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.

Resolutions for 2013

I’ve had these in my head for a bit. But when New Year resolutions are silent and hidden, it’s easy to break them without having to hold yourself to account.

1. Blog more and take more pictures

Apart from my Doctor Who post about the Christmas Day special, I haven’t really blogged for ages. I should do something about that.

I’m not one for sharing my innermost thoughts, though. That style of blogging just doesn’t appeal to me. However, I do enjoy photography but haven’t done much recently – so hopefully I’ll be able to do some form of photoblogging when I can.

2. See more dance and classical music events

I tend to gravitate towards musical theatre and straight plays when I go out to the theatre – it’s where I feel most confident and informed as an audience member. Dance is one area where I’ve often felt at my most adrift. At times I’ve felt hopelessly out of place (a dance piece at the Barbican remains one of the few events I’ve left at the interval with disgust at its ineptitude) – but it’s also been the source of some of the most thrilling performances I’ve seen.

Similarly, I do enjoy going to the occasional classical music concert, but I can’t remember the last time I went to one. So I’m hoping to rectify that absence in 2013.

3. Support my local theatres

I have been writing several blog posts about trips to my local large regional venue, the Aylesbury Waterside – but I’m going to try and do more, and that’ll involve going to more of their shows and one-off nights.

It’s important to remember that Aylesbury also has a smaller theatre, the Limelight, as part of the Queen’s Park Arts Centre – and I’m going to keep an eye on what’s going on there, too.

4. Be more active

Having a job, and hobbies, which require long periods of sitting down mean that it’s more essential to find ways of being active when not working. I prefer long walks to running, and my long daily commute gets in the way of joining a gym. Neither of these are valid excuses for not doing more exercise, but instead will frame the ways in which I get out more.

5. Finish at least one creative writing project

I have a couple of short story ideas germinating, one of which could potentially expand into a much longer piece. And after being on the Blogger’s Choice panel for the Off Cut Festival over the last two years, I’m intrigued by the festival’s 15-minute stage format. I’d be interested to see if I can transfer my belief about what can work in that timeframe, and what is best avoided, into a practical piece.

So those are my resolutions. What are yours?

Arts 2.0: a catchup and an appeal

Since I last linked to my Arts 2.0 column for The Stage, I’ve written three new pieces. First off, the launch of the BBC iPlayer Radio app just three days after the combined BBC/commercial radio RadioPlayer app led me to look at both, as well as some of the other options for audio listening. I have to say that while I’ve used both those apps since, it’s the iPlayer app that I enjoy using the most. Once you’ve started listening, of course, you tend to leave the app – but the act of selecting which audio stream to listen to should be quick, and not feel like a chore. I think the Radioplayer has some way to go on that side of things, while iPlayer Radio is closer to nailing it.

Then last week, I looked at three magic trick apps for the iPhone. I remain to be convinced that custom apps can be effective sources of conjuring – close-up magic with real life objects is far more effective than working with pixels on a screen. John Archer’s Streets app works along the right lines because it uses the maps feature within the phone itself – or at least it did, until Apple dropped Google Maps for its own service with iOS 6.

Finally, this week the news about Radio 4 releasing the Letter From America archives got me thinking about all those dramas the station has commissioned over the years, but remain locked away due to contractual or other reasons. Recent radio productions of West End hits then led me to talk about archiving contemporary performances.

An appeal for help

I’ve got a few ideas for future columns, but if you have an arts-working-with-technology story you’ld like to pitch, please email me at scott [at] thestage.co.uk.

One thing I’d like to do for next week, to tie in with the start of NaNoWriMo, is look at digital tools that writers – of books, plays, or scripts for TV, film and radio – use. An initial appeal on Twitter brought up several references to Scrivener, which combines templates for several writing projects with the ability to store research notes. I’m not just looking for scriptwriting software, though – do you use anything to incentivise you to write a certain amount each day? Other applications (from Evernote to Pocket) to collate research materials? Anything digital to remove distractions and allow you to focus?

Whether it’s PC, Mac, iOS or based on another platform – or a piece of hardware gadgetry you can’t do without – I’d like to know about it. Use the comments box below or email me at the address above!

Destiny, Death, Delirium and Despair: Drabbles a decade on

The beauty of using my blog to keep track of stuff I’ve written elsewhere is that it allows, when time permits, to reflect on the writer I used to be. As I’ve been explaining on Twitter, I usually think that what I wrote in the past is better than what I write now, whether it’s ten years old or ten days.

Perusing some of the neglected categories in my blog (of which there are many) I came to realise that three very short pieces of fiction are almost exactly a decade old.

They are drabbles – short stories of exactly 100 words in length. These particular ones are ‘fan fiction’ (or fanfic for short), unlicensed exploration of other people’s fictional creations. As you scour the internet, you discover that much fanfic is unremittingly awful – but some is not. And from that minority, an even smaller proportion has spawned writers who have gone on to write professionally for the same characters (yes, this is a hint to buy The Ghosts of Christmas while stocks last. I still savour that review in DWM, even if my story was summed up in three words, one of which was “and”).

In this case, the subject was Doctor Who crossing over with the Endless family from Neil Gaiman’s Sandman comic books.

Reading them again, they do hold up quite well – although of the three, one relies on a punchline that no longer packs the punch it once did and one just has me a feeling a bit meh. The third, though, includes possibly my favourite sentence in Doctor Who ever. That sounds like egotism, and it may be, but it feels like the line was written by somebody else. Which, I suppose, it was: I am not the same person I was a decade ago. I hope 1990s Scott won’t mind me lifting it should I ever find a circumstance to use it again.

Anyway, the three drabbles – to be read in no particular order – are:

If you have no idea who Neil Gaiman’s Endless characters are, a guick google should set you aright. And if you’re a fan of great storytelling, remind me to lend you The Sandman novels some time (or buy your own)…

Why write?

It may be a tough question to answer, but [I love Neil Gaiman’s attempt](http://www.neilgaiman.com/journal/2007/10/why-write.html):

> The best thing about writing fiction is that moment where the story catches fire and comes to life on the page, and suddenly it all makes sense and you know what it’s about and why you’re doing it and what these people are saying and doing, and you get to feel like both the creator and the audience. Everything is suddenly both obvious and surprising (“but of course that’s why he was doing that, and that means that…”) and it’s magic and wonderful and strange.

I wouldn’t dare try and compare myself to Gaiman — I doubt I’ll ever achieve anything like one thousandth of his talents. I’m _really_ looking forward to **Stardust**, my excitement only being tempered by the thought that the film can’t possibly compare to the novel (what film ever does?). That said, I do know what he means. _Tell Me You Love Me_ will be my first published fiction work and a short story, but there were times writing it where I just got swept up and everything came out at speed. It’s happened before with the [fanfic short stories](http://matthewman.net/category/fiction/fanfic/short-stories/) I’ve written before; the pleasure increases slightly when you know you’re being paid for it, though.

Looking back at the proof PDF which I was sent last week, those points in the story still stand out as the best bits for me. It’s the portions where I had to include exposition, to write and rewrite and rewrite again to make sure that there was sufficient explanation, that stutter and falter. In contrast, I really love the opening few pages, which are largely unchanged from the very first draft. And reading it back, months now after I first wrote them, I can really detect the influence of Gaiman’s writing style upon my own. Hopefully, as I carry on writing that will develop into my own writing style, rather than an inferior copy of somebody else’s.

I was so scared, too, that as a first time writer, my work would stick out from that of the experienced writers with whom I’m contributing to _[The Ghosts of Christmas](http://matthewman.net/2007/10/02/coming-soon-the-ghosts-of-christmas/)_. But I’ve read the whole draft of the book several times now, and am beginning to feel less like the fraud I thought I may be when I was first offered the commission.

Next up, I have to decide if I’m going to have time to devote to [NaNoWriMo](http://www.nanowrimo.org/) this year. Other pressures last year meant that I just had no spare time to devote to writing, and I’m hoping that I can spend November 2007 writing 50,000 words of a first draft.