Wednesday, September 3, 2014

The Newest Dr. Who Episode is a Breath of Fresh Air

Doctor Who is a TV show about as ancient as its main character, and just as beloved. Over the past fifty years, it’s become a really influential piece of pop culture, with thousands of fans, young and old. The show has indirectly affected countless other works of fiction, and the minds of several generations, so the type of message they’re sending is a pretty big deal.

The newest episode (episode 1 of the reboot’s season 8, entitled “Deep Breath,” starring brand new doctor Peter Capaldi) broke the ugly pattern of the last few seasons by forcefully stating that women can have complex character development besides their barest sexuality, and that an opposite sex friendship can exist without any romantic undertones whatsoever.

In the past few seasons, the Doctor’s companions (a female character who traditionally travels with him and shares in his adventures) have all been two-dimensional, bound to the bare bones of popular female character tropes (sexy, flirtatious, “bad girl,” or damsel-in-distress) and had no character development besides their relationship to the Doctor - which was always at least a little bit sexual. Even the intense fight scenes were punctuated with soulless, flirtatious banter between the Doctor and any one of his female friends. Even River Song, a "strong" character who originally seemed really interesting and complicated, was eventually reduced to an empty shell with no personality besides her constant flirtation/obsession with the doctor, and the coolest thing she ever gets to do is swing a ray gun around and shoot some bad guys. Whereas in previous seasons, the women actually got to do something once in a while, the girls of New Who were always treated as objects, rather than subjects; being carried out of a Dalek asylum unconscious, for example, instead of swinging to the Doctor’s aid.

Amy Pond: "Strong," "Independent," and she looks really good unconscious.

The thing about this show is that ever since it began, people of all ages have grown up loving it. A large part of the show's audience are young girls, anywhere from age 2 to 18. So the message that these young girls are receiving - not just from trashy movies or bad sitcoms or arrogant teenage boys, but from a show they love - is that the only women worth talking about are sexy, flirtatious, spunky, witty, etc, and that even the ones who are shown to be fully capable of taking care of themselves are eventually saved (and manipulated) by their male love interests, again, and again, and again, and again, and again.

However, in this newest episode, Deep Breath, the current companion (Clara) has some complicated scenes where we get to explore the inner workings of her mind. We also see flashbacks to her past, before she ever knew the Doctor. There’s even one scene at the end where the Doctor apologizes for making the mistake of acting flirtatiously with her, when he really shouldn’t have - Clara says that she never considered him as something romantic, thus establishing their strong platonic bond once and for all. The entire episode almost seemed like an apology to the entire fan base, which was exhausted from several seasons of blatant sexism. Completely smashing the ideologies about women and their relationships with men that were constantly perpetuated in the previous seasons, Deep Breath shows how women can be complicated, can have backstories and plotlines of their own, and actually have interesting things to say - and pass the Bechdel test.


  1. I enjoyed this post as it discussed the it defines both, what a woman is typically portrayed as in a tv show or movie and how Dr. Who defied this. It is a shame that the show will possibly succumb to it's old ways after this episode.

  2. I agree that we have seen a sharp increase in a loss of complexity of character with the females of Doctor Who but I would like to point out that it is not constant. I never found Donna's connection to the Doctor to be anything more than platonic and Martha, especially in her first episode, contributed to the fight and helped the Doctor as nearly an equal.