I have a shameful admission. When a friend first directly asked me “How would you feel about a female Doctor?” my gut reaction was opposition. The Doctor has always been a fatherly – or grandfatherly – figure to the entire Universe, not to mention wide-eyed young me who devoured novels and the shows equally. He ranks amongst other worthy fantasy Elder Statesmen as Gandalf, Captain Picard and Sherlock Holmes, all wise old men.
Should it, then? I got to thinking about the Female of the Species – Time Ladies, as they can be distinctly known. The most distinctive to my mind is Romana, the Fourth Doctor’s assistant during the Key to Time quest – Series 16, 1978-79. She was introduced as more than just the ‘damsel in distress’ that has so plagued Doctor Who – Romana was a Time Lord like the Doctor, but unlike the Doctor had qualified much higher in her training! The unlikely pair eventually bonded when the Doctor’s greater experience and improvised successes melded with Romana’s book-smarts and relative stability...
Lalla Ward as Romana II
Sadly, Mary Tamm would decide that the scriptwriters still couldn’t extract themselves from the premise that the Doctor’s assistant was basically a plot device to be captured or threatened and du jour.
handed – a fact which is arguably correct. Lalla Ward would take over as the second incarnation of Romana, only to be equally menaced by the villain
After their exit, Romana would be redeemed in the novels and audios that comprise that forgiving crucible of characterization, the Extended Universe. Romana would become Lord President of Gallifrey, and have entire stories revolving around her adventures on the Doctor’s homeworld which crucially didn’t involve the fact that she was a woman!
Gallifrey, it seems, was very progressive. Thalia and Flavia were both politically powerful, holding seats on the High Council; Thalia was a Lord Chancellor during the Second Omega Crisis, and Flavia would later ascend to the position of Lord President herself after another of the Doctor’s reluctant adventures back home. The Sixth Doctor would be menaced by the determined Lady Inquisitor, even if the script did call for her to flounder a bit with what was going on – and also wear a novelty birdcage on her head.
Left to Right: Lord Chancellor Thalia, High Chancellor (and later Lord President) Thalia, and Inquisitor Darkel
Kate O'Mara as The Rani
In time as well, Colin Baker’s incarnation would succumb to the more deadly gender – the Rani, a renegade like himself and played with overly-exagerrated hateur by Kate O’Mara, one of TV’s most favoured villains.
Just like our hero, she stole a TARDIS and used her superior intellect to carve a life for herself out in the universe – only she was unencumbered by petty morality. Thankfully this would frequently be her undoing!
All of these successful Time Ladies prove irrevocably that a female Doctor would be no bad thing – the real risk, I feel, is from bad writing, just like it plagued Romana so long ago.
Moffat and his script writers have made a few lurches away from the confused, screaming assistant – how would they cope with the confident, intelligent, alien Doctor contained within a woman’s body?
Of an equal risk is if Moffat pulls one of his famous surprises and switches the Doctor’s gender merely to spice up the show, or as a sop to the growing chorus of complaint from the ‘right-on’ crowd.
The show suffers from weak writing frequently enough now, let alone hamstringing it with an ill-thought shark-jump.
Done right though – with someone like the stark Tilda Swinton who recently acted as an equally alien figure as David Bowie, or the sinister Fiona Shaughnessy who excelled in bleak Channel 4 drama Utopia – there is no reason the Doctor couldn’t join the ranks of so many other Time Ladies who have excelled within this traditional, patriarchal, even misogynistic institution. Gallifreyan society? No, I mean the BBC! What an irony!
* * * * * * *
NB: I have purposefully avoided references to Lady Iris Wildthyme, the infamous and popular star of her own audio series from the Big Finish team. I’ve never heard them and thus feel I can’t do her justice.
Suffice to say I’ve heard good things about a post-middle-age, vodka-loving good time girl who just might be a parallel universe lush version of the Doctor – fit that into your arguments how you like!
Katy Manning as the irrepressible Lady Irish Wildthyme
Hello blog. It's been a while, in which a great deal has happened. Namely my final exam - in English Media Law.
It was an exciting topic, made all the more - shall we say, challenging - by the fact that the laws governing contempt and defamation are in such flux. I'd like to take this opportunity to be profusely grateful that my Lecturer in Law was the estimable Nigel Green, a battle-hardened journalist and truly inspirational teacher. He made a difficult, sometimes dull and potentially dangerous subject both interesting and approachable.
I came out of the exam broadly confident. I am certain that I understand the various laws that control how I report from the Courts, from press conferences, on sex attack victims and juveniles. No employer will find me unsure of the four factors of defamation, or the four key defences. In fact they might find me avidly reading stories about landmark cases in legal history. The only way to keep up with this game is to stay ahead of it!
It was enjoyable on the whole, but I'm glad to get that behind me. It wraps up the entirety of my Journalism BA degree work - I submitted my dissertation at the end of April. That was a highly enjoyable piece of work entitled Fleet Street to Task Force and was an analysis of media reporting during the Falklands War of 1982. Again, I was able to do something I deeply enjoyed and then submit it for assessment. It's proof positive of what makes a career, rather than a job. The passion for the task.
Although I'm currently only temping, I understand the difficulty of making the transition from graduate to employed journalist. Right now my priority is restoring my overdraft to a reasonable level and contemplating my next move. I'll graduate formally on July 15th - and after that, even though I only have casual work in an unrelated field going on, I'll have financial security to seriously consider what I want to put my passion to.
It's been an amazing, challenging, frustrating, inspiring, and above all enjoyable few years. I can't credit the faculty highly enough, and they must have done their job truly properly, because of all the roles I considered post-graduation, one keeps appealing to me more...