Opinion The Doctor-Donna - the closest we'll come to a female Doctor Who?

Published on June 5th, 2014 | by Philip Bates

Forget Pseudo-Science: Why Doctor Who *Isn’t* Sexist

Oh dear. Another ugly brute rears its head. It’s been claimed, once more, that Steven Moffat’s Doctor Who is sexist. The clickbait this time is the pseudo-scientific Bechdel test.

Movies (or in this case, TV shows) pass the test, named after a cartoonist who first set out the rules in a strip called Dykes to Watch Out For, if they feature two women who talk to each other about something other than a man. And since there have been claims that Moffat’s writing is sexist, a Media Methods Research class in the USA assessed the writer’s era as showrunner against that of previous showrunner, Russell T. Davies.

[pullquote align="right"] Doctor Who isn’t a story of sex. It’s a story of people.[/pullquote]They put each female companion to the test, as well as coming up with average speaking time, and then put the two eras of the show beside one another. The results were that yes, Doctor Who is now sexist.

The BBC denied this, of course, rolling out executive, Faith Penhale, who said, “The BBC refute claims that Doctor Who is a sexist show under Steven Moffat, strong female lead characters are at the heart of his writing. The BBC is hugely appreciative of all of Steven’s work.”

They refute the claim because it is nonsense.

Please note, the following criticisms of the test are not directed at the author of the infographic, Rebecca Moore; I’ve explored her blog and found her to be a clever and excellent writer. This is a defence of the show that I love – but it’s also a concern that goes deeper than that (which I shall explore further on). Moore, too, acknowledges the limitations of the Bechdel test, realising that she “attempted to quantify something that is largely opinion based.”

As a test of sexism in Doctor Who, I feel the test is massively flawed – but also, it seems massively flawed as a test of sexism all together.

What does the Bechdal test say about women talking to other women about women, or men talking to men about women? The Bechdel test disregards the latter entirely, perhaps unintentionally taking the sexist stance that only women can be victims of sexism. I can look past that however; it was conceived as an assessment of how female characters are written.

Jack Harkness and Rose Tyler dance.But then, what if the women don’t talk about men, but they do talk about shoes or shopping? What if they talk about another woman in a derogative manner, thus exhibiting another stereotype? And what does it matter, as long as their dialogue is true to the character?

My problem may be that the Bechdel test boils everyone down to their gender, not view them as individuals.

The infograph (shared below) compares Donna Noble to Amy Pond, but we’re all products of interactions and relationships we have. When one character is the Doctor, an impossible time traveller who’s also a genius, it’s tough not to talk about him. He’d be the elephant in the room. The two are just very different characters; that’s all. Donna was arguably created as a reaction against the Rose Tyler-type companion, who fawns on the Doctor; introduced in The Runaway Bride, she was a stark contrast to Rose, but when she returned for Series 4, she was a stronger person – again, the opposite of the companion during the previous series, Martha Jones. Amy couldn’t be the same sort of person as Donna.

It simply wouldn’t have worked. We might as well have Donna again. (And yes, I do love them both.) Amy’s a companion who is influenced by the Doctor at an early age: she thinks about him as we may think of an imaginary friend.

Is Doctor Who sexist? This infographic says "yes"; we say "no"

Donna is brilliant, but there’s a notable difference between her debut in The Runaway Bride and Partners in Crime. That difference is the Doctor. It’s made more explicit in Journey’s End when, forced to forget the Doctor, she reverts back to the Donna we met in her first Christmas adventure. She is defined by her relationship with the Doctor as much as Amy because he opened her mind – but that’s the same of all companions, female or male! Even Adric! (Okay, maybe not Adric.)

[pullquote align="right"] There’s a notable difference between the Donnas of The Runaway Bride and Partners in Crime. That difference is the Doctor, and puts into question whether the Bechdel test can be applied to Doctor Who at all.[/pullquote]A further flaw of any test for sexism is that it all depends on who the audience is and what they think a strong female looks and acts like. A prime example of this is Madge Arwell in The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe. Many argue that a strong person is a career-focussed woman, yet Madge displays everything that should make her strong – she’s even capable of doing something the Doctor can’t. Motherhood makes people stronger (as, indeed, does fatherhood). “Hampered” by both motherhood and the time in which she lives – yet another problem with applying gender complaints to Doctor Who – she doesn’t have a career to speak of.

Yes, it all comes down to perspective. To me, all nuWho companions are strong leads, including both Amy and Clara (fairly omitted from the Bechdel test study). The latter is a more scared companion, but remains strong in my eyes because she still does what needs to be done and stands by the Doctor, despite her fears, and maintains a questioning mind.

Amy’s Choice is an episode that failed the Bechdal test. Should this be viewed as an example of Doctor Who being sexist then? No, because it matters that the Doctor and Rory refuse to make the big decision solely as Amy can’t. They rely on her and trust her completely.

As a writer, this sort of thing concerns me, but it should concern anyone who doesn’t want unnecessary restrictions invisibly imposed on them. I maintain that freedom of speech is an illusion; one enforced not only by governments but also by its people, however well-intentioned.

Goodbye MarthaI am certainly not saying I want to upset anyone. In fact, complete freedom of speech would be a scary thing. As someone who rereads Fahrenheit 451 every year, though, the fact that censorship is so widespread troubles me greatly, particularly unequal equality: that, to me, is a less-clichéd way of saying, ‘double standards.’

A bigger trouble, though, is unintentional offense, and this, I believe, is where Steven Moffat comes in. I do not believe him to be at all sexist. However, many think that he is. Any offense caused by Moffat is likely unintentional, but the negativity, spite and bitterness aimed at him is definitely intended. That such negativity likely forced him off Twitter is unacceptable. As Moffat notes in the latest issue of Doctor Who Magazine: “sometimes, in my paranoia and embarrassment, I wonder if I’m just making everybody cross all the time.”

[pullquote align=right]As a test of sexism in Doctor Who, the Bechdel test is massively flawed – but also, it seems massively flawed as a test of sexism all together.[/pullquote]My concern, when it boils down to it, is having to please everyone instead of simply writing characters.

I really wish this “Doctor Who is sexist” thing would stop. But the fact is, it won’t. No matter who is in charge. Media will always offend someone.

If all writers caved in to pressures, the world would be a very odd, impossible place. Imagine if Tom MacRae had thought about the Bechdel test; The Girl Who Waited, a beautiful, memorable and heartbreaking episode, would be a very different beast. TV would be far more mind-numbing if everyone panicked about offense. I refuse, as do many writers, to write by prescription.

Really, this issue shouldn’t have been addressed by anyone official: it merely appears to validate a matter of opinion.

Your thoughts below, please – and yes, I expect at least one person to point out that this article was written by a man!

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About the Author

When he’s not watching television, reading books ‘n’ Marvel comics, listening to The Killers, and obsessing over script ideas, Philip Bates pretends to be a freelance writer. He enjoys collecting everything.




151 Responses to Forget Pseudo-Science: Why Doctor Who *Isn’t* Sexist

  1. Hunith says:

    The Bechdel test is hardly pseudoscience, sorry.

    • quigonj2014 says:

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bechdel_Test

      Something created by a comic called “Dykes to Watch Out For” [sic] isn’t exactly a double blind study conducted at forty-eight universities. It’s a political statement. I get it, and I’m not arguing against the concept really, but it is an artistic statement and not the Special Theory of Relativity.

      Moffat writes smart women with ideas other than men. Girl in the Fireplace was a prime example, so was Blink. Clara did manage to get a degree and is a teacher as an adjunct to being the Doctor’s companion, and they have filled out her life and relationships to her parents in ways similar enough to Rose as to make no odds. Amy was a travel writer, a model, creator of perfume lines, and novelist.

      What more does Moffat have to do? I beat on him for being inconsistent, finding it odd that the same man who gave us the brilliant 50th Anniversary (including the special, being a producer on Adventure and the Fiveish Doctors and Night of the Doctor) but also bringing us rubbish like Crimson Horror and Nightmare in Silver. But he’s not JNT on a bad day.

      • Alan Stevens says:

        “Something created by a comic called “Dykes to Watch Out For” [sic] isn’t exactly a double blind study conducted at forty-eight universities.”

        It doesn’t have to be. It’s being conducted on a TV show.

        > It’s a political statement.Clara did manage to get a degree and is a teacher as an adjunct to being the Doctor’s companion,What more does Moffat have to do?the same man who gave us the brilliant 50th AnniversaryBut he’s not JNT on a bad day.<

        He's not JNT on a good day either. All but one fo the Cartmell era stories passes the Bechdel test (Time and the Rani failed it).

        • quigonj2014 says:

          Alan, I was responding to a comment that the Bechdel test isn’t pseudoscience. If one tries to use it as science, it fails. As I said, It’s an interesting sentiment, but is an opinion and not testable fact. You can come at me separately, but my statement above were correct.

          Cartmell was not story editor for the entire run of JNT. I would put Amy and Clara against Peri or Tegan any day in terms of “Who is a more fully realized character?” and submit there is more to evaluate rather than the one “test.”

          • Alan Stevens says:

            “Alan, I was responding to a comment that the Bechdel test isn’t pseudoscience. If one tries to use it as science, it fails. As I said, It’s an interesting sentiment, but is an opinion and not testable fact.”

            Well it is a testable fact. How could it not be? It exists to find out if a film/TV series contains two named women who talk to each other about something else than men. It’s a very easy test to pass. “The Night of the Doctor” would pass it on this this single exchange alone:

            VASTRA: Sleep well, my love.
            JENNY: You too.

            So to fail the Bechdel Test is something of an achievement. To fail it repeatedly is somewhat alarming.

            ” Cartmell was not story editor for the entire run of JNT.”

            No, but the Davison era also does well.

            “I would put Amy and Clara against Peri or Tegan any day in terms of “Who is a more fully realized character?””

            None of them are particularly good.

            “and submit there is more to evaluate rather than the one “test.”

            Where in the original study does it say that the Bechdel Test on its own can identify sexism? Nowhere! You are falling into the trap of many other posters, in that you haven’t read the original study properly. All the Bechdel Test does is identify trends. A story that doesn’t pass the Bechdel Test, when submitted to further tests, may prove not be sexist. However, if you have the best part of 13 episodes failing, then perhaps that can be taken as an indicator that more rigorous tests should be applied.

          • quigonj2014 says:

            Might I suggest this show is not to your liking?

            As to the Jenny/Vastra thing, so just so long as characters are lesbians, things are cool? Coz that statement is about a relationship.

            Whatever, guy. You seem to wish to say the show is crap. I don’t feel that way. And once it comes back to emotions and how we feel, we are out of the realm of science, which was my point.

          • Alan Stevens says:

            “Might I suggest this show is not to your liking?”

            If you like a show, it doesn’t mean you have to blind yourself to any of it faults. Doctor Who, with its 77 million worldwide audience isn’t going to get cancelled tomorrow just because someone somewhere on the internet says the female characters could be better written.

            “As to the Jenny/Vastra thing, so just so long as characters are lesbians, things are cool? Coz that statement is about a relationship.”

            I know it’s about their relationship, but a woman doesn’t have to be a lesbian to have a conversation with another named woman that isn’t about men. All I was doing was showing you how laughably low the Bechdel bar is.

            “Whatever, guy. You seem to wish to say the show is crap.”

            I don’t think the show it crap, but youe putting over the impression that any criticism of your favourite show is a declaration of war. It isn’t.

          • quigonj2014 says:

            I made no such declaration, so at that, I will walk away peacefully.

          • James Lomond says:

            Alan Stevens and Quigonji:-

            Popperian Pseudoscience refers to theories/ theoretical systems being unfalsifiable. The Bechdel test is a test and not a theory so it is meaningless to refer to is as pseudoscientific or not.

            You could claim that the test pre-supposes a theory that misogynism *is* or *is represented by* failing the Bechdel test which is entirely different and more what the author of the article was discussing. That kind of theory could potentially be described as pseudoscientific unless some independent standard of misogynism was defined i.e. if you can’t prove or disprove whether or not the Bechdel test identifies misogynism it can’t be falsified.

            Though it would probably make more sense to ask whether misogynism was a “scientific object of enquiry” or not.

            Thanks.
            J

  2. Tom Cutter says:

    I think it’s disgusting that people have to try and find something wrong all the time, people always trying to get more money from these claims it’s ridiculous. This stuck ups who have no time but to say something caused offence for the most petite reasons. This blame culture has to stop

    • Tom Cutter says:

      Sorry for no punctuation and the auto correct. My phone :)

    • Alan Stevens says:

      Image Doctor Who is a female character with a male companion. Now image watching episode after episode where the male companion mostly talks to women, and on the occasions he gets to talk to a man, they only discuss women. Now image yourself pointing this strange state of affairs out on a forum by saying that “as a man I do happen to talk about topics other than women all the time.” Now image getting a whole host of reply posts from women saying, “What’s wrong with men talking about women? What would you suggest that men talk about instead? Beer and football? You’re obviously making this ridiculous claim became you want to screw money out of someone!”

      Would that annoy you? It would certainly annoy the hell out of me.

      The Bechdel Test sets it bar very low. To pass it only requires two named women characters to exchange a sentence or two that isn’t about men. “The Name of the Doctor” passes the Bechdel test with this simple exchange:

      VASTRA: Sleep well, my love.
      JENNY: You too.

      In spite of what the above article might state, to fail the Bechdel Test does not mean an episode is automatically sexist. However, for a series to continually fail the test may suggest that people should be taking a closer look at it, and not simply abuse the person who has pointed it out.

      • Philip Bates says:

        If the Doctor were a woman, paired with a man who largely talked about the Doctor, I wouldn’t be annoyed. Nothing about sex really; man or woman, the Doctor would still be the Doctor, the person I’d be talking about if I travelled in the TARDIS.

        • Alan Stevens says:

          “If the Doctor were a woman, paired with a man who largely talked about the Doctor, I wouldn’t be annoyed. Nothing about sex really; man or woman, the Doctor would still be the Doctor, the person I’d be talking about if I travelled in the TARDIS.”

          The scenario isn’t that he just talks about the female Doctor, but that he rarely talks about anything else except how he feels about women, and this would also be happening in most of the other TV shows and films surrounding it. The fact that you appear to find this almost impossible to visualise says a lot about our society in general.


          • The fact that you appear to find this almost impossible to visualise says a lot about our society in general.

            The fact that you seem to have a problem with it says far more about you…

          • Alan Stevens says:

            I hope so, Christian.:-)

          • James Lomond says:

            Hmm. Aren’t you both focusing on different things?

            I think a point that should be made and would chime with Phil’s position is that Doctor Who might be something of a special case. Given that the lead character is male (which, yes might be potentially sexist – but bear with me) the show is usually, predominantly *about* the Doctor and how amazeballs he is (though it used to be about how scarey the monsters were until 2005 *sigh*) and so it would seem to be an artefact of the format that his companions talk *to* him a lot when they’re with him and *about* him a lot when they’re not.

            That he tends to have a lot of female companions might again be potential grounds for sexism given the inherent power dynamic.

            Anyhow what I think should be acknowledged is that if the Doctor had 2 male companions (and again, I grant it may be an indicator of misogynism that he doesn’t) it seems likely that they would talk to eachother *about* the Doctor a fair amount when they’re not with him?

            But then the point I think Alan Steve is making (correct me if I’m wrong) is that it’s the authorial choices about what characters (male or female) inhabit the world they write, whether that is a world where female characters interact with eachother and whether their interactions are about things other than men.

            Given that the charge is that most media is about men talking to men about manly things and women appear to be unequally treated by authors in this regard- yes where Doctor Who fails this it is something to notice and think about. And yes there is indeed covert, subtle and insidious misogynism in our society as with racism, homophobia and other minority/ disadvantaged groups.

            Something I also think is important, is that if you are concerned about people finding counter-factuals “impossible to visualise” (as I am) the LAST thing that is going to open and maintain dialogues is to tell them you think they are finding things “impossible to visualise”.

            Anyhow all of this is speculation until someone goes though and tots-up a reverse Bechdel (how often men talk to men about things other than the TARDIS) for comparison with the Bechdel episode bye episode. I’m sure it’d probs be a higher pass-rate than for the Bechdel but that wouldn’t be from exchanges between the Eleventh Doctor and Rory ;)

            Anyone else frustrated with Moff’s misandrynist representation of men as obsessed with women?? ;)

          • Alan Stevens says:

            “I think a point that should be made and would chime with Phil’s position is that Doctor Who might be something of a special case. Given that the lead character is male (which, yes might be potentially sexist – but bear with me)”

            It’s not sexist to have a male lead character. Banshee has a male lead character. It is one of the most violent, testosterone driven shows on TV, but it still passes the Bechdel Test.

            “But then the point I think Alan Steve is making (correct me if I’m wrong)”

            Alan Stevens.

            “is that it’s the authorial choices about what characters (male or female) inhabit the world they write, whether that is a world where female characters interact with eachother and whether their interactions are about things other than men.”

            I strongly suspect that Moffat Doctor Who is sexist. Do a name search on this comments page for “James Mclean” and read the posts he has written on how female characters are treated under Moffat and how that differs to how they were treated under RTD. However, as a counter argument, I’d say it may be that what we are seeing here isn’t so much “sexism,” but more about a formula TV series falling back more and more on tropes. So something appears, not because it makes sense to the plot, but simply because it’s appeared in the show before. Eventually you’re going to end up with a lot of cartoon characters acting out a series of worn out cliches and bits of storylines that have simply been ripped from previous episodes and put in a blender. So you apply various tests and come up with various results, but they are all meaningless because the show you are studying has no agenda beyond churning out another episode that just repeats stuff. Depressing, but it happens.

          • James Lomond says:

            Doh: Men talking to men about things other than *women.

            Not the TARDIS. Though that would still count…

  3. Christine says:

    To me the Bechdel test is only one of many aspects of (whether intentional or not) sexism, and certainly shouldn’t be the one and only yardstick to determine it’s presence. One of the reasons why it came into being were the traditional focus of film and tv on women always looking out for a man as the only possible fulfilment of their lives. Thankfully nowadays this has changed to a certain extent, so there obviously should be many more ways to look at the issue as well! Clara for example is an excellent example (although left out in the infographic). I believe it is possible she would pass the test (I can’t recall if she actually talks to a lot of women but certainly not only about men!), but her role within the series is actually up and until the name of the Doctor rather sexist, her being just a plot device. True, a rather well fleshed out one, with a mind of her own and actually rather independant, but still just a plot device. You won’t get that information out of a Bechdel test. Does that mean Doctor Who is sexist altogether, or that the inventor of this particular plot device is a serious mysogynist? Certainly not! Just as the Bechdel test only provides one aspect of the issue, so does the fact that it is a woman who is just a plot device. And now this is over, and we have a new dynamic between Doctor and Companion, this particular aspect probably can be let go of altogether. Just as the Bechdel test is not all determining, neither is any other single aspect of a phenomenon. As stated in the article, the show is about characters, and just like real life people they tend to differ. And contrary to many other science fiction shows – and a great part of Classic Who too which I still love very much – the Whoniverse is not an all male military presence with a few token super women added to be politically correct. There are real people here, men and women and their interactions, with all their foibles. Interesting people, normal people, strong and weak people, etc. etc. of both genders. Certainly not from the pen of a sexist thinking person, but from someone who likes people in all their aspects. If there is a complaint to be made, it should be about the lack of female wirters and directors (only one in series 8), but that is for another discussion.

    However, if the Bechdel test is used as a screening method, after which one looks more in depth into a film or series, it still can provide valuable insights. I agree with you Philip that any test should take a lot more different types of dialogue into account, and certainly should not be seen as the ultimate determinator of classifying any show as sexist. I think that is the problem with this infographic. Because if one looks further into the characters in themselves, takes other types of dialogue into account, screen time, etc. etc. the conclusion may be totally different. The test simplifies a complex World, which is handy when one is screening for possible candidates of sexism. But the ultimate analysis of any show should really go much deeper than only a test.

    As I am no gender researcher, I really wouldn;’t know whether in-depth analysis would lead to similar conclusions or even the total opposite. But I do think it is too easy to classify any series by only one type of test! Whether scientifically valid, pseudo-scientific or otherwise.

    By the way, that the article was written by a man shouldn’t make any difference. It is rather sexist too in a way to confine writing about gender issues to women only, is it not?


    • ‘By the way, that the article was written by a man shouldn’t make any difference. It is rather sexist too in a way to confine writing about gender issues to women only, is it not?’

      well, it’s touchy, but it’s a ‘balance of power’ thing. being ‘sexist’ against a heteronormative male is hardly going to be as harmful as being sexist to any other gender group because of the context of culture & the status quo of human relations – regardless of, f’r’instance, what the men’s rights movement would have you believe.

    • Philip Bates says:

      Hey Christine,

      It might not have come across in my article, but this was simply a reaction to the infographic; I’m by no means saying the Bechdel Test is the definitive assessment of sexism. I am criticising the test and its relevance to DW – nonetheless, I don’t see DW as sexist at all.

      “By the way, that the article was written by a man shouldn’t make any difference. It is rather sexist too in a way to confine writing about gender issues to women only, is it not?”

      You’re exactly right! Sorry, tongue in cheek is tough to get across in writing without this fella – :P I did, however, see a similar article and a comment said, “notice this article was written by a man,” and I thought, ‘you moron. You completely missed the point AND you’re treading the sexism line!’ Hence the final line.

      Thanks for commenting. :)

      • Alan Stevens says:

        “By the way, that the article was written by a man shouldn’t make any difference. It is rather sexist too in a way to confine writing about gender issues to women only, is it not?”

        The issue isn’t so much the sex of the author, than the agenda the author has in writing his article in the first place. Your agenda is very clear. Exculpate Nu Who and accuse others of reverse sexism.

        • Philip Bates says:

          Yes, I’m defending NuWho. This is an opinion piece. That I have an agenda is obvious.

          • Alan Stevens says:

            Then don’t get upset when people question it. If you want a sensible conversation, then I’ll happily go through your article with you and point out what I feels wrong with it. The offers there. It’s up to you.


  4. first of all, please please PLEASE, this is already all over the internet but clearly needs to be repeated here: the Bechdel test is NOT nor was it ever intended to be a gauge of sexism. it is, rather, basically, an observation of how women tend to be portrayed/represented, ‘how rare genuine female interaction is on-screen.’

    as to its value (& for the source of that quote), here: http://theweek.com/article/index/257970/girls-on-film-why-the-bechdel-test-is-still-so-valuable#axzz33kz8LCKs

    if it’s teal deer for you, skip to the end: ‘The problem isn’t with The Rule as Alison Bechdel immortalized it. It’s with the cult of fandom — with those so struck by the applicable simplicity of the test that it has been built up to be something it’s not and was never intended to be. The Rule works because it shows Hollywood’s overall allergy to showing women having diverse conversations, and the audience that Hollywood loses as a result.

    ‘The strip is about a woman who stopped seeing movies because they ignored the worth of women outside of the context of men. It’s about someone who chose to go without rather than see her gender reduced. All the character wants is to see women talking — and the failure isn’t with her, it’s with those who won’t listen.’

    now, is Dr. Who sexist? as a heteronormative male (& so a member of the species ‘in power’) it isn’t really for me to say, is it? (even if it obviously is.) but rather, i would say that, yes, Moffat’s run has been wanting in terms of ‘genuine female interaction’ &, indeed, convincing female characters – female characters who are more than avatars of Moffat’s (a man’s) ‘idea’ of women. whether or not this is intentional on Moffat’s part has nothing to do w/ the fact that, yes, this is a problem. (in fact, the ‘unintentional’ sexism you suggest would be even more dangerous if it was there, being more insidious & risking, among other things, complacency – as is readily evident in the readiness of the shows fans to defend it, & defend it aggressively, against all naysayers – w/r/t representation, particularly of non-heteronormative males.)

    • Philip Bates says:

      Whether it’s intended or not, as a comment on gender, it becomes a gauge of sexism to some degree. I see what you’re saying however, and thanks for link: interesting article. :)

      And I don’t think DW loses out a female audience due to ‘lacking’ female interaction: women do watch, presumably for the same reason men do: they’re invested in the characters, namely the Doctor.

  5. Harry M VanHoudnos says:

    The man who wrote this article should be forced to either come up with a show that is NOT sexist (Impossible by most standards) or shut his mouth! Doctor Who, no matter WHAT era, has never been sexist! And you can take that to the bank!!!

    • StCoop says:

      Really Harry? For most (though not all) of the Original Series the job of female characters on the show was to scream and need to be rescued by a man. Leela one of the few characters who was more than this got dumped from the series by “falling in love” with someone she barely knew. Caroline John was fired from the show because Liz Shaw was too intelligent a character and was replaced a bimbo who would scream and need rescuing instead.

      And Moffat’s female characters have no depth. They’re one dimensional, one-line spouting comic-book ideas of “tough” women, whose greatest dream in life invariably turns out to be settling down with a good man. Unless you’re a Silurian in which case you get to be part of a male fantasy version of a lesbian couple.

      • DonnaM says:

        I’d agree about the early years of the show but that’s hardly unexpected; Doctor Who, then and now, is a reflection of the society that creates it, and that society didn’t go in for strong, intelligent women capable of standing up for themselves

        Yes, many of Moffat’s strong women could swap dialogue quite easily and you’d not notice the difference (River Song and Tasha Lem spring to mind). But they are most definitely individuals, and competent ones at that. Amy was as strong if not stronger than her husband, and he wanted to love and be loved as much as she did.

        Most people – men as well as women – would be happy with a partnership like that!

      • Philip Bates says:

        Was Caroline John fired? You’re right in that they were gonna replace her because Liz was too smart, but didn’t she leave to have a baby as well? I thought I’d heard that anyhoo; I may be mistaken.

        Aside from that, the companions’ role is basically to ask the Doctor what is happening, and that remains the same whether the companion is female or male. Pretty sure Rory screamed a few times too; probably more often than Amy.

        Finally, I do think Moffat’s characters have depth. That’s all a matter of opinion of course, but then all of this is. “… whose greatest dream in life invariably turns out to be settling down with a good man.” I’m a man, and one of my greatest dreams in life is to settle down with a good woman. I want a good career too – that’s part of the dream – but equally, I think, to many, home life is key. I thought it was great to see Amy and Rory as a model of a healthy, loving relationship, something you rarely see on TV these days.

        • Alan Stevens says:

          “Was Caroline John fired? You’re right in that they were gonna replace her because Liz was too smart, but didn’t she leave to have a baby as well? I thought I’d heard that anyhoo; I may be mistaken.”

          Here contract was not renewed for season eight. Whether they new she was pregnant or not, it was not part of the decision to get ride of her.

          “Aside from that, the companions’ role is basically to ask the Doctor what is happening,”

          That’s what Terrance Dicks and Barry Letts said the companion’s role should be. These’s are the guys who replaced Liz Shaw with Jo Grant. Dicks has also often stated his belief that women should not wear trousers and that their proper role is in the kitchen.

          • Philip Bates says:

            That’s also what various people in the history of Who (companions included) say the companions’ role is. If it’s not the companions’ job, then that simply falls to another character. There has to be an entry level for the audience – things need explaining!

          • Alan Stevens says:

            But there are ways these things can be explains. You can have the companions saying dumb stuff like “What’s gravity Doctor?” or to can have a proper conversation, with both characters contributing to the audiences understanding of the plot.

    • Amber says:

      Did you even read the article? The whole point is that Doctor Who ISN’T sexist.


  6. I am a woman who loves doctor who. I don’t think it’s sexist at all. I actually agree with what you say in this article. Every companion has to be different and I have loved them all. I think that each character has been written to be beautifully human. I will continue to watch and enjoy Doctor Who for as long as it lasts. Which I hope is a very long time.

    • Alan Stevens says:

      ” I think that each character has been written to be beautifully human.”

      I’m surprised to hear that. For most of season 7 I thought the great reveal was going to be that Clara was a robot.

    • Philip Bates says:

      Thanks, Joyce – very much appreciated. :)

  7. Solonor says:

    This is the problem I have with lengthy Doctor Who gaps. It brings all the crazy crap out of the woodwork. “Moffat must go! When will the Doctor be a woman? When will the Doctor be black? Why is Doctor Who sexist? Is it time to cancel Doctor Who?” I’m tired of reading this junk to the point of shutting off Kasterborous and any other blog that purports to love the show but perpetuates reporting this sensationalist idiocy.

    • Philip Bates says:

      Whilst I do agree that lengthy gaps lead to sensationalism, so does the series being on! Remember after The Empty Child, it was all “DW is too scary nowadays”? Nonsense. Oh, and I just think it’s our duty to defend the show we love. Yes, to some degree it validates the argument, but we’re only covering this because it’s been too widely reported to ignore AND they got Faith Penhale to issue a statement.

      • Alan Stevens says:

        “I just think it’s our duty to defend the show we love.”

        Accepting that the show has faults doesn’t me you love it any less.

        • Philip Bates says:

          The show has faults. But it’s not sexist. Hence my defense.

          • Alan Stevens says:

            “The show has faults.”

            Please list them.

  8. Alan Stevens says:

    The Bechdel Test sets its bar very low. Just a two line conversation, that’s not about a man, between two name women characters will get you a pass. For a programme to repeatedly fail the Bechdel test doesn’t necessarily mean it’s sexist, but it may be an indicator that there could be something that needs looking at. Especially when you consider that other eras of Doctor Who, for example, Lambert (1963-1965) and Cartmel (1987-1989) do very well on the Bechdel Test.

  9. DonnaM says:

    These scientific “tests”… well, let’s just say I don’t have total faith in them. A close friend of mine once underwent a test to determine whether or not she was suffering from Post Natal Depression and came back as a “Yes”. The reason? The way she answered two specific questions.

    Do you ever want to go off into a room all by yourself? Yes. Do you ever feel like screaming? Yes. On that basis I’ve been suffering from it for years, and I don’t even have children :-)

    Seriously; without a thorough analysis of content and context, what value is the number of lines spoken? It’s not what we are, but what we say that matters, surely? And as Amy was sharing her adventures with her husband – a man – inevitably she’s going to spend a fair bit of time talking to him. It’d be a pretty sorry marriage if she totally ignored Rory in favour of the female guest star of the week!

    There hasn’t been a “weak” female lead since the show returned to television in my opinion. And all this talk about sexism/racism/whatever-other-ism is somewhat self-defeating in my eyes. We’re all individuals, not objects. Kindly treat us as such, and let the show do the same!

    • Alan Stevens says:

      Why would your friend submit herself to a test for Post Natal Depression, if she didn’t have any children?

      • TonyS says:

        Isn’t it DonnaM who is saying she has no children, rather than the friend?

        • Alan Stevens says:

          Oh, right so her friend, who had just has a child and was feeling depressed, underwent a test and was asked “Do you ever want to go off into a room all by yourself? and Do you ever feel like screaming?” And she answered “Yes.” And DonnaM is saying that she would also have answered “Yes” to the same questions. However, that doesn’t “prove” the test invalid. It just suggests that, whatever the causes, both DonnaM and her friend may both suffer from depression. Although to be honest, I’m sure DonnaM’s friend was asked more than just two questions. A member of my family has been diagnosed with depression, and he undwent a whole battery of tests.

      • DonnaM says:

        Sorry, I evidently didn’t make it clear – my friend had recently given birth to her third child and was subjected to the test as a matter of hospital routine. I, who would answer both questions as she did (yes and yes) have no children, but by those criteria have been suffering from the condition most of my life :-)

        • Alan Stevens says:

          Then as a routine test given to someone in hospital, just after they have given birth, it was perfectly valid, and indeed correctly determined that your friend was suffering from Post Natal Depression. Sorry to go on, but from this evidence you can’t then make a comparison with the Bechdel Test and pronounce it invalid.

          Sorry to hear about your depression, BTW.:-(

          • DonnaM says:

            Not depression – I call feeling that way from time to time being human :-) And apologies – it seems I’ve inadvertantly repeated a post!

      • DonnaM says:

        Sorry – obviously I didn’t make myself very clear. My friend underwent the test as a matter of hospital routine after giving birth to her third child. I’m the one with no children who, when she told me about it, realised I would answer the questions as she did. On those criteria I’ve been suffering from Post Natal depression most of my life!

        • Alan Stevens says:

          Did your friend actually suffer from Post Natal Depression?

          • DonnaM says:

            No. She’s never experienced depression of any kind, the lucky mare :-). My grandfather was diagnosed with clinical depression in his 50s and I know it’s far, far worse than simply feeling like yelling at times or wanting to be left alone.

            She didn’t ask for the test; it was a hospital requirement and she was gobsmacked to be told she might be suffering from the condition. I apologise for any confusion or offence – I was trying to make a mildly humourous point that tests of this kind are not always 100% reliable.

          • Alan Stevens says:

            “She didn’t ask for the test; it was a hospital requirement and she was gobsmacked to be told she might be suffering from the condition.”

            Strange, considering she’d told them that she wanted by be alone in an empty room and scream!

            “I apologise for any confusion or offence – I was trying to make a mildly humourous point that tests of this kind are not always 100% reliable.”

            No offence taken, however there seems to be some confusion. For an episode to fail the Bechdel Test it doesn’t mean it’s automatically sexist (as the above article sees to imply). If a whole load of episodes fail, however, it may be a good idea to run different tests to see what else turns up.

          • Philip Bates says:

            “For an episode to fail the Bechdel Test it doesn’t mean it’s automatically sexist (as the above article sees to imply)”

            Nope, sorry – that’s not what I’m saying at all. That is what is implied by the infographic and various other articles showing up on the net about it.

        • TonyS says:

          I got my nose broken when I was at university in Liverpool

          I’ve been suffering from post nasal depression ever since

          • Philip Bates says:

            That’s just cheered me up! Thanks, Tony! :D

  10. James Mclean says:

    I think the sexism in Doctor Who can be two fold. It can be cultural (representative of the era – Polly, go make us a nice cup of tea and do the ironing, there’s a good girl), or representative of failing to break stereotypes (for Amy to be considered ‘successful’ after leaving the Doctor, she has to become a model, because that’s what all successful girls in TV aspire to, despite having no experience, character motivation or inclination prior – would have seen her certainly become a top banker or top aircraft builder). I think the question of speaking time or presence isn’t a validator on its own, though naturally is a factor when assessing such a question.

    I would say RTD era did a very good job at leveling the field. The nature of the Doctor and his “companion” I don’t believe is sexist, nor do I think that any inequality in air time denotes sexism if it’s a lead driven show and that lead therefore takes the focus.

    I don’t think Moffat is sexist, but I do think his characters fall into male woman-fantasy archetypes, so I suppose I feel his writing supports a male world more than a female one. Strong, feisty, sexy, but ultimately fall in line behind the male characters. Same with Sherlock. It’s a writing style, that I don’t think looks to be sexist or believes woman are less important, in fact, I’d say it glorifies women to some degree, but through the eyes of a man. Oh I could write a book on this.

    • Philip Bates says:

      Nobody claimed Amy was a successful model; she did seem successful as a writer, though, which is even cooler than being a top aircraft builder, right? Right?

      … Right?

      • quigonj2014 says:

        I dunno, Amy was in department stores with “The Girl Who Waited” perfume, and I thought it was more of a reflection that Karen has been a model than it was something for girls to aspire to.

        To me, this is only a conversation if you can show me where men have fared better. For the most part, the male companions (Wilf, Mickey, and Rory) in the new show have existed to as emotional support for the wimmen folk. Only Brian Williams seemed to have a role as something other than love interest/mentor for a female companion.

        So is it sexism, or is it perhaps just constraints on time in the medium of a sci-fi action show with a 50 year history?

        • James Mclean says:

          With Mickey, he became fighter, which I never had an issue with – nor with Martha, given exposure to fighting for good causes could naturally progress you down those paths. You got a kick travelling with the Doctor, going down a similar route would make sense. Sarah Jane again sort of made sense by the same logic. I guess even Captain Jack, albeit somewhat screwed up, was influenced in someways to carry on that legacy. The RTD era, the character resolutions made a lot more sense, were far less arbitrary, even if some were slightly unbelievable (Sarah Jane Adventures, while fun, carries that same credibility issue as Batman and Robin does, but it was done to create foundations of a show).

          Amy is just utterly arbitrary. Successful model (and Asylum and Closing Time do suggest this), is very non-sequitur to her growth and even writer again, though not necessarily as a sexist route, but as a choice of direction for a character who has shown zero interest in writing, journalism or whatever.

          And this is where I think you’ve got evidence of Moffat’s woman being strong women through the eyes of a man, rather than necessarily strong women for being strong people. Strong people are determined and have focus based on their personality and experience. Sarah Jane Smith starts out as a journalist, she progresses to using journalism to fight alien stuff. Ian and Barbara start as teachers and apparently move up through that line of work.

          Amy… well, Amy flirts with a kissagram job which seems to exist for the gag alone, but she’s not given progression as a person, she’s rewarded with roles that suggest she’s done well and is pretty brilliant that have no baring on her character – and sometimes I wonder what that character is. Aside from becoming a wife and a mum, and being very loyal to her husband (in fact trumping his 2000 years Rory loyalty in Asylum, which I never quite got her argument for), and then becoming great and whatever its decided cool, there’s no sense of foundation. It feels as if women are “cool” if they are “cool”. Amy is hot because she’s smart, witty, strong, witty, sexy, loyal to her man, and can beat the odds because she’s smart, witty, strong and sexy and can, well beat the odds. So in a weird way, there does feel like there’s objectification as in what makes a woman cool and brilliant, rather than pieces of a person that make them a proper character. You’ll see the same in River Song, you’ll see the same in Sherlock’s Irene Adler, and you’ll see the same. Clara? Well acted, but you can see similar attributes. Witty, smart, strong, sexy… role? Aspiration? Suddenly a teacher. Not sure where that came from!

          I guess it is sexist if you take my view so far as the women appear to be written differently to the men, I think the question is whether the men are written with any more honesty to character? If they aren’t, it’s not sexism, just fantasy writing. And even if the women are written to be less real and a little more “male” fantasy, if those character tropes give them strength, passion and aspects women would like to identify with, is it bad sexism?

          I think one of the problems is how male writers perhaps look to try and create strong characters to foil off a super-alien. I think the mistake is characters don’t have to be equals to the Doctor. Barbara was not the Doctor’s equal, but she was written as a strong person, not a strong woman and not some extra special-larger than life woman that would leave the TARDIS and be best at everything.

          Donna’s another good example. Her resolution is quite down beat (for narrative reasons), but is that a bad thing? If everyone leaving the Doctor becomes a massive success, doesn’t that start to make the world less human and more super human?

  11. Pingback: Book it | MY Doctor Who

  12. Alan Stevens says:

    “As a writer, this sort of thing concerns me, but it should concern anyone who doesn’t want unnecessary restrictions invisibly imposed on them.”

    This is rather strange statement to come from a self confessed writer. It doesn’t take much imaginated to regender a character, or write two lines of dialogue between two women about a non-gender related plot point, and this is going for the lowest form of tick-box cynicism.

    • Philip Bates says:

      Firstly, I’d say regendering a character, for the most part, would be bad writing. That’s just my opinion, obviously, but writing has got to feel natural and if a character naturally feels like a specific gender, I normally run with it.

      And secondly, that’s not really my point. My point is that I shouldn’t have to feel restricted, that, yes, I’ve got to tick boxes. “The scripts running too long; you’ll have to get rid of something.” Hypothetically, I shouldn’t have to compromise on more important scenes because I’m worried taking out a particular scene will leave someone offended.

      • Alan Stevens says:

        “Firstly, I’d say regendering a character, for the most part, would be bad writing.”

        Sevalan was originally a man, and yet she is now considered a SF icon. Equally, various characters in the Robert Holmes script for the Sun Makers were regenerated. Can you tell which ones? Also, did you know Morgus’ secretary in “The Caves of Androzani” was regendered by the director Graeme Harper, do you think that was a mistake?

        “And secondly, that’s not really my point. My point is that I shouldn’t have to feel restricted, that, yes, I’ve got to tick boxes. “The scripts running too long; you’ll have to get rid of something.”

        Why not just write a well rounded female characters, who has a genuine function within the narrative? Do that and you wouldn’t have to regender anyone, or tick any boxes by writing in redundant and tokenistic scenes.

        “Hypothetically, I shouldn’t have to compromise on more important scenes because I’m worried taking out a particular scene will leave someone offended.”

        It’s got nothing to do with offending anybody. It’s simply about writing a well balanced script where women are properly represented as people.

        • Philip Bates says:

          Yes, I do think it’s bad writing. Now, if the character naturally feels better as a different gender, that’s fine. But to change that character just because you may lack strong female characters elsewhere IS box-ticking.

          Moffat writes well-rounded, properly-represented female characters in balanced scripts (at least in my opinion – and opinion is all we’re talking about here), but because this infographic examines the Bechdel Test, the show is deemed sexist.

          • Alan Stevens says:

            “Yes, I do think it’s bad writing. Now, if the character naturally feels better as a different gender, that’s fine. But to change that character just because you may lack strong female characters elsewhere IS box-ticking.”

            If you take a look at Robert Holme’s original script for The Sun Makers you’ll see that all the guest cast are male. Pennant Roberts regendering didn’t spoil the story, or look out of place. Indeed, when I heard with characters had been regendered I was surprised. The fact is, unless the role has a specific element that requires the character to be male or female, there is no reason why they can’t be regendered, and indeed the idea that the Doctor would land on planet after planet where we only see, at most, one female character is a nonsense.

            “Moffat writes well-rounded, properly-represented female characters in balanced scripts (at least in my opinion”

            But you are biased, and you admit to being biased. You’ve said in your own article that it was written “in defence of the show that I love”.

            Now here’s my reply to another post of yours that, for some reason, no longer accepts responses:

            Alan Stevens said:

            ““For an episode to fail the Bechdel Test it doesn’t mean it’s automatically sexist (as the above article sees to imply)””

            Philip Bates replied:

            “Nope, sorry – that’s not what I’m saying at all. That is what is implied by the infographic and various other articles showing up on the net about it.”

            Once again, for a story to fail the Bechdel Test it doesn’t automatically mean that the story is sexist. If the majority of a series fails however, it should warrant some looking at to ascertain whether or not the show is indeed sexist.

  13. verblet says:

    Congrats on writing an article that is, I think, 80% straw men (that’s science I used btw).

    You can’t dismiss the differing portrayals of women compared to men, in all media, with a wave of a hand and a “I just see them all as people”. Your perceptions are not the topic of discussion.

    Most of your criticisms simply highlight how low the bar is that shows have to reach – there is no analysis of gendered roles, or what women discuss with each other, or how they act outside of those conversations. 2 minutes of paper-thin gals discussing the price of bread in between shopping trips would pass the test. And for 43% of the time this era of Doctor Who doesn’t even manage that.

    Yes it is good in other ways. Yes I think Amy is actually quite an interesting character when she is given a chance.

    Again, however, that is not the point.

    The infograph is perfectly clear about the point: since Moffat took over the show has become more focused on the Doctor at the expense of companion development. This is hard to argue against, even if you don’t care about it. The effect is to reduce the amount of time that companions, invariably women, can talk with other characters.

    So why not write an article about that, instead of wailing against whatever you think sexism *should* be about.

    • DonnaM says:

      I’d concur that Moffat has focussed Doctor Who more on the Doctor than his companions, but for my taste that’s the way it should be. I enjoyed RTD”s era but I felt the balance was tipped too far toward the companions’ stories at the expense of – in effect – the central character. It’s a matter of personal preference, as all these things are, but Doctor-centered Doctor Who is more my kind of thing.

      • Alan Stevens says:

        But why should that prevent the woman companion having a little independence? Why does the majority of what they say have to be about the Doctor or about some other male character? Don’t you have conversations with your female friends that don’t primarily involve talking about men?

        • DonnaM says:

          We very rarely talk about men (unless it’s to complain about them). We have far better things to discuss!

          The Doctor, however (sorry, chaps) is more interesting than the men we know. And we’re a bit at cross-purposes I think. I’m not saying the women shouldn’t be independent – quite the reverse, but I don’t judge the level of their independence by their conversations among themselves, I judge it by what they do and how they contribute to the plot.

          They’re not screaming damsels in distress any more. They’re perfectly capable of saving the day. Maybe in the next series we’ll see Clara in the staff room discussing the behaviour of her students with another female teacher, which will be fine with me as long as it advances the narrative.

          I watch the show, in the end, for entertainment. I’m not going to analyse it any more scientifically than that :-)

          • Alan Stevens says:

            The last three seasons of classic Doctor Who featured a female companion called Ace. She never screamed once, and in all her stories she was able to conduct conversations with other female characters that furthered the plot, and yet the show was still about the main male character. Equally, during past eras of the show that fail the Bechdel Test, it’s mainly down to the fact that most of the other characters were cast as male. A bit of regendering by the director would have sorted that out. Now, however, more women are cast in the show, but the scripts seem less inclined for them to talk about anything else but men. That strikes me as a bit odd.

        • Cynthia Y says:

          If you haven’t realized already, the show is called “Doctor Who”, which actually involves a man. Who else will the companion(s) be talking about? Especially when they are stuck inside the Time Machine with that same man! Let’s see: “The Dalek and the Doctor” (oh there’s another man!), “the Doctor and the Zygons” (another man!), “the Doctor and his police box”, “the Doctor can’t control his TARDIS”, “the Doctor is off to find out who is behind the power outages”, “the Doctor has two hearts”…

          How about the male companions who keeps talking about the Doctor? Rory has called out the “Doctor” many times…so he really shouldn’t be talking about the Doctor as well should he?

          “Don’t you have conversations with your female friends that don’t primarily involve talking about men?”

          Um…yes and in fact me and my female friends don’t ever talk about men. But if I was in a TARDIS by myself with an alien wouldn’t I be more curious about him? I think I would be fascinated by him and want to learn more about him and his travels etc. So I will be talking about him more. And even if I am accompanied by a friend (male or female) I would still be amazed by the TARDIS and the Doctor and that’s all I would be thinking about! And if I was having a conversation with the Doctor and the other companion is male, then who else am I going to be talking about? My mom? Why would I do that if that would be the last thing on my mind?

          If you meet someone famous, someone who you’ve always wanted to meet, male or female, wouldn’t you keep talking about that person after meeting them for days on end?

          Sorry, I don’t really see the point of this question.

          • Alan Stevens says:

            “If you haven’t realized already, the show is called “Doctor Who”, which actually involves a man”

            But not just a man. Other characters also appear.

            “Who else will the companion(s) be talking about?”

            Who else appears in a particular episode?

            “Especially when they are stuck inside the Time Machine with that same man!”

            What about when the go outside of the Time Machine? It is some requirement that the companion must still incessantly talk about the Doctor?

            “How about the male companions who keeps talking about the Doctor? Rory has called out the “Doctor” many times…so he really shouldn’t be talking about the Doctor as well should he?”

            However, he has conversations with other men that is not about the Doctor.

            ““Don’t you have conversations with your female friends that don’t primarily involve talking about men?””

            “Um…yes and in fact me and my female friends don’t ever talk about men. But if I was in a TARDIS by myself with an alien wouldn’t I be more curious about him?”

            At first, maybe, but all the time? On and on about how great the Doctor is? And then, like Sarah Jane Smith in “School Reunion” apparently having some kind of breakdown that lasts for the next 28 years until you meet him again? Please!

            “I think I would be fascinated by him and want to learn more about him and his travels etc. So I will be talking about him more. And even if I am accompanied by a friend (male or female) I would still be amazed by the TARDIS and the Doctor and that’s all I would be thinking about! And if I was having a conversation with the Doctor and the other companion is male, then who else am I going to be talking about? My mom? Why would I do that if that would be the last thing on my mind?”

            How about discussing the various adventures you’d undoubtedly be having when the Tardis lands, and you go outside and look around?

            “If you meet someone famous, someone who you’ve always wanted to meet, male or female, wouldn’t you keep talking about that person after meeting them for days on end?”

            Not to the exclusion of everything else.

            “Sorry, I don’t really see the point of this question.”

            Evidently.

    • Philip Bates says:

      “The infograph is perfectly clear about the point: since Moffat took over the show has become more focused on the Doctor at the expense of companion development.”

      The infographic doesn’t say much about focussing more on the Doctor, and not at the expense of companion development. They’ve all developed, more so than the Doctor, I think, seen as he’s usually the unchanging quantity. I do, however, agree Moffat focusses more on the Doctor than previous series, but I don’t see that as a negative at all. He does provide more narrative drive than other characters in general.

      “So why not write an article about that, instead of wailing against whatever you think sexism *should* be about.”

      And that’s the problem with sexism: it’s all a matter of opinion; you don’t know what I think sexism really is, and I don’t know what you think it is. (And aside from that, this article was a reaction to said infographic, not a reaction to a big media outlet claiming the focus on the Doctor is overshadowing companions.)

      • Alan Stevens says:

        Sexism

        noun
        1.
        attitudes or behavior based on traditional stereotypes of sexual roles.
        2.
        discrimination or devaluation based on a person’s sex, as in restricted job opportunities; especially, such discrimination directed against women.

        Now you know what sexism is.

        • Philip Bates says:

          How droll. Sexism, however, means something different to different people. As I have said before – it is a matter of opinion what is and isn’t sexist. What offends one person may be fine with another. There is a large grey area. “discrimination or devaluation based on a person’s sex” isn’t a fixed definition.

          • Alan Stevens says:

            It is true that the definition of sexism has some grey areas, however, it’s more productive to use a study like the one quoted as a starting point to discuss whether, and to what extent, Doctor Who is or isn’t sexist, and what we can do about it in the areas where it is, than to simply respond with a blanket denial.

  14. Ranger says:

    Have never trusted these type of tests since I took an IQ test and it told me I was basically a moron – which amused me as someone with a First from Oxford – all it meant was that I can’t do IQ tests.

    And it’s the same with this type of test – if you measure something by a test designed to look for a set result (ie you’ve assumed sexism is there, what you are measuring is is more sexism apparent?)then you’re going to find it – ie it’s already inherently biased because the testing method is geared to a set result. So the results are giving a false positive – yes, the Moffatt era is more sexist than the RTD era. But what they haven’t measured is whether the two eras actually are sexist against an outside control and agreed set measure.

    In other words (sorry, I’m rambling on!) I don’t think either RTD’s or Moffatt’s DW is sexist.

    • Alan Stevens says:

      “Have never trusted these type of tests since I took an IQ test and it told me I was basically a moron – which amused me as someone with a First from Oxford – all it meant was that I can’t do IQ tests.”

      So the tests you took at Oxford are good tests, but the IQ test that concluded that you’re a moron, you dismiss?:-p

      “And it’s the same with this type of test – if you measure something by a test designed to look for a set result (ie you’ve assumed sexism is there, what you are measuring is is more sexism apparent?)then you’re going to find it – ie it’s already inherently biased because the testing method is geared to a set result. So the results are giving a false positive – yes, the Moffatt era is more sexist than the RTD era. But what they haven’t measured is whether the two eras actually are sexist against an outside control and agreed set measure.”

      If you read the other comments in this section you’ll see several posts point out that, contrary to the article above, the Bechdel Test is not one that ascertains whether a story is sexist or not. Indeed, the bar is so low this two line exchange between Vastra and Jenny from “The Name of the Doctor” would be enough for it to pass.

      VASTRA: Sleep well, my love.
      JENNY: You too.

      If, however, you have story after story were the women characters only ever talk to each other about men, then it might be a good indication to investigate further. Imagine a universe where programme after programme only featured men talking to women, or men talking about women, and then, when you point this out, you get attacked for being over sensitive or only out to make a fuss so you can make a claim for money. Would you perhaps start to feel that there was something wrong with it all?

      • Ranger says:

        “Have never trusted these type of tests since I took an IQ test and it told me I was basically a moron – which amused me as someone with a First from Oxford – all it meant was that I can’t do IQ tests.”

        So the tests you took at Oxford are good tests, but the IQ test that concluded that you’re a moron, you dismiss?:-p

        No, but that it is simplistic to rely on one type of testing to make a decision. Based on someone knowing only my IQ test result would I be employable in the role I work in today? I don’t think so.

        And it is the same with this test. It uses one type of information to make a decision. However, using the comments on this forum as another source of information – most people (including quite a few women) don’t see the show/Moffatt as being sexist – what is the most reliable form of information here? I would say people’s perception is more important than cold stats, that don’t have the subtlety to measure context and intent.

        • Alan Stevens says:

          “No, but that it is simplistic to rely on one type of testing to make a decision. Based on someone knowing only my IQ test result would I be employable in the role I work in today? I don’t think so. And it is the same with this test. It uses one type of information to make a decision.”

          No it doesn’t. If you bother to read the report, the Bechdel Test is only one of the tests the author used on the series. If a story fails the Bechdel Test it doesn’t automatically mean it’s sexist. All the Bechdel Test does is search for trends.

          “I would say people’s perception is more important than cold stats,”

          Well, no, because people’s perceptions can be skewed, and indeed are subject to social conditioning.

          • Ranger says:

            “Lies, damned lies and statistics”!

          • Alan Stevens says:

            “Lies, damned lies and statistics”!

            But that’s where the power of numbers is used to support weak arguments, which is not the case here. If you want to read a book that uses statistical analysis sensibly then pick up a copy of Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything by Chicago economist Steven Levitt and New York Times journalist Stephen Dubner. You’ll be amazed at the hidden truths it reveals.

  15. Maria says:

    Test is incomplete since it left out Series 7 and the Classic Era. Sexism has been there from the very beginning of the show. Why should it be a surprise? Its shouldn’t. Nuff said.

    • Alan Stevens says:

      It doesn’t leave out season seven, the episode list extends up until “The Angels Take Manhattan”. It stops there because it would be unfair to assess Clara before she has left the series. Also, this has not impact on the scores for Rose, Martha Danna, Amy and River Song. Also sexism has not been there since the very beginning of Doctor Who. The first two seasons of the William Hartnell era does very well on the Bechdel Test.

  16. losinthetardis says:

    Ok, I did a quick internet search and found different people get different results with thi test. One person had the whole show in the 50s another had it in the 80s.

    It seems to me its all about how you apply the test. For example theepisode “the wedding of river song,” which is marked as a fail. Near the end of th episode River and Amy are talkng. The conversation starts out about the docter, but later covers the ethics of killing in an alternate dimension.

    • Alan Stevens says:

      ” “the wedding of river song,” which is marked as a fail. Near the end of th episode River and Amy are talkng. The conversation starts out about the docter, but later covers the ethics of killing in an alternate dimension.”

      Here is the conversation. I believe the piece you are referring to is this:

      AMY: The Doctor’s dead.
      RIVER: How are you doing?
      AMY: How do you think?
      RIVER: Well, I don’t know unless you tell me.
      AMY: I killed someone. Madame Kovarian, in cold blood.
      RIVER: In an aborted time line, in a world that never was.
      AMY: Yeah, but I can remember it, so it happened, so I did it. What does that make me now? I need to talk to the Doctor, but I can’t now, can I?
      RIVER: If you could talk to him, would it make a difference?
      AMY: But he’s dead, so, so I can’t.

      Basically it doen’t count because their conversation is still ostensibly about the Doctor. Amy’s saying that she killed someone, and feels bad about it, but the only person she feels she can discuss her feeling properly with is the Doctor.

    • Philip Bates says:

      Also in The Wedding of River Song, Amy talks to Kovarian about the latter kidnapping River; taking her daughter away from her. That’s a conversation between two women in which they don’t talk about a man, to my recollection. So yeah – good point.

      • Alan Stevens says:

        “Also in The Wedding of River Song, Amy talks to Kovarian about the latter kidnapping River; taking her daughter away from her. That’s a conversation between two women in which they don’t talk about a man, to my recollection.”

        Nope. Here’s the piece you’re talking about:

        KOVARIAN: Amy, help me.
        (Her eye drive is hanging off.)
        AMY: You took my baby from me and hurt her. And now she’s all grown up and she’s fine, but I’ll never see my baby again.
        KOVARIAN: But you’ll still save me, though. Because he would, and you’d never do anything to disappoint your precious Doctor.
        RORY: Ma’am, we have to go, now.
        AMY: The Doctor is very precious to me, you’re right. But do you know what else he is, Madame Kovarian? Not here.
        (Amy puts Kovarian’s eye drive back in place.)
        AMY: River Song didn’t get it all from you, sweetie.
        (Amy takes Rory’s arm and they leave as Kovarian starts screaming.)

        It doesn’t count because it’s also about the Doctor’s influence on Amy.

        • Philip Bates says:

          I don’t think it is. It shows she has a mind of her own. And judging by the infographic’s criteria – that a man, ie the Doctor, can only be mentioned slightly – it would pass.

          • Alan Stevens says:

            It does not pass because the conversation is basically about how Kavarian believes Amy tailors her actions to accommodate him.

        • losinthetardis says:

          But, you miss my point. Its not about your interpretation or my interpretation of these episodes or these conversations. My point was that different people pass or do not pass episodes based on there own perspectives. This creates an opportunity for confirmation bias.

          I mean we get into hairsplitting and the issue of what characters mean. I also wonder if this same standard is applied through the show. Would you say fail a conversation between Rose and her mother because they are talking about her being away and traveling because the are talking about her traveling with the doctor so that conversation is about a man in this case the doctor.

          All this makes a simple test far from simple.

          • Alan Stevens says:

            “But, you miss my point. Its not about your interpretation or my interpretation of these episodes or these conversations. My point was that different people pass or do not pass episodes based on there own perspectives. This creates an opportunity for confirmation bias.”

            Even then, it doesn’t matter, because if the test is conducted sensibly and the study clearly explains why something was counted, and why something else was not, then that will reduce conformation bias. And if the test results are that 7 out of twelve episodes failed the test, then that would suggest that a further, more rigorous analysis, should be called for. But even then that doesn’t mean the series will be found to be sexist. There may be many mitigations reasons why it failed the Bechdel Test. Maybe the Test wasn’t properly implemented.

            “Would you say fail a conversation between Rose and her mother because they are talking about her being away and traveling because the are talking about her traveling with the doctor so that conversation is about a man in this case the doctor.”

            It depends on the content of the conversation. Here’s two examples:

            Jackie: I’m fed up with washing your dirty knickers every time you come home.
            Rose: But the launderette burnt down last night.

            That would get a pass.

            Jackie: I’m fed up with washing your dirty knickers every time you come home.
            Rose: Sorry, but the Doctor keeps using them to wank himself off.

            That would get a fail.

          • losinthetardis says:

            More like this from army of ghosts

            Rose: I’ve got loads of wash for you. And I got you this.
            It’s from bazillium. When it gets cold yeah it means it’s going to rain. When it gets hot it’s going to be sunny. You can use it to tell the weather
            Jackie: I’ve got a surprise for you and all.
            Rose:oh. I get her bazillium, she doesn’t even say thanks.

            Not saying this is the only passing conversation from that episodes. But I thought I would use it as an example because of your laundry examples. In my book this would pass, but some might say rose was away and at bizillium because of the doctor and she is only getting a gift because she’s guilty about being away with the doctor so this conversation is about a man. Not what I think mind you. I think it’s a conversation about the gift rose got for her mother.

          • Alan Stevens says:

            “More like this from army of ghosts

            Rose: I’ve got loads of wash for you. And I got you this.
            It’s from bazillium. When it gets cold yeah it means it’s going to rain. When it gets hot it’s going to be sunny. You can use it to tell the weather
            Jackie: I’ve got a surprise for you and all.
            Rose:oh. I get her bazillium, she doesn’t even say thanks.

            Not saying this is the only passing conversation from that episodes. But I thought I would use it as an example because of your laundry examples. In my book this would pass,”

            I agree. This scene does pass. Rose has given her mother a load of dirty washing. She knows her mother isn’t going to be happy about this, so she tries to head the conversation off in another direction by giving her a present. Her mother spots the ruse, and calls her on it. Rose acts defensively, while still trying to keep the conversation away from the washing.

            The author of the study we are discussing gave “Army of Ghosts” a pass on the Bechdel Test.

          • losinthetardis says:

            I know this episode passed in the above study. That was my point. I was looking at an episode and conversation that did pass and was questioning the application of the test and the issue of looking at subtext and the fact that some episodes are being failed due to “what the characters really mean.” Like I said before it makes a simple test far from simple.

          • Alan Stevens says:

            Subtext exists in all drama. If you apply the test and ignore the subtext then, by definition, your application of the test is going to be flawed.

        • losinthetardis says:

          I broke down and ‘re watched the wedding of river song.

          The conversation we were talking about started like this:

          Amy: heard there was a freak meteor shower two miles away, so I got us a bottle
          River: thankful dear
          Amy: So where are we?
          River: I just climbed out of the Byzantium. You were so young. Didn’t have a clue who I was. You’re funny like that. Where are you?
          Amy: the doctor is dead.

          • Alan Stevens says:

            “The conversation we were talking about started like this:

            Amy: heard there was a freak meteor shower two miles away, so I got us a bottle
            River: thankful dear
            Amy: So where are we?
            River: I just climbed out of the Byzantium. You were so young. Didn’t have a clue who I was. You’re funny like that. Where are you?
            Amy: the doctor is dead.”

            The conversation doesn’t count and this is way. River’s life is wrapped around the Doctor’s. She was brought up to kill him and now, to all intents and purposes, that mission has been complete, however due to the nature of time travel, River has just returned fresh from an adventure with the Doctor and Amy. Amy’s since the age of 7 has been obsessed with the Doctor, she believes River has killed the Doctor and she feels sad about it, but knows that the Doctor’s death allows time to become “unstuck” and everyone now has a future, but for Amy that future seems bleak without the Doctor, because unlike River, her time with the Doctor seems over. That’s why only five lines into the conversation Amy says, “The Doctor is dead.” River however, has come to Earth to tell Rose that the Doctor’s death has actually been faked. So even this brief exchange is suffuse with memories and motivations concerning the Doctor.
            Now, look at the example I gave in my previous post:

            Jackie: I’m fed up with washing your dirty knickers every time you come home.
            Rose: But the launderette burnt down last night.

            Jackie is not thinking about the Doctor, she is thinking about Rose’s dirty knickers and the fact she has to wash them. Rose is also not thinking about the Doctor, she is instead thinking up an excuse as to why she has given her mother a load of knickers to wash, apparently the launderette has burnt down. There is no implication on Jackie’s part that the knickers are dirty because the Doctor has done something to them. There is no implication either that the only time Jackie gets a heap of knickers to wash is when Rose goes off with the Doctor. There could have been previous circumstances when Rose has gone away on holiday, only to return with knickers that needed to be washed. There is also no implication in this exchange that the Doctor was responsible for the fire at the launderette. The Doctor does not feature in the subtext of this conversation. Jackie and Rose are just talking about knickers and the washing of them.

          • losinthetardis says:

            Based on that it makes sense that River’s pass numbers are so low. Because even when she is talking to another woman about a topic that is not a man it is being failed because of subtext and her upbringing. This is doubly so if she is speaking to Amy based on her past. The study Singles out River pointing out how often her episodes fail and noting her lack of passing conversation s with Amy, but this seems to be the reason. Again it is a matters your perspective. One could look at that conversation as being the two characters getting an idea where in time they are in relationship to each other followed by a conversation about murder in a delegates time stream. Then about a man. Yes you could go in too there being a subtext, but that falls to interpretation.

          • Alan Stevens says:

            “Based on that it makes sense that River’s pass numbers are so low. Because even when she is talking to another woman about a topic that is not a man it is being failed because of subtext and her upbringing. This is doubly so if she is speaking to Amy based on her past.”

            It doesn’t help that River and Amy are so wrapped up with the Doctor, but the intent underlying the conversation you’ve quoted is still all about the Doctor. River is there to tell Amy that the Doctor is alive, and Amy has met with River, not because she wants to talk to her about the fact that she is River’s mother, but because, as the conversation subsequently reveals, she wants to talk to River about the Doctor.

            “Again it is a matters your perspective. One could look at that conversation as being the two characters getting an idea where in time they are in relationship to each other followed by a conversation about murder in a delegates time stream. Then about a man. Yes you could go in too there being a subtext, but that falls to interpretation.”

            No it doesn’t. The existence of a subtext is not determined by individual audience perspective. In this case the subtext has been deliberately placed within the text by the author. Someone may fail to see the subtext, or interpret the scene wrongly, but that’s got nothing to do with authorial intent.

      • losinthetardis says:

        Another example of this is in another episode marked as a fail, “eleventh hour.” Here Amy and Mrs. Angelo are talking about Amy’s work. Again it is a part of a larger conversation…but it seems to meet the test criteria

        • Alan Stevens says:

          “Another example of this…”

          It’s not another example, because the example given to excuse “The Wedding of River Song” also fails the test.

          “in another episode marked as a fail, “eleventh hour.” Here Amy and Mrs. Angelo are talking about Amy’s work. Again it is a part of a larger conversation…but it seems to meet the test criteria”

          Here is the conversation: Here is the conversation:

          DOCTOR: Hello! Sorry to burst in. We’re doing a special on television faults in this area. Also crimes. Let’s have a look.
          MRS ANGELO: I was just about to phone. It’s on every channel. Oh, hello, Amy dear. Are you a policewoman now?
          AMY: Well, sometimes.
          MRS ANGELO: I thought you were a nurse.
          AMY: I can be a nurse.
          MRS ANGELO: Or actually a nun?
          AMY: I dabble.
          MRS ANGELO: Amy, who is your friend?
          DOCTOR: Who’s Amy? You were Amelia.
          AMY: Yeah? Now I’m Amy.
          DOCTOR: Amelia Pond. That was a great name.
          AMY: Bit fairy tale.
          MRS ANGELO: I know you, don’t I? I’ve seen you somewhere before.
          DOCTOR: Not me. Brand new face First time on. And what sort of job’s a kissogram?
          AMY: I go to parties and I kiss people. With outfits. It’s a laugh.

          It doesn’t count because Amy is talking about her work as a kissogram (originally a stripogram), which is a job, by its very definition, that involves kissing (stripping) for men at parties.

          • Philip Bates says:

            It does count. It might be seen as sexist but that doesn’t stop it being a pass for the criteria of the Bechdel Test.

          • Alan Stevens says:

            Nope. It doesn’t count because it revolves around male interests, and so that’s why the study fails it.


          • You’ve just demonstrated why a theorem that calls itself a test to scrabble for much-needed respectability is completely unscientific.

            You’re aware of science, right? The Bechdel test is not it.

          • Alan Stevens says:

            Sorry Christian but attacking the messenger won’t change the result. “THe Eleventh Hour” fails the Bechdel test for the reasons I’ve stated.

          • TonyS says:

            Can someone please explain how the so-called Bechdel Test would be applied? The criteria appear to be: 1) the work must include at least two named women; 2) Who have a conversation with each other 3) that is not about men.

            Six lines of the conversation between Amy and Mrs Angelo in the Eleventh Hour are about Amy’s job as a kissogram. This is not about men. A kissogram may be a job that is for the gratification of men (although: massive assumption there) but the test says that the conversation not be about men.

            In fact, although the rest of that conversation includes the Doctor, it is scarcely about him.

            Without clearer guidance as to how the test is administered, we can dismiss it as being of any scientific validity.

            Though I am no doubt about to be shot down in flames for that…

          • Alan Stevens says:

            “Six lines of the conversation between Amy and Mrs Angelo in the Eleventh Hour are about Amy’s job as a kissogram. This is not about men.”

            She dresses up in various costumes so she can turn up at parties and kiss men. If there were no men in the world, then Amy wouldn’t have a job as a kissogram, or maybe she would be kissing other women instead, which would mean that it passed the Bechdel Test.

            “Though I am no doubt about to be shot down in flames for that…”

            Ratatatatatatatatatatatatatatatatatatatat….boom!

          • TonyS says:

            Not the best rebuttal I have ever read, Alan. Because kissograms usually perform for men does not make a conversation about the job a conversation about the customers. “What do they teach in schools nowadays?”

          • Alan Stevens says:

            “Not the best rebuttal I have ever read, Alan. Because kissograms usually perform for men does not make a conversation about the job a conversation about the customers.”

            The problem is that the customers are implicit. You could have conversation about being a barber which never once mentions cutting hair, but cutting hair is essential to the practice of being a barber. Equally, the humour of the conversation is derived explicitly from the fact that Amy is a woman who kisses men professionally, but which isn’t actually directly stated. Indeed, It wouldn’t be funny at all if she really was a policewoman who once happened to be a nun.

            Ratatatatatatatat… Ka-boom!

            “What do they teach in schools nowadays?”

            I don’t know. I left school in 1982.

  17. Philip Bates says:

    Hey everyone! Thanks for your comments. I just wanted to point out that this article was a response to the Bechdel Test infographic, but that further turned into a defense of the show. I am by no means saying that the Bechdel Test is the definitive one for sexism. I’m saying the test doesn’t seem sufficient to assess sexism. Thanks!

    • Alan Stevens says:

      “I am by no means saying that the Bechdel Test is the definitive one for sexism. I’m saying the test doesn’t seem sufficient to assess sexism.”

      This is what the author, in the article, says on the subject:

      ‘The purpose of this was to study trends. Yes, there may be outlier episodes where it’s only the companion and The Doctor, and will there for not pass the Bechdel test, but this research allows us to see where the overall show is going. Writing a woman who doesn’t talk as much is fine, but when it becomes an overall trend to have all of the female characters failing the Bechdel Test and not speaking, that is when it becomes a problem. If you truly were writing a diverse group of women, those outliers wouldn’t matter.’

      I think this is a good point, and one you appear to be ignoring.

      • Cynthia Y says:

        You just responded to the author..

        • Alan Stevens says:

          I was referring to the original author of the University Study on Sexism In BBC’s Doctor Who.

  18. Cynthia Y says:

    I agree with this: “it all comes down to perspective.”

    I always scratch my head when I see this. Especially when this always seem to be associated with Moffat. I’ve had (female) friends who chose to stop watching Doctor Who since Moffat took over because they believe he is sexist.

    First off, I’m a female Doctor Who fan and I am all for strong female characters. I LOVE Doctor Who and I don’t think it’s sexist – at least not to the extent that other people sees it and much less to the extent of a lot of shows on air these days.

    I have heard (through the grapevine) that Moffat had made “seemingly” sexist remarks in the past. I’ve watched him in interviews and such and my personal opinion of him is he has a very sarcastic/dark humor – to a point that I think it may seem offensive to some people if they take it out of context. I have not once felt threatened or offended by any of his remarks. But then maybe he “toned down” his jokes recently as a response to how others are reacting – I don’t know. In fact, his jokes tend to be more self-deprecating than anything. He may use a woman as an example in a joke but I think that’s where people get touchy – “Oh he used a woman in a joke!” Um really…if that’s all one is needed to be offended then we have a very difficult world to live in.

    With that said, I don’t usually go crazy regarding anything involving “scientific” test results – especially tests involving topics as subjective as this. If anyone really pays careful attention to the “disclaimer” of these tests (any test really), one will find that even the people who came up with these test aren’t always advocates of their own creations. I have a technical background so when I see things like this I question the sample size, the variables involving the subjects of the tests, the diversity of the subjects etc. The Infograph tells me nothing. One of the questions I have when looking at the Infograph is: what the hell does “Female speaking time” even mean? What if the character spends most of her time in action and doesn’t have much to say? Ok so it’s TV and what’s the point of being an actor if you don’t talk? Right, but you can act right? And also, what about the substance of what’s being said? I would rather hear a female character say little but of something with substance instead of rambling on and on and on about nothing. I mean, would a reality show (such as “Keeping up with the Kardashians”) pass the Bechdel Test then?

    If Steven Moffat is sexist then writers of Classic Who would fail miserably. I enjoy Classic Who tremendously but in the era it was created, sexism is more difficult to avoid because that was the society then. However, Classic Who made some attempts to break through the barrier by hiring female staff for traditionally male roles (though few). Writers make an attempt to allow the female companions to fight back (e.g. Tegan getting offended when the First Doctor told her to go make some tea in “The Five Doctors”; and Polly – if I remember correctly – a few times in various serials when she was asked to make tea/coffee by male characters and complained about it etc.). The writers even create roles traditionally for men to be lead by an actress (e.g. Captain Briggs in Earthshock). Albeit, they are few and far between they did make an attempt (unfortunately, majority of the inhabitants of other planets/universe are of the male gender).

    I personally think that on the scale of sexism with Moffat as the reference point, Classic Who is more sexist than Moffat’s era. The Doctor tend to ask the male companions to join him on more “dangerous” tasks and always ask the female companions to stay behind (quote the Fifth Doctor “For my peace of mind” when Tegan asked what use would she be for staying behind). But of course, the female companions would never listen and just go off on their own. However, most often than not they always seem to end up needing to be rescued.

    It may not come as a surprise that my favorite female companions from Classic Who are Zoe Heriot, LIz Shaw, Leela and Romana I. They are strong/smart female characters especially for the era they were created. They tend to be able to think for themselves and question anything the Doctor throws at them. Albeit they do scream, (apart from Zoe) dressed in such a way that can be questionable (don’t tell me this isn’t obvious), and manages to get caught and gives up too easily to try to escape.

    Steven Moffat, on the other hand, makes many attempts to build strong female characters successfully. As much as I am not too crazy about his last 3 seasons (all of them!), I don’t think he is sexist towards his female characters. In fact, I think RTD’s female characters are probably more stereotypically and obviously female than Moffat’s. Why do Rose and Martha have to fall for the Doctor? I find romance to be a very female thing to do – especially for a protagonist who is mysterious, smart and brave (typical?). Sure, Martha is a medical doctor but she still falls for the Doctor. It’s like she can’t function in the TARDIS without falling for the Doctor – we’ve already had Rose, we got it, no need for another one LOL.

    One of the arguments I hear a lot about why Moffat is sexist is that the female companions can’t seem to function without the Doctor’s existence. Here’s what people need to remember: the show is called Doctor Who. Everything revolves around the Doctor. All the companions need the Doctor – even the male companions! And about these male companions..I’ll get to that in a bit.

    What Moffat did that RTD didn’t do is put the focus of the show back on to the Doctor. Just because we don’t know much about the female companions nor any character development does not automatically make Moffat a sexist. Why does a female character must have some sort of career and not be stuck in a traditional female role to be considered a “strong” character? Why does she have to have an interesting background story to be a strong female character? Let’s look at Amy. She was a little girl when she first met the Doctor. She got upset as an adult because she felt the Doctor broke his promise to come back for her. She gave up waiting for the crazy man who became her friend who promised an adventure with him as a little girl. Just like what this article said – the Doctor is her imaginary friend in true form. She was a little girl who doesn’t seem to have much going on in her life. If Amy was a boy, how would that have changed anything? Moffat would probably not be called a sexist. Amy is a strong character. When she was stuck in “The Girl Who Waited” she fend for herself didn’t she? Of course she had to wait for the Doctor, why? Because she went into that world with him and who else is going to get her out but the Doctor? No, this does not imply that Amy can’t be independent and needed the Doctor (as many pro-sexist advocates like to argue). Just like any companion who have no knowledge of the universe she needs the Doctor. It’s that simple!

    Now let’s get to the male companions. If Moffat was sexist, wouldn’t you think he would’ve given the male companions more bravery, strength and smarts? And make the female companions wimpy? Let’s take Rory for example, he doesn’t seem very brave to me for the longest time. Amy was the one that seem to have no fear about travelling with the Doctor and the only thing Rory seemed to do in the beginning was get jealous at the Doctor. Sure, that’s a strong male role for you (not). And Craig – being a “single dad” because Sophie was too tired of taking care of their son. Sophie was worried he couldn’t take care of Alfie on his own so left some phone numbers in case he needs help. Well he did struggle a bit didn’t he? However, with the Doctor’s help he managed to do a better job than he and Sophie thought he was capable of doing. If this isn’t Moffat’s way of showing respect for the hard work mothers go through and is considered sexist then I am not sure what people have been watching.

    So that’s my point. There are far more examples to use to counter the sexism argument but this can go on forever.

    Finally, again I strongly agree with this “it all comes down to perspective.” Sexism is a strong word and really shouldn’t be misused. If we want to throw sexism around like we use the word “me” (for example) then everything is sexist. Name me one show today that doesn’t favor one gender over another by making the other gender less “strong”. If I use the word “sexist” like some of these critics of Doctor Who do, I have seen more sexist movies and shows than what Doctor Who is. Don’t pick on Doctor Who just because, pick on other shows & movies as well (I can think of plenty).

    • Alan Stevens says:

      “I agree with this: “it all comes down to perspective.”

      That’s true, and the above article is written from a privileged male perspective.

      “First off, I’m a female Doctor Who fan and I am all for strong female characters. I LOVE Doctor Who and I don’t think it’s sexist – at least not to the extent that other people sees it and much less to the extent of a lot of shows on air these days.”

      Er… so you do believe it’s sexist then?

      “I have heard (through the grapevine) that Moffat had made “seemingly” sexist remarks in the past. I’ve watched him in interviews and such and my personal opinion of him is he has a very sarcastic/dark humor – to a point that I think it may seem offensive to some people if they take it out of context. I have not once felt threatened or offended by any of his remarks. But then maybe he “toned down” his jokes recently as a response to how others are reacting – I don’t know.”

      Er.. so you’re saying Moffat could be sexist?

      “I have a technical background so when I see things like this I question the sample size, the variables involving the subjects of the tests, the diversity of the subjects etc. The Infograph tells me nothing. One of the questions I have when looking at the Infograph is: what the hell does “Female speaking time” even mean?”

      That means the amount of lines a female character has.

      “What if the character spends most of her time in action and doesn’t have much to say?”
      In every episode?

      ” I would rather hear a female character say little but of something with substance instead of rambling on and on and on about nothing.”

      So, you believe the if a woman companion was given more dialogue to say, all she would come out with would be irrelevancies? And you’re a woman?

      “If Steven Moffat is sexist then writers of Classic Who would fail miserably. I enjoy Classic Who tremendously but in the era it was created, sexism is more difficult to avoid because that was the society then. ”

      And yet three eras of classic Who pass the Bechdel Test. The producers were Lambert (1963-1965), Williams (197701978) and Cartmel (1987-1989).

      “One of the arguments I hear a lot about why Moffat is sexist is that the female companions can’t seem to function without the Doctor’s existence. Here’s what people need to remember: the show is called Doctor Who. Everything revolves around the Doctor. All the companions need the Doctor – even the male companions! And about these male companions..I’ll get to that in a bit.”

      The show has always been called Doctor Who, and yet it is only in Nu Who that the female companions have literally become obsessed with the Doctor. Even when poor old Sarah Jane returned, it had to have her as some lonely old fool, pining after the Doctor, while forever driving around with a clapped out K9 in the back of her car.

      “What Moffat did that RTD didn’t do is put the focus of the show back on to the Doctor. Just because we don’t know much about the female companions nor any character development does not automatically make Moffat a sexist. Why does a female character must have some sort of career and not be stuck in a traditional female role to be considered a “strong” character?”

      But it’s not really an issue of “strong characters,” but more one of well rounded, believable female characters.

      ” Why does she have to have an interesting background story to be a strong female character?”

      She doesn’t. ‘Strong female character’ is an imprecise term, that could be interpreted by some as just a woman who knows how to use a gun.

      “Let’s look at Amy. She was a little girl when she first met the Doctor. She got upset as an adult because she felt the Doctor broke his promise to come back for her.”

      So upset that she hit him with a cricket bat on their next meeting.

      “She gave up waiting for the crazy man who became her friend who promised an adventure with him as a little girl. Just like what this article said – the Doctor is her imaginary friend in true form. She was a little girl who doesn’t seem to have much going on in her life. If Amy was a boy, how would that have changed anything?”

      It wouldn’t have changed anything. However, Amy then takes this obsession into her adult life, and even visits a psychiatrist. This is not normal behaviour for anyone.

      “Moffat would probably not be called a sexist. Amy is a strong character. When she was stuck in “The Girl Who Waited””

      Interesting title. Not “The Woman Who Waited” I note.

      “If Moffat was sexist, wouldn’t you think he would’ve given the male companions more bravery, strength and smarts?”

      Because that would distract from the Doctor.

      “And Craig – being a “single dad” because Sophie was too tired of taking care of their son.”

      Sophie was at work.

      “Sophie was worried he couldn’t take care of Alfie on his own so left some phone numbers in case he needs help. Well he did struggle a bit didn’t he? However, with the Doctor’s help he managed to do a better job than he and Sophie thought he was capable of doing. If this isn’t Moffat’s way of showing respect for the hard work mothers go through and is considered sexist then I am not sure what people have been watching.”

      This doesn’t make any sense. How many ‘hard working mothers’ do you know have an alien for a child, get sucked into a wardrobe and then have to battle life sized murderous dolls?

      “Finally, again I strongly agree with this “it all comes down to perspective.” Sexism is a strong word and really shouldn’t be misused. If we want to throw sexism around like we use the word “me” (for example) then everything is sexist. Name me one show today that doesn’t favor one gender over another by making the other gender less “strong”.”

      Orphan Black. In The flesh, for another.

      “I have seen more sexist movies and shows than what Doctor Who is. Don’t pick on Doctor Who just because, pick on other shows & movies as well (I can think of plenty).”

      The Bechdel Test was originally devised for movies. Just because you like Doctor Who doesn’t mean that show should somehow be exempt from criticism.

      • Philip Bates says:

        “the above article is written from a privileged male perspective.” I am male, but that doesn’t mean my perspective is invalid and it doesn’t mean that other people, regardless of gender, don’t agree with it.

        “so you’re saying Moffat could be sexist?” No, she’s saying that Moffat has a dark sense of humour that some could call sexist, not that he IS sexist.

        “So, you believe the if a woman companion was given more dialogue to say, all she would come out with would be irrelevancies? And you’re a woman?” Wow. That is taking what she is saying completely out of context.

        “Even when poor old Sarah Jane returned, it had to have her as some lonely old fool, pining after the Doctor, while forever driving around with a clapped out K9 in the back of her car.” If I’d travelled through time and space then got dropped off for no good reason, I’d pine for those days too! That’s just realistic. And just because previous companions haven’t made goo-goo eyes at him doesn’t mean they didn’t obsess over the Doctor.

        “So upset that she hit him with a cricket bat on their next meeting.” An intruder who can’t possibly be there because he hasn’t changed at all in the subsequent years.

        “Interesting title. Not “The Woman Who Waited” I note.” It’s quite notable, but not for a sexist argument.

        • Alan Stevens says:

          “”the above article is written from a privileged male perspective.””

          “I am male, but that doesn’t mean my perspective is invalid and it doesn’t mean that other people, regardless of gender, don’t agree with it.”

          No, but it could mean that your perspective is skewed. Which we know is the case anyway, because, male privilege aside, you have stated in your article and in the comments section here, that the reason you write the rebuttal in the first place was to defend the show you “love.”

          ““so you’re saying Moffat could be sexist?””

          “No, she’s saying that Moffat has a dark sense of humour that some could call sexist, not that he IS sexist.”

          That’s a supposition. The author of this comment can only speak for herself. Perhaps she’ll agree with you. Who knows?

          ““So, you believe the if a woman companion was given more dialogue to say, all she would come out with would be irrelevancies? And you’re a woman?””

          “Wow. That is taking what she is saying completely out of context.”

          Would you please explain how you think I have taken this completely out of context?

          ““Even when poor old Sarah Jane returned, it had to have her as some lonely old fool, pining after the Doctor, while forever driving around with a clapped out K9 in the back of her car.””
          ” If I’d travelled through time and space then got dropped off for no good reason, I’d pine for those days too! That’s just realistic.”

          But SJS did it for 28 years? Do you call that normal behaviour?

          ” And just because previous companions haven’t made goo-goo eyes at him doesn’t mean they didn’t obsess over the Doctor.”

          I think it doesn’t you know. Author intent, and all that. Indeed, the idea that SJS was had “goo-goo eyes” for the Doctor at all is a total retcon, and they had to ignore “The Five Doctors” to do it.

          ““So upset that she hit him with a cricket bat on their next meeting.””

          ” An intruder who can’t possibly be there because he hasn’t changed at all in the subsequent years.”

          It implication of the scene is that she new exactly who he was, and did it for revenge. We’ll go through it line by line if you like.

          ““Interesting title. Not “The Woman Who Waited” I note.””

          “It’s quite notable, but not for a sexist argument.”

          Surely Amy is a woman, not a girl?

    • James Mclean says:

      Some interesting points. I think what classic Who did wasn’t create strong female characters in Tegan or even Sarah Jane, they created counter-points to female sexism, which is to say, for instance, Tegan saying she’d refuse to make the tea, as a hypothetical example, would not really be there to sustain Tegan as a strong person, but to point out how some strong girls would bulk at being told to go make the tea as it could be considered sexist: it’s a statement gesture rather than a suggestion of character. These aren’t a bad thing, especially in the 70s, but ultimately, you take Sarah Jane or Tegan, the strength of the characters comes really from the performance of the actress rather than the writers.

      There was a lot of fail in old Who. There is no question of that. As stated, there are clearly defined eras where the playing field was far more level – and you don’t need any bench test to see where they are, and where they aren’t.

      You query why a strong female character has to have a background, it’s because a background will help the audience understand why she is who she is as a person. This is where the test shows up Amy (not that you needed a test) as her character is entirely spun around the Doctor. Rory is not. Rory’s background imbues his personality.

      Rory is a caring guy, Rory is a nurse. Rory loves Amy totally. All three attributes dovetail make a real character.

      Amy is feisty and angry because of the Doctor, Amy is a Kissogram, Amy is obsessed with the Raggedy Man. None of these characteristics really tell you anything about the person beyond her interest in the Doctor and an arbitrary Carry-On gag.

      In fairness, you could say the Kissogram is an example of how displaced she is, but it’s never really explored so far as how she ended up there, it’s never explored how she feels about it, what she would rather be doing, etc etc. Everything about her is fixated on the Doctor. Clara is the same sadly – I enjoy Coleman’s performance, but her world is totally spun around the Doctor. If you feel she’s a strong character, as so often in Doctor Who one can with many characters, it’s down to the actor/actress, rather than the material. If you look at Clara, you take away the Doctor’s aspect, what are you left with? A good test is whether you can sum up a character in one sentence without using the Doctor.

      Barbara Wright is strong minded, compassionate woman with a love of History who will trapped in Time with her friend Ian is desperate to get home.

      Clara is a sassy, feisty girl… who is a teacher and wants adventures?

      Ace is a young angry teenager, lost in time and space with a love of explosives and a lack of direction.

      Harry Sullivan is an old school navy doctor who struggles keeping up with current social conventions with a public school manner but an honest willingness to aid those in trouble.

      Melanie Bush is a computer expert who… dunno.. screams? (Why does someone who is so frightened by everything go with the Doctor?)

      Rose Tyler is a young girl bored with the conventions of social routine looking for something more than what she has.

      Donna Noble is an adult who uses anger to hide her own insecurities and being unable to live up to her mother’s expectations or find any role in life that suits.

      Like I said, old series is not perfect, and I agree with Alan, that even the RTD era of girls, who I think are written pretty well, do rely a lot on the Doctor thread, but they do stand up by themselves. Take away Amy, River and Clara’s roles with the Doctor and take away their actresses, you really don’t have anything there but smart one-liners. That’s the inherent problem I think with the Moffat girls. Take them away from the Doctor and what do you have? I think Moffat can write good males because it’s easier to write our own sex than the opposing one.

      I would also recommend Orphan Black as an excellent current example of really good female writing.

      • Alan Stevens says:

        “I would also recommend Orphan Black as an excellent current example of really good female writing.”

        A series which, interestingly, was created by two men, screenwriter Graeme Manson and director John Fawcett.

  19. TimeChaser says:

    This test definitely sounds narrow in its requirements. You could argue the classic series was more sexist because the girls were always asked to make the tea and the Doctor and the Brigadier wouldn’t let them go off into danger. I’m thinking of that scene in The Invasion where Isobel wants photos of the Cybermen and the Brig shoots her down saying “You’re a young woman. This is a job for my men.”

    • Alan Stevens says:

      But the Brig is being sexist. He’s even called a “bigoted, anti-feminist” in the story.

  20. Alec Fane says:

    This is as tired and redundant a topic as it was the last 600 times its corpse was kicked to make a fresh stink.

    You can find examples of gender stereotyping in just about everything. Male grooming products endorsed by footballers because no male anywhere has ever aspired to anything other than being the new Messi. Or feminine hygiene products in pink wrapping, because all woman love Barbie. Sports cars sold with the image of a middle aged man and his trophy girlfriend, family cars sold with the image of a car pool mother packing everything and everyone in like a Tetris goddess.

    As for sexism in writing, how the fuck do they get up the nerve to point fingers at male writers and scream sexist with writers like Tamara Rose Blodgett around? Seriously, a female writer writing female leads who, without exception, are helpless victims.

    • Alan Stevens says:

      “You can find examples of gender stereotyping in just about everything. Male grooming products endorsed by footballers because no male anywhere has ever aspired to anything other than being the new Messi. Or feminine hygiene products in pink wrapping, because all woman love Barbie. Sports cars sold with the image of a middle aged man and his trophy girlfriend, family cars sold with the image of a car pool mother packing everything and everyone in like a Tetris goddess.”

      All of this is true.

      “As for sexism in writing, how the fuck do they get up the nerve to point fingers at male writers and scream sexist with writers like Tamara Rose Blodgett around? Seriously, a female writer writing female leads who, without exception, are helpless victims.”

      That just makes Tamara Rose Blodgett a fellow traveller. It’s doesn’t invalidate the criticism.


  21. I completely agree. I do not find Doctor Who, especially under Moffat, sexist at all. The female characters are all AMAZING characters. They are important, intelligent, strong in mind and will–you have to be to run with the Doctor. Amy is such a strong person. She repeatedly has patience and makes very difficult decisions. Karen Gillan said that what she learned most from Amy was to “choose your husband,” which is awesome because that was the most heart-breaking decision she ever had to make. Clara is awesome. I mean, come on, she’s the Doctor’s savior. And I totally agree that she shows strength and courage despite her fear.

    • Alan Stevens says:

      A strong woman whose entire live revolves around the Doctor or her husband.

  22. Mugen Pharoah says:

    There’s bigger fish to fry out there in terms of sexism e.g. Music industry/ video games than Who.

    The Doctor does, at many times in his lives, fit in to the white authoritative male patriarchal kind of archetype, but at least he stands for justice and fairness and he doesn’t go around bonking his way across the galaxies. Basically it could be much worse, like Harry Enfield’s On The Tardis…

    I think the answer is, yes, Who is a bit sexist but it’s because it’s a 21st century television show, and it reflects the society that produced it……..it’s not being deliberately sexist…

    All this test was meant to be was thought provoking, and judging by the amount of comments here it’s succeeded!

    • Alan Stevens says:

      “There’s bigger fish to fry out there in terms of sexism e.g. Music industry/ video games than Who.”

      So Doctor Who gets a free pass because there are worst offenders?

      “The Doctor does, at many times in his lives, fit in to the white authoritative male patriarchal kind of archetype, but at least he stands for justice and fairness”

      But only justice and fairness as viewed from the perspective of the white authoritative male patriarchal archetype.;-)

      • TonyS says:

        If the Doctor is, or has been, or will be a “white authoritative male patriarchal kind of archetype”, how else is he meant to stand for justice and fairness? He cannot be what he is not.

        Does this whole thread fail the Bechdel test? What is the pass rate anyway? Are there certificates? A trophy? A week’s holiday for two in Essex (Barking, in case you were wondering)?

        • Alan Stevens says:

          “Does this whole thread fail the Bechdel test?”

          I think it’s heading that way.:-)

  23. Devon says:

    Well, if we’re going to get down to brass tacks, the Doctor is technically a gender fluid alien so the whole “talking about a man” aspect of the test doesn’t really work. If a 900 year old time-traveling alien landed a blue box in my yard I’d probably spend a good amount of my time discussing said alien. Cheeky intellectual dishonesty aside, I found things annoying in both eras of NuWho. While I tolerated Rose’s googly eyes for the Doctor, by Martha I was over it. Not that their reactions were necessarily stereotypical, most companions love the Doctor (Craig anyone?), how could you not? I do like Amy as a character, because she feels like a real person. I agree with the above commenter that felt Clara was very robotic and unrelatable, hopefully her writing is better in season 8.

    More interesting than the question of whether it is sexist, I find the observation that DW tends to reflect our current societal norms. Rather than bash the writers or the BBC I would just like to watch the natural progression to equality and be able to look back on the show in 20 years and be proud of where we came from. If we look beyond the script to the overarching story of Doctor Who, gender becomes irrelevant. The Doctor needs us as much as we need him, and that’s what it’s about. Coexisting with, learning from, and supporting other people, so that we can ultimately triumph over evil and despair.

    • Alan Stevens says:

      “Well, if we’re going to get down to brass tacks, the Doctor is technically a gender fluid alien so the whole “talking about a man” aspect of the test doesn’t really work.”

      And yet every incarnation of the Doctor has so far been played by a male actor.

      “More interesting than the question of whether it is sexist, I find the observation that DW tends to reflect our current societal norms. Rather than bash the writers or the BBC I would just like to watch the natural progression to equality and be able to look back on the show in 20 years and be proud of where we came from.”

      Wouldn’t be better if Doctor Who was a force for change, and no something that just reflected stereotypical views of its time? If the producers went for the latter, then the show would certainly age better, and we wouldn’t have to feel any embarrassed about current Doctor Who when we watch it again 20 years from now.


      • Anyone who is “embarrassed” by the TV show they profess to love is clearly watching the wrong TV show.

        • Alan Stevens says:

          Don’t you find the Myrka embarrassing? Would you really sit down with a bunch of none Doctor Who fans, show them “The Doctor’s Daughter” and say, “That’s why I watch this series. Aren’t the Hath totally convincing? Look there, that fish has just drowned!”


          • I suppose I probably suspend my disbelief :)

            Seriously though, fair point. Although I don’t dislike the Myrka all that much. Time and the Rani, on the other hand…

          • Alan Stevens says:

            Did you know “Time and the Rani” is the only Sylvester McCoy story that fails the Bechdel Test. I told Andrew Cartmel this at the DWAS even last Sunday. He seemed pleased.:-)


  24. I’m going to pull everyone out of the discussion for a moment and just say thank you to Phil for writing what I think is the best counter argument to Rebecca Moore’s blog post and an excellent response to the sensationalist reports it generated in the press.

    Also, a big thank you to *everyone* taking the time to comment, regardless of viewpoint, in one of the richest and mature discussions we’ve ever had here. :)

    • Alan Stevens says:

      “Also, a big thank you to *everyone* taking the time to comment, regardless of viewpoint, in one of the richest and mature discussions we’ve ever had here. :)”

      It’s been a pleasure.:-)

    • TonyS says:

      Yes. Thank you, Phil. It is an excellent article and has produced lively debate. It has been fun :)

  25. Ranger says:

    But what if the Doctor was being portrayed by a woman? I would think that the number of times that a female companion is talking to another woman about the (female)Doctor would be exactly the same – because the Doctor is the dominant figure in the show. It just happens that the Doctor is being portrayed by a man. (And I am not starting the whole “the Doctor should be played by a woman” debate over again!)

    Let’s face it – there are always going to be differences between how women and men act, feel and behave and always someone to call sexism (which works both ways of course). All I want are characters, whether male or female, who are depicted in a realistic way (admittedly in an unrealistic programme!).

    • Alan Stevens says:

      “But what if the Doctor was being portrayed by a woman? I would think that the number of times that a female companion is talking to another woman about the (female)Doctor would be exactly the same – because the Doctor is the dominant figure in the show.”

      The problem isn’t that she talks to other women about the Doctor, but rather the fact that she doesn’t speak very often about anything else, and that doesn’t compare very well with other eras of the show. Indeed, there’s even been a decrease since the RTD era.

      “All I want are characters, whether male or female, who are depicted in a realistic way (admittedly in an unrealistic programme!).”

      And that’s all I want. :-)

  26. Paul McGann's Cat says:

    Sexism is not created by a male lead. Television is not an medium where equality must be straight down the middle. If it ever got to that stage then artistry would be compromised and that would apply just as much if the Doctro were female and the companions mostly male (a scenario in which no doubt there would be accusations that women were unfairly outnumbered by male characters).

    Too many supposed advocates of fairness lose sight of what real equality is in the modern era..

    • Alan Stevens says:

      “Sexism is not created by a male lead.”

      That’s true. It created through how the other characters relate to the lead and each other.

      “Television is not an medium where equality must be straight down the middle.”

      No one has suggested it should, however, television should also not be biased against 49.76 percent of the Earth’s population.

      ” If it ever got to that stage then artistry would be compromised and that would apply just as much if the Doctro were female and the companions mostly male (a scenario in which no doubt there would be accusations that women were unfairly outnumbered by male characters).”

      But no one is suggesting that should be the case either.

      “Too many supposed advocates of fairness lose sight of what real equality is in the modern era..”

      And what would you say that “real equality” was?

      • Ranger says:

        Going totally off-topic – is that a honey badger on your avatar Alan? They are amazing animals.

  27. Alan Stevens says:

    It is and they are.:)

  28. unibot says:

    Something from RTD’s era that always annoyed me was his penchant for writing all of the mothers of companions as complete witches. I mean, they were *all* pieces of work. :P And the father figures were always considered more endearing…


    • Sound like mother in laws to me ;)

  29. Alan Stevens says:

    Also the fathers were always absent in some form.

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