As a feminist, I think it is absolutely the duty of every woman to support one another rather than tear each other down.
As a female Doctor Who fan, a minority in a fandom made up of predominantly men, I believe the same.
We live in a society that supports negativity between girls, that encourages competition and profits on female insecurities. If you follow this diet, you could look like Britney! If you talk quieter, if you swear less and use prettier words, boys will like you better! In everything a girl does, they are subsequently pitted against another girl.
It shocked me recently to realise that this even happens in Doctor Who.
With the eagerly anticipated arrival of Bill Potts in The Pilot, the most recent companion to join the TARDIS, I have realised that this happens more than ever. Like many fans, I have my favourite companion (to anybody that had been living under a rock for the past few years, it’s Rose Tyler) and I am absolutely thrilled whenever there is a reference of parallel made of her time in the show. Because that’s the beauty and also the hardest thing about being a fan of Doctor Who, it is ever changing and adapting, but it also means the show that you fell in love with when you first started watching will undoubtedly be a completely different show a few years down the line.
However, I would also say that this companion-pitting is not merely the fault of the fans alone. These storylines of companions meeting other companions and ultimately having a frosty and jealousy fuelled encounter is canon to the show. Think of Rose and Sarah Jane in School Reunion, even Martha’s entire character arc through series three, arguably even in the first-time River and Donna met in Silence in the Library. Though they come to put aside these issues, the subtext of girl-on-girl hate is still there. And this isn’t good enough for Doctor Who. And it unsettles me that this is the introduction many new, young fans might be getting into the Whoniverse.
I remember being no older than 10 years old, and stumbling across a fanfic on the Doctor Who Newsround forums (I was 10 and Newsround was my only source of information okay?) about Martha being twisted into a cruel and malicious character, resulting in the Doctor dumping her back on Earth and zooming off to defeat the laws of physics to get his true love Rose back from the parallel world. I don’t think I realised the impact of this way of thinking until I grew up, rewatched Martha’s series and got to grips with what her character was really about. That it is negative, toxic and ugly. That it is founded in the classic trope of girl on girl hate that fed us all growing up.
If the Doctor can be read as an allegorical figure for God himself, pit against nobody unless it is a morally flawed counterpart to prove his worth, can’t the same be said for the companion?
I say: celebrate any references you wish to celebrate. I cried my eyes out when I was on holiday back in 2011 and missed the moment when Rose reappeared in the TARDIS as a hologram to Matt Smith’s Eleven. In an era that felt so foreign, she was a welcome reminder of the past. I was shocked to see a somewhat angry backlash on twitter after The Pilot aired by some fans in relation to possible Clara references in the episode, and even more shocked that some fans seemed to miss the point of Bill’s introduction completely and obsessed over the most minute detail that could be related back to another companion.
Is this the power of retrospect? The thing that my generation in particular as fans of the show, didn’t worry about with the show’s revival in 2005 as it was our first introduction to the world of Who?
I remind myself that to some little girl out there, Bill Potts is going to be their Rose Tyler.
That to them, this is all brand new. To countless little girls Martha, Donna, Amy and Clara will be their Rose Tyler. And that isn’t to say you can’t dislike a companion, everybody has the right to an opinion, but dedicating your time to tearing down another woman even though she may be fictional is a toxic practice in which to partake.
Whilst ten-year-old me was more than happy to imagine Rose ripping Martha’s hair out, twenty-year-old me is much happier imagining them braiding each other’s hair as they bond over a cuppa tea in the TARDIS. Clara helping Bill sew the badges on her jacket or Donna showing Amy the best way to cover up an errant grey hair when you’re ginger.
Girls supporting girls across time and space.