How sexist is Doctor Who?–Part Four

The Tom Baker years


Welcome to Part Four 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. Then, going by Doctor:

  1. William Hartnell
  2. Patrick Troughton
  3. Jon Pertwee

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.

After Jon Pertwee’s shameful 54.2% Test failure, surely his successor can only improve? But then, he has far more stories to be sexist in, and quite a few of them are script-edited by Robert Holmes, who we’ve already established to have a less than sterling track record of female representation. Let’s see the results…



  1. Yes – Sarah Jane Smith, Hilda Winters
  2. Yes – Miss Winters is first introduced talking to Sarah, and they have numerous conversations throughout
  3. Yes – Sarah and Miss Winters discuss numerous topics, including the Think Tank, scientific ethics, and her Evil Plan

Notes – yes, there’s only one female guest character. Still, she’s not only the main villain, but the government-appointed director of a high tech research facility, so it’s not a bad gender representation (well, apart from the megalomania, I suppose). She even pointedly references chauvinism at her first meeting with Sarah, when Sarah makes the assumption that her assistant Jellicoe is the Director because he’s a man.

The Ark in Space


  1. Yes – Sarah Jane Smith, Vira
  2. No – Sarah and Vira never talk directly to each other in the entire story
  3. No (see above)

Notes – once again, a single female guest character, but she is one of the driving forces of the plot. However, it’s fairly surprising that she doesn’t have any direct exchange with Sarah at all. Albeit less surprising considering that the story was written by Robert Holmes, who also takes on the mantle of script editor here. Brilliant though he is, we know from his previous efforts that gender balance isn’t one of his strong points.

The Sontaran Experiment


  1. No – Sarah Jane Smith only
  2. No (see above)
  3. No (see above)

Notes: This has five named characters apart from the regulars, though one is a Sontaran, and it was previously hinted that, as a clone race, they don’t have two genders. The Galsec astronauts appear to be military, and given the convention of the mid-70s, it’s arguable that the military would be all men. Then again, this is set in the far future, and Star Trek had already established the logical precedent that a future military force would include women. Not much of a surprise from writers Bob Baker & Dave Martin – this is their fourth script, and they still haven’t produced one that passes the Test.

Genesis of the Daleks


  1. Yes – Sarah Jane Smith, Bettan
  2. Yes, though Sarah and Bettan only meet at the very end of part six
  3. No – at least, not strictly. They talk about the explosive charges at the Bunker entrance, but only in terms of giving the Doctor more time before setting them off

Notes – as ever in a story written by Terry Nation, there’s only one female guest character. The story was also heavily edited by Robert Holmes, so she doesn’t have all that much to do either. But at least Bettan is a pretty strong woman, taking charge of the remnants of Thals and Mutos to start the first resistance against the Daleks. And Sarah gets some very good action, especially in leading the rebellion of the Thals’ prisoners.

NB – this one would have passed the Test if you don’t count the Doctor as a “man”.

Revenge of the Cybermen


  1. No – Sarah Jane Smith only
  2. No (see above)
  3. No (see above)

Notes – Cyber stories traditionally fare badly for representing women, and this is very likely due to most of them being written (or co-written) by Gerry Davis, as this one was. It’s notable that the two Cybermen stories thus far which have passed the Test were written by other people (David Whitaker and Derrick Sherwin). As to this one – most of Nerva Beacon’s crew are dead, so you never know, some of them might have been women. And there’s not really any telling what gender the Vogans are under those masks – only three of them get lines, and they’re all male. That’s clutching at straws though – this story doesn’t even give Sarah much to do.

Terror of the Zygons


  1. Yes – Sarah Jane Smith, Sister Lamont
  2. Yes – although at the end of part one, it’s actually a Zygon disguised as Sister Lamont, so may not count.
  3. No – their only discussion is about Harry Sullivan

Notes – one female guest character, and she’s being impersonated by an alien most of the time, so might only count as female in the brief scene where her original is released. Even taking that into account, her one conversation with Sarah is about Harry Sullivan. And once again, Sarah herself doesn’t get much to do beyond getting menaced and admiring the Doctor. It’s possible the Zygons themselves might count as female – the script notes that they’re not only mammalian, but can lactate. The one speaking, named Zygon is played by a man though, so I’m not counting them.

Planet of Evil


  1. No – Sarah Jane Smith only
  2. No (see above)
  3. No (see above)

Notes – another military force in the far future that’s exclusively male. Doctor Who’s still lagging behind Star Trek in those terms. They might at least have made one of the scientific expedition team a woman, but not even the ones who get a couple of lines then die are female. Still, at least Sarah gets a bit more to do than of late, getting separated from the Doctor and dealing with the hostile Morestrans by herself.

Pyramids of Mars


  1. No – Sarah Jane Smith only
  2. No (see above)
  3. No (see above)

Notes – another great script written by Robert Holmes that falls down in gender terms. To be fair, once the Priory is isolated there are hardly any people within the Osiran barrier, and given their social roles – archaeologist, scientist, poacher, butler, doctor and manservant (or whatever Namin is), it’s quite believable that they would all be male. Sarah herself gets a lot to do, having to shoot the dynamite to blow up the Osiran missile, though she does have to be rescued from a deadly trap towards the end in true silent movie heroine style. Still, while this fails the Test, given the setting and the premise, it’s hard to criticise it for that.

The Android Invasion


  1. Yes – Sarah Jane Smith, Tessa
  2. No – Sarah and Tessa never meet
  3. No (see above)

Notes – fairly standard from Terry Nation, this has one female guest character who’s barely in it and doesn’t have a personality. Not only does Sarah never meet Tessa, Tessa only gets five lines in part four, all reporting on Crayford’s rocket except the one where she asks for a coffee. Still, at least she gets a name. It’s questionable whether Sarah herself gets all that much to do, though for once it’s her rescuing the Doctor when he’s tied to the War Memorial.

The Brain of Morbius


  1. Yes – Sarah Jane Smith, Maren, Ohica
  2. Yes – Maren and Ohica
  3. Yes – Maren and Ohica discuss the sacred Flame and the Elixir

Notes – Surprisingly for a story in which the majority of people onscreen are women, only two of them get names or dialogue. Not only that, but the vast majority of their dialogue (unsurprisingly given the story) is about the Doctor, Solon or Morbius. Neither guest character talks to Sarah; Sarah does have a line to Ohica, in the very last scene (“Thank you, Ohica”), but it’s not dialogue as Ohica has said nothing specifically to her. Otherwise, she and the other named female characters never speak to each other.

The Seeds of Doom


  1. Yes – Sarah Jane Smith and Amelia Ducat
  2. Yes – Sarah and Amelia talk to each other when Amelia infiltrates Chase’s house.
  3. Yes (ish) – They talk about the World Ecology Bureau and the Krynoid pod

Notes – although Sarah has dialogue in the scene where she and the Doctor first meet Amelia, at no point does one speak, the other respond and the first acknowledge it. The Doctor always gets a line between them. So technically, they don’t “talk to each other” in that scene. Also, the one occasion they genuinely do talk to each other may be principally about the pod, but it’s couched in references to the Doctor, Scorby and Sir Colin Thackeray. So it’s debatable if this meets condition 3 of the Test.

The Masque of Mandragora


  1. No – Sarah Jane Smith only
  2. No (see above)
  3. No (see above)

Notes – really, Renaissance Italy had no women in it? Could have fooled me, having seen all those paintings from the time. Sarah does get a subplot of her own, but it doesn’t do her any favours – she’s hypnotised into trying to kill the Doctor. A few female members of Giuliano’s court wouldn’t have gone amiss; there again, given his apparent fondness for his friend Marco, he doesn’t seem that interested in women. Neither, it seems, was writer Louis Marks – this is his second script in as many seasons to fail the Test completely.

The Hand of Fear


  1. Yes – Sarah Jane Smith, Miss Jackson, Eldrad (up to part four when ‘she’ becomes ‘he’)
  2. Yes – While ‘she’ is female, Eldrad talks to Sarah in part three
  3. Yes – they talk about the fate of Kastria

Notes – this one may be debatable, depending on what gender you think of Eldrad as being. Part four establishes that Eldrad’s natural form is male in appearance, but the earlier form ‘he’ took was based on Sarah and therefore female (in appearance at least, and played by a female actor). Sarah and Miss Jackson never talk directly to each other, so it all hinges on your opinion of Eldrad. Still, as Sarah’s swansong, she does get a lot to do (even if, as the script itself notes, it’s mostly being possessed yet again).

The Deadly Assassin


  1. No – there are no female characters at all
  2. No (see above)
  3. No (see above)

Notes – An interesting experiment; the only time until recently that a story was written with the Doctor on his own. Of course, that needn’t have meant that the story was devoid of women – then again, it was written by Robert Holmes. Gallifrey, therefore, is rather a sausage fest, though that’s not entirely new. Up until the appearance of Rodan in Invasion of Time, and based on all of the Time Lords’ previous appearances, you could be forgiven for thinking that Gallifrey has no female population at all! Which makes Susan seem even more of an anomaly. This is the second of only two stories ever to have no female characters at all, not even one of the regulars; and at least Mission to the Unknown has the excuse that it’s one episode long and doesn’t feature any male regulars either.

The Face of Evil


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

Notes – the first script from Chris Boucher, who does rather better with female characters later. There are some female extras as part of the Sevateem, but the Tesh have no visible women at all. There again, given their high tech philosophy, it would be entirely in character if they reproduced by cloning. Hugely on the plus side is the introduction of Leela, the most independent female companion yet. Her tendency for violence might have been a bit much for Tom Baker, but it was a welcome change from constantly twisting her ankle, being possessed or falling into improbably convoluted traps. Having said all that, she was still cast as a very attractive young woman with the excuse that her primitive background meant her costume would be very skimpy. “Something for the dads,” as was explicitly noted at the time, which rather undercuts the message of having a newly independent female character.

The Robots of Death


  1. Yes – Leela, Toos, Zilda
  2. Yes – Leela and Toos have a direct conversation in part four
  3. Yes – they talk about the robot rebellion

Notes – this is more like it. Chris Boucher’s second script in a row has a futuristic mine setting which has two high-ranking female officers, which is a step forward from the usual formula. However, it’s worth noting that Leela and Toos only have one actual conversation in the whole four parts. Also worth noting that Toos and Zilda, part of the same crew, never have a conversation – the closest they get is Toos asking Zilda what she’s discovered about Uvanov over the communicator, and Zilda doesn’t answer.

The Talons of WengChiang


  1. Yes(ish) – Leela and Teresa. But see below.
  2. No – Leela and Teresa are in one scene together, but Teresa is in a hypnotic trance and doesn’t speak
  3. No (see above)

Notes – This is debatably a failure on all three criteria rather than two. Although Teresa is named in the credits (she’s the ‘whore’ Chang hypnotises and kidnaps), she is never named in the dialogue. Hardly a surprise in a story written by Robert Holmes that was also his last as script editor. Classic though this story is, most people probably don’t notice the lack of female characters, as they’re too busy being gobsmacked by the racist portrayal of the Chinese.

The Horror of Fang Rock


  1. Yes – Leela and Adelaide Lesage
  2. Yes – Leela and Adelaide have a direct conversation in part three
  3. Yes – they discuss astrology and science

Notes – Adelaide may not be the best representation of the female gender, but for the time period of the story’s setting, she’s perfectly convincing. She also makes for an interesting contrast with the more primitive but more independent Leela. Given the general lack of women on lighthouses in the early twentieth century, Terrance Dicks actually does pretty well in having a female guest character at all.

The Invisible Enemy


  1. No – There are two female characters who have dialogue besides Leela, but neither is named, both are credited simply as ‘Nurse’
  2. No (see above)
  3. No (see above)

Notes – depending on your opinion of The Hand of Fear (see above), this ranks as the sixth failure in a row for writers Bob Baker & Dave Martin. I suppose there’s no way of knowing whether the Swarm included females; viruses don’t have genders, but then they don’t usually have talkative nuclei that lay eggs either.

Image of the Fendahl


  1. Yes – Leela, Thea Ransome, Martha Tyler
  2. Yes – Leela and Mrs Tyler have a direct conversation in part three
  3. Yes – they talk about the magic charm Mrs Tyler gives Leela

Notes – Martha Tyler may be the stock “village wise woman” character, but as written and played she’s pretty engaging (though the equally stock ‘yokel’ accent leaves something to be desired). Thea Ransome is a prominent anthropologist and presumably palaeontologist, who’s more than capable of carrying out a reliable “potassium-argon test”. Thea doesn’t get any direct exchanges with either Leela or Mrs Tyler. She’s in the scene where Mrs Tyler and Mitchell argue, but doesn’t talk to the old lady; later, Leela is in the same room as ‘her’ in part four, but by then she’s no longer Thea but the Fendahl Core, which isn’t exactly talkative.

The Sun Makers


  1. Yes – Leela, Marn, Veet
  2. No – Not really, anyway. Leela and Veet insult/threaten each other, but at no point does it constitute a dialogue. Saying goodbye to each other at the end doesn’t either. And Marn never meets either one of them.
  3. No (see above)

Notes – that man Robert Holmes again, with another marvellous script that rather leaves out women. Veet seems a little tokenistic, and all she really does is growl, making her a sort of subpar version of Leela; and Marn, while well-written and amusing, is basically the Gatherer’s secretary, so no major step forward there. Veet does at least get to demonstrate some counterfeiting skills with the futuristic ATM card she makes for the Doctor – but then again, it doesn’t actually work.



  1. Yes – Leela, Tala, Naia
  2. Yes – Leela and Naia have a conversation in part three
  3. Yes – they discuss life in the tunnels of the Underworld

Notes – finally a (bare) Test pass for Bob Baker & Dave Martin, though Underworld is a failure in all sorts of other ways that aren’t solely to do with the writing. As a member of Jackson’s crew on “the Quest”, Tala is quite a strong character, but Naia is the standard “oppressed peasant” (there again, so are the male inhabitants of the Underworld). Although Leela and Tala are frequently in the same scene, neither ever speaks a word to the other.

The Invasion of Time


  1. Yes – Leela, Rodan, Presta
  2. Yes – Leela and Rodan have numerous conversations in parts two, three, four, five and six
  3. Yes – among other things, they talk about life on Gallifrey, Rodan’s job, and the alien invasion

Notes – The first female Gallifreyan to be seen since Susan, Rodan is an interesting precursor to the first Romana, who would appear in the next story. She’s a highly qualified scientist frustrated at being unable to break out of a dull job in traffic control – interesting to note that Time Lords too seem to have a glass ceiling. Presta gets short shrift as the third named female character. She barely gets any lines, and never has what you could call a dialogue with either of the other female characters. And Leela’s send off is nothing short of peremptory; she’s barely even looked at Andred throughout the story, yet suddenly they’re in love? It seems a very ill-fitting exit for such a fiery character to be so easily distracted by, let’s face it, a bit of a wimp.

The Ribos Operation


  1. No – Romana is the only named female character. The Seeker doesn’t count – that’s a title, not a name.
  2. No (see above)
  3. No (see above)

Notes – Robert Holmes again, so no surprise that the only guest female he has room for is a bizarre witch-type figure. Given the rather lovely sets and costumes the show nicked from a recent production of Anna Karenina, it’s a shame that only Mary Tamm gets to flaunt one of the female ones. That said, Romana is another new twist on the trad companion role, more akin to Liz Shaw than the primitive Leela. Unlike even Liz, she can actually claim intellectual superiority to the Doctor, as another Gallifreyan who did rather better at the Academy than he did. That presents the writers with the interesting problem of how such a pair of near super-beings can be put in any jeopardy at all. This being Doctor Who, they find a way.

The Pirate Planet


  1. Yes – Romana, Mula, Queen Xanxia
  2. No – on various occasions Romana is in the same scene with one or other of the other two female characters, and they even speak to each other, but it is never a dialogue or a conversation
  3. No (see above)

Notes – Douglas Adams’ first script for the show, and it doesn’t do much better than his cult HitchHiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (which only has one notable female character in Trillian). Xanxia may be the villain, but she doesn’t show her hand as actually being the Captain’s Nurse until very nearly the end of the story. And Mula gets virtually nothing at all to do; then again, that’s true of all the planet’s population except the Mentiads.

The Stones of Blood


  1. Yes – Romana, Amelia Rumford, Vivien Fay/Cessair of Diplos, Martha, Pat (female camper)
  2. Yes – Romana, Amelia and Vivien/Cessair have numerous conversations in various combinations throughout all four episodes.
  3. Yes – They talk of various things, including the stones, archaeology, alien life etc – occasionally they talk of the Doctor, but that’s less frequent.

Notes – David Fisher’s first script for the show is an interesting one in the sense that it actually has more named female characters than named male characters (for, I think, the first time in the show’s history). If you discount the Megara (as machines, they don’t have a gender) then the only named male characters in the story are the Doctor (if that’s a name) and De Vries. The male camper isn’t named (his companion, Pat, is named in the dialogue but not the credits). Martha, De Vries’ assistant, only ever gets dialogue with De Vries himself.

The Androids of Tara


  1. Yes – Romana, Princess Strella, Madame Lamia
  2. Yes – Romana and Lamia have several discussions in part three. Strella and Romana have a brief conversation in part four.
  3. Yes – Romana and Lamia discuss (among other things) the mineral composition of the Key to Time Segment, while Romana and Strella are seen finishing a conversation about tapestry when the Doctor turns up in the cell.

Notes – David Fisher’s second script is less gender balanced than his first, but does pass the Test. Although Romana and Lamia have several scenes together in part one, Lamia (thinking Romana is an android) never speaks directly to her, talking instead to Count Grendel. The conversation between Romana and Strella is technically Mary Tamm talking to herself, but it is two separate characters. It’s worth noting that all the female characters are defined by men – Lamia is in love with Grendel, Strella is in love with Reynart and trying to escape from Grendel, and Romana is the Doctor’s assistant and a pawn in Grendel’s plans.

The Power of Kroll


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

Notes – Robert Holmes is back on scripting duties for the second time this season, and by now it’s no surprise to see another Test failure from him. Unlike most of the others though, this doesn’t have the mitigation of being an excellent script in other regards – it’s one of his worst, almost down there with The Space Pirates for dullness and unoriginality.

The Armageddon Factor


  1. Yes – Romana, Princess Astra
  2. Yes – Romana and Astra have a conversation in part six
  3. Yes – they discuss Astra’s destiny as the sixth segment of the Key to Time

Notes – Bob Baker & Dave Martin’s second Test pass in eight stories, but only by dint of one very brief exchange of dialogue. This single exchange is the only conversation Romana and Astra have in the whole six episodes. They meet on several occasions before this, but never have a dialogue in which each speaks and replies in turn.

Destiny of the Daleks


  1. Yes – Romana, Jall, Agella
  2. Yes – Romana and Jall have a conversation in part two
  3. Yes – they discuss how they came to be Dalek prisoners

Notes – This just barely qualifies as a pass. Romana and Jall have a short direct exchange as part of a larger scene in which Veldan (David Yip) gets lines between them the rest of the time. And it’s the only scene featuring two female characters speaking to each other in the whole four parts. Also, Agella appears female, but is actually a robot, so it’s questionable if she should count for rule 1. Still, by Terry Nation standards, it’s doing well – if you do count Agella, it has one more named female guest character than usual for him.

City of Death


  1. Yes – Romana, Countess Scarlioni
  2. Yes – Romana and the Countess have a very brief exchange in the opening scene of part two
  3. Yes – they’re discussing a Chinese puzzle box

Notes – Douglas Adams’ second script for the show (written under a pseudonym) does pass the Test, but only by the skin of its teeth. Romana and the Countess have four uninterrupted lines between them, as part of a scene mostly dominated by the Doctor and Scarlioni. Plus, your mileage may vary as to whether the Countess counts as a named character, having nothing more than a title and her husband’s surname.

The Creature from the Pit


  1. Yes – Romana, Lady Adrasta, Madame Karela
  2. Yes – Romana, Adrasta and Karela have various conversations in various combinations in parts two and three
  3. Yes – among other things, they discuss the Creature, K9 and metal

Notes – the show’s third script from David Fisher, this one’s interesting for making its two non-regular female characters the planet’s (apparently only) ruling class. Shame they’re both baddies. Still, at least gender expectations are different on Chloris – Karela makes the automatic assumption that Romana must be the Doctor’s “commander”.

Nightmare of Eden


  1. Yes – Romana, Della
  2. Yes – Romana and Della talk in parts one, two and four
  3. Yes – most of their conversations relate to the CET machine, though one relates to her missing boyfriend Stott

Notes – Bob Baker, writing without Dave Martin this time, produces in Della a pretty good female character. She’s a scientist with a background in exobiology and whatever techniques are used to make the CET machine, and capable of taking charge in tense situations. That said, though, her motivations mostly end up stemming from her relationship with her missing boyfriend.

The Horns of Nimon


  1. Yes – Romana, Teka
  2. Yes – Romana and Teka have brief exchanges of dialogue in parts one and two
  3. Yes – one of those exchanges is about the Skonnan battle fleet and the Nimon

Notes – Another that just barely passes, from sometime script editor Anthony Read. Romana and Teka’s direct exchanges of dialogue are in larger conversations with Seth mostly interjecting between their lines. Plus Teka spends most of her dialogue talking about Seth, and is generally pretty pathetic. Romana, though, gets a lot to do and possibly drives the plot more than the Doctor does in this one.

The Leisure Hive


  1. Yes – Romana, Mena
  2. Yes – Romana and Mena have a brief exchange of dialogue in part two
  3. Yes – they talk about tachyonics

Notes – David Fisher’s heavily rewritten script, the first of the shiny new John Nathan-Turner era, scrapes a bare pass. Romana and Mena’s direct dialogue amounts to about four lines in the middle of a larger conversation mostly dominated by Mena and the Doctor. Still, Mena is the ruler of an entire planet (albeit by succession from a man), and once again Romana gets a lot to do, much of it steeped in scientific technobabble. She’s increasingly becoming even more a lead character than the Doctor is at this point – luckily she was leaving in a few stories’ time.



  1. Yes – Romana, Lexa, Caris
  2. Yes – Lexa and Caris have a brief exchange in part one. Romana and Caris have a brief exchange in part three
  3. Yes – Lexa and Caris discuss the Dodecahedron

Notes – John Flanagan and Andrew McCulloch’s only contribution to the show feels like a holdover from the less serious previous season. Jacqueline Hill, paying Lexa, is the only female actor to have played a companion then returned in a different role (Lalla Ward did it the other way round, as did Freema Agyeman and Karen Gillan). The story passes the Test, but still only by dint of two four-line exchanges between named female characters in the whole four part story. And Romana and Caris’ discussion doesn’t fit rule 3, since they’re discussing Meglos and the Doctor, both male (yes, plants do have genders). Lexa at least is a powerful figure as arbiter of Tigella’s religion, though it’s not exactly the most sympathetic portrayal of religious believers.

Full Circle


  1. Yes, Romana, Keara
  2. No – although Romana and Keara are in several scenes together, they never have more than a two line exchange of dialogue without the interjection of one of the male characters, usually either Adric or Varsh
  3. No (see above)

Notes – Andrew Smith’s only contribution to the show doesn’t do too well for female characters. Despite quite a few female Alzarian extras, only Keara actually gets a name or dialogue, and never gets a conversation with Romana. In contrast to recent trends, Romana doesn’t get much to do either, spending about half the story possessed by… whatever it was. It’s a good script, with some interesting concepts, but pretty bad for women.

State of Decay


  1. Yes – Romana, Camilla, Marta
  2. Yes – Romana and Camilla have a three-line exchange in part two
  3. Yes – they’re talking about the blood from Romana’s cut hand

Notes – just scrapes in. Those three lines are the closest thing to a conversation between two of the named female characters in the whole four part story, and they occur in a conversation mostly dominated by the Doctor and Zargo. Marta (the innkeeper’s wife) never even shares a scene with either of the other two. Still, Romana’s back to being a dominant driving force in the plot, and Camilla (named for Sheridan LeFanu’s vampire Carmilla Karnstein) is a good femme fatale in the classic Gothic mould. The brief sequence between Romana and Camilla is freighted with lesbian undertones (much like the original Carmilla), but it’s not exploitative; hardly surprising for a teatime family show!

Warrior’s Gate


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

Notes – Stephen Gallagher’s first (of two) scripts, this doesn’t do too well for female guests. The story does also feature a female Tharil and a female human slave, who are important plotwise but get no dialogue, much less names. That said, Romana is again very active in her last story, and effectively chooses to go off and fight injustice solo, much as the Doctor did. It’s a good sendoff for a woman character who’s been portrayed (mostly) very much as the Doctor’s equal – though as noted earlier, returning to more trad, fallible companions makes the writers’ job a good deal easier.

The Keeper of Traken


  1. Yes – Nyssa, Kassia, Katura
  2. Yes – Nyssa and Katura have a conversation in part two, Kassia and Nyssa have a conversation in part three, as do Kassia and Katura
  3. Yes – Kassia and Katura discuss Kassia’s nomination to the Keepership

Notes – The first script by prolific Space 1999 writer Johnny Byrne, this does quite well in terms of female characters (at a point where, initially, the Doctor’s sole companion is male). Nyssa may seem a bit of a wimpy fairytale princess, but she happily uses that Ion Bonder to bust the Doctor, Adric and Tremas out of captivity, and she later turns out to be a highly qualified scientist (of some sort). Katura and Kassia both hold government office on Traken, and Kassia in particular is given a fair bit of depth for a Who character (at least initially). That said, only one of their three conversations doesn’t revolve around a man, or men. Nyssa and Katura talk about Nyssa’s father Tremas, while Kassia and Nyssa discuss the (all-male) Fosters, Tremas, the Doctor and Adric. Interestingly, all the women on Traken appear to have the same hairdo.



  1. Yes – Tegan, Aunt Vanessa, Nyssa
  2. Yes – Tegan and Aunt Vanessa converse alone in every other scene from part one. Tegan and Nyssa have a conversation in part three
  3. Yes – Tegan and Aunt Vanessa talk about planes, cars, tyres etc – the only man they mention is Tegan’s father, and that’s just in passing. Tegan and Nyssa discuss the dedication of scientists (though Nyssa uses her father as an example).

Notes – By comparison to most Tom Baker stories, this one passes the Test with flying colours. Aunt Vanessa doesn’t even have a scene with a man. And with two regular female characters from hereon in (for the first time since The Chase), the criteria are met more frequently for the next couple of years.

Fourth Doctor summary


Total stories – 41

  • Stories that pass all three Bechdel criteria – 22 / 53.7%
  • Stories that only pass two Bechdel criteria – 2 / 4.9%
  • Stories that only pass one Bechdel criteria – 6 / 14.6%
  • Stories that fail all three Bechdel criteria – 11 / 26.8%

Total named female guest characters – 46

Total female companions – 6 (counting both Romanas separately):

  • Sarah Jane Smith
  • Leela
  • Romana I
  • Romana II
  • Nyssa
  • Tegan Jovanka

Total female characters overall – 49

Average ratio of male to female characters – 5:1

Story with the largest number of female characters – The Stones of Blood (Romana plus 4 named guests)

Female companion assessment:


Sarah Jane Smith: Incoming showrunners Philip Hinchcliffe and Robert Holmes took Sarah in a rather more trad direction, largely abandoning her background as a professional journalist (though it is at least mentioned in Robot and The Android Invasion). Still, the darker direction the show took meant that Sarah still had to be a pretty strong character to deal with the parade of Gothic horrors coming at her ever week. It helped that Lis Sladen had a very different chemistry with Tom Baker than that she had with Pertwee, more of a ‘Steed and Mrs Peel’ vibe where both were capable (and more than a little flirtatious). Incidentally, despite her lament in The Hand of Fear, Sarah was only possessed or hypnotised on three occasions:

  • Planet of the Spiders
  • The Masque of Mandragora
  • The Hand of Fear


Leela: Definitely the most physically formidable female companion the show had yet offered, the intent with Leela was that she and the Doctor should have a sort of Eliza Doolittle/Professor Higgins relationship. It worked in the sense that their onscreen chemistry was visibly prickly a lot of the time; it’s not hard to see Tom Baker’s disapproval for the character’s use of violence. And yet, in a show where violence has almost always been meted out by men, that is rather a refreshing change.

It’s also clear that Leela, while uneducated, is a pretty intelligent woman, taking technological advances way beyond her own society very much in her stride. However, with the controversy over the show’s level of violence at the time, it’s no surprise that incoming producer Graham Williams very much toned down Leela’s tendency for violence, replacing her as soon as possible with the far more ‘civilised’ Romana (who also wore a lot more clothes).


Romana I: The first time the Doctor was accompanied by a member of his own species since Susan. Romana’s first incarnation was initially frosty and haughty, dismissive of the Doctor’s experience-based wisdom in favour of her own superior education. Typically, the Doctor was shown to be superior in that aspect, but Romana did develop as a character, becoming more pragmatic and less reliant on academic knowledge. She also had the ability to more than match the Doctor intellectually, but her lack of real-universe experience meant she could still effectively serve the function of asking “what is it Doctor?”


Romana II: Far more self-assured than her earlier incarnation, the second Romana lost none of the aristo vibe (Lalla Ward actually being the daughter of the Viscount of Bangor), but was much more playful and humorous. She also had the most sexual chemistry yet with the Doctor, to the extent that she actually married him offscreen. More pertinently to the narrative, she was so much the Doctor’s equal that she rather lost the ability to function as an audience surrogate; though it was refreshing to hear the Doctor ask her what was going on. It did, however, make them, together with K9, a sort of ‘super-team’ and near-impossible to convincingly place in jeopardy.


Nyssa: A more fragile kind of companion, Nyssa had the vibe of a fairytale princess (the costume emphasised this), and seemed initially to lack the strength of many of her predecessors. However, she was presented from the first as an accomplished scientist, and went round stunning all and sundry in The Keeper of Traken. More on her in the Davison section.


Tegan Jovanka: As played by the incomparable Janet Fielding, Tegan was as far from fragile as you could possibly get. Independent, assertive, and somewhat unrestrained in her (frequent) annoyance with the Doctor, she was a good representation of femininity for the show. Again, more on her in the Davison section.

Sexism rating for the Fourth Doctor

Tom Baker was (by his own admission) something of a ladies’ man at the time, and Robert Holmes, one of his most influential script editors, had been notably bad at gender balance in all the stories he previously wrote. And yet the length of Tom’s stay in the part, under several different production teams, meant that the show’s style (and its representation of women) varied considerably over seven years. Consequently, even though he had 41 stories as opposed to Pertwee’s 24, only 43.9% of them fail the Test against Pertwee’s 54.2%.

Rankings of Bechdel failures by Doctor (so far):

  1. Jon Pertwee – 54.2%
  2. Tom Baker – 43.9%
  3. Patrick Troughton – 33.3%
  4. William Hartnell – 31 %

Next week – with John Nathan-Turner in charge for the rest of the classic series run, will the new, more sensitive incarnation of Peter Davison treat women a little better than his predecessors?

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