We need a female Dr Who. We also need women writing Dr Who. I was quite shocked to read in an excellent piece by Mathilda Gregory that the last episode of Dr Who written by a woman was in 2008. Said Gregory:
[S]eason seven of Doctor Who will feature no female scribes at all. Not in the bombastic dinosaurs and cowboys episodes that aired last year, and not in any of the new episodes we’re about to receive. In fact, Doctor Who hasn’t aired an episode written by a woman since 2008, 60 episodes ago. There hasn’t been a single female-penned episode in the Moffat era, and in all the time since the show was rebooted in 2005 only one, Helen Raynor, has ever written for the show.
In my opinion, it shows. Whilst some episodes Dr Who are amazing examples of storytelling, some are really quite dreadful, bad ideas that are emotionally flat with little complexity or depth. I think this comes, at least in part, from a lack of diversity on the writing team. Homogenous groups only too easy go along with each other’s ideas, even bad ones, because they lack dissenting voices. The best way to diversify your ideas is to diversify the group of people having them. Which doesn’t just mean having women in your writing team, of course, but looking at all other areas of diversity.
But whilst having some female writers on the Dr Who team would be a great step forward, an even bigger, better step forward would be to make Dr Who a woman. Not just for a novelty episode, but for several series, just like any other Dr Who actor.
With Ada Lovelace Day, we focus on the importance of role models to women and girls, and work towards raising the profile of women in science, technology, engineering and maths (and other related fields). We do this because women’s achievements and contributions often go unrecognised, and the women themselves are often sidelined in favour of their male colleagues. By pointing out women’s achievements, we hope to slowly build new role models from whom girls and women can draw inspiration.
One area that’s just as important but less easy to address is the role of women in fiction. As a teen, I was absolutely entranced by the novels of Anne McCaffrey not least because the vast majority of them featured strong female leads. These fictional women were people I could relate to, that I wanted to be. It’s much, much easier to be inspired by someone of your own gender, because you can more easily imagine yourself as them. And research has shown that female role models are important to women, more so than male role models are to men.
Dr Who is one of the most important science fiction shows on TV in the UK, and yet the lead role is always a male. Females are always companions or tertiary characters there to advance the story. Whilst many of the Drs companions are very strong, intelligent women, they are still secondary characters. The message they give girls and women is that it doesn’t matter how smart, strong, or independent you are, there’ll always be a man in charge.
It’s about time that the Dr Who team took the bull by the horns and cast a woman as Dr Who. Preferably a woman who’s got the experience to show the Doctor as the complex emotional creature we know her to be. And preferably this female doctor would be written by a team that includes a couple of women as permanent members, rather than having the occasionally female-penned script thrown in every now and again.
I’m very obviously not the first to think about Dr Who in these terms. Indeed, I had a great conversation with some women scientists recently where we were wondering who we would have to lobby to get a female in the lead role. And in a rather wonderful piece, Alasdair Stuart runs us through an alternative history of Dr Who, reflecting on who might have played her if she’d started off as a woman.
Having a female Dr Who, well co-written with female scriptwriters, would be utterly fantastic. It would provide a strong female role model for girls, it would provide a great opportunity to explore some complex themes around identity – something that Dr Who has done so well in the past – and it would be a great watch for us women who are so fed up of seeing a male world reflected to us as if we don’t exist.
So come on, BBC, get your act together. More female writers and a female lead is exactly what the Doctor ordered.