Side characters/New Who II   Leave a comment

Continuing yesterday’s adventures with the Ninth Doctor era, first up is ‘Aliens of London/World War III’ by Russell T. Davies. These two episodes have very large casts, including neighbors, soldiers, reporters, and Slitheen, so I’ll try to focus on the more significant characters.

Female:

  • Jackie
  • Harriet Jones
  • Margaret Blaine/Blon
  • Dr. Sato

Male:

  • Mickey
  • Indra Ganesh
  • Joseph Green/Jocrassa
  • Oliver Charles/Slitheen
  • General Asquith/Slitheen
  • Strickland/Sip
  • Sergeant Price

There’s really no reason the Slitheen couldn’t have been half and half. I’m sure someone’s made up some reason based on the native culture to explain it, but it’s still bogus.

These episodes are great for Jackie, Mickey, and Harriet Jones. Indra and Sergeant Price are good secondary roles. Blaine/Blon is decent but really gets her turn later in the season in ‘Boom Town.’ Dr. Sato is a good addition – among all the male soldiers, it’s nice to have a female doctor. (It’s also fun to see Tosh, pre-Torchwood.) Overall, casting is weighted heavily male, though strong speaking roles are weighted more female; does that make the story balanced?

‘The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances’ by Stephen Moffat

Female:

  • Nancy

Male:

  • Jack
  • Jamie
  • Dr. Constantine
  • Algy
  • Mr. Lloyd

Again, I’m skipping over the more minor roles.

The imbalance here is obvious, and to a certain degree explained by the soldiers. Would there/could there have been women in Jack’s unit? The casting people here can’t be bothered to wonder. But most of the children are also male, and as I recall a majority of the hospital patients as well. There is no reason for this but lazy casting.

Jack is an interesting item all by himself. Being explicitly omnisexual, he deviates from the straight white male standard. Algy too is implicitly gay. This doesn’t help women get television roles, but it does stretch the mold a bit in terms of character.

Nancy, of course, is the hero of the story, and she dominates. Young, homeless, and alone, she adopts a pack of children and helps them to survive war-torn London. She battles fear and grief, and the men of the world who would dominate her, in addition to facing the real dangers of falling bombs, starvation, and disease. She does it all with quiet courage and perseverance. She is one of the best characters New Who has ever produced, if not one of the best single-use television characters of all time.

Someone discussing the episodes, probably Moffat, expressed an interest in the ‘other side’ of London during the Blitz. Plenty of stories are told of heroes, and people coming together. Plenty of stories tell of children shipped out of the city and the hardships they faced among strangers far from home. Few stories deal with those left behind, those forgotten, children orphaned and abandoned, an unwed teenage mother alone on the streets. This one is beautifully told.

These episodes, like the two above, present an interesting question of balance. Does it matter how many roles go to men, when the best ones go to women? For actors, obviously, it does; numbers are important, both before and behind the camera. But the gift that is Nancy goes a long way for female characters on television.

‘Boom Town’ by Russell T. Davies

Female:

  • Margaret Blaine/Blon
  • Cathy

Male:

  • Mickey
  • Jack
  • Mr. Cleaver
  • Idris Hopper

This episode is a great one for actors. Mickey and Jack weigh the main cast heavily in favor of men, but Blon’s role is so rich character-wise that she really dominates the episode. Cathy is a minor role of major importance. It would still have been nice to have more: a female scientist, perhaps, or other female staff.

The story features a lot of pairs. Rose, Mickey, Jack, and the Doctor make a comfortable foursome. Blon and the Doctor parallel Rose and Mickey in another scene. Jack and the TARDIS also make a sort of couple. Then Mickey gets exchanged for Blon in the TARDIS, providing a different kind of foursome, and in the end it’s a threesome that flies off into the sunset. Having Jack aboard, and including Mickey without Jackie, generally throws off the balance, and though the woman’s role is strong enough to remain at the forefront for viewers, it’s not really enough to compensate.

These explorations are interesting in part because they attempt to balance not just numbers – cast lists, lines, screen time – but also quality and richness of roles. This may not be possible: we may be looking at apples and oranges. Female characters linger in the mind but they remain few in the scheme of things. At the beginning of yesterday’s post I recalled research I had seen finding that audiences perceive more women than are really there. Audiences are accustomed to – and comfortable with – male-dominated fictional worlds. As such, the women of Doctor Who stand out brightly. But however good they are, can they make up for the paucity of numbers?

An interesting question.

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