Thursday, March 28, 2013

Books, Writers and Girls on Who

This has been a very Who-centric week.  It started off with a Doctor Who Book event at the infamous The Way Station in Brooklyn (preceded by a delightfully bellini-soaked brunch) where I got to spend the afternoon talking about Chicks Unravel Time in the company of Graeme Burk and Robert Smith? (Who is the Doctor, Outside In) Arnold T. Blumberg of ATB Publishing as well as Barnaby Edwards of Who New York and the fabulous group of fans who are part of the New York group.  Lots of good books and even better company.

 (Unexpected Bill Evenson, Graeme Burk, me, Robert Smith? at The Way Station March 24, 2013)

And, of course, this week marks the return of the Doctor Who on our television screens with "The Bells of Saint John" on BBC America on Saturday night.  It has been too long.  This means planning a frankly crazy Verity! recording schedule.  We're foregoing our bi-weekly format to record new episodes every week because, honestly, how can we not talk about it?

There have been a few things dimming the joy. I'm not going to talk about the furor surrounding the John Nathan-Turner bio because we are reviewing it for Verity! and we will have our say then. That was quickly followed on the heels by the SHOCKING claim that Doctor Who hasn't had a female writer in over 60 episodes.  The indignation was palpable. The claim that Doctor Who SHOULD have more female writers (and the very excellent reasons for this) were soon overshadowed by stats for both the show, tie-in novels and audios.  They are, frankly, appalling.

But it's not news.  At least not to most female fans.  The the backstage gender imbalance in Doctor Who has been talked about and debated for years. It was almost charming to see the scales fall from people's eyes as the discussion reverberated through social media.  Not that this conversation doesn't need to be had but it's not shocking and it's not new. And I don't believe it's particularly misogynistic.  I don't think there's a "no girls allowed" hammered onto the doors of Roath Lock, I think it's much more banal and insidious, the sort of institutional sexism that continues to dog the entertainment industry.

I'm not going to trot out more depressing statistics - you can do that for yourself by clicking on IMDB - but the fact is, it's a guy's world. Guys are commissioning, guys are writing and guys are buying the scripts.  That is, of course, a very broad statement and while there have been inroads, the numbers bear this out.  This is mainly, I think, a matter of comfort.  Entertainment is a business and corporate words like "networking" really do mean something.  When you are working with tight budgets and even tighter deadlines, having a writer you know and trust, or has been vetted by someone you know and trust is huge. I know this from personal experience and have been guilty of the same.

That being said, as I mentioned on Twitter yesterday, some of the most amazing things in my career have happened because I took a risk. Not everything, but enough for me to be willing to always look for that chance.

And that's the thing...while taking that chance can be risky, in the case of Doctor Who the risks are minimal. The pool of amazing, talented female genre writers is not, by any means, shallow.  All writers bring their life experiences and viewpoints to their work, whether overtly or covertly - this is one of main premises of Chicks Unravel Time - and, I'd love to see more of that female gaze turned toward Doctor Who.  For a show that has a huge female audience to not tap into that potential is really limiting.  We love this show deeply and madly which is why, at the end of the day, we just want to see it do it better.  As someone cleverly quipped, you're making the TARDIS smaller on the inside, not bigger. 

If you're going to trot out the argument that "it's not the gender, but the writing that matters" I want you to think very carefully at what you are implying. And then take a look at the world of published science fiction where women are writing, being nominated for and winning awards in ever increasing numbers.  The talent is there, it just needs to find a crack in the huddle. (Yes, I did just make sports analogy in a science fiction conversation!)

Yesterday on Twitter Farah Mendlesohn threw this on the table: "A challenge for my male writer allies at conventions this Easter; don't just check your panels for parity, check your drink & dinner parties."  As we said on a recent edition of Verity! - the club house is big enough for all us, we just need to make sure we don't lock the door behind us.

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