Some thoughts on the (lack of) women writers in Doctor Who

In response to a Guardian article on the lack of women writers in the current roster of Doctor Who authors, Jonathan Morris – who has written a number of novels, comics and audio dramas for the series – responded on his blog.

When tweeting a link to it, I called his piece “excellent” – which I do think it is, even though I have my disagreements with it. This is a discussion I feel needs to be happening in the open air, and I’m thankful that it is happening: but as in any discussion, you don’t invariably agree with everything that’s being said.

I tried commenting under Jonathan’s article, but Blogger was having none of it. So I thought I ought to reply here instead.

I broadly agree with Jonathan that the selection of writers should be solely about ability and quality and nothing else. Insisting that a lack of women writers in one field be immediately addressed – and bringing women writers in for no reason other than that they’re women – would be wrong for that reason.

But there’s always a difference between the ideal, and the actual.

If writers are solely chosen on the merits of the quality of their writing, and one of the BBC’s flagship brands – which makes a selling point of being an anthology show, with episodes by  individual writers who are given that credit in big letters in the opening titles – has had just one female writing credit in the last seven years, doesn’t it at least indicate that there may be some form of barrier, or barriers, at place(s) in the process of getting writers up to that standard?

I’m not suggesting those barriers are intentional, or even (necessarily) institutional. That other series have writing rosters that include more women than Doctor Who’s does show that genre telly isn’t solely the preserve of men.

But while saying “it’s the Doctor Who production team’s fault!” may be wrong, taking it to the other extreme of saying “a writer is a writer is a writer, so who cares that this or that series has only male writers” would equally be wrong. Not that I’m suggesting Jonathan’s stance is saying that, but hopefully you can see what I mean.

He’s absolutely right that any one show should be concentrating on getting the best possible writers for its show out of the pool of available talent. But heavy skews in one direction are worth noting, because it could – and, I think, does – indicate issues with the talent that is managing to get into that pool in the first place.

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Scott Matthewman

Formerly Online Editor and Digital Project Manager for The Stage, creator of the award-winning The Gay Vote politics blog, now a full-time software developer specialising in Ruby, Objective-C and Swift, as well as a part-time critic for Musical Theatre Review, The Reviews Hub and others.

16 thoughts on “Some thoughts on the (lack of) women writers in Doctor Who”

  1. Hi Scott, I’d absolutely agree with this. While this is clearly in part a historical issue – the fewer women producing Why Don’t You? in the eighties leads to a lack of female RTD’s now – DW, as the BBC’s flagship show, and one with a format that requires a diversity of writers, employs startlingly few women writers.

  2. The fact is that people get hired for more reasons than quality of their work. And it’s often true than men hire men and women hire the best candidate. In the US the writers room is a different construct than in the UK, I don’t know what those differences lead to in terms of hiring. Certainly there are plenty of women who are capable of writing a solid Doctor Who episode.

  3. I’m interested that he (rightly IMO) highlights Torchwood as a suspicious omission from the original article, but fails to explain why of the excellent female writers on Torchwood, only the script editor of Dr Who itself was suitable for Who (OK, I get that Jane Espenson’s probably out of their league, but there are others). Other writers moved from Torchwood to Who; it’s slightly damning IMO that they were all male.

    In other words, I agree that the writer of the original piece should have mentioned Torchwood, but that’s because I think it makes Doctor Who look even worse by comparison, and makes the ‘but we want the *best* writers, and possibly there *are* no good-enough female writers in the genre’ argument look more like the utter bollocks I think it is.