tv

We need a female Dr Who

by Suw on March 30, 2013

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. 

(Cross-posted from Kits and Mortar.)

Ever thought about converting a chapel into a cosy little house? Or driven past a derelict barn and wished you could renovate it? Have you taken the plunge and bought a chicken shed that’s just oozing potential? And are you going to do something green with it?

Well, I had a call from a lovely chap called Greg Goff at Twofour Broadcast this morning who’s looking for an eco-rennovation project to film for a new series called House Wrecks to Riches. The team are currently filming a number of builds, including a warehouse, a windmill, a milking parlour and a lighthouse, and Greg is really keen to find a green project that they can add to their list.

The programme will follow a project from the very beginning, so you should have planning permission and be ready to rock and roll, but not have quite started yet. The production team will then come and have a look round the existing building and talk to you about what you’re going to do with it. They’ll then film through until the end of the year, which will hopefully be enough time for you to reach completion!

Your project doesn’t have to be huge, it just has to be green – and part of the interest will be in seeing how you interpret the idea of ‘environmentally friendly’. One thing I’ve learnt in the short time Kits and Mortar has been around is that ‘green’ definitely means different things to different people. The key thing is that green is at the centre of your build. That might mean a reed bed water filtration system, or straw bale building, or turf roofs, or using any other green technique or material.

It also doesn’t matter what you’re intending to do with the finished property, whether you move in to it as your primary family home, sell it on at a profit, or run it as a holiday let. The build can be almost anywhere – Twofour Broadcast are based in Plymouth, so most of England and Wales is within easy reach – and they are following projects on Anglesey, Essex and Cornwall

The programme is going to be presented by Gary McCausland from How to be a Property Developer and Zilpah Hartley from A Place in the Sun.

If you have such a build in mind, and you’re ready to take the plunge, get in touch directly with Greg Goff by email, or phone his direct line: 01752 727528.

There was one closing quote in the blurb Greg emailed me yesterday: “The UK needs 250,000 new homes built every year to keep up with demand. Each year we’re 100,000 short of the target… but there are 750,000 empty properties out there to be renovated.” Makes you think, doesn’t it?

A tangle with gravity

by Suw on January 30, 2008

I wrote this post yesterday afternoon with the intention of posting it on Strange Attractor, but technical problems have stopped me from being able to post it there at all. Horizon was, by the way, fab.

Whilst Kev and I were at the gym this morning, we caught an interview with Dr Brian Cox on BBC Breakfast, talking to Bill Turnbull and Sian Williams about an episode of Horizon, What on Earth is wrong with gravity. I’m looking forward to seeing the programme tonight, having already seen a number of outtakes on Brian’s partner Gia’s blog. Thankfully, Gia has grabbed the interview and put it up on YouTube:

Now, gravity is tricky. It’s the sort of thing, like mass, that seem pretty obvious. You drop a pencil, as Bill did, and it falls until it hits a surface that stops it falling any further. We all know what gravity does. What’s less clear is what gravity is, how it works, what makes gravity pull things together. It’s actually a pretty difficult subject to tackle in a six minute segment.

Unfortunately, Bill and Sian – and whomever produced and researched the program – didn’t prepare any decent questions. Gravity is one of those subjects where seemingly simple questions have horrendously complex answers, if they have answers at all. Bill and Sian went for the simple questions, but Brian had only a few minutes – if that, given that they showed two clips of the programme – to try to answer.

Now, to my mind, the job of the presenter in these situations is to act as a proxy for the audience and to ask the questions that the audience want answered. The question that I suspect the audience most want answered about an episode of Horizon is: “Why should I watch this programme?” That was a question that Bill and Sian spectacularly failed to address, even indirectly, because they were focused on small but unanswerable questions instead.

Bill concentrated on dropping his pencil and asking querulously, “Why is it so complicated?” and then giggling like a schoolboy, I suspect because he felt a little out of his element. “I thought it was dead simple myself,” he says.

Brian has some great stories to illustrate his point. Most surprisingly, he talks about how if we didn’t correct for the way that time passes differently in orbit to on earth, our satnav systems would drift by 11km per day. But he’s forced to talk about spacetime without being able to fully explain what spacetime is and, frankly, anyone would be forgiven for struggling with that.

Sian then says, “I’m still not sure what causes gravity.” Well, you and the rest of the physics world. That’s not a smart question to ask, because there’s no answer, and the lack of an answer is going to flummox people. The point of this six minute segment is not to solve one of the universe’s greatest riddles, but to spark a little curiosity in people’s minds. And I can pretty much guarantee that no one woke up this morning and asked, “What causes gravity?”

Indeed, I did a straw poll of my friend son Twitter and Seesmic, and asked, “If I was an omniscient being, what scientific question would you like answered?”

From Twitter:

jrnoded: @suw why 42?
michaelocc: @Suw Is faster than light travel possible?
adamamyl: @Suw: why, on taking government office do incumbents forget they have principles/spines? Or, why int a resignation, a resignation, thesedays
zeroinfluencer: @Suw: How to make an affordable Holy Grail (Assorted Colours)
londonfilmgeek: @Suw Can i haz an Aperture Science Portal gun, kthanxbai
The_Shed: @Suw Are we even close to knowing the truth about anything?
johnbreslin: @Suw: Is this like “does anything eat wasps?” :) how about, where does all the time go (inspired by the Time Snails in “Captain Bluebear”)?
aidg: @Suw Science q for the omniscient: How the universe was created or the story of creation from primordial soup to multicellular organisms.
meriwilliams: @Suw Why is life?
tara_kelly: @Suw Dear omniscient being: is time really as linear as we like to think it is?

From Seesmic, my question:

An amazing question from DeekDeekster, that I personally would love the answer to:

Jeff Hinz echoes MichaelOOC, but from the opposite angle:

Christian Payne takes the Prince Charles line:

Dave Shannon asks the hardest question:

You’ll notice that no one, not one single person, asked “What is gravity?”.

Then towards the end of the Breakfast interview, they bring up the entirely spurious issue of the asteroid that missed hitting the Earth by 334,000 miles at 8;33am this morning. Cue the stupidest question of the morning: “If gravity is such a big deal, how come that asteroid that Carol told us about didn’t crash into Earth?” That’s like saying, if the sky is blue, how come grass is green?

To add insult to injury, Sian ends up by saying, “See, that’s why he has a PhD and we haven’t, because he can understand these sorts of things and we’re still bamboozled” and Bill finishes up with, “You’d managed a major achievement this morning, which is that you’ve managed to explain something to all of us and made us both feel really thick.”

Poor Brian didn’t stand a chance. How can you manage to extract even a shred of dignity from that? How can you pull back from that and say something that will encourage people to watch your programme?

If the Breakfast team had thought for a moment and actually talked to Brian before the interview about what questions would make for an entertaining and interesting interview, ruling out questions that no physicist alive can answer, and including ones that perhaps the audience actually want to know the answer to, then I suspect things would have gone much better.

But to me, this is indicative of the attitude of the media towards science and technology: “Oh, look at those weirdos over there with their white coats and strange ways of talking. They’re not like us. They’re Boffins.” It’s an attitude based in ignorance and fear, and nurtured by the unnecessarily divisive split between science/tech and the humanities at school and then university.

Yet at times like this, the “I’m too dumb to understand you boffins” attitude is counterproductive. All Bill and Sian have done is put off people who might otherwise have watched Horizon, and pissed off the people who definitely will. Which is foolish, given that they are working for the very same organisation that commissioned Brian’s programme.

Get well soon Hamster

by Suw on September 22, 2006

Richard Hammond, one of my favourite TV presenters responsible for making Brainiac and Top Gear such compelling viewing. I mean, I don't drive, and all I know about cars is that they have a wheel at each corner and go 'vrrooom' … why would I want to watch a programme about cars? But Richard, known affectionately as the Hamster, just made things so entertaining I started to think that maybe I might want drive myself again one day.
Time Commanders Hammond
So I was very concerned to hear yesterday that the daft git had managed to crash the Vampire jet car at 300mph and was in hospital in a critical condition. His condition's stable now, and it appears he's improving, which is all good news, although no one will know how serious his brain injury is for a while yet.
I know there are thousands of fans out there who feel the same way I do, and they've come out en masse to do something about it. The people at Pistonheads.com have set up a page on JustGiving.com to collect donations for the Yorkshire Air Ambulance, who flew Hamster to Leeds General Infirmary. Initially they wanted to raise the £340 that that single flight, but the last time I looked there were up to £36,895, and it's going up by about a £1000 every half hour as the network effect takes over. It's wonderful to watch.
So get well soon, Hamster. Looking forward to seeing you back behind the wheel and givin' it some attitude.

Neat

by Suw on May 15, 2006

I love ads that riff off other ads. This one is just ace. (Thanks Kevin!)

Office policy

by Suw on April 17, 2006

Not really all that work safe at all, I'm afraid, but very funny. (Thanks KM.)

Bloggers on telly

by Suw on January 13, 2006

Last time I saw one of my friends on TV, it all turned out to be a wee fib. This time round… the evidence is incontrovertible. And on Flickr.
Someone must have video, surely?
But wow! Our own Tom on telly. Whatever next? (*cough*me?*cough*)

Whilst I was in San Francisco, I had the opportunity to work on the Technorati Live 8 site. It was a concatenation of lucky events that led me to being involved, but I feel proud to have had that chance. The Technorati Live 8 site gives all bloggers a single point of reference to find out what is going on in the blogosphere. Amongst other things, we have resources there to help you contact the G8 leaders, and the Live 8 badge so that you can show support for the cause on your blog. We even have a version of the Live 8 Technorati tags page for your Treo!
Right now, I am watching the Live 8 London concert on TV, watching as thousands of people enjoy probably the biggest, most spectacular gig they will ever see. Part of me wishes that I had been there, but I can do my bit from my blog, as can every blogger.
There have been some cynical reactions to Live 8, not just from corners of the media but also from normal people, who think that it's a waste of time. Well, all I can say is this: We are privileged by an accident of birth. That is all that separates us from those suffering and dying in poverty. Nothing else. We have a responsibility to act and to do something to relieve the pain others are feeling, every day, with no end in sight.
Our leaders have for years assumed that they could do what profited them, what profited the big businesses that fund and support them. For years they have ignored the poverty-stricken and the disadvantaged because they saw no profit in it for them. And for years, we have let them.
It is time we remembered that our leaders are in fact our servants. We put them in power in order to represent us, but they have ignored us one time too many. We have a voice and we must use it to ensure that we send a message, strong and unequivocal, that we will not tolerate prevarication any longer. We will not tolerate their profiteering. We will not tolerate them ignoring our will.
Debt. Aid. Trade. Governance.
Debt: Africa is crippled by debt it cannot repay. It's time to wipe the slate clean, to drop the debt, to stop profiteering off the poor.
Aid: Much more aid is promised than ever delivered. A huge overhaul is needed, not just in how much aid our governments promise, but how much money they actually provide and how it is used. AIDS is wiping out half the population of the continent, and we need to do more to ensure that it's insidious spread is halted, and that drugs are made available to those who need them.
Trade: African trying to earn a living are being driven out of business or kept in poverty because of unfair trade laws. These laws are drafted and enacted by the richest countries in the world, and guess who they benefit?
Governance: There's no doubt that there is corruption. There's is also no doubt that there are good people doing good work in Africa. We can't ignore the problem of fair governance when addressing the problems faced by Africa.
Who benefits?
We do. All of us, because a stronger Africa means a stronger world. Every African who earns a good living, who has independence, dignity and health, who can provide an education for their children and security for themselves and the next generation, they all help our world be a better place too.
We don't want your money, we want your voice
Live 8 is not about raising money, it's about raising your voice. Join billions of others in telling your leaders that you want them to act, now, to make poverty history. Don't allow the G8 Summit to pass without telling your leaders that you want them to take an historic stand, that you want them to drop the debt, reform trade laws and double aid.
Live 8 is the first rung on the ladder – there is a lot more that will need to be done. Turning out for a gig is a great show of solidarity but we need to keep the conversation going once Live 8 is over. Let this be a start, a new beginning. We must continue to discuss what is happening, what needs to happen, and what we can make happen. And we need to keep the channels of communication open, and keep the pressure on our leaders to do something constructive.
All the links you could possibly need are on the Technorati Live 8 site. Use them.

Dr Who is such a tart!

by Suw on May 30, 2005

Just watched last night's Dr Who and I have to agree with Tom that not only is Dr Who is a bit of a tart, but he's also a bit free and easy with gender/species/group sex distinctions. Good for him, I say. Bit jealous really. I never get to dance, let alone set up an interesting threesome with aliens.
Last night I had a dream. Yes, another one. I was on a boat, with Christopher Ecclestone. We were on a river, which was all well and good, but it ran along the edge of a cliff… which was at least a mile high. The water slopped over the edge in a 'your boat would go straight over' manner which scared the crap out of me. But it was ok, because Christopher Ecclestone was there to keep me safe and sound.
But anyway, moving on. I was talking to my mate Ewan about this, and more now than ever I think his take is right. Dr Who is is the last survivor of the Time Wars. The Daleks are all dead. The Time Lords are all dead. Dr Who suffers horrendous survivor guilt and that colours everything he does.
This episode, more than any other, exemplifies survivor guilt. “Everybody lives, Rose. Just this once, everybody lives,” says the Doctor as the victims of the poorly adapted nanogenes are finally cured of their ills. The joy in his face is unparalleled by anything else we have seen in this series – he is for the first time truly delighted that he has been able to act as saviour, in however an indirect way.
Consider Father's Day, the episode in which Rose goes back in time to try to save her father's life. The Doctor knows exactly what she has done, he knows the disaster she has caused, and he knows what needs to be done to put it all right, but he can't bring himself to engineer Rose's father's death. He wants him to live, because he feels he can't be responsible for even one more life lost. He's willing to sacrifice the unknown masses in order to safe the known individual – a logic that previous Doctors would never have followed.
For ages with the new series of Dr Who I was really puzzled by the way that the Doctor seemed so passive – very much unlike past Doctors. In the episode The Long Game, with the astonishingly sexy Simon Pegg as The Editor, (why did no one tell me Simon was narrating the Dr Who Confidential series on BBC3? I would have watched them, dammit!), both the Doctor and Rose are helpless and at the mercy of the Editor and his Boss, and they rely upon a secondary character to free them.
This goes totally contrary to our expectations of the Doctor as the Mr Know It All who can fix anything. In fact, I can't think of a single episode in this series where Dr Who has actually taken charge and been directly responsible for the rescue of anyone. Dammit, even the Dalek he tries to rescue, (before he realises it's a Dalek) ends up committing suicide because Rose's DNA has infected it. Damn you, Russell T Davies. Damn your ability to make me cry over a Dalek!
But as soon as you look at this helplessness in terms of survivor guilt, it all makes sense. The Doctor is haunted by memories of the Time Wars. He can't understand why he is still live when everyone else is dead. He has no one left. Nothing left. Just him and his Tardis. Is he a traitor for not dying with the rest? Should he have done thing differently? Sacrificed his life? To what end? Time Lords were always survivors and to die a meaningless death would never have been acceptable.
So instead he is left alone, trying to make sense of what happened, and trying not to repeat what he sees as tragic mistakes. Just how responsible was the Doctor for the death of all those Time Lords, all those Daleks? We heard him crying “It's not my fault!” to the last remaining Dalek. Is that truth, or guilt? Was it his fault? How will Rose react when the truth comes out?
The Doctor is obviously in love with Rose, it's clear as day, and has been for episodes. Will he lose her when all this comes to a head*? It surely must – all the episodes are building up to a climax in which we find out what really happened in the Doctor's past. What were the Time Wars? What happened to the Daleks? The Time Lords? And where was The Master in all this? What part did he have to play? Davros? Is he still kicking about? (Or should that be 'levitating about'?)
I wasn't a Dr Who fan until this series. The old stuff I could take or leave and really not care about, but this series has been fantastic. Russell T Davies has put together a through line that has totally hooked me. He's done something truly different with the Doctor – he's made him human, fallible, vulnerable. For once, the Doctor is not there to save us poor apes, but is instead saved by us. We are going on his personal journey, instead of a journey through space and time that he happens to be taking us on.
As a scriptwriter, I find all this fascinating, and I have to admit to a bit of jealousy. What I wouldn't give to have the opportunity to take a character like the Doctor and turn him on his head, do something really cool and interesting with him. Dr Who is, without doubt, up there with Battlestar Galactica as my all-time favourite scifi.
Anyway, it's 1.20am now – how the hell did that happen? – and whilst I could easily wax lyrical for another hour or so, I shan't. Time for bed. Christopher, are you coming?
* OK, I know Ecclestone leaves at the end of this series, which means a regeneration, which means the relationship is doomed. I was just trying not to think about it, ok?

Edge of Darkness, episode 1 at last

by Suw on May 14, 2005

It was nearly two years ago now that I sat in my lounge in Reading, watching Edge of Darkness on BBC4. That time round I missed the first episode. Tonight I saw it. Twenty years is no time at all. Two years is but a blink.

Bad Wolf

May 9, 2005

Who's afraid of the Big Bad Wolf? I think Dr Who will require repeat viewing now.

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Dw i eisiau Sky+

May 9, 2005

Llynedd, pan o'n i'n byw yn fflat fy ffrind Svet, des i arfer i ddefnyddio Sky+ i recordio'r teledu. Mae'n fendigedig – ti'n jyst setio'r peth i recordio rhaglen neu holl gyfres, ac mae yn. Jyst fel 'na. Dim ffys. Dim problem. Gwylies i fwy o deledu Cymraeg wedyn na'r holl flwyddyn o'r blaen, jyst [...]

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Jacques, Jacques, Jacques your 2CV

April 29, 2005

Absolutely wonderful version of the Citroen C4 Transformer ad, which I loved. (Thanks Stereo!)

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Danger! 50,000 Nick Frosts!

April 26, 2005

You may remember that last year I showed a little bit of interest in a British zombie flick called Shaun of the Dead, so it probably won't surprise you to hear that when my mates Ewan and Cameron asked me if I wanted to help them interview Nick Frost for The Podcast Network's Movie Show [...]

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Decompression

April 23, 2005

Best way to decompress: Eight episodes of Battlestar Galactica back to back. The new series, not the old heap of crap. Bestest sci-fi TV series, er, evah, I think. Thanks for the DVD loan, Kate. Let's hope I don't get the bends.

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