Last August, while bemoaning the lazy, stereotypical and above all masculine writing of female characters in British TV, I said that: “whenever a new female companion is being introduced in Doctor Who, we’re told in the cut n paste PR blurb that she’s a strong confident woman. Or if they’ve decided to really delve into the thesaurus, she’ll be called a feisty woman which is usually shorthand for “complete pain in the arse”.”
Feisty is one of those words which is now restricted to only one particular use. In the same way that, now nobody has a black & white TV, the only people who still use the expression “colour televisions” are newspaper hacks complaining about luxury standards in prisons, “feisty” is now only ever used in BBC press releases heralding a new female companion for the Doctor.
You only have to look at any random BBC blurb about female companions:
“Executive producer Piers Wenger stated that Amy was intended to be feisty and outspoken and a bit of a number.” (A bit of a number!!! Did they say Piers Wenger or Leslie Phillips?)
“The Eleventh Doctor isn’t the only new face in the TARDIS as the Time Lord is joined by the feisty, fantastic new companion, Amy Pond.”
“The movie-style premiere in Cardiff was attended by Smith and Karen Gillan, who plays feisty new companion Amy Pond.”
“Amy is a feisty young woman.”
“Adventurous, feisty, fearless and occasionally reckless, Amy Pond.”
“Look for previous companion, the feisty Martha Jones.”
“David’s Doctor is full of restless energy, he’s also quirky, mischievous, charming and stylish, and the rapport between him and his feisty assistant Rose is stronger than ever.”
“One of the Doctor’s most cherished companions is the feisty Ace, the Earth schoolgirl turned accidental space tourist!”
“Tegan Jovanka was an Australian with a big mouth and feisty attitude.”
“Sarah Jane, the Third and Fourth Doctor’s feisty journalist assistant.”
“Caroline helped ensure the new era got off to a great start and years after her exploits with the Time Lord, the character of Liz Shaw – feisty, independent and a great friend to the Doctor – remained well-remembered and much-loved.”
Sometimes the BBC just lumps them all together for ease of reference:
“The long line of feisty, sexy, screaming sidekicks who have joined hands with the Doctor over the years.”
Poor Barbara doesn’t get this treatment. Yet how many 1960s viewers thought of her as “the feisty, History teacher with a copy of Lady Chatterley hidden behind her textbook”?
Notice that feisty is never used about men (perhaps with reason as one of its definitions is “spunky”). Poor Mark Strickson was never described as “Turlough, the feisty and sassy ginger sex bomb with a mysterious past.” You never found William Russell described as “throwing Aztecs off pyramids with a feisty elan.” Did we ever read of K-9 as “the Doctor’s feisty, flirty best friend”?
You can bet that all those BBC press releases about feisty women were written by men very slowly (with only one hand free to type). I’m sure it’s intended to be shorthand for “independent woman” but it does come across as pretty patronising. As if they have to emphasise that the female character is “feisty” because otherwise, upon hearing that a character was female, the audience might naturally presume that the poor little thing didn’t have a mind of her own.
Well, it looks like the select (that’s code for tiny) readership of this blog may include either the BBC Press Office or the editor of the Daily Mirror (I’m not sure which would make me queasier) as, in their latest confirmation that Jenna Louise Coleman’s new companion will (as long rumoured) be called Clara Oswin, we’re told that her character is “a feisty and flirty computer expert – and is said to be more than a match for The Doctor.”
How can we decipher that inscrutable BBC insider code? Feisty, flirty and more than a match for the Doctor – looks like she’ll either be arguing with him or trying to bed him. That’ll be a novel departure for New Who. Still, in the spirit of the glass half full, if she’s getting the same adjective as Sarah, that promises well for the coming series.