Six Smart Women Discussing Doctor Who

VerityExtraBeingAGirl-300Extra!-on-extra action! A DVD extra called “Being a Girl”? How could we resist? Join Deb, Erika, Liz, and Lynne as we talk about this bit of value-added material from the most recent release of “Shada”. Or does it add value? The opinions on this are strong and voiced loudly so settle in, buckle up, and enjoy the ride!


Download or listen now (runtime 33:07) 

Comments on: "Verity! Extra! – Vapid VAM?" (17)

  1. Ray Adamson said:

    The best observation and criticism you made of the feature was that it wasn’t really appropriate to a dvd release of an incomplete story intended for hardcore fans.I expect somebody could ask Dan Hall about that definitely made some unfair generalisations about the role of female characters in the classic series and misrepresented certain companions.Have to say i did think the discussion was slightly too evangelical about the portrayal of female characters in the classic series for my preferences.Plenty of the actors who played the characters have complained that there wasn,t enough attention to characterisation in a lot of the scripts for them to create a convincing character.The programmes writing in the classic series was more plot driven and there are practically no examples of story concepts being generated by the backgrounds of companions.It’s slightly ironic that although there is less space in the writing for characterisation now ,it’s definitely a much more important concern for Producers and writers.Although i tend to agree with many opinions about Barbara,it seems to me that a lot of her stories avoided examining her relationship with Susan because they wanted to use Susan as a point of identification for children.Not many of the early stories demonstrate Barbara’s attitude to Susan as having changed drastically after she finds out she’s from another planet.Susan always seems to behave as though Barbara is superior to her too .

  2. Elvisomar said:

    This is the first discussion I’ve heard from you all that made me go: “Wha—?” The reason being: I don’t tend to buy very many DVDs, I’m not really a collector of Doctor Who things, so it seems extraordinarily unlikely I shall ever see the video piece you were talking about, and now that I’ve heard your conversation about it, I would probably avoid it as thought it were a Dalek ship anyway. Even those of you that were defending it a bit (Erica mostly, I think?) weren’t really endorsing it as a wholly worthwhile exercise, but rather that the writers were not irresponsible and ignorant, but just misguided and aiming at the wrong audience.

    So, if your point was: “Seriously BBC licensed DVD producers? You thought this was a good use time and money!?!?” Then your point has been made. And honestly, I feel the Verity Podcast has as part of its mission the imperative to speak out against sub-standard representation of women and the female outlook in Doctor Who; so I don’t intend to critique your desire to spend an entire Verity Extra discussing it.

    But, now that you have savaged, er, I mean covered it, can we please go back to talking about actual Doctor Who?

  3. Fear not, next week will be a proper Episode rather than an Extra. (We alternate weekly.) Episodes cover Doctor Who; Extras cover all kinds of stuff (not just the show itself)!

  4. You made me go back and watch this. The doc in question… I can see what it was trying to do. But its such an important topic that it needs a greater depth. Basically. A fan who buys a recon of shada isnt just a passing punter. Its a hard core fan who demands more. Which… We deserve.

    regards mmg-s (tin dog podcast host)

  5. It seems to me that the presenters (and Samira Ahmed in particular) were put in a terrible position with this documentary!

    For a start, it’s a massive topic and half an hour was only ever going to scratch the surface.

    But surely if you have one of two presenters who is not especially familiar with the Classic years of the show, you need to make a feature of that rather than throwing a few clips/episodes at her and pretending she’s an expert? Why not play off her position as a New Who fan, figuring out her preconceptions about early women on the show and then trying to counter that with some evidence? Why not set her up to interrogate the past instead of trying to give her a crash course and then chucking her in the deep end?

    Plenty of fans will probably look at the piece, think it pretty much sums up their own thoughts about women in Doctor Who and go away again without having their preconceptions challenged. But I’ll bet there are also some who will go “wow having women on the VAM doesn’t add much, does it? She doesn’t know much about the show.” Which is… not helpful in getting more women involved in these things!

    As I think several of you said – this one was lazy. But you can’t cover the entire conversation about women and Doctor Who in half an hour! We’ve been putting out an hour and a half per fortnight all year and we’ve barely got started…

    While you were making this episode, I was off on Splendid Chaps, chatting about the topic of ‘women in Doctor Who’. it’s a big, big BIG topic, and I initially thought it would be a great opportunity to do as you suggest here – tackling some of the conventional fan wisdom about the older companions as screamers and dollybirds.

    In fact, we didn’t even get on to that stuff because – did I mention? Big topic. And the two other female guests on the show were mostly familiar with New Who – and so the best and most fun (and inclusive) way to make use of our time was to chat mostly about the new version of the show, with those of us who knew the classic years to jump in with a bit of perspective from time to time.

    We didn’t even get to talk about River Song. Or women who aren’t companions. And that’s okay. Because BIG TOPIC. We had a great time with the bits we did talk about, and came away having said much that was important, even when we didn’t agree with each other.

    Default narratives about sexism get retold over and over because they are easy and memorable. I think nearly ever actress who ever played the companion on Doctor Who has always been told how her character is going to be the one to “break the mould” and “be the Doctor’s equal” and will be in many ways better than all the female co-stars who have gone before.

    I sat down and watched the new Spearhead VAM recently and it was a little sad that in building up the awesomeness of Caroline John as Liz Shaw there were a lot of sideswipes at the girls who had been on the show before and after – but in the case Caroline herself and her husband I honestly think they believed that because they had been sold that narrative by the production team. It’s a sad fact of our culture generally that women are so often set up to compete with each other by putting down the opposition, as if there can only be ONE who is awesome. We’re never encouraged to have a culture of mutual awesomeness.

    You very rarely hear anyone say that Tom Baker was so successful because all the previous Doctors were shit, for instance. The discussions about the Doctor tend to be a lot more nuanced.

    Susan’s sprained ankle is just one example of how often some badly written or annoyingly sexist moments for one of the companions ends up defining them in the eyes of fans because it’s the bit they remember. Polly made the tea, Jo got captured. Sarah only got to be feminist in one story. Peri wore a bikini. Martha fancied the Doctor.

    I came away from Splendid Chaps excited that we’d had such an in depth chat about some aspects of women on the show, but well aware of how much left unsaid – and in particular a little disappointed that so many of my thoughts about Susan and Barbara and Romana went unspoken…

    And then I remembered that I have a Doctor Who podcast where I get to talk about this stuff ALL THE TIME! Hooray! If anyone’s going to have the public conversation about reclaiming the Doctor Who companions from the sexist trappings that occasionally held them back, how about we do it?

    • Ray Adamson said:

      Nice post Tansy.I guess the big reason that the negativity about former companions comes up when they discuss their particular characters in these features is just because actors tend to be infrequent viewers of television because of their profession so they go with their producers opinions about other characters and the popular consensus of fans when they talk in these features.I thought the brevity of the feature was most responsible for the features problems but the misrepresentation did just seem lazy.Sigh.

      • I think that’s absolutely true, Ray – and I think it’s important to talk about the limitations placed upon the actresses playing those roles and the lack of support they often got. But at the same time their perspective on the end result is not the be-all and end-all – in literary criticism, the author is dead, after all. Their intent and the story behind their work is interesting but the work has to stand on its own.

        Often in raising awareness about sexism and problems with the portrayal of women, if we’re not careful we canend up ditching a whole lot of positives about those female characters. So the “anti-sexism” actually ends up sounding a lot like “anti-women”.

        There are plenty of fans over the years who have pointed out the problems with Polly making the tea or the sprained ankles. It’s not news! As Liz notes, Terrance Dicks satirised that stuff in The Five Doctors, making a joke of it. (I love that Tegan reacts so badly to being asked to fetch refreshments) Reclaiming the positives of the characters or at least balancing the negative out with positive is I think a more interesting conversation to have.

        Verity, punching holes in conventional fan wisdom since 2013…

    • “It’s a sad fact of our culture generally that women are so often set up to compete with each other by putting down the opposition, as if there can only be ONE who is awesome. We’re never encouraged to have a culture of mutual awesomeness.”

      I’d never thought of it in that context before, but yes, exactly. There’s this idea that one can only talk about how great a female character is by explaining that she’s not like those OTHER girls, who are, of course, all terrible, because they’re girls. We can’t just talk about why she’s great; we can’t praise Liz unless we put down Jo at the same time, and I hate it.

      • Ray Adamson said:

        I don’t know that it’s necessarily related to gender though.It tends to be the way fans distinguish the separate production eras of the programme too,by making comparisons which highlight the various approaches .I don’t think there’s an intentional agenda by the people making these things to have women competing against each other for the sake of minimising the role of female companions in the classic series.Thats just not the case. Incidentally,there was quite a nice feature on Doctor Who companions in the supplementary magazine of The Guardian today and i feel it would be appropriate to point out that it’s quite apparent that many of the actresses involved with the new series are very aware that they,ve had the chance to work on the programme now because of the contributions of people who’ve played characters before and i’ve never seen any of them making any derogatory comments at all about people who have preceded them.

      • It’s not just comparing things, though: that’s fair enough, and in the case of Liz and Jo I think it’s definitely worth talking about the way Jo’s character was constructed in comparison to Liz (though I also think fandom’s done plenty of that at this point). What I’m talking about is a specific type of comparison that involves talking up one female character by putting down another. And I think it IS gendered – I don’t see people talking about the Doctors in the same way, or the male companions: I’ve never seen anyone talking up Ian by putting down Steven, for instance (though by typing that sentence I am making it a certainty that someone will have done so!). But it happens with Liz and Jo, in particular, all the time. See also any time someone proclaims a companion “the first feminist companion”, which also happens a fair bit, especially at the beginning of the New Series iirc.

        I don’t think it’s an intentional agenda, quite the opposite! I think it rises out of a cultural context that sees women as always being in competition with each other, and feels that women are there to be judged, and can be dismissed if they don’t fit whatever this week’s “correct way to be a woman” is. And I think the fact that it IS unconscious is why it’s so important to challenge it, because it’s so easy to do without thinking about it.

        I saw that article (it’s right beside me on the sofa now, in fact!) and liked that it was refreshingly free of any “so and so was the first feminist companion” stuff. I’ve never said that any of the actresses of have made derogatory comments about their predecessors: it’s fans, talking heads on DVD extras and occasionally publicity people (again, looking at the start of the New Series in particular here; I’m pretty sure I remember the implication that Rose was the first companion who was given more to do than scream and get kidnapped popping up from time to time) who seem to fall into that trap the most.

  6. I admit, I almost passed on this Verity! Extra because I tried to watch this particular documentary and I couldn’t get through the first five minutes. I don’t remember specifically what set me off, but there was one comment in the documentary that I just had to turn it off and walk away because it made me so angry (to be fair, I could tell what it was building up to from the very beginning). I’ve NEVER done that with any of the VAM from the Classic Who DVDs (and I’ve watched my fair share of Classic Who VAM). I usually enjoy the special features on these DVDs and I’ve had nothing but praise for the people who work on them – but I guess there had to be at least one stinker somewhere.

    I felt the Verity! ladies gave it a fair-enough shot – but there are some things that are just so bad that being fair and honest involves unloading both barrels (I wanted to high five both Liz and Lynne for pretty much everything they said). I was glad that I wasn’t the only one who felt this way about this documentary because I was feeling bad for disliking it so much. I could find much better analysis and celebration of the women of Doctor Who from Tumblr (in fact, that’s what I did after switching off the DVD – when in doubt, Tumblr’s always there for you ^_^).

    • Yeah, I wanted to high five Liz & Lynne too. I usually love the VAM but, seriously, instead of getting someone who knows nothing about the entire period of Doctor Who to comment on a topic so important, why not just get some bloody experts? Why can’t we get the Verity team on one of these DVDs? How about when they come out with the Blu-ray for something like the Green Death? I vote we storm the BBC and demand they put some Verity commentators on it. Or an extra. That would be so BOSS! (And I do mean that in a Bimorphic Organisational Systems Supervisor sort of way!)

  7. Clare said:

    This is a timely video from the Guardian – interviews with six of the the companions:

  8. James C said:

    This was a curious instalment of Verity. Like all the other episodes, it was an engaging discussion. I think I was bothered though as it seemed that the depth of the discussion was rather more than the source material deserved. Sadly I think the clue is in the title – ‘Being a girl’. On a commercial DVD (even one as niche as Shada) this was unlikely to be anything more than vapid. This in no way excuses the content of the piece, but I suppose I am surprised that the Verities were so surprised. Is it possible that over the course of the year your discussion has moved on so far that you have lost track of where the mainstream is? Just a thought.

    Another thought I had was inspired by Tansy’s recent appearance on Splendid Chaps. I’m posting it here as Tansy has referred to it earlier, and I think the discussion could progress here quite successfully. Tansy referred to masculinity in Who and the way that intellect and empathy is emphasised over force. It’s mentioned as a given, but I don’t know that I have seen a deeper exploration of it. I would love to hear your take on it, Verities.

    Thanks for such a great podcast.

  9. […] one of the extras on the Shada DVD set. (Spoiler: We’re much more excited about this one than the last one we talked about.) What does it mean to be a diva? Do all the female baddies on the show (and included the extra) […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: