The Eighth of March marks International Women’s Day: an annual celebration of women; their history, progress and place in the world. For a franchise like Doctor Who, this is a great time to look at how far the show has come and celebrate the women who make it so brilliant. Enter Big Finish Productions – makers of audio adventures from across the show’s expanded universe, bringing characters back and creating brand new stories featuring our favourite actors.
The Eighth of March is their newest boxset and has been created especially for International Women’s Day. Featuring eight of Doctor Who’s fabulous female characters, the boxset is also exclusively written by women and directed by Helen Goldwyn. There’s no doubt Doctor Who is replete with talented women both onscreen and behind the scenes. So to celebrate both the boxset and International Women’s Day, we’re taking a look at how The Eighth of March handles the interaction of the women in the Whoniverse.
This guest post was written by Beth Axford, co-editor of The Time Ladies blog.
Artwork (above) by Courtney Jones.
Emancipation by Lisa McMullin
The opening story, Emancipation, arguably has the most interesting female relationship of the release, pairing River Song and Leela in a mission to save an alien princess. The only story of the set to cross over disparate parts of the Whoniverse, it makes for exciting listening! Louise Jameson and Alex Kingston bounce off each other brilliantly and are a fiery pair to listen to.
Lisa McMullin manages to capture their differing personalities in a way that shows their great strengths and flaws, creating powerful and rounded characterisation. Some exchanges between them provide an empowering message that it doesn’t matter what type of woman you are – savage and straightforward or sassy with a love of big hair – you are still the strong hero you deserve to be. All women are different and valid! There is also talk of the appropriateness of clothes or hair which tells to the audience how a woman looks is irrelevant. An exciting conversation to have as part of this box set and a tremendous way to set a tone for the release.
We spoke to writer Lisa McMullin about how she approached the challenge of pairing Leela and River.
I’d been wanting to write a River story for ages and was asked to pair her with a classic companion. I couldn’t resist the idea of Leela and River – weapon wielding women – both unpredictable mavericks, really. And I wanted River to know everything about Leela whilst Leela had to puzzle out who River was and whether to trust her. The story is about damaged childhood, theocracy and abuse of power – which both women have directly experienced and been damaged by.
[Their different attitudes] is what appealed the most about putting the two of them together. River is so erudite and Leela so instinctive – they’re a classic dramatic ‘odd couple’. River follows her head, Leela follows her heart and the fun is in making them find a way to work together.
I love them because they both make conscious decisions to forge lives for themselves away from The Doctor – which is fairly unusual in Who history…they strive to be defined by more than their relationship with The Doctor! Which is apt for International Women’s Day.Lisa McMullin
The Big Blue Book by Lizzie Hopley
Ace and Benny Summerfield are the epitome of strong, female Doctor Who characters, and this story is a brilliant affirmation of their importance in the Doctor Who universe. Left to their own devices in 1990s Britain, they’re tasked with unravelling a complex mystery years in the making…all about a big, blue book! And if you think you know what that’s a reference to, you’re gonna be surprised.
Lizzie Hopley has captured their sass, warmth and brilliance through their great relationship that is a joy to listen to. There is a great sense of balance and care between them and their conversation that reminds us how important female friendships are – no matter what age or background. With both the characters and actors being old friends, Sophie Aldred and Lisa Bowerman bring that familiarity into their performances. Ace and Benny act like siblings, sometimes at odds but with the unspoken knowledge that they’ll always have each other’s backs.
Not that they’re co-dependent. The best thing about these characters is that their bravery and courage show they can do almost anything they put their minds to. They can stand on their own two feet without the Doctor or even each other. The pair are simply there to save the day, pulling us into a world that paints women the way our male heroes always have been; a warm welcome in an age where a woman is now playing the Doctor.
We asked writer Lizzie Hopley if having a long-established friendship between Benny and Ace affected how she wrote the story…
It made it very easy. I hadn’t heard them pitched together so I listened to a few of their shared audio adventures as research for this. It was lovely to hear how they interact and such a joy to write for that chemistry. They’re both wilful, determined and funny characters so it was great fun.
What made it easier was knowing the two characters so well. They both have a definite voice in my head so I could hear them talk and knew when one of them was getting too quiet!Lizzie Hopley
As well as a writer, Hopley is also a prolific voice actor and has performed with Aldred and Bowerman as Ace and Benny. Did that come in handy when writing the script?
I am so lucky as a writer that I’d worked with both actresses. Both Sophie and Lisa are lovely intelligent performers and experts at mixing humour with darker material. Lisa is so good at being arch and gives Benny such a wicked sense of humour and Sophie is great at bulldozing in as Ace and disarming you with her brilliant directness. Both have a natural ability to know what is at stake in the drama and to always commit to that 100% so I knew I could not only give them funny stuff but trust them to deliver the darker bits of the piece.Lizzie Hopley
Inside Every Warrior by Gemma Langford
Inside Every Warrior feels like the ultimate revenge tale powered by female rage. It’s a feeling all women can relate to; the guttural anger boiling in the pit of the stomach that builds after a lifelong battle with society’s sexist standards. We all relate to villains in one way or another sometimes and this audio is no exception.
Gemma Langford has done a great job at writing three powerful women: Vastra, Jenny and Daisy. Together, they show all sides of womanhood and break stereotypes galore – all in Victorian England! The story of a woman breaking free from constant mistreatment at the hands of a man is heart-breaking but oddly empowering. She rises up and gets her revenge, but her victory comes at a price. It sends the message that we shouldn’t ever have to put up with this treatment, but that we should also never stoop to the levels of evil that others bring upon us.
On top of this incredible plot, we get to explore Jenny and Vastra’s relationship in a lot more detail. It feels multifaceted and strong, pushing even further the notion that women are independently exceptional, but when brought together can achieve even more incredible things. They can save the day on their own, together or with Strax by their side! The sense of family that’s been created for the trio, even in their first audio outing, is a great taster for their ongoing series starting in June.
At the heart of this story is the power of female love and strength and is a testament to the great examples for women that Doctor Who has produced.
We asked writer Gemma Langford how she felt about introducing the Paternoster Gang to audio…
I’ve been a big fan of the Paternoster gang ever since their appearance in Doctor Who. I remember at the time saying, ‘Well these guys are totally getting their own series’ and I’m so glad I was right! But if I’d have known I was going to write the first episode of their return, my poor brain would have popped! It is an absolute honour. And the excitement of writing for these beautifully established characters overcame any pressure I may have felt. And indeed it was a great chance to re-watch all their episodes and dig through all the consequent fan-fiction. Clearly I wasn’t alone in my love for the gang.Gemma Langford
How did she approach Vastra and Jenny’s relationship?
One of the aspects which drew me to these characters in the first place was the love between Vastra and Jenny. I’m a realistic romantic and recognised a kindred soul in the writing of this relationship. So to me it was important that this story was very much a chapter in their relationship. I wanted to test it. The difference in class between the two of them has always been fascinating. They both completely accept each other, despite this difference. And that’s huge for England in this era. So that was a thread I was eager to pull at.Gemma Langford
With Vastra as the “Great Detective” and Jenny her maid, how did Langford find a balance between the two characters?
Part of what makes the long-term relationship between Vastra and Jenny so believable is that sense of balance. It’s one that I recognised from my relationship with my own partner. Both are strong and vulnerable in ways that compliment and strengthen each other. They are very much two parts of a whole. When one falls, the other pulls them back up. It’s beautiful. So when it came to continuing their story, it really felt like the most natural thing to write. Getting that right was so very important to me – I do hope I manage to give our listeners that same feeling I first felt watching them together on Doctor Who.Gemma Langford
Narcissus by Sarah Grochala
Narcissus is driven by themes of self-love, conventional beauty standards and how women are perceived in society. It’s a refreshing take for a Doctor Who story, focusing particularly on what women should and shouldn’t look like in order to be seen as ‘beautiful’. Featuring Kate Stewart and the two Osgoods, it’s an exciting delve into the world of UNIT’s women. Not to mention the first time we’ve heard the Zygon Osgood on audio.
It’s always lovely to see women leading UNIT in comparison to the mostly male version from the ’70s and makes for perfect listening on International Women’s Day. The plot surrounds a deadly dating site that would normally feel more at home in Torchwood territory. An absolute stand-out moment for Osgood comes near the end, for which Ingrid Oliver gives a stunningly strong turn, and serves as an effective finale for the themes The Eighth of March has tackled.
It’s a great message to portray to women (and men) everywhere, and really well done. More importantly, the Osgoods and Kate work brilliantly as ever in an amazing portrayal of female equality in the face of differing ranks and skills. A coda between Kate and Osgood shows a lot of mutual respect and care that was a nice expansion of their dynamic on TV.
I think they are more than just work colleagues, especially after all they’ve been through together. I think Kate is a good mentor for Osgood but I also think that Kate learns things from Osgood as well.Sarah Grochala
Sarah Grochala has managed to link the alien worlds of Doctor Who with some of today’s most prevalent issues, doing what the show has always done best: giving us hope.
Writer Sarah Grochala explained how she tackled writing two Osgoods…
I thought a lot about the nature of the Bonnie the Zygon, who is the second Osgood, and how she altered Clara’s personality when she was her. I then tried to give the Double Osgood little hints of that other personality. The sound engineers also helped a lot by putting the two Osgoods on different sides of the sound field. Ingrid [Oliver] tried a couple of ways of doing the Osgoods. Sometimes playing both at the same time. Sometimes recording one and then the other. The latter seemed to work best most of the time.Sarah Grochala
And how this influenced Osgood’s character arc…
I was thinking about a moment in the TV series where Osgood’s sister is mentioned. There is an implication that Osgood feels inferior to her sister but she thinks she isn’t as good looking. I wanted to explore this vulnerability. I was also interested in the fact that despite the fact that Osgood might think she’s not that attractive, she is, in many other ways, very secure in herself. Creating an elite dating site seemed to be a good way of exploring those thoughts and provided plenty of opportunities for alien interference.Sarah Grochala
This boxset feels like a massive feat for Big Finish, especially in their choice of hiring an all-female writing team. It’s a true celebration of what women add to a brand like Doctor Who and shows how important our favourite female characters are. Listening to strong, kind, funny women defined only by themselves is not only empowering but gives hope for the future. It is incredible to hear them interacting and caring for each other, instead of facing off or acting with jealousy, as media so often portrays female relationships. So, here’s to Big Finish and The Eighth of March boxset…paving the way to the future!
Special thanks to Beth for her guest post. Make sure you check out The Time Ladies for more great blogs.
Also thanks to Courtney Jones for her fantastic artwork. Check out her website for portfolio and inquiries.
Edited, and additional reporting, by Mat Greenfield.