Welcome to Part Ten 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:
- William Hartnell
- Patrick Troughton
- Jon Pertwee
- Tom Baker
- Peter Davison
- Colin Baker
- Sylvester McCoy / Paul McGann
- Christopher Eccleston
- David Tennant
A quick reminder of the Test:
- It has to have two named female characters
- Who talk to each other
- About something besides a man.
As Russell T Davies departs with a pretty good record of gender balance, in comes new and hotly divisive showrunner Steven Moffat. At the time, fans seemed very optimistic about this development – after all, he had a strong record of writing inventive, scary and acclaimed stories. However, his very distinctive style, while popular in small doses, proved less universally welcomed as a constant of the show. That’s fine, of course; every showrunner has their critics, and RTD was certainly not beyond criticism. But for those who do dislike Moffat’s style, the level of vitriol was several notches higher than it had been for RTD. And one of the criticisms most frequently aimed at Moffat was that his writing was actively sexist and misogynist.
I’ve always thought that a bit unfair. I don’t think Moffat is a faultless writer (far from it), but one of his trademarks is writing strong, capable women who usually outshine the hapless men around them. Though I do acknowledge that his palette there is somewhat limited; after a while, all these flirtatious, impossibly witty heroines do start to feel a bit… samey.
Also incoming with Moffat was a new Doctor – the seemingly far too young Matt Smith. At 26, Matt was the youngest ever Doctor, leading to fears that the next one would have to be in his (or her) teens. Thankfully, Matt turned out to be a superb Doctor, actually more popular than many of the stories he appeared in. The fact that his quirky, often quite dark performance went down so well with viewers was quite an achievement after the near-universal popularity of David Tennant.
While I very much doubt that Matt Smith himself is in any way sexist or misogynist, he doesn’t write his own dialogue (well, not much anyway). So let’s delve into this new era, and find out how it compares to older ones…
The Eleventh Hour
- Yes – Amy Pond, Mrs Angelo
- Yes – Amy and Mrs Angelo talk when Amy and the Doctor visit her house
- Yes – they talk about Amy’s ‘career’
Notes – with Steven Moffat now running the show, the first episode has noticeably fewer female characters than many of Russell’s. Amy Pond is very much the default Moffat female lead – attractive, showing a lot of leg, but also smart and impossibly witty. She’s also emblematic of his tendency to treat his characters as pieces in his plot puzzles rather than characters in their own right (though that’s hardly exclusive to his female characters).
She’s not shy about lusting after the Doctor either; though her engagement to Rory is established here, it’s far from a foregone conclusion that she’ll end up with him. So, another female regular defined by her interest (possibly romantic, possibly just sexual) in the Doctor. However, that’s far from a new thing after Rose and Martha, and even Donna admitted that she fancied him.
The Beast Below
- Yes – Amy Pond, Liz 10, Mandy Tanner
- Yes – Amy and Mandy
- Yes – Amy and Mandy talk about ‘Below’ and Scotland
Notes – another pass for the Test, but only just. Liz 10 is a brilliant character, a kickass Queen of Britain, but she doesn’t really talk with either Amy or Mandy. However, while Amy hasn’t developed much as a character, this is the first occasion of Steven Moffat’s tenure where it’s the female companion who resolves the plot rather than the Doctor, as Amy is the one who figures out that the Star Whale would help without coercion (or lobotomy).
Victory of the Daleks
- Yes – Amy Pond, Blanche Breen, Lilian
- No – none of the female characters ever talk to each other. Blanche and Lilian talk alternately a couple of times, but they’re reporting aircraft movements to their superior rather than talking to each other
- No (see above)
Notes – the first fail of ‘the Moffat era’, and not much of a surprise that it’s from Mark Gatiss, whose record in this area is hardly stunning. Neither female guest character is much more than a functionary in Churchill’s War Bunker, and virtually all their dialogue is just reporting incoming aircraft. There’s a very half-hearted attempt to give Miss Breen some depth with reference to the loss of her pilot fiancé, but it doesn’t work since she’s been given no personality for us to care about. Still, this is the second story in a row where the plot is resolved by Amy rather than the Doctor; although her talking the robot Bracewell out of exploding by making him ‘remember’ Scotland is more than a little cringeworthy.
The Time of Angels / Flesh and Stone
- Yes – Amy Pond, River Song
- Yes – Amy and River talk on several occasions
- Yes – Amy and River talk about where they’ve jumped to at the beginning of part two, and about the forest on the Byzantium
Notes – The second appearance of the infamous River Song, and now she very much does seem to have been introduced to serve the function of the Doctor’s love interest. But does that make her a bad representation of a female character? She’s still highly intelligent, courageous and capable; it’s just that it’s now all backed up with a blind faith in the Doctor that isn’t always justified. In keeping with Moffat’s having used the “timey-wimey” style of Blink as a template for his run, she’s also very obviously a homage to / ripoff of The Time Traveller’s Wife. Not that that’s necessarily a bad thing; if you accept that you have a female character in a relationship with a man, it’s definitely out of the ordinary to explore her feelings if that relationship occurs at different points in time for them both.
The story also brings to a head the question of Amy’s feelings for the Doctor, when she pretty much throws herself at him in a way no female companion has ever done before. However, she admits that she’s not after anything “long term”, so is it bad that she’s rendered helpless by her lust for a man, or good that she’s independent enough to act on that lust just as a man might?
The Vampires of Venice
- Yes – Amy Pond, Rosanna Calvieri, Isabella
- Yes – Amy and Isabella; Amy and Rosanna
- Yes – Amy and Isabella discuss what’s going on at the school
Notes – Toby Whithouse’s second script for the show (after School Reunion) has his usual depth of character, but as ever it’s at the expense of a larger ensemble. Still, I’d rather have a small number of well-drawn characters than a large number of 2D caricatures. Isabella doesn’t get much of a role, but Rosanna gets an interesting tragic depiction as the villain, who is after all just trying to save her species from extinction. She’s wrong of course, as the end never justifies the means, but her motivation is believable and even sympathetic.
Amy, meanwhile, gets a lot to do in terms of the plot, but even more to do from a character development perspective, as she’s properly paired off with her fiancé for the first time. You could argue that it’s a chauvinistic depiction of a woman to be defined in relation to a man of any stripe; but Moffat’s clearly trying to make theirs an epic love story that plays with your expectations based on former companions’ obsession with the Doctor. Indeed, at this point you might even reasonably say there’s some misandry here, with the dialogue between the Doctor and Rory that they’re “her boys” at the end. But while this might make you think that Amy is the dominant one in her relationships with both Rory and the Doctor, later episodes provide a more than adequate counter to that.
- Yes – Amy Pond, Mrs Hamill, Mrs Poggit
- No – none of the female characters talk to each other
- No (see above)
Notes – the character development / dissection continues in Simon Nye’s clever script, which deconstructs the character of the Doctor and the traditional plots of the show. More importantly, as the title indicates, this story is about Amy specifically, and the ‘choice’ she has to make; not just between versions of reality, but between the men in her life. Just one episode after his reintroduction as a regular character, it’s Rory she chooses, setting up their relationship for most of the rest of the Moffat run.
Again, you could argue that this is a sexist portrayal of a female character, her life defined by a man (one more than the other, as is now clear), but that depends on whether you dislike (as many do) the element of a long-running romance as a central plank of one of the regular characters. That’s always been a sticking point for some old-school fans since the show’s return, but it seems significant that far more fans object when it’s not the Doctor himself being one half of that partnership. Of course, he does have his own love interest in River Song, but that relationship is far more quirky and complicated than the one he had with Rose Tyler, which seems to annoy a lot of people.
The Hungry Earth / Cold Blood
- Yes – Amy Pond, Alaya, Restac, Nasreen Chaudhry, Ambrose Northover
- Yes – Ambrose and Nasreen; Ambrose and Alaya; Ambrose and Restac
- Yes – Ambrose and Restac bargain for the release of both species’ hostages, which include males and females
Notes – Chris Chibnall’s second script for the series does better than his first for well-written female characters, but still barely passes the Test. They don’t interact much, and when they do, they usually talk about men; the Doctor, or Mo, or Elliot. On the plus side, Nasreen is a respected scientist, Alaya and Restac are both warriors (and it’s implied that all Silurian warriors are female), and Ambrose is led to her folly because she’s a fiercely protective wife and mother. So while it passes the Test by the skin of its teeth, it does very well by its female characters, who make up half the named guest cast.
Vincent and the Doctor
- No – Amy Pond is the only named female character
- No (see above)
- No (see above)
Notes – surprisingly, a script written by king of rom-coms Richard Curtis, and script-edited by Emma Freud (Curtis’ partner) doesn’t feature a single named guest female character, therefore having the dubious distinction of being the first story since the show’s return to fail the Test on all three criteria. But does that make it sexist or misogynist? I’d argue not, as its central focus is on a male historical figure whom Curtis clearly greatly admires. Consequently, Vincent van Gogh is pretty much the only fleshed-out character outside the regulars. You could argue that the lack of any guest female character is inherently sexist; but there aren’t any real guest male characters either. Bill Nighy’s uncredited cameo is the closest we get, and all we know about him is that he likes van Gogh and bow ties.
- Yes – Amy Pond, Sophie, Sandra
- No – at no point do any of the named female characters actually meet
- No (see above)
Notes – Gareth Roberts’ script is, for the most part, about the ‘odd couple’ comedy possibilities of the Doctor’s and Craig’s male bonding, so it’s not surprising that it’s short on female characters. With Amy putting in little more than a cameo, and Sandra one of the ‘man upstairs’ briefly seen victims, that makes Sophie the only real female character in the piece. And she’s defined by her unrecognised feelings for Craig (not to mention being another one who fancies the Doctor). So although this is an entertaining, amusing, and occasionally emotive story, it doesn’t do at all well for female representation.
The Pandorica Opens / The Big Bang
- Yes – Amy Pond, River Song, Liz 10, Madame Vernet, Aunt Sharon, Christine, Tabetha Pond
- Yes – River and Liz 10; Amy and River, various times; Sharon, Christine and little Amelia (ie Amy); Amy and Tabetha; Amy and her younger self may not count!
- Yes – Amy and River talk about the Pandorica; Amy, Sharon and Christine talk about the stars (or the lack of them); Amy and Tabetha talk about breakfast
Notes – Moffat’s typically convoluted, cerebral season finale is a fine pass for the Test. True, most of the characters (male and female) are little more than cameos, even the returning ones; but there’s enough depth there to allow for plenty of interaction between the women. And even though a central theme of the story is the resurrection of the Doctor along with the whole universe (very messianic), the female characters do find other topics of conversation besides the errant Time Lord (or Rory). And crucially, while it might be the Doctor who saves the universe, it’s Amy who saves the Doctor – that’s a pretty positive representation of female agency in resolving the plot.
A Christmas Carol
- Yes – Amy Pond, Abigail Pettigrew, Isabella
- Yes – Abigail and Isabella at Christmas dinner
- No – they talk about Kazran
Notes – with Amy sidelined in this script, Abigail is really the only fleshed-out female character; but then again, Kazran is the only fleshed-out male character. Still, it’s fair to say that the Doctor’s (very unethical and morally dubious) rewriting of Kazran’s personal history only shows Abigail in terms of how she relates to Kazran. As a result, she’s not exactly a rounded character; all that we know about her is in relation to her love interest. So, a very justified fail of the Test here.
The Impossible Astronaut / Day of the Moon
- Yes – Amy Pond, River Song, Matilda, Joy
- Yes – Amy and River on multiple occasions, Amy and Joy in the White House bathroom
- Yes – Amy and River talk about the cut off phone in the Florida warehouse; Amy and Joy talk about the Silence in the bathroom (though is it male?);
Notes – this is where the arc-heavy storytelling approach makes applying the Test more difficult. We know, from later episodes, that the ‘Eyepatch Lady’ is called Madame Kovarian; but she’s not named here, so can’t be said to count as a “named female character” for this story. Or can she? Well, I’m not counting her till either the dialogue or the credits name her.
It’s even more complicated where the little girl is concerned. We know, from later episodes, that she’s actually Melody Pond, presumably a somewhat grown version of the baby seen in A Good Man Goes to War. So let’s call her Melody Pond 1. But she’s not named as such in this story. And her regeneration at the end of the story is presumably into the Melody we see in Let’s Kill Hitler, the one who went to school with Amy – let’s call her Melody Pond 2. Also in that episode, we learn that Melody is actually River Song, the final incarnation of the character.
So do River and Melody count as separate characters? Given that I previously counted both versions of Romana separately, I’d have to say yes, meaning that Melody 1, Melody 2 and River all count separately. See? Complicated. Oh, and this story does pass the Test without needing to take all that into account; but it’s best to sort out the ground rules before ploughing into this most convoluted of Moffat seasons.
The Curse of the Black Spot
- No – Amy Pond is the only named female character
- No (see above)
- No (see above)
Notes – a failure for all three Test criteria, but arguably not for the right reasons. There are two other female characters in the episode, and one of them does have a name – but she doesn’t get it applied to her for a few episodes yet (that would be Madame Kovarian). The other character is Lily Cole as the Siren, but that’s not a name; and as she’s a technology-generated interface, she’s arguably not strictly female either, despite appearances.
Outside of those considerations, it’s fair to say that not many 18th century pirate ships had women on board, so this one could be said to fit the “Shawshank Redemption excuse”. There again, it depends how inclusive writer Steve Thompson wanted to be; one of the best known pirates of the time was Anne Bonny. Henry Avery, however, directly ties in with Hartnell story The Smugglers, which was presumably why he was chosen. And Captain Wrack from Enlightenment is already Anne Bonny in all but name.
The Doctor’s Wife
- Yes – Amy Pond, Idris / The TARDIS / ‘Sexy’ (see below)
- No – Amy and Idris never talk directly
- No (see above)
Notes – Neil Gaiman’s script is undeniably beautiful, a typically off-kilter and surreal take on the show’s most enduring relationship – the Doctor and the TARDIS. But you can’t deny it fails the Test, and possibly on all three counts; does Idris still count as ‘Idris’ when she’s housing the TARDIS Matrix? We do, I suppose, briefly meet her before that happens. And the Doctor has always talked to the TARDIS as though it was female. Though is that sexist, like referring to ships, cars or planes as “she”? Quite honestly, although this script’s a definite Test failure, the concepts at work here are so way out it’s hard to say whether it should be considered sexist because of that. Oh, and I don’t consider Auntie a “named female character” – ‘Auntie’ isn’t a name.
The Rebel Flesh / The Almost People
- Yes – Amy Pond, Miranda Cleaves, Jennifer Lucas
- Yes – Amy and Cleaves;
- Yes – Amy and Cleaves talk about the Flesh
Notes – another one that demonstrates the difficulty in applying the Test to science fiction. Do the Gangers of Cleaves and Jennifer count as “named female characters”, in addition to the original versions? They’re physically distinct, and develop different personalities; but they have someone else’s name and memories. The story passes the Test without necessarily needing to consider them (I’ve stuck to excluding them for the examples above) but both Cleaves and Jennifer have conversations with their Gangers, and Amy also converses with Ganger versions of each.
And then, of course, there’s Amy herself. This is the point where we realise it’s been a Ganger version of Amy we’ve been watching for some time, perhaps since the first episode of the season. It’s fair to have counted the duplicate of Amy up till now, as we only had the merest hints (the pregnancy scan) that she might not be who she seemed. But now we know, should she be excluded too? Because if so, the story would fail the Test on rules 2 and 3. I’m going to stick to including her, even for this story; and that being the case, technically I’m also going to include the Ganger versions of Cleaves and Jennifer in my total of named female guest characters.
A Good Man Goes to War
- Yes – Amy Pond, River Song, Madame Vastra, Jenny Flint, Madame Kovarian, Lorna Bucket, Eleanor
- Yes – Vastra and Jenny; Amy and Lorna; Amy, Jenny and Lorna; Amy and River
- Yes – Amy and River talk about the baby, and who she is (ie River)
Notes – a more straightforward pass for this story, though of all the conversations between the named female characters, only one isn’t about the Doctor (which is understandable in a story specifically about him). Nevertheless, it passes, and has a roster of strongly written, capable females, including the introduction of Vastra and Jenny, who have a same-gender / cross-species sexual relationship – I don’t think even Russell showed one of those.
Let’s Kill Hitler
- Yes – Amy Pond, River Song, Melody Pond 2, Harriet, Anita
- Yes – Amy and ‘Mels’ talk several times, including as children in a flashback; Amy and River, since we’re counting River as a separate character
- No – all the conversations are about the Doctor
Notes – another difficult one. There’s a conversation between Amy and the Teselecta duplicate of Amy that might just scrape this one a Test pass (it’s about River Song). But the Teselecta duplicate isn’t Amy – it’s a Justice Department Vehicle capable of shape-shifting, and therefore not female. Every other conversation between female characters (in a pretty small ensemble) is about the Doctor, so without that one exchange of dialogue, this story can’t pass the Test. An object lesson in why it’s a bit more complicated applying the Test to Steven Moffat’s convoluted, arc-heavy, non-linear narratives.
NB – this one would pass the Test comfortably if you don’t count the Doctor as “a man”.
- Yes – Amy Pond, Claire, Mrs Rossiter, Julie
- No – none of the female characters have a conversation
- No (see above)
Notes – this one’s a straightforward and definitive Test fail, and not the first for Mark Gatiss. It’s a common failing that even his scripts which pass do so barely, and he always seems more interested in his male characters than his female ones. That’s very true here, as all of the guest female characters are little more than extras, and even Amy is very much sidelined, trapped in the doll house comparatively early then turned into a Peg Doll.
The ep also attracted a lot of criticism that Amy seemed remarkably unaffected by the ordeal she’d recently been through, including being deprived of bringing up her daughter. That is a fair criticism of some episodes after this, but not this one – it was originally meant to go out earlier in the run, before we’d seen any of that. Still, though, shifting it to this point makes that aspect look very odd.
The Girl Who Waited
- No – Amy Pond is the only female character
- No (see above)
- No (see above)
Notes – and we’re back to ‘complicated’. Tom MacRae’s second script is light years ahead of his previous effort (Rise of the Cybermen), with two very strongly written female roles. The only problem for the Test is that they’re the same female – just at different points in her own time stream. As I’ve previously set a precedent that alternate timeline versions of the same character can’t be considered as separate characters (see Inferno), that makes this, in strict terms, an undeniable Test fail, on all three criteria.
And yet, the regulars are the only characters, and we get two distinctly different versions of Amy (distinctively played too, which should silence the criticism of Karen Gillan). Both versions are written as believable and capable; the Future Amy even more so, with a backstory shaped by bitterness and betrayal. It’s actually a pretty good story for female representation – even though it’s a definite Test failure.
The God Complex
- Yes – Amy Pond, Lucy Hayward, Rita
- Yes – Amy and Rita talk several times
- Yes – they talk about the contents of room 7
Notes – another story with a small roster of characters. Lucy ‘dies’ in the opening scene, leaving Amy and Rita as the only named female characters. They don’t talk to each other much; yet both are well-drawn by Toby Whithouse, especially Rita, who could easily have been a companion herself. It does pass the Test, even without much interaction between the two of them, and I’d argue the female characters come across as stronger, smarter and more capable than the male ones, most of whom go down without a fight. Yes, the only survivor is Gibbis, who’s male; but since he survived by virtue of betrayal and cowardice, that only reinforces the positivity of the female characters.
- Yes – Amy Pond, Sophie, Shona, Kelly, Val, Elly, River Song, Madame Kovarian
- Yes – Shona and Kelly; Amy and Elly; River and Kovarian
- Yes – Elly asks for Amy’s autograph
Notes – Gareth Roberts’ sequel to The Lodger is even more concerned with the light comedy male bonding between the Doctor and Craig than the last time. Consequently, although there’s quite a few female guest characters, none of them get much of a look in plotwise, and they rarely interact. Shona and Kelly miss rule 3 for framing their conversation about cashing up in terms of ‘Jonjo’ having to wait (presumably he’s a boyfriend) and the tacked on end scene with River and Kovarian is obviously all about the Doctor, so that fails rule 3 too. A good example of a story passing the Test despite having very little representation or depth for female characters at all.
The Wedding of River Song
- Yes – Amy Pond, River Song, Madame Kovarian, Dr Kent
- Yes – Amy and Kovarian; Amy and River
- No – the conversations between female characters are all about the Doctor
Notes – once again, a fail because the strongly written characters in Steven Moffat’s second season finale talk of nothing but the Doctor. Because Moffat has made the analysis and deconstruction of the Doctor a central tenet of his ongoing plots, this comes up time and again – stories either fail the Test, or just barely pass, because most if not all conversations relate to him. And yet, as noted earlier, the Doctor is not human, and therefore doesn’t really count as “a man” (we know now that Time Lords can definitely change gender when they regenerate, too). However, he is certainly male in appearance, and in… ahem, functionality (just ask Elizabeth I), so Moffat’s fixation with him has a direct effect on his stories’ Test pass rate. So, as ever –
NB – this one would pass the Test comfortably if you don’t count the Doctor as “a man”.
The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe
- Yes – Amy Pond, Madge Arwell, Lily Arwell, Billis
- Yes – Madge and Lily; Madge and Billis
- Yes – Madge and Billis talk about the Harvester and how it works
Notes – an odd one. It passes the Test as a result of two conversations between Madge and Billis (who’s not much more than a cameo by Arabella Weir). Madge’s conversations with Lily are largely about Reg – understandably with him missing in action at Christmas, and Madge not wanting to let on to her children. Yet, after the previous season had dwelt rather a lot on fatherhood, it’s quite refreshing to have a script which lionises motherhood.
Madge is smart, adaptable, and capable; not to mention willing to go to any lengths to protect her children. That’s a pretty positive depiction of a woman. Yes, she is to some extent defined by her husband; that’s realistic for 1941. Yet so is the idea of women stepping up and being strong in men’s absence, and whatever else this story does, it captures that well. It’s also worth noting that the alien trees’ understanding of the concepts of ‘man’ and ‘woman’ is represented by the adjectives ‘weak’ and ‘strong’ respectively, and that only a female could resolve the plot under the rules set up for the story.
Asylum of the Daleks
- Yes – Amy Pond, Oswin Oswald, Darla von Karlsen, Cassandra
- Yes – Amy and Cassandra at the photoshoot
- Yes – they talk about how pale Amy is looking
Notes – after all the criticism of last season’s arc-heavy episodes, Moffat riposted with a series of self-contained stories. Yet this also cunningly sneaks in the introduction to his next puzzle – an early appearance for Clara Oswald, here called Oswin and converted to a Dalek.
Oswin / Clara seems at first to be a pretty good female character; until you realise that all her dialogue (and the Doctor’s gasping admiration for her ‘genius’) could have come straight from the Moffat parts bin. Stock romantic lead v2.7 – turn witty and flirtatious dialogue up to 11 in the absence of any character depth. More so than River ever was, Clara seems to be a puzzle piece first and a character second. My take on River is that it is possible to do both, but Clara shows that can fail, too. Still, that gripe aside, the story does pass the Test – barely.
Dinosaurs on a Spaceship
- Yes – Amy Pond, Nefertiti, Indira
- Yes – Amy and Nefertiti
- Yes – Nefertiti asks Amy if she is a Queen (Amy’s response: “I am.”)
Notes – a surprisingly enjoyable light romp from Chris Chibnall, this passes the Test but otherwise is frustratingly mixed in its portrayal of female characters. On the plus side, Nefertiti lives up to her historical reputation, a fiery, tough woman you could easily believe led a great empire; on the minus side, in among the groan-making sexual innuendo that passes for wit are some pretty nasty bits of misogyny, not least the implication that Solomon would like to rape her. Yes, it’s presumably to highlight his utter villainy, and yes, she’s more than capable of stopping him. But it comes as rather a shock after the generally light tone of the episode, and seems very misjudged.
A Town Called Mercy
- Yes – Amy Pond, Sadie
- No – Amy and Sadie never talk directly to each other
- No (see above)
Notes – the first time a Toby Whithouse script has failed the Test, which is unusual, as his treatment of female characters is usually respectful and nuanced. There again, this is a pastiche of a classic Western, and in Westerns women usually have a choice of two roles – virtuous housewife or whore. Clearly neither would be an ideal representation of femininity for a modern family drama, so perhaps Whithouse chose to sidestep the issue by only having one female guest who only gets about four lines, so you can’t tell anything about her. That’s excuse-making, of course.
But at least Amy gets some good agency in driving the plot, especially acting as the Doctor’s conscience when he seems to have lost his moral footing of late. Given his apparent admiration of River’s eagerness to shoot things, it’s a welcome return to the way Donna Noble was used to bring him up short in the RTD era.
The Power of Three
- Yes – Amy Pond, Kate Stewart
- Yes – Amy and Kate, on several occasions
- Yes – they talk about UNIT’s secret base, the testing rooms for the cubes
Notes – only one guest female character, but what a guest female character! After all the years in which (Doctor’s assistants aside) the total female personnel of UNIT was three, now there’s a woman in charge. Kate Stewart is portrayed as being intelligent and forward-thinking, tempering the militarism of UNIT with scientific knowhow. She’s almost like a female Doctor!
Amy too is very strongly written in her penultimate story, contemplating her relationship with the Doctor and whether it’s time to move on to ‘real life’. Undoubtedly Chris Chibnall’s most sensitively written script.
The Angels Take Manhattan
- Yes – Amy Pond, River Song
- Yes – Amy and River talk several times
- Yes – they talk about River’s book
Notes – the last story for Amy (and Rory), so naturally she gets a lot to do here, being smart and courageous (and, to be fair, so is Rory). River obviously features – as their daughter, dramatically she had to be in their last story. Given the circumstances, the majority of conversations are about Rory, and those that aren’t are about the Doctor, as Moffat continues to delve into his character.
Amy’s exit is a fitting capstone to the kind of epic romance Moffat likes, spanning space and time and not always in a linear fashion. But does it mean that Amy is defined by a man (or men, if you count the Doctor as well as Rory)? I think it’s possible to be a strong female character and have a romance, and I don’t think having a strong, loving relationship undermines you either as a man or a woman. In the end, it was Amy’s choice to be taken back in time, and spend her life with Rory rather than the Doctor. That seems to me like a decision made by a woman who knew her own mind.
- Yes – Clara Oswald, Madame Vastra, Jenny Flint, Francesca Latimer, Alice
- Yes – Vastra and Jenny; Clara and Alice; Clara and Francesca; Clara, Jenny and Vastra
- Yes – Vastra and Jenny talk about the snow; Clara and Alice talk about the proper way for a governess to behave; Clara and Francesca talk about the ‘ghost’ of the old governess
Notes – another ‘introduction’ for Clara (this time given her actual name), and yet again the focus is on her character. Unfortunately, as before, she doesn’t really have one beyond ‘identikit Moffat romantic lead’ – the Doctor, and the script, are far more preoccupied with her existence as a puzzle than as a person. Still, Vastra and Jenny continue to be well-written, strong female characters, and their only love interests are each other, so they’re certainly not defined by men. And Clara does get to sum up the Doctor’s current epic sulk in one word – “man”.
The Bells of Saint John
- Yes – Clara Oswald, Miss Kizlet, Angie Maitland
- Yes – Clara and Angie
- Yes – Clara and Angie talk about the internet
Notes – yet another introduction for Clara; the last, thank goodness. This time she does seem to have more of a personality, and comes across as assertive and clever (although she only gets computer-smart via a download). The story passes the Test, but just barely – in their first proper story together, Clara spends most of her time with the Doctor, talking to him. As a result, she barely talks to Angie, the child she’s looking after, and never even meets Miss Kizlet. Oh, and Miss Kizlet herself lacks agency as a female villain, because she’s actually working (under duress) for the Great Intelligence. Given what we now know about the Intelligence’s origin, I’d say we can definitely classify it as male.
The Rings of Akhaten
- Yes – Clara Oswald, Merry Gelelh, Ellie Oswald, Dor’een
- Yes – Clara and Merry
- Yes – they talk about why Merry is running away, and about the TARDIS
Notes – a straightforward and perfectly good pass for the Test, with the plot being driven primarily by the females. The focus is on Merry plotwise, and the male characters are almost incidental; certainly, none of them get actual personalities. Dor’een is a bit of an odd one – definitively identified in the dialogue as female, but played by a man. However, she’s so alien you couldn’t tell, and doesn’t get any dialogue beyond snarling.
- No – Clara is the only female character
- No (see above)
- No (see above)
Notes – Mark Gatiss’ worst Test failure yet, missing all three criteria for the first time. And yet, it’s not actually a bad script, and the lack of females is probably justified by the “Shawshank Redemption excuse” – a 1980s Russian submarine probably wouldn’t have had any women on board, and the Ice Warriors have always been quite masculine (even though this one talks about his daughter, the first mention of the female of the species). I suppose Professor Grisenko could just as easily have been played by a woman, but that would probably have smacked of tokenism. And deprived us of David Warner, which would be a shame. Also, in a throwback to RTD’s style, it’s Clara who actually resolves the plot rather than the Doctor.
- Yes – Clara Oswald, Emma Grayling, Hila Tukurian
- Yes – Clara and Emma; Emma and Hila
- Yes – Emma and Hila talk about how they’ve been sensing each other
Notes – a perfectly respectable Test pass for a story in which females actually outnumber males. Your mileage may vary as to the strength of the female characters, with Emma pining after the oblivious Professor Palmer; but then, that’s deliberately meant to mirror the twist about the ‘monster’ and his mate. And Hila is definitely an independent woman, plunging into experimental time travel with no help from a man.
Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS
- No – Clara is the only female character
- No (see above)
- No (see above)
Notes – Stephen Thompson’s second script for the show is also his second total failure on all three Test criteria, not even featuring one female guest character. Having said that, it only has three guest characters, and it is important to the plot that they’re siblings; and I suppose ‘Van Baalen Brothers and Sister’ might have been a bit unwieldy (not to mention tokenistic). Besides, the relationship between the van Baalens is very definitely one of males; you can’t imagine a sister being so cruel and stupid as these guys are. Clara does get some revealing dialogue as the Doctor explains the puzzle of her existence, but it doesn’t exactly develop her as a character. And if you’re sensitive you may well cringe at the Doctor’s smirk when Clara indignantly asks if she has to try flying the TARDIS on Basic because she’s a girl.
The Crimson Horror
- Yes – Clara Oswald, Madame Vastra, Jenny Flint, Mrs Winifred Gillyflower, Ada Gillyflower, Abigail, Angie Maitland, Effie
- Yes – Jenny and Vastra; Jenny and Mrs Gillyflower; Jenny and Abigail; Ada and Mrs Gillyflower, several times; Clara and Mrs Gillyflower; Clara and Ada; Clara and Angie
- Yes – Jenny and Mrs Gillyflower talk about Jenny joining the ‘community’; Jenny and Abigail organise a distraction; Clara and Mrs Gillyflower talk about Sweetville; Ada and Mrs Gillyflower argue about Ada having been blinded in the experiments
Notes – Mark Gatiss’ thoroughly tongue in cheek script is not his first to pass all three rules of the Test, but it’s certainly the one that does best for female representation. Aside from the Doctor (who’s not in it much) and Strax (who’s mainly the comedy relief), all the major characters are female, with the remaining men little more than cameos – in fact, this has the highest number of female characters of any Eleventh Doctor story. With Gatiss’ previous scripts having been, at best, diffident to their female characters, this is a real change for the better. Perhaps not coincidentally, it’s also the script which feels most like the rest of his work in style, with its inspiration from Grand Guignol and penny dreadfuls.
Nightmare in Silver
- Yes – Clara Oswald, Angie Maitland, Captain Alice Ferrin
- Yes – Clara and Angie; Angie and Captain Ferrin; Clara and Captain Ferrin
- Yes – Clara and the Captain talk strategy
Notes – Neil Gaiman’s second script for the show is more conventional (and arguably less inspired) than his first. As a result, though, it easily passes the Test where the first one failed, with quite a roster of female characters, who interact a lot and play various roles in driving the plot – for example, it’s Angie who recognises that Porridge is actually the missing Emperor (though I guessed that as soon as I saw the painting). A larger cast than usual for a Moffat-era episode features a nearly even split of male and female characters (males win out by 6 to 5), but two of the female characters (Beauty and Missy) seem to have nicknames rather than actual names, so I’m being strict and not counting them for rule 1. Still a perfectly comfortable Test pass, though.
The Name of the Doctor
- Yes – Clara Oswald, Madame Vastra, Jenny Flint, River Song, Angie Maitland
- Yes – Vastra and Jenny; Clara and Angie; Clara, Vastra, Jenny and River in the ‘conference call’; Clara and River in the Trenzalore cemetery; Clara, Vastra and Jenny in the ruined TARDIS
- Yes – Clara and Angie talk about Clara’s mum and her soufflés; Clara and River talk about River’s gravestone
Notes – even for Steven Moffat, this episode is more about the Doctor than any other so far. Consequently, although there are quite a few female characters (though no guests), most of their conversations are about the Doctor, and don’t fit rule 3. A couple aren’t though, getting the story a reasonable pass. The story finally concludes the mystery of Clara Oswald (thankfully rather quicker than the mystery of Amy Pond), which gives her the chance to start developing as a proper character rather than a puzzle piece. It’s also worth noting that here again is another story resolved by the female companion.
It’s also (as far as we can tell) the proper end to the story of River Song, here seen in the version ‘saved’ in the Library from the first time we met her. For once, she and the Doctor are synchronised – this is the furthest either has been into each other’s timestream. She gets a lot of pathos as the Doctor finally lets her go; she may have been introduced to serve a plot function, but by this point she has enough depth to be genuinely sympathetic. And whatever your thoughts on her, if the Doctor has to have a love interest, she’s been a less conventional one than Rose Tyler.
The Day of the Doctor
- Yes – Clara Oswald, Kate Stewart, Elizabeth I, Osgood
- Yes – Kate and Osgood, several times; Clara and Kate, several times (though some of them it’s a Zygon duplicate of Kate); Clara and Elizabeth;
- Yes – Clara and Kate talk about the sealed orders from Elizabeth I; Clara and Elizabeth talk about the Zygons (as previously mentioned, we don’t know that they’re male)
Notes – Steven Moffat’s 50th anniversary celebration, as is usual for him, revolves around a non-linear narrative in several different times and places, but it generally works. It’s also a good example of how this genre – and this kind of storytelling – can muddy the waters as far as the Test is concerned. Do we count the Zygon duplicates of Kate, Osgood and Elizabeth as separate named female characters? I’d argue not, since the names are not their own (and in fact none of the Zygons gets given a name). But then, in order to properly check for named female characters talking to each other, you need to go through and work out at which points those characters were not actually themselves (I did).
And then there’s the issue of the Moment/the Interface/Bad Wolf – does it count as a named female character? It may have the appearance of Rose Tyler, but explicitly rejects the name in favour of ‘Bad Wolf’. On top of which, it’s actually an artificial representation of a genderless piece of technology, however much it might look like Billie Piper. So I’m excluding it from fitting rule 1, but others might disagree. Still, even taking all that into consideration, this one passes the Test fairly. And while Clara doesn’t resolve the plot personally, it’s her that inspires the Doctor’s ultimate solution.
The Time of the Doctor
- Yes – Clara Oswald, Tasha Lem, Linda, Marta, Amy Pond
- Yes – Clara and Tasha, after the Doctor leaves Trenzalore for the first time in 300 years; Linda and Clara, after Clara is unwillingly sent home; Clara and Tasha, when Tasha takes her back to Trenzalore
- No – Clara and Tasha only talk about the Doctor; Clara and Linda talk about boyfriends and boy bands
Notes – the last of Moffat’s 50th anniversary ‘Doctor’ trilogy, and it’s not altogether a surprise that it fails rule 3 because everyone’s talking about the Doctor. Clara is beginning to shape up as a character in her own right by this point, but the deconstruction of the Doctor doesn’t allow much room to explore other characters. In fact, the cameo appearance of Amy in the Doctor’s vision just makes me find Clara lacking as a character in comparison, and rather wishing Amy and Rory had managed to stay for the whole of Matt Smith’s run.
NB – this one would pass the Test comfortably if you don’t count the Doctor as “a man”.
Eleventh Doctor summary
Total stories – 39 (counting the two-parters as single stories)
Stories that pass all three Bechdel criteria – 24 / 61.5%
Stories that only pass two Bechdel criteria – 4 / 10.3%
Stories that only pass one Bechdel criteria – 6 / 15.4%
Stories that fail all three Bechdel criteria – 5 / 12.8%
Stories that would have passed all three Bechdel criteria if the Doctor doesn’t count as “a man” – 3 / 7.7%
Total named female guest characters – 70
Total female companions (including recurring ‘good’ characters) – 7:
- Amy Pond
- River Song
- Clara Oswald
- Madame Vastra
- Jenny Flint
- Kate Stewart
Villainous or minor recurring female characters – 2:
- Madame Kovarian
- Angie Maitland
Total female characters overall – 79
Average ratio of male to female characters – 2:1
Story with the largest number of female characters – The Crimson Horror (Clara, Vastra, Jenny and Angie plus 4 named guests)
Stories where the plot is resolved by a female character rather than the Doctor: 11 / 28.2%
- The Beast Below (Amy figures out the caring nature of the Space Whale and stops the Doctor from killing it or lobotomising it)
- Victory of the Daleks (Amy talks the Bracewell robot out of exploding by making it think of Scotland)
- The Big Bang (the Doctor may have saved the universe, but it’s Amy who saves the Doctor by remembering him, against all logic)
- A Christmas Carol (the solution may have been the Doctor’s idea, but it’s Abigail who does the actual singing)
- Let’s Kill Hitler (River uses her remaining regenerations to save the Doctor’s life)
- The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe (Madge takes on the consciousness of the Forest, and flies the Dome through the Time Vortex)
- Asylum of the Daleks (Oswin/Clara shuts down the Asylum forcefield, and wipes the Doctor from the Dalek memory banks)
- The Rings of Akhaten (Clara overfeeds the Grandfather with the potential of what might have been)
- Cold War (Clara convinces Skaldak to show mercy and abort the missile launch – by singing Duran Duran)
- The Name of the Doctor (Clara saves the Doctor by splintering herself within his timestream to hunt the Great Intelligence)
The Day of the Doctor (it’s Clara who stops the Doctor burning Gallifrey and inspires him to think of an alternative)
Eleventh Doctor female companion assessment
Amy Pond – aka ‘The Girl Who Waited’. After RTD’s ‘gay agenda’ came Steven Moffat’s ‘Scottish agenda’, with the oft-criticised Amy, who did have much typical Moffat dialogue (ie flirtatious, assertive and impossibly witty). Amy also faced criticism by being ‘defined’ not just by one man, but two – Rory and the Doctor. But I’d argue that she made conscious decisions about both those relationships, and they ended up being what she chose, which surely makes her her own woman. Having chosen Rory, she ended up leaping into the past to be with him, ignoring the Doctor’s pleas – it’s hard to imagine Rose Tyler doing that.
The common criticism of Steven Moffat’s female characters (apart from the assertion that they all talk like Steven Moffat) is that they’re tailored to serve the plot rather than introduced as characters from whom the plot flows. There’s some justification to that; Amy was presented as a mystery that didn’t quite add up from the first, but I’d say she was drawn well as a character every bit as much as a puzzle piece. It helped that we saw her grow from a little girl to a young woman in her first story, and she didn’t stop developing after that, with her feelings for Rory very much deepening as time went on. A variety of writers helped, as did (for me if not others) Karen Gillan’s fiery portrayal. And I’d argue that if you still have problems with Karen’s performance, it might just be that you don’t like the character – she’s a perfectly good contrast as the older, bitter Amy in The Girl Who Waited.
Clara Oswald – aka ‘The Impossible Girl’ (Moffat is fond of these nicknames). From her surprise introduction in Asylum of the Daleks, Clara really did seem to have been conceived as a mystery first and a character second. More than any previous female regular, her character seemed to have been written on Steven Moffat’s autopilot – all the witty, flirtatious dialogue was present and correct, but there was little to distinguish her from previous Moffat heroines, all the way back to Lynda Day from Press Gang.
Thankfully, she did develop an identity of her own in time, and the mystery of her repeated appearances (and deaths) was resolved pretty quickly, leaving the talented Jenna Coleman some meatier character material to work with. She’s also the first female companion since Rose to stay with the Doctor through a regeneration, so that could lead to some even more interesting developments in the season about to begin.
River Song – aka ‘The Contentious One’ (my nickname, not Moffat’s). There’s no doubting Alex Kingston’s larger than life charisma, or her sparky chemistry with (much younger) co-star Matt Smith. Yet both sides in the Moffat-is-a-sexist debate claim she proves their point. The pro-Moffat camp claim she’s a strong, highly intelligent woman whose abilities often outstrip those of the Doctor; while the anti-Moffat faction point out (fairly enough) that all her actions stem from her relationship with him, and that, even more than Clara, she functions as a puzzle piece rather than a character.
And both sides have a point. As part of Steven Moffat’s long game story arc, River was clearly conceived as a complex “timey wimey” mystery, but that doesn’t necessarily detract from her believability as a character. Yes, the quickfire dialogue between her and the Doctor can’t often be described as naturalistic; but then, these are two highly evolved non-humans – who’s to say that couldn’t give someone an unnatural ability to be spontaneously witty?
Besides, River wasn’t just there to provide a Tracy/Hepburn vibe to the show. As her story progressed, we got to glimpse the tragedy behind her character, condemned to be in love with a man she could never be with in a conventional, temporally linear way. That’s a reflection of Moffat’s style, and Alex Kingston played the emotional range well. I could argue that her trigger-happy shooting sprees mark her out as less sympathetic than she might otherwise have been; but given the revelations of Madam Kovarian’s plans for her, they’re not too surprising. And whatever else she may have been, River was an all too rare example of a strong, older female character, in a show whose regular females rarely exceed an apparent 30 years of age.
Madame Vastra and Jenny Flint – a bit of a cheat perhaps, but these two really do need to be considered together – when does one ever appear without the other? First introduced as what appeared to be one of Moffat’s random wacky concepts in Let’s Kill Hitler, you could argue that, as a couple, each is defined by the other. You could hardly call that sexist though, with both of them being female. Both are strong, capable characters, who have clearly gained more depth as the show progressed. And while they do tend to pop up in the less serious stories, it’s hard to argue the showrunner’s a misogynist when he’s introduced a cross-species, same-gender female romantic relationship.
Kate Stewart – Alastair Lethbridge-Stewart’s daughter may only have made two appearances (so far), but she made quite an impact. She’s hardly the first high-ranking female UNIT officer, but unlike the equally memorable Brigadier Bambera, Kate approaches UNIT’s cases as a scientist first and a soldier second. She has a marvellously dry sarcasm (“we also have ravens of death”), and casting the charismatic Jemma Redgrave makes her another memorable older female character.
Sexism rating for the Eleventh Doctor
Which is also, necessarily, a rating for Steven Moffat, at this point. And from a purely quantifiable perspective, I’m afraid I have to agree with Rebecca Moore’s study. By any measure, Matt Smith’s (ie Moffat’s) tenure on the show is more sexist than Russell T Davies’. In Bechdel terms, 38.5% of his stories fail the Test, as opposed to 23.4% of RTD’s. The average ratio of male to female characters is 2:1, far less balanced than RTD’s overall 1.3:1 and actually a step backwards from Cartmel & McCoy’s 1.7:1. In fact, strictly by Bechdel, Matt’s era is the third most sexist in the show’s fifty years, just behind the chauvinistic 70s as represented by Jon Pertwee and Tom Baker.
So, yes, stats-wise, Steven Moffat is more demonstrably sexist than Russell T Davies. But, even if this smacks of excuse-making, there’s more to it than quantifiable measures. Moffat’s very different style of storytelling makes the Test harder to apply, with all that arc-heavy, non-linear, timey wimey narrative construction (as noted above, various times). And, in the words of Lt Columbo, one more thing – Moffat’s still working on the show (for better or worse). Who’s to say he won’t introduce an army of women in the season that’s about to start? 🙂
Rankings of Bechdel failures by Doctor (so far):
- Jon Pertwee – 54.2%
- Tom Baker – 43.9%
- Matt Smith – 38.5%
- Patrick Troughton – 33.3%
- William Hartnell – 31 %
- Peter Davison – 30%
- David Tennant – 24.3%
- Christopher Eccleston – 20%
- Colin Baker – 18.8%
- Sylvester McCoy – 8.3%
So that’s it. All the stories, assessed by Bechdel, with notes of added nuance. I’ve excluded poor old Paul McGann from the above chart – it’s hardly fair that, because his one TV story fails the Test, he should be marked as 100% sexist! But there’s one more post to come for all you stats fans, in which I’ll boil down charts of who’s most/least sexist between Doctors, writers, showrunners/script editors, by Bechdel measures and others. That’ll be up this Friday, and the next day we can start assessing the sexism of Peter Capaldi!
33 thoughts on “How sexist is Doctor Who?–Part Ten”
Okay, I see a problem here. On your introduction page you state that the Bechdel Test is as follows:
1. It has to have two named female characters
2. Who talk to each other
3. About something besides a man.
However, this in incorrect, as the cartoon states that it “must have at least two women in it.” Female children are not women. Therefore, I can’t see how you can give a pass to “The Beast Below,” “The Bells of Saint John” or “The Rings of Akhaten”.
Hi Alan – indeed, the original cartoon simply phrases the first requirement as “two women”. This has been refined in various attempts to apply the Test, and I’ve seen it variously phrased as “two (named) women”, or (as I’ve applied it) “two named female characters”.
My choice there was deliberate – It’s all very well having lots of women in your story, but if you don’t even deign to give them names, that’s pretty bad for gender balance. And as for “female characters” – with a sci-fi/fantasy show, there’s every possibility that you could have a well-written female character who would fail the Test on the stricture of not actually being a woman in the sense of “mature human female” (which as you point out would logically also exclude human female children).
So yes, if I had used the strictly original wording of the Test, it would have excluded children (though where is the cutoff age at which they count as women?). But you fail to mention it would also necessarily have excluded non-human females (Vastra, for instance) and crucially have included nameless characters such as ‘Nurse 1’ from The Invisible Enemy. All things considered, I thought the wording I applied gave a more balanced view.
There is a problem with Doctor Who in that a number of people who are meant to be children (or at least not legal adults) are in fact played by women in their 20s. My personal demarcation line would therefore be to exclude any female character who is twelve or under, which not only brings the test as close as possible to what I perceive as Bechdel’s original intent (without also having to exclude Susan, Vicki etc.), but furthermore avoids the problem of allowing a Bechdel pass for the portrayal of women in the traditional role of caring for young children.
Counting non-humans like Vastra is fine by me as the role is taken by a woman who is meant to be playing a fully matured female. Daleks, alternatively, may be operated and voiced by men, and demonstrate stereotypical male behaviour, but they’re not meant to be remotely human, and so I can happily discount them.
Having said that, as we are all guilty of shaping the test to some degree or other, it almost impossible for one person to point to another and say “you’re doing it wrong.”
Oops, you should have failed “Closing Time” also, as the conversation between Elly and Amy doesn’t count as Elly is a child.
I still think the stats portray Moffat unfairly. If Moffat’s stock female character is a witty, capable, flirtatious woman… why is that “more sexist” than RTD’s women who compromise their own integrity to follow the Doctor? I’ve always found Rose’s relationship with the Doctor FAR more problematic than River Song’s, and Martha’s whole character arc in the series is a joke (thank God they gave her some good work in Torchwood – this isn’t to say anything bad of Freema, who does wonderfully with the material she’s given).
If you compare the female stock in Smith’s seasons vs. those who are above him on the Bechdel failures chart, no Moffat-era woman is as sexist as Victoria, Zoe (who’s character I despise – especially as a highly qualified astrophysicist, she should NOT have the amount of bafflingly idiotic “screamer/damsel” moments they gave her), or Susan (products of their time, but why should that make them “less” sexist?). Even classic SJS I find obnoxiously incapable, as much as I adore Lis.
I think there’s a lot to be said (negatively) for Moffat’s use of characters as plot devices but I definitely wouldn’t say that it’s gender-specific by any means, and I think this article does a good job of dissecting all the main points fairly.
And in response to Alan, why shouldn’t girls count in the test? They’re still female and susceptible (perhaps even moreso) to sexist stereotyping the same way “women” are. I don’t see any real reason they should be excluded.
“I still think the stats portray Moffat unfairly. If Moffat’s stock female character is a witty, capable, flirtatious woman… why is that “more sexist” than RTD’s women who compromise their own integrity to follow the Doctor?”
The problem is that Moffat’s “stock female character” consists of nothing else but stock character traits, whereas, Rose, Martha and Donna have all been given a background and personality that help define the characters in the mind of the audience, and so tells them who these people are. The ultimate test is whether the character’s actions in a story spring from who they are or from what the plot requires. Take away Amy, River and Clara’s roles with the Doctor and you really don’t have anything left but a collection of witty one-liners.
“no Moffat-era woman is as sexist as Victoria, Zoe (who’s character I despise – especially as a highly qualified astrophysicist, she should NOT have the amount of bafflingly idiotic “screamer/damsel” moments they gave her), or Susan (products of their time, but why should that make them “less” sexist?).”
Well, I’m not sure that I agree with that. Let’s try and sum each of these characters up in one line:
Susan is an alien girl who has been displaced from her own society and is trying to find some place to fit in.
Victoria is a naive and sheltered young woman from a repressive society, who travels with the Doctor because her father is dead, and she is slowly coming out of her shell, thanks to her experiences.
Zoe is an intelligent but inexperience young woman from a technologically advance society, who has a tendency to value logic over emotion and who is gradually learning there are other ways to live.
All of these characters are basically variations on a theme, however, their strength is that they are not solely reliant on the Doctor for definition, and they each have their own distinct personalities.
Now let’s contrast these with River, Amy and Clara:
River is a witty, capable, flirtatious woman, who was conditioned from childhood to kill the Doctor, and who then spent many years in jail for the Doctor’s murder, which was actually just a ruse to convince the universe that he was in fact dead.
Amy Pond is a witty, capable, flirtatious woman, obsessed with the Doctor since the age of six, she is also a wife and mother who is extremely loyal to her husband.
Clara is a witty, capable, flirtatious woman who sacrifices multiple versions of herself over and over again to save the Doctor.
If, however, you remove the Doctor from the equation, you can see that Susan, Victoria and Zoe still function as stock characters, but River, Amy and Clara completely disintegrate.
Hi Alan – I think you’re being unduly harsh on Moffat’s characters compared to others. His run has been characterised more than any other writer’s by his desire to deconstruct the character of the Doctor, which means that he is very much at the centre of all the plots. In that sense, all the characters – male and female, good and evil – revolve around him.
Yes, the classic companions you mention may (or may not) have definition outside of the Doctor – though I’d argue that Victoria’s only other defining aspect is grieving over the death of her father, another man. But however much you dislike Moffat’s characters (and you’re free to do so, of course), they develop over the run of the series in a way the classic companions almost never do (except when the story demands, such as Jamie’s uncanny grasp of 20th century technology).
It’s also worth remembering that many of the criticisms you offer could equally be levelled at RTD, who is quantifiably the show’s least sexist showrunner. Look at Rose Tyler – her only possible happy ending was to go off with the Doctor, which is hardly better than River Song. Or Martha Jones – spent her entire year on the show mooning after the Doctor and vocally complained, “you had to fall in love with someone – and it wasn’t me”.
And crucially, RTD’s overall ending to all these characters’ arcs was to have Davros point out (correctly, I’d say) that all the Doctor’s companions, male or female, are who they are because of the Doctor. Given that , for example, Amy chooses Rory over the Doctor, you could argue that Moffat’s approach gives his characters at least as much independence as RTD’s – and that in neither case is it necessarily enough.
Personally, I don’t see any serious development in Doctor Who of any regular character outside of Eccleston’s first season. Basically, as with the classic series, they are all stock characters performing the various functions required from a formulated plot. Even Amy choosing Rory over the Doctor in “The Angels take Manhattan” was done before in “Amy’s Choice.” That’s not character development, that’s repetition.
In regards to Moffat versus RTD, I’d say the only real difference is that Moffat doesn’t even pretend that his women characters are anything other than cyphers. As for this being a by-product of Moffat’s attempt to deconstruct the Doctor’s character, I see no evidence to support this at all. I mean, what do we know about the Doctor now, that we didn’t know by the end of episode 6, “Dalek”? I’d say absolutely nothing.
Again, a matter of interpretation – Moffat’s deconstruction is as much about the Doctor’s effect on the universe around him, and his semi-mythic status, as an introspective examination of his character itself.
But even if you don’t feel that he’s been very successful in that deconstruction, it’s hard to deny that it has been his intention. After all, Matt Smith’s last three stories were all called (X) of the Doctor. So even if Moffat hasn’t succeeded in his intent, the attempt to do so is what has made the Doctor himself even more the centre of events – and conversations – than usual.
“Again, a matter of interpretation – Moffat’s deconstruction is as much about the Doctor’s effect on the universe around him, and his semi-mythic status, as an introspective examination of his character itself. But even if you don’t feel that he’s been very successful in that deconstruction, it’s hard to deny that it has been his intention. After all, Matt Smith’s last three stories were all called (X) of the Doctor. So even if Moffat hasn’t succeeded in his intent, the attempt to do so is what has made the Doctor himself even more the centre of events – and conversations – than usual.”
Simon, it’s not a case of me believing that Moffat has failed to successfully deconstruct the Doctor, it is my contention that no deconstruction of the Doctor was attempted by Moffat in the first place, and the fact he has called three stories in a row (X) of the Doctor cannot be used by you as a signifier of that intent.
Let me be more specific. In “The Name of the Doctor” we discover that the Doctor will die on Trenzalore, and there is an incarnation of himself that he doesn’t like to talk about.
In “The Day of the Doctor” we are told that the reason the Doctor decided to behave like a hyperactive kid for two incarnations, was because he saw it as a way of coping with the responsibility of having mass murdered two point four seven billion children. But never mind, with the help of the Moment, a time portal, and Clara, the Doctor stops that from happening.
Finally in “The Time of the Doctor” we discover that in spite of Matt Smith being the Doctor’s final incarnation, he doesn’t get to die on Trenzalore after all, and is instead given a whole new life cycle. Hooray!
So after going through all of this, what deep insight have we gained about the Doctor’s character? Your guess is as good as mine. Maybe it’s there to provide us with the conclusive proof that the Doctor doesn’t like killing small children? But should it really have taken Steven Moffat a combined total of 185 minutes to tell us that? Indeed, what made Moffat believe this ridiculous question needed answering at all?
“I’d argue that Victoria’s only other defining aspect is grieving over the death of her father, another man.”
I don’t agree. The the idea that Victoria is a “naive and sheltered young woman from a repressive society,” clearly dictates her actions. Just to give one example from “The Enemy of the World”:
GRIFFIN: So you reckon you know about cooking?
VICTORIA: Yes, I used to do lots at home.
GRIFFIN: All right, give me a menu.
VICTORIA: What, now?
GRIFFIN: Yeah, now.
VICTORIA: Soup. Fish. Meat and pudding.
GRIFFIN: Go on. What else?
GRIFFIN: Yes, you’re a bit too smart for me. All right then, let’s have a recipe.
VICTORIA: What, now?
GRIFFIN: Yeah, now.
VICTORIA: Oh, yes! Yes! We used to have a lovely pudding at home, with lots of almonds, eggs, lemon peel, candied peel, oranges, cream and, oh it was lovely!
GRIFFIN: You wouldn’t know how to make it?
VICTORIA: Oh it’s quite simple, really. You sort of whoosh it up all together.
GRIFFIN: Well that sounds easy. What’s this whoosh-up called, then?
VICTORIA: Kaiser pudding.
GRIFFIN: Oh that’s great, just great. Yes, I’ve got a job for you, all right. Peel those spuds, yeah, now.
From this exchange it’s clear that Victoria has no real experience of cooking at all, and when she tells Griffin she did lots at home, what she more likely means is that as a little girl the servants sometimes allowed her to roll some pastry.
It’s all a question of interpretation of course – yes, Victoria comes from a repressive society – but then River comes from a permissive one, and Amy and Clara from families stricken by the premature death of a parent or parents. In each case, it seems to me that those backgrounds inform their actions as well as the Doctor.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not arguing that River, Amy or Clara are sterling examples of deep characters, or that they don’t often exist to serve the plot rather than vice versa. But the same can certainly be said of Victoria, who rather than ” slowly coming out of her shell” eventually chooses to settle down with a family reminiscent of her original one, albeit in the present day.
Sorry, but it’s not all a question of interpretation. Something is either there or it isn’t there. It’s true that Amy was once an orphan, but then her parents were restored to her in “The Big Bang.” Did this change Amy Pond in any discernible way? No. Clara is an even more extreme example, indeed, right up until “The Name of the Doctor” I thought she was a robot. As for River coming from a “permissive” society, I wouldn’t say this makes her behave in a way that would seem abnormal in 2014, which is not how Victoria would have appeared in 1967.
Victoria leaving the Tardis to join another family isn’t particularly original (probably because the decision not to renew Deborah Watling’s contract came very late in the day, and so “Fury from the Deep” was rewritten to accommodate this), however, it’s still appropriate, in that, like Susan before her, Victoria was someone who had lost their place in time and space and was looking for a new home. Equally, remaining behind with the Harrises makes sense, because she’s still too naïve to go off on her own, but at least she now has some structure in her life, and a family to teach her how to survive in the real world.
Equally, it’s a step forward because she’s escaped the repressive society of the Victorian era, and will be brought up in a very different way to what she had experienced from her over protective father, who, following the death of his wife, appears to have treated Victoria like a china doll.
“Sorry, but it’s not all a question of interpretation. Something is either there or it isn’t there.”
Actually it very much is a question of interpretation. You and I are both seeing and hearing the same things in a TV series we both plainly know well, and taking quite different readings from them. That’s the very definition of “interpretation” in this context.
As to your comment above (rather than writing two replies), it’s much the same thing – whatever Steven Moffat’s intentions are or were, you and I have quite different opinions regarding them. Which is fine, as neither of us can be conclusively proved right without actually asking him.
I think we’ll have to agree to differ on these and a few other things (though by no means everything), as I don’t think either of us is very likely to change the other’s mind.
“Actually it very much is a question of interpretation. You and I are both seeing and hearing the same things in a TV series we both plainly know well, and taking quite different readings from them. That’s the very definition of “interpretation” in this context.”
It is quite possible for two people to observe the same real world event and interpret it differently, but here we are talking about a work of fiction, which means the only valid interpretation is the one that correctly determines authorial intent.
“As to your comment above (rather than writing two replies), it’s much the same thing – whatever Steven Moffat’s intentions are or were, you and I have quite different opinions regarding them. Which is fine, as neither of us can be conclusively proved right without actually asking him.”
If Moffat has any merit as an author at all, then you shouldn’t have to ask him what he means, as the meaning should be discernible from the evidence that is present in the text. Consequently, if the evidence to support your particular interpretation isn’t there, then your interpretation is wrong.
Now, I may believe that Moffat is a sexist, but that doesn’t automatically mean that I believe he is a poor writer. Indeed, where plotting is concerned, I think he wipes the floor with RTD. So please don’t come away from this conversation with the idea that I hate Steven Moffat and all his works.
However, I do believe your attempts to find excuses for Moffat’s sexism is skewing your reading of his texts, which is doing both Moffat and yourself a disservice.
“It is quite possible for two people to observe the same real world event and interpret it differently, but here we are talking about a work of fiction, which means the only valid interpretation is the one that correctly determines authorial intent.”
Speaking as someone heavily involved in the study of English Literature, I’d have to dispute that – there is no “right” or “wrong” way to interpret a text, and authors who have commented on interpretations of their work often acknowledge that it can be found to have readings beyond what was intended. Additionally, since neither of us wrote the material, nor (presumably) have personally discussed it with the authors, I’d say neither of us is in a position to “correctly determine(s) authorial intent”. That’s where the “interpretations” come in.
“If Moffat has any merit as an author at all, then you shouldn’t have to ask him what he means, as the meaning should be discernible from the evidence that is present in the text. Consequently, if the evidence to support your particular interpretation isn’t there, then your interpretation is wrong.”
I’m sure the Shakespeare scholars in Cambridge will be relieved to hear that only one of their differing opinions of Merchant of Venice can possibly be correct 🙂 But on a less flippant note, I’m sure each of us could come up with reams of textual “evidence” from the show that we believe would prove our respective points, and all it would accomplish would be to fill this comments section with ever-smaller boxes saying “ah but what about this example?” And I don’t think it would change either of our minds.
Fandom is full of different opinions of what various aspects of the show “mean”, and none is conclusively right. All creative endeavours – painting, poetry, novels, films, and yes, TV shows – have always had disputed interpretations. And that’s fine – it’s always interesting having the discussions. But none of us should be claiming our own opinions are the only valid ones, lest we turn into Ian Levine 🙂
“there is no “right” or “wrong” way to interpret a text, and authors who have commented on interpretations of their work often acknowledge that it can be found to have readings beyond what was intended.”
It is certainly true that it is possible to find readings in a text that were not consciously put there by the author, but then, to my mind, that was never in dispute.
“Additionally, since neither of us wrote the material, nor (presumably) have personally discussed it with the authors, I’d say neither of us is in a position to “correctly determine(s) authorial intent”.”
However, if by your own argument no author can truly know their own work, then why should you give any credence to what the author says at all?
“I’m sure the Shakespeare scholars in Cambridge will be relieved to hear that only one of their differing opinions of Merchant of Venice can possibly be correct ”
The Merchant of Venice was written four hundred years ago. This means that no scholar reading the text is ever going to perfectly divine every aspect of Shakespeare’s intent (if that was even possible), as various ideas and beliefs that were common place back in the 16th Century are now gone for good. Indeed, a text written six months ago can contain subtle meanings that can then be totally lost on an audience experiencing it in the present, with even the author struggling to remember exactly what they meant. This can then lead to people coming to various conclusions that are based on a word, description, or perceived chain of events that is entirely contrary to authorial intent, conscious, or otherwise. You only have to visit Youtube and read some of the threads discussing Kubrick’s The Shining to see this in action.
However, my problem with your theory, Simon, is that I can find no evidence, conscious or not otherwise, to support your contention that Moffat’s treatment of his female characters is a by-product of an attempted deconstruction of the Doctor.
Conversely, I can certainly find evidence of Moffat trying to reverse the chain of events set into motion 26 years ago by Ben Arranovitch, that lead to the Doctor committing a series of mass murders, but that isn’t something I would term “deconstruction.”
But, having said that, I’m willing to be convinced. Show me your evidence, and I’ll look at it, and if I think you’re onto something, I promise I’ll say so.
If you like, we can impose a time limit. If we haven’t reached an agreement by 31st August, we’ll both call it a day and agree to differ. What do you say?
“It is certainly true that it is possible to find readings in a text that were not consciously put there by the author, but then, to my mind, that was never in dispute.”
Then I may have misread your intention (ironically enough), when you commented that, “the only valid interpretation is the one that correctly determines authorial intent” – perhaps you intended that to include unconscious intent also. However, alternative readings are not necessarily by either conscious or unconscious intent, and may be produced entirely in the mind of the reader/viewer. Which doesn’t make them any less valid.
“…if by your own argument no author can truly know their own work, then why should you give any credence to what the author says at all?”
Just because there are alternate readings of a text that the author never consciously intended, it doesn’t automatically invalidate the author’s own intentions. However, the point I was making in the paragraph you quote was that neither of us is in a position to categorically state the author’s intentions on the points we’ve disagreed over. Hence, interpretations.
You make the very valid point that we can’t know the intent of Shakespeare (or, indeed, Stanley Kubrick), since neither is available for comment (though Kubrick, like David Lynch, hated to discuss his intent, believing it was up to the audience to interpret it). However, unless either of us can discuss the specific aspects we’re disagreeing over with the relevant authors (impossible in the case of Victoria Waterfield, given that none of them remain alive), we are again stuck with our own interpretations of their work.
“However, my problem with your theory, Simon, is that I can find no evidence, conscious or not otherwise, to support your contention that Moffat’s treatment of his female characters is a by-product of an attempted deconstruction of the Doctor.”
That wasn’t the point I was making – it would be far too sweeping a generalisation. I was pointing out that, because the Doctor is so frequently central to the plots, the stories often fail the third Bechdel criterion because so many of the characters – male and female – talk about him so much of the time. And that, where characters seem “defined” by the Doctor, that’s often the result of such plots – particularly River Song.
However, you mainly seem to be rejecting the possibility that Moffat has chosen, at least over the Matt Smith run and quite possibly still, to examine the character of the Doctor, his history, and his effect on the universe around him as a major plank of his storytelling. Indeed, the examples you quote add a great deal to his history, explain (as you yourself point out) some of his motivations, and deal with the effect he personally has had on the universe throughout all of history. All while seeking a form of redemption from his own conscience – even if it is a frequent Moffat copout that time can be conveniently rewritten to accommodate that. How is that not putting the Doctor at the heart of the plot, rather than having him turn up and resolve one that already exists?
“But, having said that, I’m willing to be convinced. Show me your evidence, and I’ll look at it, and if I think you’re onto something, I promise I’ll say so.
If you like, we can impose a time limit. If we haven’t reached an agreement by 31st August, we’ll both call it a day and agree to differ. What do you say?”
Not to be obstreperous, but each of us has already presented evidence that we believe proves our points (ten weeks of blog posts in my case), and the other has denied that it does at every turn. I don’t really see the benefit of repeating that process ad infinitum and clogging up this comments section. I’ll happily chat with you about it over a pint some time though, I think we know a lot of the same people.
“Then I may have misread your intention (ironically enough), when you commented that, “the only valid interpretation is the one that correctly determines authorial intent” – perhaps you intended that to include unconscious intent also.”
I did indeed, the original draft of my post made this explicit, but then I cut it out, thinking it was self evident. That’s not meant to be a slight against you, by the way, it’s simply that I’d got too involved with my own internal monologue.
“However, alternative readings are not necessarily by either conscious or unconscious intent, and may be produced entirely in the mind of the reader/viewer. Which doesn’t make them any less valid.”
I agree with the first sentence, but have a problem with the second. That’s not in any way to deny the tension that exists between an author and the audience, but I’ve read some whacked out theories in my time that have more do with psychotic delusion, than actually providing a legitimate alternative reading of a text. It also depends on what’s being discussed. I once read a resistant reading of “Delta and the Bannermen” which put forward the idea that Delta was an evil villain, and the Bannermen were quite justified in their pursuit of her. Do I think that was a legitimate reading of the author’s conscious/unconscious intent? No. Do I think it pointed up major deficiencies in Malcom Kohll’s abilities as a script writer? Hell yes!
“Just because there are alternate readings of a text that the author never consciously intended, it doesn’t automatically invalidate the author’s own intentions. However, the point I was making in the paragraph you quote was that neither of us is in a position to categorically state the author’s intentions on the points we’ve disagreed over. Hence, interpretations.”
I don’t think anyone really is in a position to categorically state what is or isn’t in an author’s head at any one time. However, I’d argue that a strong approximation of the author’s general intent can be determined to some accuracy, especially in a formula show like Doctor Who.
“You make the very valid point that we can’t know the intent of Shakespeare (or, indeed, Stanley Kubrick), since neither is available for comment (though Kubrick, like David Lynch, hated to discuss his intent, believing it was up to the audience to interpret it). However, unless either of us can discuss the specific aspects we’re disagreeing over with the relevant authors (impossible in the case of Victoria Waterfield, given that none of them remain alive), we are again stuck with our own interpretations of their work.”
But David Whitaker, as good as he was, isn’t really in the same category as Shakespeare, Kubrick, or Lynch. As for Victoria, we know her mother was dead. We know her father loved her and that she loved him back. We also know she was unworldly. I would say all of this is beyond depute. You also can’t argue that it was the author’s intent that she should later be revealed as a shapeshifted six armed hexapod from Alpha Centauri.
“That wasn’t the point I was making – it would be far too sweeping a generalisation. I was pointing out that, because the Doctor is so frequently central to the plots, the stories often fail the third Bechdel criterion because so many of the characters – male and female – talk about him so much of the time. And that, where characters seem “defined” by the Doctor, that’s often the result of such plots – particularly River Song.”
This is an argument I’ve considered, in that writing for a formula show, Moffat is simply writing versions of Rose again and again, with each repetition being cruder than the last, culminating in Clara the Buffybot. I think that could be a factor, however, as pointed out in the post by Sophie, the crude sexism contained in the the mini episodes “Time and Space” really does suggest that this is not the only factor. Equally, if we conducted a reverse Bechdel Test on the named male characters, we would find less to complain about.
“However, you mainly seem to be rejecting the possibility that Moffat has chosen, at least over the Matt Smith run and quite possibly still, to examine the character of the Doctor, his history, and his effect on the universe around him as a major plank of his storytelling.”
I believe Moffat has devised intricate plots that spin around the Doctor and the universe he lives in, but I seriously doubt that Moffat is attempting to tell us something that is deep, or truly signification, about the character.
“Indeed, the examples you quote add a great deal to his history, explain (as you yourself point out) some of his motivations, and deal with the effect he personally has had on the universe throughout all of history. All while seeking a form of redemption from his own conscience – even if it is a frequent Moffat copout that time can be conveniently rewritten to accommodate that. How is that not putting the Doctor at the heart of the plot, rather than having him turn up and resolve one that already exists?”
It’s putting the Doctor at the centre of the plot, but the problem is that it doesn’t go anywhere. Everything is ultimately without consequence, and therefore without meaning. The Doctor is the worst person to put at the centre of the plot, because we know he’s never really going to die, or be permanently affected on any level by the events that unfold around him. It’s a dramatic dead end.
“Not to be obstreperous, but each of us has already presented evidence that we believe proves our points (ten weeks of blog posts in my case), and the other has denied that it does at every turn.”
Please recheck my posts. I have studiously held back from comments on your various justifications until now. Perhaps you’re confusing me with someone else?
“I don’t really see the benefit of repeating that process ad infinitum”
Nor do I, that why I suggested 31st August as a cut off date to aim for. What I’m looking for is text analysis, a scene or some line that tells us something new and unique about the Matt Smith Doctor, because I sure as hell can’t find it.
However, if you’re not keen, I’m not going to force you, and you can buy me that pint instead.:p
“I once read a resistant reading of “Delta and the Bannermen” which put forward the idea that Delta was an evil villain, and the Bannermen were quite justified in their pursuit of her.”
I’ll certainly concede that that’s a heck of a leap to make from what we saw on screen, but it’s quite amusing and might even have made for a better story 🙂
I think we basically seem to be disagreeing over two things – the supposedly unfavourable comparison between classic series companions (Victoria in particular has ended up being their champion in this discussion) and Moffat’s ones; and how much/whether his focus on the Doctor above all else has been to the detriment of his female characters.
As to the first, I agree that many of Moffat’s female characters lack depth. I don’t think they are any worse in that regard than the classic show’s characters, which is where we part company; though I can certainly see an argument that we should have more sophistication in the writing of characters than we had in the 1960s. No, I don’t believe there was any complex plot arc planned for Victoria in the way there was for River. But I don’t think it necessarily invalidates River as a character that the Doctor defines her – it’s the only way her plot can work. Within that stricture, I think she’s given pathos, strength and, yes, hubris and fallibility.
Amy too has a plot dependent on her involvement with the Doctor, which can certainly make it look as though she has no agency of her own. And I’ll agree her backstory could have been better filled out, outside of the bits we saw – how did she cope growing up without parents, how did she and Rory end up with each other – although much of it was covered implicitly and explicitly in flashbacks later on. You could easily make an argument that the Doctor reappearing in her life was far from the best thing that could have happened to her, a fact the Doctor himself realises when he tries to leave her behind at the end of The God Complex.
Ironically, it’s the Moffat companion I like least who has the fullest life outside of the Doctor – Clara. Thanks to Moffat’s time paradoxes, we meet the offshoots of her before we meet the original; but the original, when we do meet her, has a backstory and a life. She’s just starting out in work, she’s taken on a role as carer (your mileage may vary as to whether that’s a good thing), her beloved mother died tragically (at least she got to keep one parent, unlike Amy), and she has an unfulfilled desire to travel and see the world that she can’t quite work out how to take the first step on. That’s plenty of detail to round out a character right there.
And yet, I initially found her very dull as anything but a plot puzzle. The reason? As I’ve pointed out (and I get the impression you agree), Moffat has a very limited repertoire of female characters (who all talk like Moffat himself). But I’ve never found them reminiscent of Rose; rather, it seems to me that he’s been rewriting iterations of Lynda Day from Press Gang ever since.
“I believe Moffat has devised intricate plots that spin around the Doctor and the universe he lives in, but I seriously doubt that Moffat is attempting to tell us something that is deep, or truly signification, about the character.”
There we do differ. I do think Moffat is trying to tell us something deep about the character, or more precisely lay out its workings for an audience not steeped in Who lore to the extent that the fans are. Whether he succeeds is, as I say, another matter.
To a large extent, his take on this (and RTD’s for that matter) seems drawn from the Virgin New Adventures of the 90s, which extrapolated Andrew Cartmel’s ideas to give us a Doctor who was devious, manipulative and often not that sympathetic. As Ace commented in one of the books, “you may be a bastard, but you’re our bastard.”
That’s a side to the Doctor which hasn’t really been shown on TV (though McCoy was getting there), but the new show has picked up on it. RTD punctured the Doctor’s hubris with The Runaway Bride (“you need someone to stop you”), Midnight and Waters of Mars, but (for me at least) Moffat’s run thus far has been all about exposing the Doctor’s darker, hubristic side, not least to the Doctor himself.
So, we get Rory’s comment in The Vampires of Venice – “you don’t know how dangerous you make people to themselves” – followed by the Dream Lord in Amy’s Choice, a sneering incarnation of the Doctor’s self-doubt who knows exactly how artificial and contrived the front he presents is. He also serves to point out that the person who has the most contempt for the Doctor is the Doctor himself (not a new theme, but it’s there again).
Then there’s Matt Smith’s supremely egotistical messianic speech to the assembled alien hordes in The Pandorica Opens, immediately followed by his realisation that he was actually exactly where they wanted him to be. Or his (much criticised) admiration for River’s shooting spree, followed by an orchestrated genocide, in The Impossible Astronaut – which pays off in A Good Man Goes to War as River punctures his triumph by pointing out that his name is becoming a byword for “warrior” throughout the galaxy (a rather damning factor he’d managed to miss in his own self-righteousness). And of course, this most convoluted of seasons revolves entirely around Madame Kovarian’s insanely elaborate plan to brainwash River into assassinating the Doctor, and how this will affect time.
The aforementioned The God Complex then sees the Doctor faced with the very obvious metaphor that Amy’s faith in him will kill her; that is, as I pointed out earlier, he’s probably the worst thing that could have happened to her. And though he tries to do the right thing by taking himself out of her life, he just can’t resist popping back in again and again.
Dinosaurs on a Spaceship then sees the (also highly criticised) moment where the Doctor effectively murders Solomon the trader, without anyone pulling him up on that highly dubious bit of morality. But the very next story sees Amy rebel against his attempt to throw Kahler Jex to the Gunslinger, arguing that the man at least deserves a trial – “What happened to you, Doctor? When did killing someone become an option?” After the previous epsiode, that felt like a very obvious callback.
Asylum of the Daleks shows just how much of an impression the Doctor has made on the universe, via his frequent encounters with the Daleks; the hole left when Clara/Oswin removes him from their database is later referenced in The Power of Three, as the AI on the spaceship comments how his profile can be rebuilt from the gaps he’s left. The Power of Three itself sees the Doctor have a deep conversation with Amy about how he can’t just move on from her (even though we know from The God Complex that he thinks he’s dangerous to her), while The Angels Take Manhattan sees him yet again selfishly trying to persuade her to stay even though she wants to be with Rory.
The Snowmen sees him having an epic sulk, and being brought out of it by the mystery of Clara (this, for me, is when it really started going downhill) – he got involved in the universe again because, like Moffat’s other hero Sherlock Holmes, he can’t resist a puzzle. He may come to care for her later, but at this point he seems as much interested in Clara as a mystery as she is a person (and so does Moffat, unfortunately).
The Snowmen also kicks off the return of the Great Intelligence, whose opinion of the Doctor is even lower than his own – “The Doctor lives his life in darker hues, day upon day, and he will have other names before the end. The Storm, the Beast, the Valeyard.” That’s followed by the retconning of Clara into his entire timestream (self-indulgent though that is).
Then in Day of the Doctor we learn about his shameful secret self, and he finally comes to terms with his guilt over the Time War (which might have been more dramatically satisfying had it not involved cancelling his actions out). And then, yes, Time of the Doctor has him facing his fear of dying and finally putting aside his ego (much as Jon Pertwee did in Planet of the Spiders) by facing his fate at the dreaded Trenzalore. The Doctor who, a couple of seasons ago, was prepared to do virtually anything to avoid his own death, finally faces up to it. And is, of course, resolved by another copout (it’s questionable if it counts as an actual deus ex machina). Bringing things right up to date, Deep Breath has him pondering “where the faces come from”, while Vastra muses on his real self versus the front he puts up for appearances’ sake.
Whether you think this achieves anything, develops the Doctor as a character or even properly deconstructs him, it certainly looks to me like a concerted, long-term attempt to examine him and portray him in ways the audience may be unfamiliar with. Even bring him down a notch or two from the near-messianic figure he’d become in RTD’s run – the nadir of which was his godlike resurrection by the power of prayer in Last of the Time Lords.
Unlike you, I do think it’s possible for the character to grow and develop, either within each incarnation or spanning all of them. However, even if you don’t believe Moffat’s achieved that, and even if you don’t believe his approach tells us anything “new and unique” about the Doctor (and I never contended that it did, so I’d have a hard job trying to convince you of that), it’s hard not to interpret all of the above as a consistent attempt to re-evaluate his character and present him in a way that would be unfamiliar to a general audience.
The result of that intense focus on just one character (even if it is the show’s protagonist) is that all the other characters suffer as a result, not just the female ones. There are other issues to do with Moffat’s writing of female characters, but this particular one applies just as much to the male ones. However, we were concerned here solely with the female characters, hence the discussion. And since they tend to start at a disadvantage in terms of numbers/depth/screentime, focusing on the Doctor as someone they all talk about and do things for makes that writing look even worse.
A Reverse Bechdel Test would certainly show the writer’s treatment of male characters in a more favourable light, but bearing in mind all the above, try a new Test – exclude the Doctor from the definition of “a man” and see how badly the female characters do then. Because when it comes to the Doctor, his gender is less important than the fact that it’s his show – even more so with Moffat. Of course everything’s going to revolve around him.
Well, that was a longer post than I intended to write – I guess I got caught up in my own stream of consciousness! At the end of the day though, I’ll certainly concede that the show always has been, and to an extent still is, sexist – writing these posts has certainly shown me that. There have always been very few women involved either offscreen or on, and some of the best writers (eg Robert Holmes) have done some of the worst female writing. I’m not trying to excuse any of Moffat’s sexism, though; rather I’m trying to provide a riposte to those (and there seem to be many) who simply dislike his work and magnify any criticism as a result. The accusations of sexism against him seem to have become almost a meme in themselves, so I thought a bit of balance might be nice – without becoming a total apologist.
Anyhoo, yes, let’s do that pint some time – Facebook keeps telling me that you’re someone I “might know”, so I’ll send you a friend request next time it does 🙂
“I’ll certainly concede that that’s a heck of a leap to make from what we saw on screen, but it’s quite amusing and might even have made for a better story ”
It appeared in In-Vision magazine (do you remember that?), and I read it quite some time ago now, but if I remember correctly, whereas Malcolm Kohll’s script for “Delta and the Bannermen” subverted the 50s B-movie plot of aliens coming to Earth to breed with us, the review flipped it back again.
“As to the first, I agree that many of Moffat’s female characters lack depth. I don’t think they are any worse in that regard than the classic show’s characters, which is where we part company; though I can certainly see an argument that we should have more sophistication in the writing of characters than we had in the 1960s.”
The problem here is that 1960s Doctor Who is not uniform. I ended up championing Victoria because she is possible the weakest companion character from that era, but I would also say the 60s produced one of the best and most convincing female characters in Barbara Wright, and I’m struggling to think of another companion in either the classic series or Nu Who, that was better, or was even as good…. Nope, still coming up with nothing.
“No, I don’t believe there was any complex plot arc planned for Victoria in the way there was for River. But I don’t think it necessarily invalidates River as a character that the Doctor defines her – it’s the only way her plot can work. Within that stricture, I think she’s given pathos, strength and, yes, hubris and fallibility.”
If River was a one-off, I don’t think there would be a problem, unfortunately the part of the River template that says “her life must exclusively revolve around the Doctor,” was then reused to make Amy and Clara.
“Amy too has a plot dependent on her involvement with the Doctor, which can certainly make it look as though she has no agency of her own. And I’ll agree her backstory could have been better filled out, outside of the bits we saw – how did she cope growing up without parents, how did she and Rory end up with each other – although much of it was covered implicitly and explicitly in flashbacks later on.”
I’d also like to know why she became a kiss-o-gram (originally written as a strip-o-gram), especially as she’s supposed to come from the rather conservative English village of Leadworth. I’d also like to know why people from this close-knit community don’t know she’s a kiss-o-gram, and also how she then went on to become a children’s book writer and highly successful model with her own line in perfume? Are we really to believe she was given a modelling contract after a few gigs at the local pub? Amy’s character appears to have no foundation, she’s a collection of adjectives for whom dream jobs magically appear.
“Ironically, it’s the Moffat companion I like least who has the fullest life outside of the Doctor – Clara. Thanks to Moffat’s time paradoxes, we meet the offshoots of her before we meet the original; but the original, when we do meet her, has a backstory and a life. She’s just starting out in work, she’s taken on a role as carer (your mileage may vary as to whether that’s a good thing), her beloved mother died tragically (at least she got to keep one parent, unlike Amy), and she has an unfulfilled desire to travel and see the world that she can’t quite work out how to take the first step on. That’s plenty of detail to round out a character right there. ”
There are a collection of factoids that we learn about her, but they don’t, on the whole, appear to be informing the character. Rather they are elements that are thrown in to serve the plot of a particular episode, but are then basically forgotten about. According to “The Day of the Doctor” Clara now works at Coal Hill School, but I’m still left wondering how that came about? Okay, child carer to schoolteacher, I suppose that’s a more convincing link than kiss-o-gram to international glamour model, but the audience still have to fill in a massive blank space. Perhaps if we’d had some indication prior to “The Day of the Doctor” that she had a teaching qualification, then it wouldn’t have seemed quite so contrived. Jenna Coleman’s one-note performance also doesn’t help, at least Karen Gillan was able to overcome the deficiencies of her role and project someone who, on the surface at least, seemed real and believable, but Jenna’s Coleman’s performance is so unnatural it’s as if she has no idea who she is supposed to be playing, and as a result her charater seems to be permanently set on “feisty.” Having said that, there does appear to be some improvement in “Deep Breath,” however, once again, we are told she has various character traits that appear to have sprung out of nowhere. Apparently, she is now a control freak, whose subconscious is permanently fixed on naked gay men shagging each other!!! Also, a number of viewers have pointed out how strange it is that Clara is so freaked about the Doctor’s regeneration, when she must be well aware that the Doctor changes and has different personalities through her experiences as the Impossible Girl, and also having previously met the Hurt and Tennant Doctors. Moffat has now reportedly told us that her adventures as the Impossible Girl have been deleted by the time changed that prevented the Doctor from dying on Trenzalore, and that those events now only exist in her mind as a half remembered dream, but all this chopping and changing would suggest that Clara is a long way off from developing a believable character any time soon.
“Moffat has a very limited repertoire of female characters (who all talk like Moffat himself). But I’ve never found them reminiscent of Rose; rather, it seems to me that he’s been rewriting iterations of Lynda Day from Press Gang ever since.”
I’ve never seen Press Gang, so I can’t comment. The reason I mentioned Rose is that she appears to be the Nu Who progenitor for all the companions who came later, whether it is in reaction to her (Rose is white, working class, with poor academic qualifications and is an only child, whereas Martha is black, middle class, well educated and comes from a large family), or basically copying the Rose template in a degraded form (Rose is an intelligent, independent, self assured, moral, but slightly troubled young woman, who the Doctor then grooms into a possessive, obsessive, gun-toting murderess, and then we have River who is a… well, I’m sure you get the picture).
“To a large extent, his take on this (and RTD’s for that matter) seems drawn from the Virgin New Adventures of the 90s, which extrapolated Andrew Cartmel’s ideas to give us a Doctor who was devious, manipulative and often not that sympathetic. As Ace commented in one of the books, “you may be a bastard, but you’re our bastard.””
I think that was certainly a jumping off point, but RTD did it so much better (at least up until the start of season 2). Eccleston’s Doctor made sense and had a through-line that I could believe in. He was a PTSD war veteran, who is looking, not so much for redemption, but for understanding. That’s why he takes Rose to see her planet burn, and then later to see her father die. It’s like he’s trying to make her over into him. All of this, of course, was dropped for the subsequent seasons. I remember talking to Moffat about this at the Tavern, and his response was that they’d made a mistake during season one, in that they were treating Doctor Who like a proper drama series, whereas the programme had never been like that. I wasn’t able to extract an answer as to what they thought Doctor Who actually was, although later comments from RTD appeared to suggest that they now considered it to be a formulaic melodrama. Yes, I agree, we get flashes of the Eccleston Doctor in “The Runaway Bride” “Midnight” and “Waters of Mars,” but for most of the time Tennant was required to play the Doctor as this punchable goofy twat. Matt Smith was 100% better, and “Amy’s Choice” is certainly one of the more memorable and interesting episodes of the series, but I still don’t see any development there, only a harping on something that we’ve been told again and again since the Hartnell era, that the Doctor is a wonderful, magical being, who is also dangerous, unpredictable and has a dark side.
“Dinosaurs on a Spaceship then sees the (also highly criticised) moment where the Doctor effectively murders Solomon the trader, without anyone pulling him up on that highly dubious bit of morality. But the very next story sees Amy rebel against his attempt to throw Kahler Jex to the Gunslinger, arguing that the man at least deserves a trial – “What happened to you, Doctor? When did killing someone become an option?” After the previous epsiode, that felt like a very obvious callback.”
Yes, and in the Harnell era, the Doctor tried to brain a caveman with a rock. What we are seeing here are a series of attributes that have been formulated into a standard Doctor profile. It’s a conjuring trick that only works because over the years the Doctor has accumulated a large number of character bullet points which can then be mixed and matched to create the illusion of life. Conversely, that’s why Clara fails, her character hasn’t been drawn from a big enough palate.
“Even bring him down a notch or two from the near-messianic figure he’d become in RTD’s run – the nadir of which was his godlike resurrection by the power of prayer in Last of the Time Lords.”
The thing about RTD is that although a lot of his scripts appear to fail for the want of a rewrite (or a script editor with the guts to stand up to him), he did occasion alight on some inner truths about the series. The Doctor is resurrected in “Last of the Time Lords,” not so much by the power of prayer, but rather the power of belief. If you believe in him, then he becomes real. Perhaps that’s my problem. I don’t believe in him any more. I feel I’m being duped… but then again, that isn’t entirely true. “The Web of Fear” absolutely captivated me. And there was stuff there I had just never noticed before. A kind of suggestion that the Doctor and the Great Intelligence were somehow the same thing, which made the Doctor seem so much more mysterious and frightening. It was what Doctor Who used to be to me before video and then DVD blunted the experience through overfamiliarity. So my ability to enjoy the magic of Doctor Who is still there. It’s just that I’m not finding it in the modern show.
“A Reverse Bechdel Test would certainly show the writer’s treatment of male characters in a more favourable light, but bearing in mind all the above, try a new Test – exclude the Doctor from the definition of “a man” and see how badly the female characters do then. Because when it comes to the Doctor, his gender is less important than the fact that it’s his show – even more so with Moffat. Of course everything’s going to revolve around him.”
But the Doctor is played by a man, looks like a man, acts like a man, and for the last few years, fancied women. To say he isn’t a man is a bit spurious, as for all intents and purposes, he is a man. Equally, the show is named after him (and yes, I’m one of those irritating people who believes the character is actually calle Doctor Who), but the fact that Moffat’s Bechdel Test score is beaten by JNT, of all people, would suggest that the Doctor being the central character shouldn’t be an impediment to giving two named female characters three lines that don’t revolve around him, or any other man. I mean the Bechdel Test bar is so low, it almost takes effort to fail it.
“Anyhoo, yes, let’s do that pint some time – Facebook keeps telling me that you’re someone I “might know”, so I’ll send you a friend request next time it does ”
Now the comparison. Rebecca Moore’s results differ to your own in that she fails “The Eleventh Hour,” “Closing Time,” “Asylum of the Daleks” and “The Angels Take Manhattan” and gives a pass to “Victory of the Daleks” and “The Doctor’s Wife”. “The Girl Who Waited” was excluded because should couldn’t decided whether Amy talking to her future self counted as a pass or fail.
Rebecca isn’t going to pass “The Eleventh Hour” because the conversion Amy has with Mrs Angelo is about Amy’s “career” as a kiss-o-gram (originally a strip-o-gram), and so clearly this job revolves around men. “Closing Time,” doesn’t pass because the person asking Amy for her autograph is a little girl. “Asylum of the Daleks” doesn’t pass because the reason Amy looks pale is because she’d just signed her divorce papers, and so it revolves around Rory. Finally, Moore appears to fail “The Angels Take Manhattan” because the book River and Amy are discussing also relates to the Doctor. However, I also think you were wrong in giving it a pass, and here’s why:
RIVER: What book?
DOCTOR: Your book. Which you haven’t written yet, so we can’t read.
RIVER: I see. I don’t like the cover much.
AMY: But if River’s going to write that book, she’d make it useful, yeah?
RIVER: I’ll certainly try. But we can’t read ahead, it’s too dangerous.
AMY: I know, but there must be something we can look at.
DOCTOR: What, a page of handy hints, previews, spoiler free?
AMY: Chapter titles.
As you can see here, River and Amy do not exchange more than two lines. River may very well have replied to Amy’s question ” But if River’s going to write that book, she’d make it useful, yeah?” but this question was directed at the Doctor, and not River, so it can’t be counted.
Now, Moore appears to be giving “Victory of the Daleks” a pass because of this exchange:
LILIAN: Twenty six and forty one detailed to intercept.
BLANCHE: Forty one? That, that’s Reg’s squadron.
A bit dodgy, and personally, like you, I wouldn’t have included it, as Lilian’s statement isn’t really directed at Blanche. Finally, Moore passes “The Doctor’s Wife” because she appears to be counting Auntie as a named character.
So, when all’s said and done, various aspects of the Bechdel test may have been interpreted differently, but you both agree on the fundamentals, which are that Doctor Who has taken a giant leap backwards under Moffat when it comes to the way women (or as Moffat would call them, “girls”) are represented in the programme.
“Rebecca isn’t going to pass “The Eleventh Hour” because the conversion Amy has with Mrs Angelo is about Amy’s “career” as a kiss-o-gram (originally a strip-o-gram), and so clearly this job revolves around men. ”
Does it? How do you know she doesn’t do lesbian hen parties? 🙂
” women (or as Moffat would call them, “girls”) ”
Yes, I too have a bit of a problem with that – his stated labels for the two companions he created being “The Girl Who Waited” and “The Impossible Girl”. I couldn’t help thinking of a line from the original Edge of Darkness: “women, Pendleton, even dead ones, are unlikely to be happy at being referred to as ‘girls’.”
“Does it? How do you know she doesn’t do lesbian hen parties?”
Unless she only does lesbian hen parties, then men are going to be involved at least 50% of the time.
“And in response to Alan, why shouldn’t girls count in the test? They’re still female and susceptible (perhaps even moreso) to sexist stereotyping the same way “women” are. I don’t see any real reason they should be excluded.”
Two reasons. Firstly if you are applying the Bechdel Test then it’s best to get it as close to the original intent as you possibly can and as the cartoon states that it “must have at least two women in it,” then that’s what you should be counting. Secondly, while a woman talking to a child isn’t sexist, it does play into the stereotype of women as carers, which of course, was indeed Clara’s relationship with Angie and Alice.
“Secondly, while a woman talking to a child isn’t sexist, it does play into the stereotype of women as carers, which of course, was indeed Clara’s relationship with Angie and Alice.”
And of course Jackie Tyler. And Francine Jones. And Sylvia Noble.
Although Jackie Tyler, Francine Jones and Sylvia Noble appear to care on some level for their daughters, I wouldn’t call them carers in the true sense of the word.
I think you’re being unfair with the character of Rose Tyler whenever you mention her which is such a shame because excluding that this is a wonderful analysis. You state multiple times in this article that a woman can have a love interest yet still be a strong character (something I do agree with) — but in the previous one the characters of both Martha Jones and Rose Tyler were somehow less because of their crush on the Doctor. With Amy Pond you say that she chooses Rory, her love, ignoring the Doctor’s pleas,and that it’s hard to imagine Rose Tyler doing that. The reason for that is that Rose’s love /is/ the Doctor. And she never let him choose for her, she always did what she wanted to, and after their separation in Doomsday it was her who found her way back, not the Doctor (who spent their time apart sulking, like Eleven did after The Angels Take Manhattan).So I don’t see why one woman with a love interest should count as a stronger one than the other. There’s also the question of River Song, and if she counts as an independent character not just a love interest for the Doctor, then so does Rose Tyler.
I really do like this project and the way the articles were written, but as I personally love all the characters in the show, it disturbes me to see unfair comparison. Still, thank you for making this.
Oh and one more thing: as far as I’m concerned, most of the people who think Moffat’s era is sexist think so because of the little things, rather than the characters themselves or the arcs. For example, the mini episodes Time and Space claim that it’s Amy’s fault Ror had messed up because she was wearing a skirt and distracted Rory. After all that she’s told to put some trousers on by the Doctor, so she’s blamed not her husband. Strictly this is not part of the show, but there were sexist jokes like the “it’s a woman” one in The Bells of Saint John. Small things, but a lot of these make people think the whole era is sexist.
Hi Sophie, some fair points again there. I don’t have a problem with Rose per se, or her being in love with the Doctor; but when they met, she was already in a relationship which she dropped like a hot potato to ‘go out’ with the man from space. Who can blame her? He could sweep anyone off their feet, Captain Jack included.
Amy, by contrast, was certainly dazzled but in the end made the choice to stay with the man she already loved before the Doctor returned to her life – and that’s a measured choice considering that she was dazzled by him as a child before she even met Rory.
Neither choice really diminishes their agency as characters, but for myself I think I’d prefer to be with someone who wouldn’t ditch me in a minute if someone suitably dazzling came along. That said, I think Rose (the episode) isn’t quite a fully formed vision of the show as RTD wanted it, but it set precedents (like Rose dumping Mickey) that couldn’t be retconned later, leading Mickey to become the comic relief (“I’m the tin dog!”) rather than a man who has every right to feel wronged.
Martha, though, I find harder to deal with. Yes, the Doctor is dazzling; but she knows he’s just, effectively, lost a long term partner; she even mentions it in Gridlock (“You’re taking me where you took her? Have you heard of the rebound?”). And yet she spends her whole year mooning after a man she knows to be unattainable. Of course, she does develop as a character, and arguably her arc is about coming to accept that she can’t be with the Doctor. It’s still hard to get over the initial presentation of her as a very intelligent woman acting like a lovelorn teenager, even when she’s aware of her own folly.
It’ll be interesting to see how the show goes now that Peter Capaldi has firmly stated that there’ll be no “flirting” in the TARDIS, with the Doctor once again unavailable as the companion’s love interest. For my money, on the strength of one episode, the different dynamic has made Clara a far more interesting character.
Oh, and yes, I agree with you about the offhand sexist gags; but it’s worth noting that, when it comes to gender-based humour, Moffat tends to give men a fair bit of stick as well. It’s just that that’s less noticeable, because in social terms men still hold the upper hand and have no justification to become defensive.
Those mini episodes you mention are the nadir of that kind of offhand sexism, intentionally or not, and they’re hard to forgive. Still, think of it this way – even if Amy is being objectified by both Rory and the Doctor, they don’t come off well either, being reduced to slack-jawed imbeciles by male hormones that apparently override their brains 🙂
“for myself I think I’d prefer to be with someone who wouldn’t ditch me in a minute if someone suitably dazzling came along.”
Firstly it’s not really a case of Rose dumping a loving and caring boyfriend for some flash Harry, but rather that Mickey Smith was a bit of a slob who took Rose for granted. Equally, in an earlier draft of the script, Mickey was killed by the wheelie-bin, and the only reason this did not happen in the broadcast version was because RTD had liked Noel Clarke’s performance.
“Martha, though, I find harder to deal with. Yes, the Doctor is dazzling; but she knows he’s just, effectively, lost a long term partner; she even mentions it in Gridlock (“You’re taking me where you took her? Have you heard of the rebound?”). And yet she spends her whole year mooning after a man she knows to be unattainable. Of course, she does develop as a character, and arguably her arc is about coming to accept that she can’t be with the Doctor. It’s still hard to get over the initial presentation of her as a very intelligent woman acting like a lovelorn teenager, even when she’s aware of her own folly.”
This is a problem, compounded further by the fact that Martha was then dropped from the show as a regular companion, curtailing any further development of her character. RTD has hinted that this was brought about through pressure from high-ups at the BBC, who believed a black companion would potentially damage the programme’s audience figures. Also I think there was trepidation on RTD’s part that the Doctor immediately starting up a fresh relationship so soon after Rose would play badly with the show’s female audience.
“It’ll be interesting to see how the show goes now that Peter Capaldi has firmly stated that there’ll be no “flirting” in the TARDIS, with the Doctor once again unavailable as the companion’s love interest. For my money, on the strength of one episode, the different dynamic has made Clara a far more interesting character.”
“Oh, and yes, I agree with you about the offhand sexist gags; but it’s worth noting that, when it comes to gender-based humour, Moffat tends to give men a fair bit of stick as well. It’s just that that’s less noticeable, because in social terms men still hold the upper hand and have no justification to become defensive.”
And Moffat is a man himself. Also being Scottish gives him a free pass to make remarks about fried food.
So basically, what we’ve discovered, is that the best eras of Doctor Who correspond with how badly they fail the Bechdel test, and the worst eras of Doctor Who do not pass the Bechdel test much.
Says it all.
We all have our own favourite eras, of course. But yes, that was kind of how I saw it too. Perhaps that makes us unreconstructed sexists 🙂
While this has been an interesting read, and I’m not huge fan of the test (cos it wud fail something like gravity, and pass something like sex in the city), I completely disagree with the way rose and martha are being less forgiven for being in love than amy and river.
Yes rose and martha loved the doctor….but the important factor was that it didn’t define their personality and background….rose was still street smart selfish, bored young girl who met the doctor, and eventually fell in love with him. Martha was still the sensible, intelligent, medically skilled, the centre of her family woman who ended up with a crush on the doctor….falling in love with the doctor never changed any of this…so even with their so called endings…it never defined other aspects of their lives. If Rose wanted to be with the doctor in the end, it came from a very selfish point of her own character…if martha realised she cudnt be with the doctor and rather spend time with her broken family (she didn’t leave because of Tom, that was just her at making contact with him in the same way she did with professor dockers), came from remembering the responsible head that got a bit lost in her initial crush (she’s human, no one is perfect)
Compare that with Amy, who as a child was defined by being Scottish, by the cracks, by the abandonment by the doctor.. Hence influencing her job, her initial relationship with Rory..
And yes while she makes a choice to choose Rory…u have to remember this is very much needed for the plot/arc.. Without choosing Rory, the big bang wud have been very different (no Rory roman to shoot her, to her being placed in the pandorica, to him waiting outside for 1000th etc etc)… And importantly… The river situation wud have been very different. So did Amy really choose Rory over the Doctor? (even in amy’s choice u cud arguess that it is doctor who is making her choose, not something she just decided herself one day) Even the end…she needed to go…so Rory became her excuse…
Same with River….she was created to kill the Doctor (and therefore it comes with her psychopath tendencies), she became his lover because she is told she will be, she becomes an archaeologist to find the doctor, she ends up in prison for the Doctor, she ends up free because the doctor erases his history, and ends up in the library only to die for the doctor, and comes back to ask the doctor to finally say goodbye…
She is much more about the Doctor than Rose and Martha were ever…
And I don’t want to even start on Clara…And the horrid excuse of “character ” she is given just because the doctor isn’t young anymore and the master is back…
I do actually like both Amy and River more than Rose and Martha… But most of it comes from the fantastic actors rather than the writing….And I do love the love story between Amy and Rory, especially as defined by amy’s choice and girl who waited…
I personally don’t think moff is sexist, and I agree it’s more down to his writing style, and male characters pretty much being treated similar…as plot devices…
But definitely don’t feel it right that Rose and Martha get treated less for being in love with the doctor.. Than Amy and River, who are pretty much about the Doctor…
Re the Mickey thing…I know Rose does dump him, but at that point it wasn’t because she fancied the Doctor…but more because again from a selfish, bored young woman point…And we do get the boom town scenario where Mickey gets to question her…And in series 2, starts to slowly move on from her…
Earlier in the utopia test u also failed it on the third point…but martha and chantho have a conversation about why she says chan and tho… U passed others on lesser conversations…
Also didn’t agree about your notes on journeys end…. The companions weren’t shown to be better because of the doctor…but that he needed them..it was also to show that he doesn’t always influence them for the better…they were acting like soldiers…everything he didn’t want them to be…it wasn’t as black and white as “they are better because of the doctor”.. If anything, being like the doctor became Donna’s downfall….but again all of the companions still had their own consistent personalities, which were there despite the doctor….
But thank u for this test…. I certainly was surprised by the 60’s results… Tho I shudnt be, with a fantastic companion like Barbara being there….
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