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Classic Doctor Who, being a girl, golden age SF

I have been watching Doctor Who while working on Siggraph projects.

When I was growing up, Doctor Who played on PBS later in the evenings. I tried watching it a couple of times, but I’m afraid that the complete dorkiness of the sets, fx, and action (this is post Star Trek and Star Wars) that I simply couldn’t stomach it. So I never got into it.

The new series, and especially David Tennant sucked me into the universe. Now of course, we’re all going through withdrawal with only a handful of specials being created this year and Tennant leaving.

These days, story is a bit more important to me than effects. I recognize now that classic Doctor Who was filmed on essentially public television budget in the 60s, 70s, and 80s.

But I find the treatment of female characters irritating. So far, I’m on the second season. Susan, though shown as very intelligent during the first couple of episodes, is reduced to Apparently, the actress who played Susan, the Doctor’s granddaughter (Interesting. What happened to her eventually?) was also irritated because her teenage character never developed, and asked to leave. Good for her!

Golden Age SF is also very difficult to read for similar reasons, at least for female readers. (I assume other girls have the same difficulty as me.) I can definitely see why for so long this was a man’s genre. I love Isaac Asimov. Interesting that as a child reading it, I didn’t pick up on how shallow and powerless many of the female characters were. But then, as a child I was not fully developed myself and still quite dependent. A reread as an adult proved disappointing on those levels to me. Lots of old science fiction these days do not age well because not only female but also male characters were not well written. It was the idea that was important, and the characters were merely vessels to serve that idea to us.

Glad to be living now, with the likes of Sarah Connor, Zoe (or any Joss Whedon girl), Samantha Carter, etc. And nice that the new Doctor Who has some great girls too. Even the irritating Donna turns out to be strong and as brilliant as the doctor says she is.

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One comment

  1. Ah…but sci-fi was not the the only genre that had weak undeveloped women. It was a common problem for all of womankind for many many years. Why do you think it took so long for women to get the vote? Men were stronger physically. It was a might makes right thing for many many many years. Women, when not seen as chattel, were seen as the “weaker vessel”, as childlike and dependent. Think about fiction as a whole. Doesn’t it seem like the strongest and smartest and most interesting female characters were in books and stories written by women? Think Jane Austin, the Bronte sisters, George Elliot, Willa Cather. I think that the opening of the American West put women in a whole new light. Men had to realize the strength of the women who walked all day with the wagon train, gave birth and rested for a day or two and then got on with it, and that in a time when women were commonly kept in bed for a couple of weeks after childbirth whether they wanted to be there or not. It’s interesting to note that at a time when many men were writing about men and the women in their works were minor characters, Owen Wister wrote The Virginian. This was turn of the century stuff, first published in 1902. His schoolmarm was brave (She left her comfortable East Coast town family life alone in her late teens at time when that was almost unthinkable.), smart (She kept reading and she did not take up with the first man to court her.), adaptable (She did not give up no matter how hard it got and learned to love the wide open spaces.), and strong (She could ride her horse as far and stay in the saddle as long as any man, lived alone without complaint, and not only chopped wood and carried water, she cooked, washed clothes, and taught school. Men in the West, as a whole, learned to respect their women as tough and smart long before many other men did. If you look at the history of Woman’s Emancipation, you will see that the Western states were earlier to give women the right to vote than Eastern states. It’s not just the genre, it was the time. And it continues. Lots of writers still see women as fluff, as sex kittens, as not quite as strong and bright and real as men. It’s changing, and I am glad it is.

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