Six Smart Women Discussing Doctor Who

VerityEpisode18-300What would a 50th anniversary celebration year be without some talk of the companions? Join Deb, Erika, Liz, and Tansy as we take a break from our Classic Doctors countdown to chat about the companions who were “modern women” at the time they were on the show. Is Barbara the greatest? What’s changed about contemporary companions over the years? And has such change been for the better? Are “modern” companions even necessary? Is Barbara really the greatest?

We cover those questions and much more. So much more, in fact, that there’s even a mention of “Doctor in Distress”. (Editor’s note: Click that link at your own risk. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.)


Also covered:
Tansy guests on Splendid Chaps!
Erika will be on panels at Westercon 66 and watched “The Mind of Evil” in color!
Liz is annoyed Erika stole her happy thing!
Deb orders Live at the End of the World from Traffic Experiment!

Download or listen now (runtime 1:18:02) 


Comments on: "Verity! Episode 18 – Companion Confab: The Modern Woman" (24)

  1. I wonder if anyone else is getting an interesting whooshing sound every few minutes while listening (I listen via Downcast.) It actually doesn’t detract from the audio quality at all, but rather lends some additional sci-fi atmosphere to the whole thing. (Not a complaint, just something I found amusing!) 🙂

    • Doh! I’m afraid that’s traffic noise. I tried to cut out as much as possible, but we recorded this at rush hour in Edmonton, and I’m on a pretty major street. What you hear is the sound of trucks and busses being louder than the “noise gate” I put it to damp that out. I’m glad it sounded a bit science-fictioney!

  2. Ah, that makes sense. It wasn’t bad at all, and didn’t even sound traffic-y. The first time, I did think that maybe something strange and mysterious was about to happen. And it stopped entirely by about halfway in.

    What a good episode (as if there are any that are otherwise.) I enjoy the fairly consistent trope of the “modern woman” as a companion, because stretched over the course of 50 years, there are so many changes to observe in said trope, and I find that really interesting. The women have many elements in common, but there’s also so much that has changed, and I think the companions embody this in both large (blatant sexism of years ago vs. more subtle but still present now) and small (clothing style changes…who doesn’t like a good trip down memory lane with that!) Few TV shows offer that sheer span of time-related comparisons. And while I sincerely doubt they need to lure in female viewers quite as much as they did 50 years ago, the modern woman as companion has become a bit of a tradition, and it works fairly well.

    That’s certainly not to say I wouldn’t love to see it switched up though, too. I would like to see a male companion again, and we know that works…I know of very few people who would argue against the Doctor/Jaime relationship being brilliant, or Wilf. (I’m not discounting Rory, but my mind sort of classifies him as a gift-with-purchase companion.) Or I’d take a future companion, or one from another planet. 🙂

  3. Elvis Omar said:

    I say to other readers and listeners: Heed the warning! My eyes, oh dear goddess, my eyes and ears. Oh, the distress.

    Thank you ladies for an interesting discussion. Some good insights, but the one that resonates with me the most is: they got it right straight out of the gate. Barbara is awesome. I also really appreciated the comments about Liz Shaw. I just watched Doctor Who and the Silurians and I took note at the time that she seems mostly to let sexist attitudes float by unremarked as she heads off to do whatever she thinks best. Everybody picks their battles, and I think Liz Shaw avoided a lot of skirmishes because she knows she is a Senior Science Advisor for the United Nations Intelligence Taskforce, which was one very important victory counted toward the final tally.

  4. Ray Adamson said:

    Lovely to see a decent proportion of the discussion being a fairer assessment of Jo Grant,i’m a keen advocate of the opinion that she was never as stupid as sections of fandom portray her frequently.I think people are too negative about her because they consider Jo to be a retrograde development for the programme after Liz but there were countless occaisions when she proved to be braver and more resourceful than Liz although she was not as smart.So not fair,i think.It is an exaggerrated misconception that companions in the classic series were quite generic in the way they were used and not good portrayals of women or decent role models for girls.Most of the characters were appropriate representations of the periods they were devised in although the companions in JNT’s era don’t have quite as much credibility for me now, as their stories never used their backgrounds effectively enough.Tegan reminds me of Donna Noble in the respect that she had a lack of confidence in herself in desperate situations and could be quite adversarial with the Doctor,though.I consider Tom Baker’s first season to be the strongest depiction of Sarah Jane because the relationship with Harry contained a way more balanced and humourous depiction of her aggressive feminism and confidence.Can’t finish without declaring my admiration for Barbara and Polly too.

    • My favourite ‘Tegan is a feminist’ scene is still her arguing with her aunt over whether they should change the tyre themselves or wait for a ‘knight errant’ to rescue them. The fact that Tegan makes the more active choice is a) the reason she survives the Master, while her aunt does not and b) the reason she ends up in the TARDIS!

      • Ray Adamson said:

        Absolutely Tansy.Bidmead was pretty direct about portraying her as a feminist immediately,much to his credit.My actual favourite Tegan scene is when she tells off the completely bewildered fourth Doctor in his TARDIS when she first meets him in the console room.It’s so unusual to see anyone challenging the fourth doctor’s authority in any way and the wincing from all the noise is completely hysterical for me.Must have inspired Russell the T’s writing of Donna’s introduction in The Runaway Bride,for me as the situation is very similar.

  5. bekitty3 said:

    I managed to watch all of “Doctor in Distress”. I think the pandering beforehand helped. 😉

    • Deborah Stanish said:

      I only wish that we could actually send you cake for that brave, brave act. 😉

  6. Benjax said:

    I really enjoyed this show and listened 4 times so far. Your Fictionalshire correspondent at her best!

  7. korshi said:

    Loved the episode, guys. I think I come from the same school of thought as Erika*, in that I tend to find the weirder companions – Leela, Romana, K9, Susan, Adric etc. – more interesting than the more classic ‘modern woman’; I generally find the idea that we always need an ‘everyman’ character to identify with a bit condescending, and I always wanted to be the Doctor, rather than his companion, when I was a kid. I think I subconsciously assumed that was the way most people felt, but apparently Russell T Davies (and presumably a lot of other people) felt very differently! Anyway, you’ve managed to give me a new appreciation of characters like Jo, and even Sarah Jane, who I haven’t found very interesting in the past.

    I also paused the podcast to go off to youtube and watch Doctor in Distress, and after the terrible, terrible things I’d heard about it I found that I was pleasantly surprised. I mean, yes, it’s abysmal, and I feel sorry for Colin and Nicola, but I managed to watch it to the end without dying of awkwardness, and the chorus is kind of catchy…

    *I think it was Erika! Sorry if I’ve got the wrong person 🙂

    • It was, indeed, me! I think we’ll have some more discussion of those other types of companions coming up later, and I’m almost certain we’ll be covering them next year in more detail, so you and I have something to look forward to!

      I’m not sure what to think of your reaction to “Doctor in Distress” though… 😉

  8. Paul A. said:

    I saw an interview with Colin Baker once where he said that Nicola Bryant confided in him early on, because having to constantly pretend to be American was getting to her and she needed someone she could be herself around.

    “And you were the only person who knew she wasn’t really American?”

    “Well,” says Colin, after a thoughtful pause, “I think her parents had some idea.”

  9. Drew Walko said:

    Wonderful discussion as always, but I was slightly bemused at Tegan being left out of the ’80s “Barbie doll” companions grouping, since aside from the fact that she spends all of season 19 in her stewardess uniform and nagging the Doctor to take her to Heathrow, the only story where her character being a flight attendant is at all significant to the story is “Time Flight.” Otherwise, she’s totally Stewardess Barbie. That isn’t to say that hers is not a strong character in many ways, just that holding her up as an example of a career woman is a bit dubious–she doesn’t exactly distinguish herself in her field, since she never makes it to her first day of work…

    • I agree she doesn’t distinguish herself in her career, but in Logopolis at least it is very clear that her job is a strong part of her identity – I like the part especially where she practices her in flight speech when driving her aunt, and that she recognises that the TARDIS is a) a craft of some kind and b) must have a pilot.

      And that makes two stories which actively refer to her job multiple times or as part of the main plot, which is more than either Peri or Mel got! Neither of them had an introductory or closing story which showed much about their regular life (except Peri’s creepy stepfather) at all, whereas Tegan received far more context – two relatives, a life plan, a job she cared about, and a bizarre skill for ancient languages. (ok the last is a bit of a stretch)

      • Drew Walko said:

        Don’t forget her considerable artistic talent in “Four to Doomsday”! I agree that Tegan is a far more rounded and well-realised character than either Peri or Mel, but when compared to Sarah, Liz, Jo, Barbara, or even Zoe, her profession tends to serve more as a quirky character gimmick than as a facet of her character which is relevant to her plot function in most stories. That isn’t me having a go at her, by the way–I quite like Tegan. 🙂

  10. Sarah B said:

    I’m way behind, just found you, and all I have to say is that I wish I knew you 20 years ago when I fled the horror that was DWAS meetings and being hit on by smelly boys who thought trying to out-trivia a girl was a way to her heart. I’ll come back when I can be current. 🙂

  11. Michael Gilroy-Sinclair said:

    Please can someone tape the podcast pannel at the con

    • I don’t know what the policy is on recording panels at Westercon. I wasn’t planning on recording anything while there. The podcasting panel isn’t about Doctor Who podcasting–it’s not even about podcasting itself. It’s intended to be from an audience perspective–how to find and listen to podcasts, so I expect it to be quite general. If someone does record it, I’ll certainly point them in your direction, but such a panel wouldn’t fit in Verity’s remit.

  12. MayorOfUlthar said:

    Hi I just found out about Verity from RFS. Do you have a good place to download your podcasts (besides ITunes, which is so hard to use and only friendly to one hardware platform, really).

    • Hello and welcome to the Verity! fold. 🙂 As always, many thanks to RFS for sending folks our way. Hope you like what you hear.

      As for downloading, I’m right there with you–I hate iTunes. You can download each episode directly from the posts on our website. (Just right click the “Download” link and select “Save As” to save to your hard drive.) Or if you use a podcast app on your phone or device (I use one called MyPod, and I’ve heard good things about something called DownCast), you can plug our RSS feed address into that app, and it will download each ep automatically. Here’s the RSS link: — You can also download episodes via that link.

      You can also stream each episode on the website on the post page for each episode. Lots of options! Let me know if you have any questions about any of that.

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