Beginning with the Ninth Doctor’s era, I’d like to take a look at the side characters of New Who, with an emphasis on the women.
‘Rose’ by Russell T. Davies
- Clive’s wife (minor)
- Clive’s son (minor)
- Nestene voice
The first episode of the reboot skews male. This is hardly unusual in the grand scheme; research has observed (too lazy to find source) that a cast made up of 1/3 women will be perceived as dominated by women. Setting aside that particular wtf, what about these characters?
Jackie and Mickey receive roughly equal treatment in the story. Both are well realized, both are important to Rose as well as to the season arc. They ground Rose while giving the audience two different perspectives on the main character and her life.
Clive serves a couple of purposes in the episode. He delivers exposition, which could have been done by a character of either gender. He also represents a stereotype: the overweight obsessive, collecting mementos of his fandom in a backyard shed where his wife doesn’t have to look at them, single-mindedly gathering information, forming wild theories, and sharing them on the Internet. Years later Gatiss and Moffat would use Clive’s female counterpart – now a more widely accepted member of fandom – in the leadup to S3 of Sherlock. In ‘Rose,’ however, Russell T. Davies seems to be pointing to a very specific archetype in the character of Clive.
The Autons are split male/female, but the ones that get the most action – threatening Rose, fighting Rose and the Doctor – are all male.
‘The End of the World’ by Russell T. Davies
- Computer voice
- Moxx of Balhoon
- Assorted aliens and alien voices
Women dominate this episode in screen time if not in absolute numbers. Cassandra is the primary villain; Jabe steps in as companion while Rose explores the alien landscape. Raffalo, an afterthought of a character, has more lines and more personality than any male other than the Steward. She also has a traditionally male job. Both Cassandra and Jabe strike stereotypical notes – vanity, romantic interest – but both are also complex and interesting on top of that.
‘The Unquiet Dead’ by Mark Gatiss
- Mrs. Pearce
- Gelth voices
- Charles Dickens
- Stage manager
Period episodes are always challenging. The minor roles could for the most part not be filled by women and maintain an appearance of accuracy. I say appearance, because women often did things in the past that today are forgotten or overlooked; perhaps women could have filled these roles. It’s possible that casting women in these roles would upset the audience’s suspension of disbelief. It’s possible none of this matters, and casting directors need to get over themselves. It’s an interesting and challenging question.
Gwyneth and Charles Dickens roughly share importance in the episode. Both have depth of character and credibility, and only acting together do they save the day. However, only Gwyneth ends up dead. The habit of killing women while allowing the men to carry on heavy-hearted is one often criticized in television circles.
Nevertheless, Gwyneth is a strong and memorable character, and an excellent first look at the wonderful Eve Myles.
I’ll save ‘Aliens of London/World War III’ for another time, as the cast list for that story is a long one.
‘Dalek’ by Robert Shearman
- Diana Goddard
- De Maggio
- Van Statten
- Various soldiers and scientists
- Dalek voice
I consider the makeup of this episode to be a casting error. The character of De Maggio establishes that women are soldiers; that women are equivalently trained, competent, and professional; that women are not special, protected, or preserved when it comes to war. Yet she is the only one. Given the demonstrated facts, the bunker workforce should have been half female. Yet there are no other women soldiers; there are no women scientists; there is only De Maggio, and the executive Goddard. There is zero reason for this; it can only be a blind mistake.
Goddard is a decent character – questioning Van Statten, standing up to him, taking over from him in the end – but she is only third-string in importance after Van Statten and Adam. She only succeeds by becoming one of the boys. It may have been intentional, or it may have been an oversight, but Van Statten’s world is very much a man’s.
Notably, the audio story on which ‘Dalek’ is based – ‘Jubilee,’ also by Robert Shearman – takes place even more literally in a man’s world, where women are reduced to decorative status. However, it still manages to be more balanced character-wise than the televised version. Miriam Rochester is more a match for her husband, in terms of characterization, than Goddard is for Van Statten, and the companion carries more of the story than she does in ‘Dalek.’
‘The Long Game’ by Brian Grant
- Adam’s mother
- The Editor
This is an episode of powerful women. Suki the freedom fighter dies facing her enemy, and still defeats him in the end. Cathica discovers who she could be as a journalist and a force for good in her world. Adam is dominated by the women in his life: manipulated by the nurse, overshadowed by his mother. He gives in to selfishness, where Cathica overcomes it. Suki and the Editor represent the extremes: Suki dies to save others, while the Editor kills to preserve himself.
I’m not sure what that says about gender roles. It is something of a trope that women give while men take. Usually in such stories the women lose; they can only win by becoming more like men. In this story the women, the givers, win. Adam, failing to be Rose, is cast out of the TARDIS, while Suki’s mission succeeds and Cathica saves the day.
‘Father’s Day’ by Paul Cornell
- Various wedding guests
- Young Mickey
Being the story of Rose’s father, the episode is naturally dominated by Pete Tyler. Jackie, however, makes a very strong showing. The young couple preparing to marry are featured as a pair. The groom’s father tips the balance, in an interesting parallel/counterpoint.
There could have been more women in this cast. The registrar could have been a woman; the groom’s father could have been replaced or supplemented by a mother. But the story is so very much Rose’s story, and Jackie serves such an essential role, that it seems more like bean-counting than balance. Even the Doctor is nearly an afterthought in this episode. Ultimately Pete and Jackie’s romance forms a strong subplot through the run of the series, paralleling and counterpointing that of Rose and the Doctor. There is no Pete without Jackie; there would be neither without Rose.
I’ll be back for more exploration very soon.