Thursday, 28 March 2013

Women Writing Doctor Who

The novelist Stella Duffy and TV writer Helen Raynor are completely right when they point out how few Doctor Who stories have been written by women. It's ludicrous and pitiful, really. Raynor's own episodes are a distinguished exception to the norm, and were produced under the reign of Russell T Davies a number of years ago. The current crop of episodes in the 50th anniversary season seem, from a perusal of this week's Radio Times, uniformly Boys' Clubbish in terms of both writing and direction.

I'll not talk here about women writers in TV, or women writers in genre generally, or even women in science fiction and fantasy. There are brilliant women in all those fields, having their work produced and published.

But Doctor Who is a funny one, isn't it? For a show that seems so progressive in all sorts of ways...  it can be a bit behindhand at times.

There's no excuse for this, though. They need to sort it out. And it isn't good enough to suggest that Doctor Who is 'traditionally' the preserve of uptight, white, middle class male writers, and that it's everso tricky to change that - even in 2013.

Come on - not so long ago EVERYTHING was the preserve of uptight, white, middle class males...

And - while we're on - can i just say I thought the presentation of Amy Pond in Doctor Who was a bit sexist as well?

Old style Doctor Who had a few, rare, wonderful examples of Doctor Who written by women. Barbara Clegg wrote 'Enlightenment' for 1984's season - a rollicking metaphysical space opera featuring sailing ships racing through the solar system. The original show's run came to a close in 1989 with Rona Munro's 'Survival' - which, with its blend of suburbia and alien exotica, now seems very much ahead of its time.

Doctor Who appears in other formats than TV, of course - and some its greatest, most imaginative stories appear not on BBC 1 but in audio form or as novels. Two of the great stars of the literary Doctor Who universe are two i'd like to nominate for TV writing duties. Both Kate Orman and Jacqueline Rayner were writing original Who fiction and scripts back in the Nineties and continue to do so to this day. They've produced wonderful stories. 

I'd like to point up, in particular, Rayner's audio epic from Big finish productions, 'Doctor Who and the Pirates', in which Colin Baker gets to shine as he never did on TV. A whole episode is played out in Gilbert and Sullivan pastiche. It's a stunning piece of work. The same author's theme-park-gone-crazy novel, 'Earthworld' has just been republished in paperback - part of a range that took Eighth Doctor Paul McGann into future, phantasmagorical worlds.

Kate Orman's first Who novel came out twenty years ago (!), when Virgin books were first publishing original stories. Lots of those Virgin alumni became writers for the TV show - Paul Cornell, Mark Gatiss, Steven Moffatt, Russell T Davies himself. Funny how the few to make the transition to the world of TV tended to be male. 

Orman was / is - in my opinion - one of the most sophisticated and inventive of the lot. If you can get hold of it, check out her 'Year of Intelligent Tigers' - another entry in the Eighth Doctor series, and a wonderful, magical, surreal tale it is.

So... I just thought, with all this debate going on I wanted to nominate two of my favourite Who writers for TV work. They just happen to be women as well. The show is crying out for them.


  1. I'm glad you used Stone Rose as an example for Jacqueline's writing. This is a great book, very much in the spirit of DW, and one of my favourites.

    I'm working my way through the whole range of BBC DW books of the Russell T Davies era in published order (just finished Prisoner of the Daleks so not far now!) Some of the books are exceptional, many average, a few awful. Of them Stone Rose is clearly one of the best.

    Shame you wern't asked to do another one after Sick Building.

    Finally: "I thought the presentation of Amy Pond in Doctor Who was a bit sexist".
    Yes, thank you. A voice of reason. I could never understand why they insisted that Amy be a sex symbol where the person and the character had qualities much more interesting and entertaining than merely being 'the Totty in the TARDIS'.
    I look forward to the day Big Finish get her to play Amy in their plays. Then she can be written as the whole character she is and not be sold as a treat for the Dads. Sigh.

  2. I compiled as definitive a list as I could of women who had written for Who a year ago:

    It drew a comment from Kate Orman pointing out that she has "zero TV writing experience".

    Women are much better represented among prose writers than TV writers for Who; however they are almost absent from comics (and, surprisingly, no a single episode of the Sarah Jane Adventures was written by a woman).