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.