How sexist is Doctor Who?–Part Two

The Patrick Troughton Years


OK, here we go with Part Two of my attempt to analyse the sexism in every Doctor Who story ever, using the Bechdel Test – and my wits. For a reminder of the rules, check the Intro here. And here’s part one, William Hartnell.  A quick reminder of the Test:

1. It has to have two named female characters
2. Who talk to each other
3. About something besides a man.

Here goes…

The Power of the Daleks


  1. Yes – Polly, Janley
  2. Yes – Polly and Janley talk in part three, five
  3. Yes – in part five they talk about the Daleks

Notes – a better success rate for the new Doctor, but this still only scrapes a Test pass by dint of one conversation. On the plus side, Janley is both a scientist and an anti-authoritarian rebel, so a pretty positive female character.

The Highlanders


  1. Yes – Polly, Kirsty, Molly
  2. Yes – Polly and Kirsty on numerous occasions throughout
  3. Yes – topics discussed include food, caves, orange sellers (especially Nell Gwyn)

Notes – does pretty well by pairing off two of the female characters for large chunks of the story. They do discuss men – the Doctor, the redcoats – but talk about plenty of other things too. Molly, the third named female character, fares less well, getting two stereotypically Scottish lines in one brief scene (“all richt” and “whisht yer noise!”). By the standards of the time, does pretty well by gender equality, but best not to think about its representation of the Scots.

The Underwater Menace


  1. Yes – Polly, Ara, Nola
  2. Yes – Polly and Ara in part two; Polly, Ara and Nola in part three
  3. Yes – Polly and Ara talk about escape routes, hiding on the Amdo statue; Polly, Ara and Nola talk about where to hide Polly in the market

Notes – not as successful as The Highlanders, but passes all three criteria due to three brief conversations. Ara is a major player in the plot, but Nola only gets six lines in part three.

The Moonbase


  1. No – Polly is the only female character
  2. No (see above)
  3. No (see above)

Notes – the first Troughton story to fail the Test, and it does so in a major way, with no female guest characters at all, named or unnamed. Surprising, given the unsubtle attempt to have multiple nationalities represented in the Moonbase crew, that they couldn’t manage more than one gender.

The Macra Terror


  1. Yes – Polly, Sunaa, Chicki
  2. No – Polly doesn’t meet either of the other female characters, nor do they meet each other
  3. No (see above)

Notes – only passes rule 1, on the basis that its two female characters are actually named in the credits. Neither is named in the dialogue, and neither is much more than an extra. Sunaa is basically the Pilot’s secretary, who gets to tell Ben the Pilot’s not in his office; and Chicki is just a random passerby who asks the Doctor “Can I help you?” at one point. Not exactly making great strides from the tail end of the Hartnell era yet, with only The Highlanders so far doing well in terms of gender balance.

The Faceless Ones


  1. Yes – Polly, Samantha Briggs, Jean Rock, Nurse Pinto, Ann Davidson
  2. Yes – Polly and Samantha talk in part two (though it’s the replacement Polly calling herself ‘Michelle’); Samantha and Ann talk in part four; Samantha and Jean talk in part five
  3. Yes – Samantha and Jean discuss Jean’s filing system and the Chameleon company’s rented coach

Notes – refreshingly, a plethora of named female characters. More predictably, they don’t really have much to do with each other throughout all six episodes. Just passes rule 3 by dint of two conversations between Samantha and Jean; Polly and Samantha talk about Samantha’s brother, while Ann and Samantha talk about Jamie having stolen Samantha’s ticket. Still, getting better.

The Evil of the Daleks


  1. Yes – Victoria Waterfield, Ruth Maxtible, Mollie Dawson
  2. Yes – Ruth and Mollie talk in part two
  3. Yes – Ruth asks Mollie to get some tea, and Mollie acknowledges the request

Notes – yes, it’s a great story (as far as we know from the audio), but doesn’t do very well for gender balance, even if it does pass the Test. Victoria (who doesn’t appear until part two) never shares a scene with either of the other two female characters; and while they do have several scenes with each other, their only proper exchange is Ruth (the mistress) asking Mollie (the maid) to get some tea. Not exactly progressive.

Tomb of the Cybermen


  1. Yes – Victoria Waterfield, Kaftan
  2. Yes – Victoria and Kaftan talk in part two
  3. Yes – they talk about food, the closed hatch, the Cybermat

Notes – does pretty well by its two female characters, both of whom are very active driving the plot. Best not to think about how it portrays non-white ethnicities, though.

The Abominable Snowmen


  1. No – Victoria Waterfield is the only female character
  2. No (see above)
  3. No (see above)

Notes – to be fair, it’s set in a Tibetan monastery in 1935 – like The Shawshank Redemption, it would be rather unrealistic if it did have any women in it (besides the Doctor’s companion).

The Ice Warriors


  1. Yes – Victoria Waterfield, Miss Garrett
  2. No – Victoria and Miss Garrett never have a conversation
  3. No (see above)

Notes – a failure for the Test, due to the fact that Victoria spends most of the story captive in the Ice Warrior spaceship, and Miss Garrett never leaves Ioniser Control. That said, Miss Garrett is a strong and professional female character who is arguably better at running the Britannicus Base than her boss Clent.

The Enemy of the World


  1. Yes – Victoria Waterfield, Astrid Ferrier, Fariah, Mary
  2. Yes – Fariah and Astrid talk in part four; Astrid and Mary talk in part six
  3. No – Fariah and Astrid talk about Salamander, Fedorin and Giles Kent; Astrid and Mary talk about Salamander and Swann

Notes – so near and yet so far. Victoria has several scenes with both Astrid and Fariah, but never actually converses with either one beyond simple question/response, mostly interrupted by the Doctor, Jamie or Giles Kent. Other than that, the two conversations that do occur between named female characters centre on men. Still, at least it has more named female characters than usual, and they’re quite well-drawn (except Mary).

The Web of Fear


  1. Yes – Victoria Waterfield, Anne Travers
  2. Yes – Victoria and Anne talk in part one and three
  3. Yes – they talk about the TARDIS, the Yeti, Tibet

Notes – given that the story is set in an evacuated contemporary London, with only the Army present, this does quite well having even one female guest character. Anne Travers is another well-drawn professional woman clearly capable of out-thinking many of the men. She doesn’t talk with Victoria that much, but with so many strong male characters around, that’s perhaps not surprising. Passes the Test, though.

Fury from the Deep


  1. Yes – Victoria Waterfield, Maggie Harris, Megan Jones
  2. Yes – Victoria and Maggie talk at the very end of part six
  3. Yes – they talk about Victoria coming to stay with the Harrises

Notes – barely scrapes through the Test, by dint of three lines between Victoria and Maggie Harris in the very last scene. To be fair, there are only three female characters, and Maggie spends most of the story possessed by the seaweed and away from the others. However, Victoria and Megan Jones are in several scenes together, but never talk to each other. On the plus side, Megan is a director of the company that owns the refinery, so she’s pushing at that glass ceiling. And Victoria’s constant screaming finally has a practical use, destroying the seaweed creatures – fitting that her defining attribute should resolve the plot in her final story.

The Wheel in Space


  1. Yes – Zoe Heriot, Tanya Lernov, Dr Gemma Corwyn
  2. Yes – Tanya and Gemma in part one, Zoe and Gemma in part two, three, four
  3. Yes – Tanya and Gemma talk about the Silver Carrier; Zoe and Gemma talk about the Yellow Alert and Zoe’s ‘brainwashing’

Notes – a comfortable pass, and a pretty good representation of women as professional astrophysicists, scientists and doctors. As a minor niggle, somebody should perhaps have pointed out that Russian surnames are gender specific – Tanya’s surname should be Lernova.

The Dominators


  1. Yes – Zoe Heriot, Kando, Tolata
  2. Yes – Zoe and Kando in part two
  3. Yes – Zoe and Kando talk about the island’s radioactivity, and the travel capsule to get off it

Notes – passes the Test (barely) down to about four lines in one of the five episodes, but doesn’t do very well by its female characters. Tolata gets about five lines in part one before a Quark kills her, and Kando spends most of her time held prisoner by the Dominators. Even Zoe doesn’t get very much to do.


The Mind Robber


  1. Yes – Zoe Heriot, Rapunzel
  2. No – Zoe and Rapunzel never talk to each other
  3. No (see above)

Notes – considering the number of female characters there are in literature and folklore, you’d think The Mind Robber could have done better than that. Medusa, in Greek mythology, is the name of a specific Gorgon, but here she’s referred to as “the” Medusa, so less of a name as such. There are two female children, and if you accept that the children as a group are the ones from E Nesbit’s The Treasure Seekers, then their names are Dora and Alice. But they’re never named in the dialogue. Zoe gets a fair share of driving the plot, including defeating the Karkus; but the story also features THAT notorious shot lingering on Wendy Padbury’s nether regions in part one…

The Invasion


  1. Yes – Zoe Heriot, Isobel Watkins
  2. Yes – Zoe and Isobel talk many times in very episode except part three
  3. Yes – they talk about photography, records, International Electromatics, the computer receptionist in Vaughn’s office

Notes – passes the Test with flying colours, although it’s not exactly brimming over with women. Possibly one of the first stories to overtly reference contemporary gender issues via the Brigadier’s old-fashioned chauvinism. A shame, then, that Isobel only manages to come up with the sophisticated response “oh, you, you, you MAN!” Zoe at least gets to prove how smart she is by calculating the missile trajectories to destroy the Cyber Fleet. The soldiers’ admiring comment? “Can we keep her on sir? She’s much prettier than a computer!” Oh dear.

The Krotons


  1. Yes – Zoe Heriot, Vana
  2. No – Zoe and Vana never speak to each other
  3. No (see above)

Notes – the great Robert Holmes’ first script, and in terms of gender balance, it’s pretty representative of most of his work. There’s only one female guest character who spends half the story in a coma and never talks to the Doctor’s female companion. On the plus side, Zoe does yet again get to demonstrate her superior intelligence with the Kroton learning machine.


The Seeds of Death


  1. Yes – Zoe Heriot, Gia Kelly
  2. Yes – Zoe and Miss Kelly talk in parts three, four, five and six
  3. Yes – they talk about T-Mat, the moonbase heating system, circuit repair

Notes – despite having only one female guest character, passes the Test with flying colours. It does pretty well by Miss Kelly too, portraying her as a highly qualified specialist in physics who takes a major role in driving the plot. On the minus side, she still acts as assistant to a male commander, and Professor Eldred seems to think that working as her assistant would be demeaning. Generally pretty good in gender terms, though more than one female guest character would have helped.

The Space Pirates


  1. Yes – Zoe Heriot, Madeleine Issigri
  2. Yes – Zoe and Madeleine talk briefly at the very end of part six
  3. Yes – they talk about Madeleine returning to Earth for trial

Notes – Robert Holmes’ dullest story, The Space Pirates isn’t much of an improvement on The Krotons for female representation. It does at least pass the Test (barely), and Madeleine has a bit of complexity, switching from reluctant villain to heroine. But then none of the characters in this script get much depth.

The War Games


  1. Yes – Zoe Heriot, Lady Jennifer Buckingham, Tanya Lernov
  2. Yes – Zoe and Lady Jennifer talk in part three, Zoe and Tanya in part ten
  3. Yes – Zoe and Lady Jennifer talk about the SIDRAT in the barn

Notes – given the settings of this story (a series of ersatz historical war zones, and an alien base containing people pretending to be soldiers in them), it’s something of a miracle that The War Games has even one female guest character. The sprawling nature of the story, with its length and large cast, means that the two female characters aren’t often in the same scene. Nevertheless, it does pass the Test (just), and Lady Jennifer is portrayed as a confident, courageous woman in a world dominated by men, so that’s something. Zoe does get to talk to Tanya in a brief cameo, but they’re talking about the Doctor and Jamie.

Second Doctor summary

Total stories – 21

  • Stories that pass all three Bechdel criteria – 14 / 66.7%
  • Stories that only pass two Bechdel criteria – 1 / 4.7%
  • Stories that only pass one Bechdel criteria – 4 / 19%
  • Stories that fail all three Bechdel criteria – 2 / 9.4%

Total named female guest characters – 32

Total female companions – 3:

  • Polly
  • Victoria Waterfield
  • Zoe Heriot

Total female characters overall – 35

Story with the largest number of female characters – The Faceless Ones (Polly plus 4 named guests)

Female companion assessment:


Polly: The archetypal swinging 60s, groovy, Carnaby Street-shopping chick. Far from an idiot – look at her attacking Cybermen with nail polish remover in The Moonbase. A step forward from the monotonous, repetitive clones of Susan in the later Hartnell years. Still, a swinging dolly bird isn’t exactly the last word in Women’s Lib, especially one that spends so long mooning after a (admittedly gorgeous) young sailor.


Victoria: well, much as we love Debbie Watling, Victoria fits the era she was from – prim, straitlaced, and screaming at anything slightly baffling. To be fair, she took futuristic technology in stride with the same slightly suspect ease as Jamie. Key line that proves it was written by uncomprehending men: “What are all these knobs?”


Zoe: the direction may have been fascinated by her catsuit-clad bum, but actually Zoe was a real step forward. A highly qualified scientist from The Future, her intellect outstripped (possibly) that of the Doctor. Unfortunately, her intellect may not be a match for lascivious pictures of her nether regions.

Sexism rating for the Second Doctor: More sexist than the First, with 33.3% of his stories failing the Bechdel test as opposed to a ‘mere’ 31% of Mr Hartnell’s. Tune in next week for the even more sexist era of Jon Pertwee

10 thoughts on “How sexist is Doctor Who?–Part Two”

  1. ” Unfortunately, her intellect may not be a match for lascivious pictures of her nether regions.”

    I’m not sure about that. I thought the reason Zoe is so popular is because she has both brain and bum?


  2. Re – the Enemy of the World – I think Fariah and Astrid *just about* pass on point three as they talk about the fight they are having:
    ASTRID: What are you doing here?

    FARIAH: I can’t talk, you’re choking me.

    ASTRID: One move, just one move…


  3. Also re. the notorious “She’s much prettier than a computer!”” line from The Invasion – it’s interesting to note how Zoe seems to take that remark at face value as a compliment and chuckles appreciatively – is she a postfeminist or just incredibly “girl-positive”? Or what?


      1. IIRC, The Wheel In Space is set in 2030 – in fact Moffat could do a present day story and have a kindergarten-age Zoe in it.


      2. Evidence from “The Mind Robber” would suggest that “The Wheel in Space” is set the year 2000, in that, when identifying the origins of the Karkus, we get this conversation:

        ZOE: We all follow his adventures in the strip sections of the hourly telepress.
        DOCTOR: The strip? Oh, a strip cartoon of the year two thousand?
        ZOE: You’ve been in the year two thousand, haven’t you?
        DOCTOR: Yes, but I hardly had time to follow the strip cartoons.

        Why would the Doctor mention the year 2000, if that wasn’t where Zoe had been picked up from? However, in “The War Games” Zoe states that she was born in “the 21st Century,” which would suggest that maybe Zoe was force grown in a vat somewhere, and is perhaps only a few months old!


      3. Possibly the Karkus strip in the Hourly Telepress ran/runs/will run for a good long lifespan and the Doctor is just recalling the launch date.

        Apart from the artificial gravity on the space station, there’s actually very little wildly futuristic technology in either The Wheel In Space or The Enemy Of The World.


  4. The Evil of the Daleks does have a slightly better Ruth/Molly exchange in pt5 – Ruth asks Molly if she had extra work to do and Molly mendaciously replies that, yes, she did.


  5. And here’s another possible candidate for Bechdel passing for The Enemy of the World – this time from part 2:

    VICTORIA: I like eating, and I’m hungry.
    FARIAH: Then let’s see if we can’t find you something to do. You can work with me if you like.
    VICTORIA: Thank you.


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