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The Women Who Lived: A Doctor Who Interview with Christel Dee

Yesterday marked the publication of the new Doctor Who book The Women Who Lived: Amazing Tales for Future Time Lords, a brand-new book published by BBC Books and written by Christel Dee and Simon Guerrier, showcasing the wonderful world of women in the TARDIS. To celebrate its release ahead of the launch of Jodie Whittaker's first series as the Doctor, I spoke with Christel Dee about the book's origins and what readers and fans of the show can expect.

How did The Women Who Lived come about?

I had the idea after Jodie Whittaker was announced as the Thirteenth Doctor last year. I thought it would be great to have a book that celebrated the wonderful women in Doctor Who (and welcome the new Doctor). There wasn’t a Doctor Who book like that on the market yet and given the timing (the first series with a woman playing the Doctor) I thought the idea had legs.


I had previously worked with Simon on Doctor Who: Paper Dolls and I approached him with the idea to see what he thought. He liked it, and I asked him if he’d like to help out on the project, having worked on numerous Doctor Who books previously. Plus, he knows classic Doctor Who a bit better than I do so I thought we’d complement each other quite well.


I also have a full-time job and I knew I would have had to write it very quickly so teaming up was necessary to get it finished on time really! So, with Simon on board, we put together a pitch, presented it to BBC Books, and the rest is history!


When the book was given the green light, how did you feel?

Massively excited! How amazing to have something you’ve written published? I was really very chuffed and I’m so happy we were able to make our vision for this book a reality!


The book contains more than 75 stories. How did you choose which women to feature?

We originally had a list of well over 100 but we would have been writing the book for years if we had done all of them! We had to be selective but I definitely think we’d have enough for a second volume at some point in the future.


How important was it to include both classic and contempory characters in the book?

It was a no-brainer! It’s all one big history!

How do you feel the portrayal of women in the TARDIS as companions has evolved over the years?

I would say there is a lot more diversity nowadays. Since the show returned in 2005, we’ve seen openly LGBT+ characters like Captain Jack Harkness and Bill Potts (which wasn’t explicit in classic Doctor Who). We’ve also more people of colour, like Martha Jones and Bill. And, of course, Jodie Whittaker in the lead role as the Doctor, which has traditionally been played by a man.


I think much of the way women are portrayed in classic Doctor Who is a product of its time, to be honest, e.g. Liz Shaw not really being taken seriously by those around her as a woman in science. This was the reality of being a woman in the that field of work in the 70s.


However, I do believe that television and the media have a responsibility to reflect the real world on screen and to be bold and push boundaries. I think Doctor Who has always done that brilliantly for the most part. 


Obviously with so many women included in the story, only a fraction of them could feature on the cover. How were the ten women on the cover chosen?

I didn’t design the amazing cover (it was designed by the brilliant Lee Binding) and Simon and I, as authors, don’t have control over what features on the cover, but those particular characters chosen are presumably to attract young audiences. BBC Books know what they'e doing! 


Who are your personal three favourite female characters in Doctor Who?

It’s very difficult to pick favourites but there are a few I’m very fond of, namely Ace (Sophie Aldred), because I feel like she’s most like me and I love how she always runs into danger (often without thinking twice about it), uses explosives and beats up Daleks with baseball bats.


I love Donna Noble (Catherine Tate) because she’s so funny but also because she grows so much during her time with the Doctor and the end of her story is just so tragic. And finally, the Thirteenth Doctor (Jodie Whittaker) – even though we haven’t seen much of her yet, I just know she’s going to be brilliant!


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If you love Doctor Who then you'll definitely need to check out The Women Who Lived! You can read more about it on Christel Dee's website here. We'd also love to know who your favourite women of Doctor Who are - why not drop us a tweet with your favourites!


Christel Dee was speaking with Amy McLean about The Women Who Lived.