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Steven Moffat and Sue Vertue at Comic Con

Why can’t Steven Moffat find women to write for ‘Doctor Who’?

According to Steven Moffat, people think Doctor Who is "a boys' show." Seriously?


Gavia Baker-Whitelaw

Internet Culture

Posted on Dec 24, 2014   Updated on May 29, 2021, 9:57 pm CDT

Steven Moffat has had a lot of practice explaining Doctor Who‘s lack of female writers. Last month, the BBC announced the show’s first female writer since Moffat took over as showrunner, but for many fans, this wasn’t enough. It has been six years since the last episode written by a woman, and it’s difficult to understand why this has taken so long.

In a new interview with Zap2it, Moffat repeated an explanation that is beginning to sound very familiar: “Female directors and writers have a tendency to turn us down.”

“I’m doing my best, despite what people say about me,” he said. “There’s very much a culture of thinking about ‘Doctor Who’ as a boys’ show. But I’m always going to conventions and looking at fans and thinking there’s practically more girls than boys.”

“I think in 10 years when ‘Doctor Who’ is still triumphantly successful, a lot of those [women] will grow up to be writers and directors who are desperate to do ‘Doctor Who,'” Moffat added.

Longtime fans may balk at the idea that it will take another decade for female viewers to mature into writers and directors. The show has been running for 50 years, its founding producer Verity Lambert was a woman, and its fanbase has always been very diverse.

Aside from all that, the “women keep turning us down” excuse sounds less and less convincing each time we hear it. Even if we take it at face value, you can’t help but wonder why. Why are women deciding not to write for the BBC’s flagship show? Is there something in particular that’s putting them off Doctor Who, while plenty of new male writers are brought in every year?

The dearth of female hires can’t be explained by the existing gender imbalance in British science-fiction screenwriting. Shows like Being Human, Merlin, and Torchwood all had several episodes written by women, and Wolfblood, the U.K.’s answer to Teen Wolf, has a majority-female writing team. Those are just the BBC series that fall into roughly the same genre as Doctor Who. There are many other series outside the drama genre with female writers. Prior to working on Doctor Who, Russell T. Davies and Steven Moffat were both better known for writing relationship dramas like Queer as Folk and Coupling.

This makes it harder to sympathize with the timeworn “But we’re trying to hire female writers!” explanation.  After mounting pressure from fans and critics, Steven Moffat is undoubtedly attempting to find more women to work on Doctor Who. Either he isn’t trying hard enough or there’s a broader reason why women keep turning down the job. People don’t reject this kind of opportunity without a pretty good reason to do so.

Photo via Gage Skidmore/Wikimedia (CC-BY-SA-2.0)

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*First Published: Dec 24, 2014, 1:22 pm CST