Is Doctor Who Sexist? This Study Attempts To Answer The Question


Much has been said about sexism and the BBC’s Doctor Who. No seriously, a lot has been said. A recent university study has finally put the debate into numbers – and the results might surprise you.

The study, completed by Rebecca Moore and some classmates, concluded in April 2014 and was recently posted to Rebecca’s blog at the request of her readers. It puts each episode of the show up against the BechdeTest – in essence, a test developed to test sexism in film. To pass, two women must have a conversation with each other about something other than a man.  Moore’s study also gives some very detailed comparisons between the Doctor’s companions – Rose, Martha, Donna and Amy – as well as between writers Steven Moffat and Russell T. Davies. The prevailing argument against the show’s depiction of women revolves around the difference in representation after Moffat took over the series in 2010.  The study also features a nice section devoted to River Song.

You can read an in-depth analysis of the study here – and I highly recommend that you do so. The results are pretty fascinating.

Source: Rebecca Moore
Source: Rebecca Moore – Click for full size

Some interesting data from the study:

On RTD vs. Moffat

Number of episodes that failed the Bechdal test-

89% (24/27) of the episodes written by RTD passed the Bechdel test with 78% (45/58) passing during his era.
57% (12/21) of  the episodes written by Steven Moffat passed the Bechdel test, with 58% (19/33) passing during his era.

Speaking time-

Companion Speaking time went from 3:12 to 2:35 per episode, a19% decrease.
Female Speaking time went from 8:30 to 5:46 per episode, a 32% decrease.
Female Speaking roles went from 5.5 to 4.2 per episode, a 24% decrease.

On the companions and the Bechdel Test

Rose: 74% with 23/31 passed
Martha: 78% with 14/18 passed
Donna: 100% with 16/16 passed
Amy: 53% with 17/32 passed
*River: 57% with 8/12 passed

And there’s this interesting nugget

Fun fact, Rose’s Bechdel test score would have been in the 80′s were it not for the episodes Moffat wrote during her run

Of course, it must be said that the Bechdel Test is flawed and this is not a study without bias. There are many ways to interpret each episode, and the Bechdel Test is not a foolproof method of testing. Personally, I have lots of feelings about the decline of Doctor Who as a successful series, but I’ve never paid close attention to the sexism debate. I have to admit, though, that this study has a lot of power. I can also admit that my personal distaste for the series has steadily decreased right along with those Bechdel Test scores. Does that mean the show is sexist? That’s a matter of opinion – but this is surely a convincing argument.

2 thoughts

  1. I put this on the other blog, but to add to your conversation. It is an interesting article. Truely I think we over analysis things sometimes. This show is about a “madman with a box”. So conversations are going to lean towards that. Also with River, she was raised to kill the doctor then she saw how devoted the man was so she turned her life around to help the doctor. She also loves the doctor which in any relationship both parties help one another. In which we know that the Doctor comes to River’s aid too. Anyway that is my look at it. Not trying to make an arguement, just to add to the conversation.


  2. Yeah, I typically don’t follow a lot of the sexism talk on this show (like I said, I have OTHER problems with it, but not that) but I found the data to be interesting. Overall, I thought the info about the companions was stronger than the info about River, because so much of her role was duplicitous and she did truly love him. Then again, I felt the love between Rose and Ten to be much stronger and more compelling.


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