With Doctor Who being the latest franchise to take a turn to the pink side, it’s time to reflect back on the past and where strong female representations have taken us, and why it matters.
When I was growing up, I was a gigantic nerd. I spent most of my days watching cartoons, playing GameCube, and reading a lot of books. I drowned myself in media to avoid making friends, avoid bullying, and make myself feel better about myself. The media I found was the media so many people say young girls need: strong female characters who lead the story. These stories and these characters influenced my decisions as a child and honestly are the reason I am the person I am today.
I would find myself turning to characters like Kim Possible, The Powerpuff Girls, Princess Fiona from Shrek, Mulan, and Jessie from Toy Story. These characters were more than just a pretty face, they were girls who kicked ass, had a personality, and were just overall more than their gender. I wanted to be something powerful when I was younger, like a superhero or a spy, because I saw that if these girls can be amazing, so can I. This was a result of well written female characters.
The success of films like Wonder Woman and Frozen, films with strong female characters that are well written, show that these stories are possible and that mainstream audiences are hungry for them. Yet, when Jodie Whittaker was announced as the Thirteenth Doctor on Doctor Who, so much hate was thrown not only her way but toward the show’s current showrunner, Chris Chibnall. Though most of the hate was because of sexist trolls angered by a female lead, there is some concern from feminists about how the Doctor being female will impact the writing.
Chibnall hasn’t even started his time with the show yet, but because of the track record previous showrunner Steven Moffat has left behind, people have a right to be concerned. Moffat’s track record of writing female characters has not been the greatest. Specifically looking at his writing of the companions during his time with the show, these characters had their moments, but they weren’t strongly written.
Moffat’s biggest flaw in writing female characters is that their main feature is their gender. Their gender turns them into a complicated plot device that leads to poor story telling. The best example of this is the whole “Amy is River’s mother, but also her childhood best friend” plot line that went on during series 6.
Because Amy was a mother, this baby was taken away from her, trained to kill the Doctor, but then River ends up falling in love with the Doctor. That’s the simple version and even that’s confusing whether you’ve seen the show or not.
The biggest thing to remember is that Chibnall is not Moffat. If you’ve ever seen anything else Moffat has done, his track record carries over into other shows (*cough cough* Irene Adler in Sherlock *cough cough*). But Chibnall’s track record is quite strong in comparison. Chibnall was responsible for producing and writing the Doctor Who spinoff Torchwood, which not only had great representations of women but the LGBTQ+ community as well. He also wrote a few episodes during the Moffat-era of Doctor Who, including one of Amy Pond’s strongest episodes, “Dinosaurs on a Spaceship.”
Chibnall’s biggest claim to fame, Broadchurch, is a clear reason why he knows how to write a female character. Broadchurch is an ITV drama that focuses on the murder of an 11-year-old boy in a small coastal town. But the third season focuses on victims of sexual assault, which is a tricky topic to write about. However, when the season aired February through April 2017, critics and fans alike praised its attempt to cover the topic. On top of that, the third series features a close knit friendship between one of the victims and her friend that represents what it means to have these relationships with other women. Chibnall and his team passed with flying colors while writing the final season of Broadchurch, making it clear he knows what he’s doing writing women.
Hollywood and its portrayal of women are changing for the better. But in a case such as Doctor Who, faith has to be given in Chris Chibnall. This is one place in the universe that Doctor Who hasn’t gone yet, so it may take time to adjust to a female Doctor. But with everything we’ve seen from Chibnall and Jodie Whittaker so far, it looks like it will be a good time to be a woman in the Doctor Who universe.