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.
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.
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.