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Why DOCTOR WHO Should Alter its DNA Again… in the Writer’s Room

It was very exciting, Monday’s announcement that the final three episodes of Doctor Who have been directed by two women. New Who has long been a show, for all its good bits, where the people in control of its creation have been middle-aged white men. This, naturally, got us thinking: wouldn’t now be the perfect time to hire a few female writers, too? Mayhaps even a few people of color to boot? We’re breaking new ground in time and space, anyway!

Lest we forget, Who was a series brought into the world largely by producer Verity Lambert and director Waris Hussein — a woman and Indian man, respectively. The creator of its iconic music? The one who brought Ron Grainer’s idea to actual life? Also a woman, named Delia Derbyshire. So Doctor Who as a whole is not lacking in its revolutionary, boundary-breaking ways. But for all the good their groundwork laying has done, very few people have followed in their footsteps on the creative side of things. In fact, the first female writer on the series wasn’t until 1983, and New Who has only had ONE woman bear a writing credit: Helen Raynor, Russell T. Davies’ script editor back during seasons three and four.

Both Steven Moffat and Peter Capaldi have spoken about the new, darker and more dramatically mature Doctor we are going to see in season eight. And though that business is in the can and done, season nine is no doubt on everyone’s mind. If Moffat is so ready for a change in the worldwide-beloved series, why not one at the heart of it? One that will really, truly have a dynamic change on its DNA? One that will make the series more dynamic, inclusive, and potentially that-much better?

With all the, admittedly well-deserved criticism for the series’ general whiteness and inability to change its Doctor’s gender and race, a bit of adjustment at its foundation could see the wheels properly set in motion — and give the show a better chance at accomplishing well-rounded points of views for all of its characters. Because as creative and talented as all those men at the helm are, some things, experiences, and nuances are lost on those that live in the more privileged majority.

It doesn’t have to be random. To create stories that reflect a larger audience (and in turn bring in more of an audience!), one must have experience outside of the norm and status quo. Life experience that speaks to the different aspects of life that not everyone faces — stuff that is relatable to those outside of the standard purview of television’s current go-to point of view. Seeing the world in a different way has always been an asset to the Doctor, both in himself and his companions — why shouldn’t that be A-Number-One on the priority list for its writers, too?

And as evidenced by the gargantuan success of Guardians of the Galaxy, whose co-writer, Nicole Perlman, is a lady, women can write science fiction successfully, and well! She was the first person to give the Guardians a chance when many others balked at her choice, thinking she was nuts to try and revitalize the rag-tag motley crew of a property, and look what happened. Hiring a woman writer would open up the series to new characters and scenarios that may have previously been pooh-poohed by those in charge, but are rife with compelling, interesting storytelling potential. The idea is perhaps doubly appropriate for women of color, whose experience is often outside the understanding of their white compatriots.

Plus there’s the radical notion that adding a woman to the writing staff might even make for better drama and a more compelling companion. Not to brag, but women writers are sort of killing it in dramatic television right now. The brilliant Masters of Sex was created by Michelle Ashford who employs five women writers in addition to her lions’ share of the written work, and Mad Men‘s staff is almost all women (13 women have writing credits on that show. THIRTEEN!). So, y’know, women are just as capable as the dudes when it comes to creating captivating, engaging drama that really rivets the soul.

Besides, let’s just get down to brass tacks here: wouldn’t it be nice to have a companion who was shaped by a woman? Who felt a bit less tethered to the series’ occasional problem of writing more damsel-y women than ass-kicking, confident ones? Or better yet, a female staffer who helps set the stage for the first female Doctor? It would also be great to tell stories that aren’t so wrapped up in white, male history, but rather expand upon lesser-known moments throughout the world (and heck, universe, too). This is all of time and space we’re dealing with after all: shouldn’t anything and everything be possible?

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52 comments

  • Stunningly stupid trend towards always demanding female creators when the very reason you know and love this series is because of all the male writers who have made it great. And the series is all but legendary for great female characters but STILL that’s not enough. Go back to writing your fan-fic instead of obsessing over the genders of who creates your favorite programs/literature/art etc. Or create something yourself instead of always trying to piggyback on the creations of other people as if it’s a civil rights issue.

  • If the writing staff is all male and white it is clear they are not just “going for the best.” It seems mathematically impossible that there would not be at least one woman and at least one person of color, if the producers really were looking just for quality of work.

    That said, these biases are usually unconscious. But if articles like this make the producers more conscious of their own biases and lead to change.

    • Utterly ludicrous “math” on your part. If you’re so obsessed with the race /gander of the people who create these shows then stop watching! Watch some shows that are written by whatever race you approve of (since you obviously disapprove of certain races).

  • If a woman is qualified for the job, let her do it. But not because she’s a woman and her “perspective”. That just as sexist as citing that as the reason she shouldn’t do it. 

    DW has had an agenda for too long and the BBC hasn’t been happy with the fan service, high school drama tele play that it has been for the last 5 years or so. 

    That’s why the Doctor is older. The BBC wants to move the show into a sustainable adventure of the week format, like it used to be. Like the Doctor used to be, like a weird uncle or crazy grandpa. 

    Seriously, I don’t think any show could survive the tremendous weight  of narcissistic fans who think that they have some say in how it’s run simply because they blog / tumblr / tweet about it.  

    • The thing is, having a woman’s perspective for writing female characters makes a huge difference in the quality of the characters (just look at Orange is the New Black), and a talented female writer would do wonders for Doctor Who. Lately, the companions on the show have fallen into the trope of being some big mystery for the Doctor to figure out. Clara is the most obvious example in this case, but you also see this in Amy’s pregnancy and the character River Song. Plots like these can be interesting, but they don’t do the companions justice. They just use them as a plot device.  A female writer could bring some fresh ideas to the show and really help develop the female characters.

  • The Series hasn’t even started yet and we’re already whining about the writers. Why don’t we see if this crowd of old white dudes can create an exciting and engaging series first before criticising?

  • Just thought I’d point out that Guardians of the Galaxy is a horrible example. Nicole Perlman’s script was re-written with a different plot and different characters by James Gunn. She is only credited because the WGA (Writer’s Guild of America) is very protective of “first writers”, even when their drafts are entirely scrapped.

    I’d like to see a more female perspective on the show as well, but citing a woman that had her work thrown out in favor of a man’s isn’t exactly pleading the case well.

  • Why do we have to worry about this? its not like they’re excluding women on purpose. im sure if a female writer was really good they’d hire her in a second. This is just creating unnecessary racial/sexual tension. If people shouldn’t see race/sex, why do we keep pointing it out?

    “I don’t see color… people tell me they’re black and i believe them”

  • I think all  ALICIA LUTES is just trying to say is give a female writer a chance, not a call for a regime change. If its Great or if its Horrible at least it was given a shot. Even if it isn’t received well as an episode whether its written by a man, woman, transgender, Non-Caucasian or a Goddamn Ood, Doctor Who is strong enough a Series to survive an episode that isn’t up to the internet comment’s par. We’re all being to precious with the show as fans. I may not have liked it but i lived through Donna Noble……..every episode with her was like getting a “Shimp” with the “3 stooges”….and if you thinking i’m trolling with that last bit im not I didn’t like her at all but the point is i stuck with show during her  run through out and it went on to some Amy Pond greatness(still not trolling)! No matter who/what is at the helm writing wise i know true fans of the show will stick to it no matter what. 

  • Not to mention we might get a starting my nuanced female companion with I thought both Martha and Clara were less an astounding characters. With a woman writer in the room we might get an amazing and fun female character.

  • Blaming Doctor Who for the industry being sexist and not providing women with opportunities to reach the point where they can write or direct Doctor Who is silly 

  • Can we stop the PC BS, please?  Just hire people because they write GOOD STORIES–I don’t care about color, creed, age, etc…. just a story that will engage us!

  • Wow. There are a LOT of people here who assume that hiring women or people of color would be a case of tokenism because of COURSE women/poc are not talented individuals who are merely being passed over.

  • I dont agree, what they have now is working its not like its doing anything on purpose and the reason the doc stays rougly the same race/gender is to aid in the identification with the viewers that he’s still the doc, much like the zany personality it keeps him identified with the viewers as being the same guy diffrent face. needlessly adding new writers or characters simply to be more diverse, will only screw up the show. if you need more writers hire for talent, if you need more actors, hire for how they fit the role! I love this show I’d hate to see it become some strung together, overly concerned with pc, mess. just be the same fun old show its always been, the formula works!

  • This is the type of discussion that drives me insane. If you have any form of counter opinion, regardless of how logical it is, you’re branded either a racist, sexist, or both. You can be anti-tokenism and not be a sexist/racist

    Personally, I agree that they should have more diversity. However it shouldn’t be item one on the checklist when looking for people, but rather item 2 or 3. If you hire only to fill a diversity quotient, you’re not hiring to make the best product

    I would rather have a Doctor who happens to be black, than a capital-B Black Doctor

  • I just understand why people insist on the idea that because white people do things every race and culture needs to be added. That’s that american Cali thinking that ruiens shows. Ex: the office. The us version is awful and misses the point of the show. Also they did this with the us release of the Dr who movie. Both the 1996 us release and the “doctor verses the darlecks” which took away the doctor as a time lord cause Americans might not understand alians and the doctors name is legit “doctor who” not “doctor” but first name doctor last name who and read like madana. Get off your high horse people. We have a black president change has happened. Its OK not everything is PC. Plus its a kids show. Chill. 

  • I think that this American writer is totally misunderstanding how the BBC and British Television works, Writers rooms and huge writing staffs don’t exist for UK TV production. Individual Writers are paid by commission or contract. A Writer can do an episode of Casualty and then do an episode of Doctor Who. I’m up for having more variety of writers but by assuming that Ethnic Minorities or Women will be better writers is silly. Nobody complained that Terry Nation,Robert Holmes or Douglas Adams weren’t Black or Woman.

    • I think you misunderstood, she wasn’t implying that they would be better writers, simply that more diversity in writers would bring more and new experiences to the table.

  • I completely agree with all of this. I love the Doctor, but there needs to be a big change in the way the show is written. Perhaps if we got some different types of people writing the show, we wouldn’t constantly be forced to endure Moffat’s Victorian fantasies.

  • I completely agree with you. I really do. The writing staff needs women, desperately. But I think your jump from Verity Lambert to the present day denies the efforts of some important women: Jane Tranter was the BBC exec who masterminded bringing it back. Julie Gardner, while not a creative, had enormous influence on Russell T Davies and the show when she was executive producer, as did Caroline Skinner last season. They weren’t just money and logistics.
    Like I said, I think we need more female voices in the creative process. But we need to also celebrate the women who have had a huge and often unmentioned influence on Who since 2005.

  • Wouldn’t it be nice if, in the pursuit of barring racial slurs, agism, sexism and stereotypes, we could refrain from using the all-inclusive “Old White Guys” meme? C’mon Nerdist. Why isn’t this just as off-limits as _other_ racist remarks?

    • Well, considering the fact that the article never says “Old White Guys”.  It refers to the fact that the creative control is currently held by middle-aged white men, which is what they are.  That’s their age, that’s what race they are, that’s their color.  It’s not racist to refer, in normal English language, to someone’s age, race, and gender.  You might need some clarification on what constitutes a “racist remark”.

      • Which is why I said the “Old White Guys” _meme_… It’s a meme and it can be said different ways, but the implication remains. I fail to see why Nerdist or any other thinking human, would judge a person’s ability to write creatively based merely on their age, skin color or gender. Preferring a person because of their skin color is racist. Preferring someone because of their age is agist. Preferring someone because of their gender is sexist. 

    • “Old” is debatable, I’ll give you that – but how is “white guys” anything but descriptive? Not even to get into the whole racism vs. discrimination thing – it’s neither of the two and you know it

  • I feel like Moffat would be the kinda guy to use the phrase “binders full of women.” I don’t think this is going to happen any time soon – not that it shouldn’t, of course – unless the move comes from BBC Wales or BBC America.

    • This is part of the problem with the world. We have someone here who is i assume female who is making a case for a single voice (who is generally always a middle aged white male) to rule.”

      You clearly dont understand the problem, and your opinion shows that.

  • “…where the people in control of its creation have been middle-aged white men. This, naturally, got us thinking: wouldn’t now be the perfect time to hire a few female writers, too?”

    Who gives a shit?  Perhaps focus on making the stories GOOD.  Your skin color or genitals has no bearing on that.

    • Of course it has a bearing! Different people and genders have different experiences to draw from. More importantly, maybe if you’re going to keep having female companions, a few women on staff could keep the from turning into a bunch of Mary sue cardboard cutouts 

    • It’s especially relevant in the world of sci-fi/fantasy to have voices and perspectives beyond the conventional norm (i.e. straight white male) because these are, due to the genre, stories beyond the conventional norm. (This is what Roddenberry understood on Star Trek – both in casting and in writing.)
      (Also, not to be a pedant, but sex is defined by genitalia rather than gender.)

    • Spoken by someone who either did not read past the first paragraph, or deliberately chose to ignore every single point that the writer made that indicated that broadening the writing perspective would improve the quality, depth, and engagement of the stories.Or, to put it in nice, easy, monosyllabic words: It would make the show more GOOD.

      • When the first paragraph decides to make be sexist and racist by making an issue of a writer’s skin color or gender, what follows is some ‘argument’ that wouldn’t be solved simply by changing either.

    • “To create stories that reflect a larger audience (and in turn bring in more of an audience!), one must have experience outside of the norm and status quo. Life experience that speaks to the different aspects of life that not everyone faces — stuff that is relatable to those outside of the standard purview of television’s current go-to point of view.”
      Maybe stories could be better with another point of view? I’m personally sick and tired of Moffat’s women characters.