Doctor Who really does need more female writers

Illustration for article titled Doctor Who really does need more female writers

There hasn't been a woman writing for Doctor Who in several years — and you can make a strong argument the BBC's famous time-travel show has suffered as a result. Over at the Guardian, there's a pretty compelling article about the lack of women writing for Who, and why this matters.


The last time a woman wrote for Doctor Who, it was Helen Raynor in 2008. Last year, producer Caroline Skinner said she wanted to get more women writing for the show — but she left without making that happen. The Guardian asks producer Marcus Wilson about the situation, and he replies: "Due to schedules and other projects, both male and female writers whom we have wanted to join the team simply haven't been able to. For us it's about who can write good Doctor Who stories, regardless of gender."

So why does this matter? I'm quoted in the Guardian article as pointing out that somewhat more women are writing for SF and fantasy television in the United States, and this diversity of viewpoints has coincided with an improvement in the writing — not just of female characters, but of all characters. I think of The Middleman, which started its life as a comic book by Javier Grillo-Marxuach and then became a TV show with three women writers. Grillo-Marxuach has talked before about how the characters he created in his head became more complicated and fully realized as a result of the conversations he had in the writers' room.

By coincidence, I was just on a conference call where Doctor Who producer Steven Moffat was talking to reporters — and Moffat talked rather a lot about the notion that the Doctor's traveling companion (who's usually female) is the focal point of the show from a storytelling perspective. She's the one the stories really happen to, she's the one who changes — even if the Doctor is the one who saves the day and all that. At the same time, I asked Moffat why the Doctor doesn't just listen to the host of people who keep telling him he shouldn't travel alone, and instead struggles against taking on another companion. Moffat responded that the Doctor doesn't want to put anyone in harm's way, and also that he's headstrong and believes he's always right. Just like a man, in other words, Moffat added.

So in Moffat's own view, the Doctor is an archetypally male character — but the show rests on an ever-changing series of female characters, who actually carry the bulk of the emotion and character development. You can see why it might be advantageous to have some female writers in the mix, right? Not that men can't write female characters amazingly well — clearly they can, and you only have to read, say, Samuel Richardson's Clarissa to see a great example of a man capturing a female voice. But having different perspectives in the mix can't hurt.

Even though Doctor Who doesn't have an American-style "writers room," you can still imagine how the generally one-dimensional Amy Pond could have grown a bit more if writers beyond the small group of men had tackled her. (As it is, you can see hints of greater depth and complexity in "The Girl Who Waited" and one or two other stories.) And meanwhile, I've described River Song as the central failure of Moffat's Doctor Who, and I stand by that.


One of the frustrating things about Doctor Who in the Matt Smith era has been the way the uneasy fusion of "boy's own adventure" and "relationship sitcom" tropes has often left the characters, especially Amy, feeling like cogs in the machine.

Doctor Who is, at its basis, an escapist piece of entertainment. But the character who escapes the most, and the most meaningfully, is generally a woman. So yeah, it doesn't seem entirely unreasonable to wish for more women writers, rather than a small group of men, to be crafting that escape plan. [The Guardian]




I certainly wouldn't mind seeing a few more female writers on Who, though I think that has more to do with "oh yeah, she's a brilliant writer, let's get her in" than "for goodness sake, lets get somebody with ovaries to figure out Rose/Amy/Clara's relationship with the Doctor."

Yes, the companions often tend to be very one-dimensional and lacking in character development, though that's a problem which has plagued the series since the very beginning. Of course, in ye olde Who times, it didn't help that most of the writers had never seen the characters they were writing for, and given only the most basic of outlines to work from, resulting in some pretty noticeable mood swings from episode to episode. Mind you, that's nothing compared to the ultimate indignity of the "crowded TARDIS" days during the early 80's, when poor K9, Nyssa or Chameleon would find themselves unceremoniously locked in the TARDIS when they didn't fit into a story.

RTD and Moffat doesn't really have that excuse, with writing half the episodes and producing the entire series as a whole, though I think my biggest problem with the new series dynamic is that they've built themselves this little checklist of "things a companion must do," which they are then completely unwilling to break away from.

The companion must be an easily identified with audience surrogate, but also must be a super special and unique snowflake, must constantly make moon eyes over the Doctor (or alternatively point out how emphatically she's not making moon eyes over the Doctor) they must be strong, they must be sassy, and they must constantly comment about how wonderful and life-changing it is to travel with the Doctor while simultaneously clinging to their previous lives like a barnacle to a sinking ship.

It's not so much that the Doctor's relationship with his companions is unrealistic (it is) it's that the entire relationship itself has taken on an oddly creepy repetitious quality, like your older cousin Roy, who always shows up to Thanksgiving dinner with a different girlfriend that looks almost identical to the previous one from last year, even down to her hairstyle, wardrobe, and the way that she laughs after one too many glasses of white wine.

Frankly, at this point, I think you could probably bring in a couple of decent female writers who could try to nudge the character in a slightly more imaginative direction, but when the entire foundation is flawed, nothing short of a new executive producer is going to change things on a more than episode by episode basis.