat since she left at the end of “Kill the Moon,” but she’s determined to stop traveling with the Doctor after their last hurrah. But slowly, she begins to waver. After all, it’s never easy to plan the end of a relationship.
Her wavering begins with the recognition that, as dangerous and frustrating as traveling with the Doctor can be, it can also be wonderful. She’s seen far off planets and travelled through time, witnessing beautiful sights and fighting off terrifying monsters. Ending the adventure on the Orient Express in space only reinforces the fact that she is giving up an incredible life that very few people have the opportunity to experience.
She also comes to the horrible realization that when she stops traveling with the Doctor she will rarely — if ever — see him again. The Doctor is friends with others on almost entirely his own terms. If you’re not actively traveling with him, he’s not likely to come back and see you again (and if he does, it’s usually because the Earth is somehow in danger and you’ve happened to stumble in the middle of it). It’s a troubling dynamic when one person has more power to set the terms of their relationship with another person, but it’s one that has plagued relationships between the Doctor and all of his companions to varying degrees. Clara may not want to travel with the Doctor anymore, but she’s not quite ready to give up on their friendship, and in this episode she realized that those actions might need to be one and the same.
But “Mummy” also reminded Clara of all the reasons that she wants to stop traveling with the Doctor. The Doctor lies, he’s manipulative, and he deliberately puts her in danger time and time again. Clara asked for a fun, safe trip for their last hurrah, and the Doctor deliberately brought her to a place where he suspected something dangerous was lurking. He encourages her to behave the way he does by telling her to lie to Maisie and lead her to the lab so her death can be observed. And the Doctor is callously unfeeling toward Maisie and the other passengers.
"Mummy" makes a point of examining the Doctor’s actions, and while we aren’t necessarily meant to sympathize with him, we do gain a greater understanding of why he acts the way he does. The Doctor has never shied away from making tough decisions, but the Twelfth Doctor is more utilitarian about these decisions than most. As the passengers are picked off one by one, he refuses to let the others mourn, reasoning that people with a gun to their head don’t have time to mourn. They can only collect data, analyze it, and try to work out the riddle before another passenger is killed. The Doctor even acknowledges that his actions towards his fellow passengers were heartless. Many of them couldn’t be saved, but if he could learn from each death, he might be able to save more.
Of course, as Clara points out, the Doctor likes to put himself in a position where he has to make an impossible choice. It’s what he does, what he’s always done. He has made it a huge part of his life and his identity. And in a way, it’s made him heartless. He has been through so many impossible choices that he doesn’t even pause to reassure his fellow passengers anymore. He makes the choice and moves on.
At one point, Clara tells the Doctor that his desire to live a dangerous, difficult life is like an addiction. The Doctor replies that you can’t really tell if something is an addiction until you try to give it up. This, however, is a lie, one of the many lies addicts tell themselves. You can tell when someone is an addict long before they try to give it up, and it usually is most obvious when they start putting everything they love at risk in order to maintain their addiction. Which is essentially what the Doctor has done. He’s risked his friendship with Clara, and has even risked her life, in order to live a dangerous life where he is the one making the impossible choices.
And that is the person Clara is becoming. When she decides to continue traveling with the Doctor, she puts everything she loves at risk. She’s threatened her relationship with Danny by lying to him about following through on her decision to stop traveling with the Doctor. And Clara’s thrown Danny under the bus by saying it was his idea that she stop traveling with the Doctor, and that she’s going to continue traveling with the Doctor because Danny’s changed his mind. But worse of all, she has lied to the Doctor about her reasons for wanting to quit traveling and ignored her own instincts, putting her own well-being in danger. She’ll be able to dismiss her own misgivings about the Doctor’s behavior for a little while, but if Clara is not confronting the Doctor for his deceitful, manipulative actions he will never change, and she won’t be able to pretend that everything is fine for very long. It’s disturbing and hard to watch, but it’s entirely believable. People stay in relationships that aren’t good for them all the time, and they will threaten their relationships with other friends and even put their own well-being in danger in order to stay in that relationship.
The question now is how the show will treat Clara’s change of heart. Will her concerns about the Doctor’s behavior be validated? Will the Doctor’s deceitful, manipulative behavior have consequences? Will Clara’s decision to lie to Danny have consequences? Series 8 has so far made a point of examining the relationship between Clara and the Doctor with a very critical eye, and I doubt that Clara’s misgivings will be forgotten and that their relationship will continue as if nothing ever happened. I’m also beginning to have a very ominous feeling about Danny and Clara’s relationship, and I very much doubt that Clara’s decision to continue traveling with the Doctor while lying to Danny about it will be without consequences. For now, I reserve my judgement.
So, are you looking for a general analysis of Doctor Who from a feminist perspective? Because that’s a bit too large of a topic to tackle in a simple Tumblr ask. But if you’re looking for specific moments where feminism is invoked or discussed in pop culture during the 60s and 70s, I can definitely help you.
So the Pertwee era actually included a number of specific references to feminism and feminist movements, with the companions specifically aligning themselves with these movements and criticizing the behavior of others.
Here’s Liz Shaw in “Doctor Who and the Silurians” criticizing the Brigadier for not allowing her down in the caves to investigate the Silurians.
And here’s Sarah Jane Smith in “The Monster of Peladon” giving Queen Thalira an introduction to women’s liberation in a pep-talk designed to encourage her to take more power for herself.
And I’m really upset I can’t find a gif for it, but in “Frontier in Space” there’s a great moment where Jo Grant is confronting the Draconians, who refuse to acknowledge her or let her speak because she’s a woman, and she says:
You know, I think it’s about time that women’s lib was brought to Draconia.
Unfortunately, I can’t help you much with the Hartnell or Troughton era, because I’ve only seen a handful of episodes from each (and a large portion of them are missing). But I know I have some Classic Who fans that follow me, and I’m sure they’ll fill in any moments I’ve missed!
Hahahaha, this has been bugging me too. I’m simultaneously amazed and bemused by it. Like, every time Clara comes on screen I’m thinking, “Damn Clara your hair looks amazing…but how the fuck?!”
Funny, I recently asked someone if there was some explanation for Clara’s magical hair in the eps that I hadn’t seen yet. Oh well I suppose it makes just as much sense as everyone in the Five era wearing the same outfits and apparently never getting them dirty or torn.
Long live Tegan’s air stewardess outfit.
No, seriously, that thing survived a lot. Wish my nice shirts and skirts would last that long. Seems like I can’t even make it through public transit without snagging my outfit on something.