Gender politics and ‘Doctor Who’. Two topics that are guaranteed to stoke passions no matter what you say. Usually the two subjects intersect when the time comes to cast a new actor as the Doctor and the question of whether or not a woman can or should be cast in the role almost inevitably comes up. It’s not something that usually comes up with regard to the companions, though.
There’s a first time for everything, though, and the question was raised in the most recent issue of ‘Doctor Who Magazine’. Showrunner Steven Moffat had this to say on the subject:
“Science-fiction is notoriously male. You can tell that because everyone wears uniforms and marches around talking about rules. But ‘Doctor Who’ has always felt to me, rather female. It’s full of kindness and compassion and eccentricity and wisdom instead of violence. And from that point of view it is important that the main character, the Doctor’s best friend, should be female. I think it would be damaging to ‘Doctor Who’ if that voice and viewpoint were not represented.”
Well this is… complicated, to put it mildly. Should the Doctor’s companions be female? While there’s no intrinsic reason they have to be (it’s a science fiction show – a companion can be literally anyone or anything the writers can dream up), the overwhelming majority have been. And let me say unequivocally that that is a good thing. In a show where the Doctor and his companions are the only characters who actually appear in every episode, it is as Moffat says, important to maintain a female presence on the show. On that much, he and I have absolutely no disagreement.
To my mind, though, it’s not that the companion should be a woman, as much as it is that *someone* on the show should be. While I would be all for having a male companion in the mix, the last thing I want is for ‘Doctor Who’ to become a sausage fest. After all, Moffat himself has arguably done more than any other producer in the show’s fifty-plus year history to drive home the possibility of the Doctor regenerating into a woman, even if he has stopped short of pulling that trigger himself. And if the show were to go in that direction, this whole argument could be reversed in favor of a male companion.
Of course, framing this in terms of “the companion” – singular – as Moffat does ignores the possibility of a more crowded TARDIS. Moffat himself explored this approach with Amy and Rory earlier in his tenure, though the modern series as a whole has tended to favor a “one at a time” approach to companions. This is understandable to an extent. After all, the more characters you have on the show, the trickier it can be to give them all something to do. This is a problem the classic series ran into more than once. Despite that, however, a crowded TARDIS was fairly common in that era. In fact, depending on how one counts the extended supporting cast from the Third Doctor’s time, you might not get to the single companion default until Tom Baker’s second year as the Fourth Doctor, which came in 1975
Another, somewhat tangential point is that Moffat’s comments reiterate an opinion that he has expressed before, namely that the companion is the main character. And as often as not, the modern series (especially during Moffat’s time at the helm) has treated them as such. But personally, I’ve always thought of the Doctor as the main character, with the companions often acting more as audience surrogates or point of view characters.
But the bottom line? While Moffat is absolutely correct about the need for a strong female presence on ‘Doctor Who’ (and in entertainment generally), he expresses the idea in a way that seems to disregard any possibility of the various scenarios that would allow both a male companion and a continued female voice on the series. And at the end of the day, ‘Doctor Who is a show about the infinite possibilities of the universe. After all, this is a show about an alien time traveler who cheats death by becoming another person and whose story possibilities are literally “anywhere, anytime”.
‘Doctor Who’ will return to the airwaves on Christmas with ‘The Return of Doctor Mysterio’. Following the Christmas special, the show returns for its tenth season in spring 2017.