If you follow everything I do slavishly (and why wouldn’t you?) you’ll know that a little over a year ago, I wrote a piece about the absence of female writers in Doctor Who.
This week two writers tweeted that they were writing for the forthcoming series of Doctor Who (series 8) and with only a couple of slots left unfilled, it seems pretty conclusive that we now know all the writers for this series.
And it looks as if my year old article is still, sadly, relevant. We’re now looking at an unbroken 74 episode run of male writers, with no women writing the show since 2008 and not a single line written by a woman spoken by the 11th Doctor at all.
Obviously, this is not the result I thought my article would have. So I’ll just take a moment to nurse my ego after the discovery that I am not actually, really very influential. And, although my article got a lot of attention when it was published, clearly, it’s real world effects have been minimal. Poor, poor irrelevant me.
But it’s not just me you should be feeling sorry for. It’s everyone. Because this is a problem and not just one of balance or sexism. This really effects the kind of show that is being made now and it effects what is going to be made in the future, because one of the reasons we get less women doing certain things in the public eye is precisely because we have less women doing those things in the public eye. (This also works for the things less men do.) Because role models and examples of what certain types of people can do and get to do are important.
Only men write Doctor Who now, but only men writers is really not cool.
The barrage of voice piling up about the way women are written in Doctor lately are so huge it is hard to know where to begin listing the problems that need to be addressed. This tumblr tho, keeps a decent record. You might be gone a long time if you follow that link, and that’s the point.
And it’s not that female writers would automatically solve this problem, but, is it crazy to think they might help?
And if you don’t agree with that, if you are ready with an argument about why this isn’t actually, a problem, let me stop your arguing now, because I have been here before and I am ready to address your concerns.
When I wrote that first article a few people got int touch with me to tell me why my objections were a problem and my ideas of letting women do things were potentially simply disastrous ways those things could be ruined. Here are a few of them with some simple answers.
But we Should Just Get the Best Writers aka What is a Female Writer Anyway?
Because surely, as a lot of people said to me, the thing is to get all the best people to write the show. What do we have to have quotas?
(Ah, quotas. Not that a list of 100% male writers year on year suggests any kind of pre-existing quota.)
But, of course, yes, getting the best people is a great idea. And it’s such a great idea, I’m sure it’s occurred to most people. I’m sure every person making any show or making anything whatsoever has an aim to get the best people to make it. But where do they get those people? You can’t ask everyone. What filters do you use? How do you begin the task of choosing the best writers for anything? What does ‘the best people’ even mean.
And saying ‘don’t get women, get the best people, carries quite a heavy implication of who you think ‘the best people’ actually are. If you really were choosing the very best people in a meritocracy, you probably wouldn’t keep ending up with a list of 6-8 men.
Stella Duffy wrote a nice piece about how, only choosing men, or only choosing from any subset of all-of-the-people actually leaves you with a lower quality product (she’s writing about casting and theatre, but the same principles apply.)
If you think that choosing the very best writers would inevitably lead to all male writers, you probably actually think that men are better at writing things, or better at writing this thing than women are. And if you think that, okay you think that, but that’s not the same argument as ‘just get the best people’.
Are the current writers of Doctor Who the best people? I don’t know. People complain about the writing on Doctor Who a lot these days. I think they complained less a few series ago when we had magnificent strings of incredible episodes like Human Nature-Family of Blood-Blink-Utopia or Silence in the Library-Forest of the Dead-Midnight-Turn Left.
(Yes, none of those excellent episodes were written by women. You might be able to work out why I might find it a bit hard to find a string of killer Doctor Who episodes written by women.)
Women Don’t Like Doctor Who
Another thing that was said to me when my original article came out was that the men who write Doctor Who now are long timey-wimey Doctor Who fans. They have loved the show as kids, mourned its long walk in the wilderness, rejoiced in it’s return. The thing about that is, those people aren’t all men. They simply aren’t. There are lots of female Doctor Who fans who loved the show as kids too. I’m one and I’ve met others. Maybe they aren’t so vocal in certain groups, but they certainly exist. Doctor is not a men-only fandom. Not now and not then either.
Perhaps all the Doctor Who fans you know are men. But you don’t know all Doctor Who fans. It’s a popular, iconic show. It would take ages to meet everyone who cares about it. It means a lot to a lot of people.
And if you are wondering why so many women are critical of Doctor Who because of sexism, it is because they love this show too. Do you really think so many women would be upset about The Doctor indulging in hilair bantz about how women are the cause of all his troubles (not, like Daleks), if we didn’t care deeply about this world too?
(Not that this is even an issue. Even if there were no female long-standing Doctor Who fans, there still might be women who would be great at writing the show.)
We asked some women but the women were busy.
Obviously women are very busy having babies and choosing shoes. So there is that.
When I wrote the original article at least one female writer commented that she had been asked to write for the show and hadn’t been able to fit it into her schedule.
And, of course, if she had, I wouldn’t be writing this article. Fate is cruel.
Obviously assembling a team of writers is a complicated business to do with balance and scheduling. This whole thing could be a run of bad luck and statistical anomalies. However, if you are only asking too few women, maybe that’s the problem. On the other hand, if you are asking lots of women and they are all saying no, maybe you have another problem.
If you threw a party and none of the women you invited came, you probably wouldn’t think it was because the women were all too busy.
Doctor Who is often talked about as a super flexible show. It’s longevity is due, in part, to it’s ability to set stories anywhere and at anytime, the flexibility of the lead character to transform and the sheer scope of the TARDIS. So it is super sad to see its horizons narrowing like this.
As the amazing Stella Duffy said in my original piece :
“We can knock and knock, but if they won’t let us in, we’ll never get to see how big the TARDIS really might be inside. Right now, the TARDIS only holds men, so maybe it’s not that big, after all.”
It’s a year later and women are still knocking.
(Now let’s see how influential I am this year.)