11:19 am - 03/27/2013

Why Doctor Who needs more female writers


The new season of Doctor Who, starting Saturday, doesn't use a single female writer. The count is similarly poor for other British science-fiction and fantasy shows – so what's the problem?

On Saturday, Doctor Who returns, kicking off the second part of the seventh series with a James-Bond inspired episode that sees the Doctor and Clara whizzing round London on a motorbike. Which is exciting if you like interesting drama with witty banter and thoughtful concepts. But less exciting if you like interesting dramas that include women on their writing teams.

Because season seven of Doctor Who will feature no female scribes at all. Not in the bombastic dinosaurs and cowboys episodes that aired last year, and not in any of the new episodes we're about to receive. In fact, Doctor Who hasn't aired an episode written by a woman since 2008, 60 episodes ago. There hasn't been a single female-penned episode in the Moffat era, and in all the time since the show was rebooted in 2005 only one, Helen Raynor, has ever written for the show.

Isn't that is a pretty terrible record for a flagship TV programme? It even prompted website Cultbox to put together a list of women they would like to see writing the show, any of whom would be great.

When questioned on the subject last year, Caroline Skinner, the show's recently departed executive producer, said that it was her intention to see more women writing for Doctor Who. But none has emerged. So I asked producer Marcus Wilson about his plans to improve the balance of male and female writers on the show. "Due to schedules and other projects, both male and female writers whom we have wanted to join the team simply haven't been able to," he said. "For us it's about who can write good Doctor Who stories, regardless of gender."

There must surely be women capable of writing a good Doctor Who episode. But this problem of male-dominated script credits isn't just the good Doctor's. The writers' rooms of fantasy and science-fiction shows in the UK seem to be notable for their domination by men. Of 65 episodes of the recently axed Merlin, for example, only four were written by a woman. And the show bowed out with a series in which no women writers credited at all.

Other shows can't even reach the giddy heights of one woman writer on the team. And in cases when a show comes from one just one writer, it tends to be a man who is behind the script, from The Fades to Outcasts to Misfits, which began with Howard Overman at the helm and then brought on board other male writers. (Overman will also write new BBC1 show Atlantis.) On CBBC, The Sarah Jane Adventures, a show rightly lauded for it's sixtysomething female lead, employed no female writers whatsoever. And the new Wizards vs Aliens? None there either.

It's woeful. Author Jenny Colgan who, as JT Colgan, wrote a Doctor Who tie-in novel, says there are plenty of women writing fantasy and science fiction. "There should probably be more women in the room," she says. "I think producers and commissioners should sometimes be a bit bolder about trusting girls with their toys. I mean, come on: Margaret Atwood, Ursula le Guin, Madeleine L'Engel, Audrey Niffenegger, JK Rowling, Suzanne Collins, Stephanie Meyer ... it's hardly as if women don't have a proven track record."

Given this raft of talent in literature, why aren't women writing in these genres for television? "A lot of it is down to mere tradition," says Paul Cornell, who has written for Doctor Who and Primeval. "TV writing itself, and then geekdom, have both, historically, been seen as male pursuits. But in both cases, that stereotype is over. OK, it persists as a joke about geekdom, but the reality of it is vanishing."

Things are getting better, he suggests, with a growing number of female TV executives. "I think those executives are genuinely searching for new female talent, [so] perhaps we're just living during a couple of decades of that talent slowly arriving," he says.

The situation is perhaps more promising in the US: while fantasy epic Game of Thrones, which also returns over the Easter weekend, is hardly bursting with female writers, it does have Vanessa Taylor on the team. Female writers have been working on shows such as True Blood and Once Upon a Time.

"The good news [in the US] is, there have been a number of great women writers coming into genre television in the past decade, and this has coincided with a noticeable improvement in not just the female characters but the writing in general," says Charlie Jane Anders, co-editor of SF blog io9. "But there's still plenty of room for improvement – especially in the UK, where genre television seems to be entirely the work of a small group of male writers."

Dramatist and author Stella Duffy – who has noted the absence of women writers, and indeed directors, from Doctor Who on her blog – thinks that there needs to be a conscious effort to recruit writers from outside the usual small pool of male writers. "Try harder. Stop assuming that men can do the job well enough. If women are saying they feel left out (and they do), if women are saying they feel marginalised (and they do), if women are saying they do not see their voices on screen ... Listen to them and do something about it," Duffy says.

"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."


I smell a lot of waffle being produced so Moffat and co. can backtrack in RL sexism, but perhaps that's just me being a cynic.
Page 1 of 3
<<[1] [2] [3] >>
bluecupxxx 27th-Mar-2013 03:33 pm (UTC)
"For us it's about who can write good Doctor Who stories, regardless of gender."

hmmm. Let's just re-title this post "Why Doctor Who all shows needs more female writers"
age_of_green 27th-Mar-2013 03:43 pm (UTC)
I'm editing another article to post about that now, actually.
shahoney 27th-Mar-2013 06:40 pm (UTC)
Also, this comment "for us it's about who can write good Doctor Who stories" is invalid since they hired Moffat.
bluecupxxx 27th-Mar-2013 06:51 pm (UTC)
valid. I see no lies.
mjspice 28th-Mar-2013 05:09 am (UTC)
theblackwidow 27th-Mar-2013 03:33 pm (UTC)
Everything needs more female writers, lbr
farlist 27th-Mar-2013 03:34 pm (UTC)
Surprise surprise.
mynamehere07 27th-Mar-2013 03:34 pm (UTC)
Moffat is such a rag weasel that he wouldn't dream of having a female writer.
sarahvma 27th-Mar-2013 04:12 pm (UTC)
I wonder about this, though, given that his wife serves as producer for both of his current projects.
heartina_cage 28th-Mar-2013 02:08 pm (UTC)
So what? Can you imagine the conversation that would've happened if he'd tried to oust her, his wife, the woman he's married to, shares a bed with, sees every day, from his projects? Would you tolerate your husband refusing to work with you, despite whatever might be on your resume?

The fact that there are no women on his writing team speaks for his sexism itself.
foreverrhapsody 27th-Mar-2013 03:36 pm (UTC)
Curious, does anyone have a link to this article from Cultbox?
sketchypie 27th-Mar-2013 03:36 pm (UTC)
"For us it's about who can write good Doctor Who stories, regardless of gender."

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

Sure it is.
celtic_thistle 27th-Mar-2013 03:37 pm (UTC)
Female showrunner PLEASE
sarahvma 27th-Mar-2013 04:13 pm (UTC)
Ooh, I like this idea.
ms_mmelissa 27th-Mar-2013 03:42 pm (UTC)
This isn't just a sci-fi/Dr. Who problem, it's a TV problem in general. I can think of only a handful of shows with gender parity, and a lot of those are women-centric shows. :/

It sucks because a lot of show runners get promoted out of the writer's room, and if there aren't a lot of women there to begin with there aren't going to be a lot that get promoted.
sarahvma 27th-Mar-2013 04:15 pm (UTC)
And yet I know some people side-eyed Dan Harmon for saying that he worked incredibly hard to make sure his writing team was 50-50, because he argued that it was harder to find a good group of female writers. But I think what he meant was that it was hard to find a collection of well-known, tried-and-tested female writers because so few shows give them a chance.

And ultimately his conclusion was that it was worth it and that having women in the room frequently forced them to reconsider certain ideas based on things the women had to say that never occurred to them.
ms_mmelissa 27th-Mar-2013 04:21 pm (UTC)
Yeah, I side-eye Dan Harmon for a lot of things, but definitely not for his writer's room. He admitted that having gender parity in his writing room was something the network pushed and then said that it was a great thing and something he kept up with.
it_has_been 27th-Mar-2013 03:46 pm (UTC)
that article circulating tumblr saying moffat is "nearing the end rather than the beginning" of his career on who gives me life

dnw him to stay on as show runner anymore
sarahvma 27th-Mar-2013 04:16 pm (UTC)
Eh, that could still mean he's around for 2 years, though. I'm not blowing out the candles on his retirement cake just yet.
stussytribe 27th-Mar-2013 03:50 pm (UTC)
& more black writers
& more asian writers
& more older writers
& more younger writers
& more experienced writers
& more inexperienced writers
& more foreign writers
hollymarchosias 27th-Mar-2013 03:56 pm (UTC)
I love the smell of Who wank at the Guardian in the (US) morning.

But I have to agree, butthurt people whining about how female writers wrote the WORST EVER episodes of Who and Torchwood aside, television in general, and not just Doctor Who, needs more female writers, and not female writers usually marginalized into writing "romantic" things.

Edited at 2013-03-27 03:56 pm (UTC)
sarahvma 27th-Mar-2013 04:18 pm (UTC)
Yeah... on the other hand, she was script editor on a fuckton of great episodes.
skippity_doo 27th-Mar-2013 09:20 pm (UTC)
People whining that female writers are the WORST EVER have obviously never seen a Chris Chibnall episode.


bodyline 27th-Mar-2013 03:56 pm (UTC)
i volunteer, they wouldn't even have to pay me i'd do that shit for free.
goreplz 28th-Mar-2013 02:01 am (UTC)
fivil 27th-Mar-2013 03:56 pm (UTC)
I have two theories on why Moffat is as he is.

One is that he's just been too praised along his career so he refuses to take into account any criticisms of his work, regardless of validity, and has a little too much faith in his own talents.

The other theory is that he's just getting too old. I still think his first TV show, Press Gang, is legitimately one of the best British TV shows of all time. Sadly my knowledge of Moffat's career also makes me aware when he recycles himself. (He does it a fair bit.)
sarahvma 27th-Mar-2013 04:20 pm (UTC)
I think it's not so much that he's old as that he romanticizes the past.

That's clear from the episodes he's written (he's in love with WWII-era) and I suspect he's the kind of man who secretly longs for the good ol' days when the white man didn't have to explain himself.

I'd say "when the white man was in charge," but that's still clearly the case, no matter what Men's Rights Activists think.
sparkysparky 27th-Mar-2013 05:23 pm (UTC)
lol Men's Rights Activists.
mercystars 27th-Mar-2013 04:07 pm (UTC)
i don't watch dr. who, but i am familiar with it and i've always wondered since it's been on for years and years [it goes back to the early 1960s, if i'm not mistaken], why there's never been a dr. who wasn't a white guy. i'm going to guess that's a whole other can of worms.
sarahvma 27th-Mar-2013 04:22 pm (UTC)
There have been tons of articles asking that question, and a lot of old white male trolls come out of the wordwork to condemn "political correctness" for trying to take away their white savior.

It's super gross.

mercystars 27th-Mar-2013 04:28 pm (UTC)
but of course. i can only imagine.
tryxkittie 27th-Mar-2013 04:08 pm (UTC)
part of the reason I'm not even gonna bother watching Dr. Who this season. The female characters are so one-dimensional and reductively similar. This new pretty white girl doesn't seem like she'll bring anything new to the companion role because the writers are male and dgaf about her.


Margaret Atwood, Ursula le Guin, Madeleine L'Engel, Audrey Niffenegger, JK Rowling, Suzanne Collins, Stephanie Meyer

One of these things is not like the other.
mhfromnh 27th-Mar-2013 04:30 pm (UTC)
one of these things just doesn't belong.
foryoursake08 27th-Mar-2013 05:11 pm (UTC)
I can't believe they didn't think to say Anne McCaffrey instead of...that. Come on.
deusexmchna 27th-Mar-2013 09:30 pm (UTC)
Or Tamora Pierce
fantaesticbaby 27th-Mar-2013 06:18 pm (UTC)
Yeah, I feel exactly the same way about Dr Who. I am fed up with Moffat's writing and I can't bring myself to give a fuck about the new companion.

zombieroselee 27th-Mar-2013 08:33 pm (UTC)
I feel the exact same way. I used to love Doctor Who, but I just can't anymore with the way that they're presented the relationship between the new companion and the Doctor.

It's been done and overdone. Oh he can't figure her out and she's special? maybe if there were some female writers in the room he might have a realistic relationship with a companion for once instead of putting them on this weird pedestal.
Page 1 of 3
<<[1] [2] [3] >>
This page was loaded Dec 28th 2014, 2:27 am GMT.