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Doctor Who: The 5 Most Important Women Behind the Scenes

Joanna Lumley as The Doctor in "The Curse of Fatal Death"
Joanna Lumley as The Doctor in "The Curse of Fatal Death"

Last Saturday was International Women's Day, and while I would like to say that my Facebook newsfeed was filled to the brim with intelligent discussions involving the accomplishments and struggles of women around the world the truth is I saw a lot more ruminations on why women need a day when the rest of the year is dedicated to making men put up with them as it is. Long story short, I need a new Caps Lock button on my laptop... and wine.

Now, it's a pretty well established fact that our current showrunner Steven Moffat has some... issues with the fairer sex. It's not a subject I'm keen to debate at the moment because I frankly feel that it won't do a lick of good. Moffat's Moffat, and until we see a regime change I have a feeling the women of Doctor Who are going to have a hard time holding their own.

So today I thought I'd look back at the women behind the scenes and off camera that have contributed to Who, and in many cases without whom there wouldn't be a show at all. Hopefully it can serve as a reminder that women are not only as good as men in this arena, sometimes they knock it right out of the freakin' park.

Verity Lambert (Center) with her first season stars
Verity Lambert (Center) with her first season stars

Verity Lambert Of course, any discussion of women and Doctor Who begins with the one and only Verity Lambert. Without her there simply wouldn't be a Doctor Who at all. Handpicked by Head of Drama Sydney Newman to helm his science fiction brainchild of a television show, Lambert was one of the first female television producers in the history of the industry. She was instrumental in securing William Hartnell as the First Doctor, and guided the show from the very beginning in "An Unearthly Child" right up to "Mission to the Unknown" before moving on.

In fact, you could say that she is also indirectly responsible for the concept of regeneration. Though it's often stated that the reason for Hartnell leaving the role of The Doctor was his increasingly poor health, another large factor was the fact that without Lambert by his side he no longer enjoyed the show as much. The two of them formed an amazing bond and team, mixing their considerable skills in their respective areas to create the greatest television adventure ever, and she lived long enough to see her creation reborn in 2005 stronger than ever.

Delia Derbyshire The main theme for Doctor Who is one of a kind. It's not the traditional score of something like Star Wars nor is it the more new age sound of Star Trek. It's a strange and unique thing that defies conventional description.

Everyone knows that Ron Grainer wrote it, but Delia Derbyshire is the one who turned it into the unearthly masterpiece that instantly glued audiences. Who was Delia Derbyshire? Well, she was a member of White Noise, then band that was Kid A-era Radiohead before most of the members of Radiohead were even born. The world was not ready at all for their music, and Derbyshire went to work for the BBC Radiophonic Workshop. It was there she transformed Grainer's work into the iconic theme. Grainer himself spent years trying to get her credited as a co-writer of the song for royalty purposes, but was never able to do so even though her work has been acknowledged on screen. Her arrangement was retired in 1980, but made a return last year in "The Day of the Doctor".

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"Pyramids of Mars"
"Pyramids of Mars"

Paddy Russell Verity Lambert wasn't the only woman that Doctor Who turned into a production powerhouse. Paddy Russell was an assistant to the legendary Rudolph Cartier, one of the most revered British television directors of all time. Doctor Who gave Russell the chance to become the first female director in BBC history.

She started out working with Hartnell in "The Massacre of St Bartholomew's Eve" (Sadly one of the three classic adventures from which not a single second of footage survives), but more importantly was the director of some of the most revered Fourth Doctor stories of all time. "Pyramids of Mars" and "Horror of Fang Rock" regularly rank near the top of Tom Baker's outings, and both were directed by Russell. It was stellar productions like those that helped the Fourth Doctor find a big audience in the United States, and consequently one of the reasons the show exists in the huge form it does today.

Kate Orman Between the time the shows was cancelled in 1989 and its successful revival in 2005 were the Dark Years. Yet, even though it was off television Doctor Who survived, grew, and prospered. One of the main reasons was that the Seventh Doctor and later the Eighth Doctor after the flop of the 1996 TV movie were kept on active duties in a series of more than 100 original novels.

Those novels gave the future guiding hands of the show, people like Russell T. Davies and Gary Russell (There are an inordinate amount of Russells involved in Doctor Who a place to work themselves into the world of The Doctor. However, one of them, and sadly only one, was a woman.

Kate Orman is responsible for arguably one of the best New Adventure books, The Left-Handed Hummingbird, not to mention nine other original Doctor novels. Make no mistake, it's work like that of Orman's that kept the series on life-support long enough to resuscitate it seven years ago. Orman herself was very much aware of her status as token chick in the publishing world of The Doctor, and approaches it with a sense of humor.

Kate Orman lives in Australia. The Left-Handed Hummingbird is a triple first; Kate's first novel, the first New Adventures written by a woman, and the first written by an Antipodean.

(From the back of The Left-Handed Hummingbird, 1993)

Kate Orman reckons it's about time she wasn't the only woman and the only Antipodean writing for the New Adventures. Her first book in the series, The Left-Handed Hummingbird, is consistently voted one of the most popular by fans.

(From the back of Set Piece, 1995)

Kate Orman is (drums fingers) still the only New Adventures writer who isn't (a) male, and (b) British. Her previous books The Left-Handed Hummingbird and Set Piece, also have pyramids in them.

(From the back of Sleepy, 1996)

Julie Gardner Russell T. Davies gets all the credit for helming the return of Doctor Who to television, but with him every step of the way was Head of Drama Julie Gardner. Actually, in terms of hours of Doctor Who material produced Gardner beats out Davies himself if you exclude The Sarah Jane Adventures. She holds more above the line credits than any woman in the entire run of the show, including Verity Lambert.

Her list of executive producer credits in the show is well over 100 adventures, and she served as the full producer for David Tennant's last hurrah, "The End of Time". The death of the Tenth Doctor was also the point in which Davies and Gardner turned the keys to the Tardis over to Moffat. By all accounts he's done a great job with it, but sometimes I wonder if things wouldn't be a little better on the show if Moffat had his own version of Gardner on hand to guide him down the path of gender portrayals.

Jef has a new story, a tale of headless strippers and The Rolling Stones, available now in Broken Mirrors, Fractured Minds. You can also connect with him on Facebook.


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