Wednesday, 7 April 2010

I need a doctor

I must join in the justified chorus of condemnation of the BBC's decision, in last Saturday's Doctor Who, to dress the time lord's new companion (played by newcomer Karen Gillan) in an extremely short skirt. So short was it, indeed, that it scarcely qualified as a skirt at all. It was more like a belt. No doubt fathers watching the show with their children will have been diverted by the sight, not to mention spotty male adolescents. But Doctor Who is primarily a kids' show. Children watching will have been at best confused by the supporting character's skimpy attire, at worst damaged for life.

Newspapers such as the Daily Mail were right to highlight the concerns of fans shocked at being subjected to Miss Gillan's legs. Their interest in the story had nothing whatever to do with the opportunity it provided to remind readers how she looked in the new episode - or, come to that, how she also looked in the pages of a fashion magazine.

Apart from introducing an inappropriate level of sexualisation to prime-time TV (a tendency to which the respected researcher Dr Linda Papadopoulos' much-praised report recently alerted us), the wardrobe choice suggested that the BBC remains a deeply sexist organisation with an antiquated view of the role of women in society.

According to Miss Gillan, moreover, this was no simple lapse. "She wears a lot of short skirts... it's part of the plot" the actress said in an interview this morning. Part of the plot? How? Perhaps some malevolent alien, bent on the destruction of the human race, will be distracted by the sight of Miss Gillan's legs for long enough for the pubescent new doctor to sneak up behind and disable its ray-gun. Or perhaps she'll trip over her stiletto heels and need to be rescued. The possibilities are endless.

This week's episode, apparently, is to feature a scene in which the doctor and his companion are swallowed by an alien beast, only to be vomited up "soaked in alien stomach juices". To judge by the stills, this is merely an opportunity to film Miss Gillan in a wet T-shirt. We are also promised an episode in which the duo go up against a group of slutty female vampires. Please.

At best, this sort of thing is a cheap device to boost ratings, yet another example of the modern BBC pandering to the lowest common denominator. As Lord Reith (what would he have made of "Amy Pond", I wonder?) once put it, "He who prides himself on giving what he thinks the public wants is often creating a fictitious demand for low standards which he will then satisfy." But I believe there are deeper reasons why we should all be worried by the development.

Previous companions have included Martha Jones, a doctor, Sarah Jane, a successful journalist, and even a female time lord (I'm not sure whether or not that's a time lady) who was played by an actress who went on to marry Richard Dawkins. All were excellent role models for young women. Even Billie Piper waited until after she left the show to get her kit off, in a subsequent role based on the exploits of a real-life prostitute. Miss Gillan's character, Amy Pond, was introduced to viewers as a "kissogram" - in plain language, a stripper. Girls of primary-school age - a key part of the audience - are thus being encouraged to emulate someone involved in what is effectively part of the sex industry. At six o'clock in the evening! Someone who makes a living through the objectification of her body. A male fantasy. Is this the summit of ambition for young women in 2010, after thirteen years of Harriet Harman?

She's thin, too.