If anyone ever balks at my love of Donna Noble again, I will point them to this: a (mostly) definitive, (kind of) numerical study of her superhero feminism!
Students recently crunched the numbers on female representation in Doctor Who during Russel T Davies' and Steven Moffat's tenures. Looking at things like a companion's speaking time, the number of named female roles beyond the companion (no "Sales Girl #3"s here), and those roles' speaking times (all averages per episode), Rebecca Moore et. al. found a decrease in all areas from Davies' time to Moffat's. What's more, some of the compainions score pretty embarassingly on the Bechdel Test. When it comes to finding another woman to talk to about something other than a man, Davies-era Rose and Martha only manage to do so 74% and 78% of the time, respectively. But Moffat-era Amy can barely do that half the time, coming in with a pass of 53%.
Interestingly, our nerd scientists note that Rose would have scored way higher if not for the episodes that Moffat wrote during those early seasons. And, before you go prasing the good word of River Song's badassery, think about this: her speaking time is high, but she fails the Bechdel test with flying colors, only managing to talk about something other than the Doctor 42% of the time. A propensity toward violence, does not a Strong Female Character make, it seems.
This is important because when Moffat, responsible for flimsy females Amy & River, said of the recent Doctor casting hubub, "Do you know how it will happen?... A person will pop into the showrunner's head and they'll think. 'Oh, my God, what if it was that person?' And when that person is a woman, that's the day it will happen.", that unexamined bias is exactly what's informing his writing. Showrunners, audiences, culture-at-large (!!!) will never think of a woman in this (or any other) leading role if they are constantly bombarded by ineffectual women deferring to men on screen. And, yes, I understand that this is precisely the conceit of the show (Follow the madman in a box with other-worldly intuition! OR as River might remind us, “We’re going to as The Doctor’s friends always do. As they’re told.”). But I also acknowledge that Moffat has essentially created the problem of lame-duck ladies, then "fixed" it by casting one of those Capable-Older-White-Male types.
So here we are. I salute the outspoken Donna Noble, and her creator Russel T. Davies who developed a brassy broad that both passes the Bechdel Test and wins my heart 100% of the time. I also ask current creator Steven Moffat to do better. Because women aren't props or plot devices, but characters deserving equal treatment on the page. And, if the fandom behind you points out a disappointing trend, please don't cry "politically correct" police. "Being a woman is not a political stance."