Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Characters and Gender

I just got into an interesting conversation on G+.

One of the BBC's April Fool's jokes this year was that the next Doctor after Matt Smith would be a woman. It's already been canonically stated that Time Lords can change sex when they regenerate.

This opened a discussion on changing historically and traditionally male characters to females. Generally, this is seen with older books being adapted to movies. Modern writers tend to assume that if they do not have a strong female character, they will lose the female audience.

In the case of the Doctor this is a stupid argument - the Doctor himself is truly alien and the characters the viewer identifies with are his Companions - who have included many strong female characters such as Donna, Ace, Sarah Jane or the delightful Jo (and many who were not so strong - Tegan and Mel come to mind).

It's no doubt the argument used by the makers of the American Sherlock Holmes series to transform Dr Watson into a woman (uh, no). In the new BSG, Starbuck became Kara Thrace (although the actress did a bang up job of it, so I don't mind that one so much).

Here is the thing. Women and men are not interchangeable. If you change a character's sex, they become a completely different character. Furthermore, Lord of the Rings proved that you don't lose the female audience - Tolkein wrote very few major female characters and the only change made was to give Arwen a slightly larger role. They did not turn any of the Company into women. Thankfully.

I'm a woman and don't get me wrong, I love to see strong female characters. However, when you change a character's sex, you change all of the dynamics. How can Holmes and Watson have the relationship they do if one of them is a woman? A better approach would be to add a new character or give a larger role to an existing female character, if you really feel that you 'need' a strong woman to attract a female audience.

And guess what...you don't always.