Six Smart Women Discussing Doctor Who

VerityEpisode43-210This week we get sidetracked (by an infographic, of all things) before we even get started! Once we get that out of our systems, we roll on through our usual happy-Who-things into a well-loved topic. Join Deb, Erika, Katrina, and Tansy as we talk about the use of mythology in Doctor Who. Tansy waxes poetic about Greek and Arthurian myths, Kat has strong feeling about werewolves, Erika is happy about many things, and Deb manages to not get (too) mad at the internet!

Congratulations to Koa, who won our giveaway of Paul Cornell‘s new novel, The Severed Streets!


Also covered:

Bonus links:
“Is Doctor Who Sexist” infographic
Liz’s Storified Twitter response (Warning: “colorful” language!)
Skaromantic Comedy (from RFS‘s Warren Frey)
The Odyssey read-along
Doctor Who’s Mythical Monsters

Download or listen now (runtime 1:26:44) 

Comments on: "Verity! Episode 43 – Stats That Are Fails and Werewolf Tales" (21)

  1. Thank you for your opinions regarding the infamous infographic – it was very enlightening. I do agree with Tansy that the problems are more with the way this was being shared and misrepresented than with the work itself. So with that in mind, I would like to share something regarding feminism and Doctor Who that I do not think was shared enough:

    “I think it’s important that there is a feminist critique of television because things that go unquestioned go unchanged, and what goes unchanged becomes institutionalised, and what becomes institutionalised becomes your fault. So it should be questioned.

    I think some of the criticisms that are aimed at me personally are absurdly over-the-top and unfair, but then who said the prosecution has to be fair? And it’s a case that needs to be prosecuted.”

    — Steven Moffat on the TV-dags podcast, April 2014 (available at:

  2. This piece has been discussed a lot on Twitter – and it’s worth reading because I think we would have had a very different conversation in response to this essay than we did to the infographic.

    In particular, it’s the thing where people are saying that RTD Who is feminist, and Moffat Who is sexist, as if these things are mathematically provable.

    Or as Liz said on Twitter:

    L M Myles @LMMyles
    I’ve no prob with Bechdel being used to illustrate broad trends, it’s when it’s used to try and say…

    …”this thing that passes is more feminist than this thing that doesn’t” that I object. You need more context than that.

    Also, never forget how low a standard it is. It’s like saying a 5 month old lettuce is tastier than one you’ve only had 4 months 3 wks.

    • Sarah B said:

      I have to wonder if this was the text of the assignment, as it’s described – – since only the figure seems to be more than an analysis-by-opinion. That said, she acknowledges multiple times the limitations of the study itself AND the role of the Bechdel test as an initiator of conversation. I found the results interesting, but it never seemed to be presented as conclusive proof of anything, at least when I first saw it on Twitter. Obviously it’s gone further than that, and people are offering it as conclusive now, but as you said in the podcast, bygone eras are always The Golden Age(s) for someone.

      I find the Bechdel test as assessed on the movie page as mostly a measure of how many roles there are for women in films (because the more women there are the more likely there are to be passing conversations), which is also addressed by Geena Davis’ (?) suggestions regarding the proportion of women in crowd scenes (17%, apparently; after that the crowd is perceived as more noticeably high in women).

      Also, doesn’t the article address the Moffat episodes written during the RTD era?

      Also (again), I’m not entirely comfortable with Amy’s exit as a blow for feminism and self-determination, since she essentially chose to hopefully follow her man, and live happily ever after.

      I don’t hate the analysis itself, but I don’t think it’s a great idea to hold it up as “proof” of anything in particular. (oh god, I could go on and on about this and I don’t think I’ve really said anything useful at all)

  3. On the use of dialogue duration to determine ‘sexism’: A character may say, “I’m confused, explain it to me!” in every scene, and accumulate a lot of minutes. But that character is unlikely to be a feminist icon 😉 Also, I think we need to consider Moffat’s broader work outside Doctor Who before blaming him for a trend in the scriptwriting. I’ve seen lots of Moffat’s work (I really liked ‘Coupling’), and I honestly don’t see him as a source of increasing sexism in Doctor Who. And honestly, the Bechdel Test is really only useful to demonstrate that female characters exist in a script for the sole purpose of reacting to male characters. It can only be used to show how bad a script is, not validate a good one.

  4. It seems to me that in a programme like Doctor Who, measuring the time a character spends speaking isn’t really going to give you an accurate sense of how important they are to the story. There’s an awful lot of physical action and time spent running around and pushing buttons. And surely WHAT’s said is more important than HOW MUCH is said?

    In terms of myths, I’m a Scottish person and I remember loving Nessie’s appearance in Terror of the Zygons. I was far less impressed with the rather pathetic suggestion that the Borad from Timelash was meant to have been mistaken for our beloved aquatic beastie…

    And I agree with Kat that werewolves should have tails. Not easy to paint though, so I always show my werewolves from the front. 🙂

  5. Ooh, and I have just found my own happy Who thing! My copy of the ‘Adventures in Space and Time’ Blu-ray just arrived from the US, and it is region free! UK fans rejoice! 🙂

    • Sarah B said:

      Region free! Yay! I have a sad little collection of region 1 DVDs from the first three series I bought when living in the USA, that sit neglected next to the nostalgia-fest of video cassettes I had in the early 90s (I’m in Australia now), but my fiance just surprised me with Blu-ray replacements, so I have a Blu-ray happy too (which is why I’m replying to share the joy 🙂

  6. vikzwrites said:

    Really excited about your book list podcast. Maybe you could add another category- Podcasts that we should be listening to 🙂

  7. As someone who teaches a (geographic qualitative) research methods class, I’m somewhat shocked and frustrated that the instructor did not tell his/her students to triangulate their data. Quantified data can only tell so much of a story, just as interviews, archival research, or observations only tell a partial narrative. I believe if she/he instructed her/his students to do a textual analysis rather than simply a content analysis, than they could include actions, gestures, and emotions that do not register in their statistics. Therefore, they could give a much more nuanced discussion of feminist themes (or lack of as they are arguing) in Doctor Who. I don’t know maybe this is a difference of disciplines but I would hope in a field such as Media Studies, which I assume would also rely on subjective readings of the media not just “objective” ones. Though nothing is really objective and it seems these students missed the point on that. And I teach hard core science undergraduates and they got this concept within the first two weeks of class.

    • Sarah B said:

      I’m curious what the assignment question was, and what the actual assignment looked like as turned in. I teach science, but as a university-level assignment, what’s been circulating is… limited.

  8. I want to marry Liz’s tweets about that rubbish infographic! ❤ ❤ Thanks so much for sharing them! 🙂

    And thanks to Tansy for the mention! It's so good to be back. 🙂

  9. “I’m not sure the Doctor isn’t Loki sometimes…” Has you guys read Dark Horizon by Jenny Colgan?

    • Just what I thought! Loved that book, hope it gets discussed in the book list next week

  10. Ok, Tansy just convinced me I need to go out and buy a copy of Battlefield!

  11. I finally listened to the whole episode (had to listen in chunks due to being crazy-busy!) and have to say I really loved the episode, especially the bits about mythology. I’m a total Classical Studies nerd, so its a big topic of interest for me already, so it was great to hear other opinions about how mythology relates to Doctor Who. Great job, ladies! 🙂

  12. Hooray! I won something! And Paul Cornell will also get a sale out of it because I haven’t read London Falling yet… It’s been on my ‘must read’ list for a while!

    I’m rather fond of a good myth story, when it’s done well. Not so sure about werewolves and vampires, though.

    And the infographic just made me sigh about youthful naïveté – students are so cute, they way they think subjective opinions can be ‘proven’ if they have some statistics…

  13. james said:

    The Bechdel Test is the Bechdel Test.

    #underworld #infographic

  14. While I disagree with this study, I do think that Doctor Who misrepresents women. There are a large number of women who are complete airheads, and there are a large number of women who are amazingly intelligent. There are women who are brave and strong, and there women who are complete cowards who will freak out over seeing a tiny, harmless bug. There are women who have a strong drive, and there are women who have weak wills and let people run over them. There are women who are fat, and there women who are skinny. The fact of the matter is that Doctor Who and other visual forms of entertainment present characters that have characterists of the ideal female for what women want to be. So when a program does not represent that ideal woman or something close to it, there is a tendency to voice opposition to that particular portrayal. Hence, the accusations of sexism.

  15. Gray Bell said:

    Good podcast, although I have very little interest in applying progressive attitudes towards any format of equality to anything that isn’t happening either now or in the future. I believe that Empty Child is supposedly highly sexist by some measures… Despite introducing a strong female character, having a WWII setting and addressing the Doctors attitudes towards sex for the first time in 40 years… But the whole story was produced a decade ago and we live in a time that is constantly moving and we should keep pushing forward, not looking back (unless it’s to watch Spearhead from Space or the Ark) … I care much less about 2005 sexism than I do about how good / effective / enjoyable / progressive the morals and story of the 2014 season are going to be.

    Anyway, that’s totally not what I wanted to say… What I really wanted to say was…

    Loved the discussion of mythical characters in the series. It was really interesting and you covered a lot of the bases. One thing I would really like some opinions on though is the way the series (especially in the 60s) addresses the myths surrounding genuine historical individuals. The principle example is Marco Polo, the Doctor very much interacts with the storybook character of Marco Polo as opposed to the less feted and less interesting original article. The story (Marco Polo) does touch on the fact that an audience shouldn’t necessarily belive the stories they are told by first having Marco appear very much as the story but he is quickly deconstructed from myth towards being a more rounded character.

    Likewise Richard III in the Crusades is originally more heroic and in keeping with the Robin Hoodlike portrayal of a heroic warrior king. But again he becomes much less of a legend and much more of a man by the end of the story. With both Marco Polo and Richard III, the characters in the series add nuance to the original myth but they remain more myth than real.

    There are a few examples of the early series using the myth of a real person rather than the historical evidence and Big Finish addresses it much more blatantly in Flames of Cadtz and The Kingmaker. More lately Winston Churchill was closer to his caricature than his actual character in Victory of the Daleks, while Hitler was traduced from figure of moral abhorrence to cupboard comedy gold in Let’s Kill Hitler?

    Aside from these outliers I cannot think of this type of myth usage occurring after The Gunfighters, wondered if you’d find this interesting?

  16. Good point about focusing on the future, though I do think there’s some merit in the old chestnut: “Those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it.” Thus I do think it’s worth looking at the past to compare to the present.

    As for historical, or “historical”, characters being largely mythologized, if that kind of discussion interests you, I recommend checking out Episode 37 – These Villains Are History

    I can’t remember if we covered Marco Polo, Winston Churchill, et. al. specifically, but we did talk about the phenomenon you mention.

    Thanks for listening and taking the time to comment!


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 )

Facebook photo

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

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: