(This post originally appeared at Geekachicas.com. It has been updated. I should also mention that my thinking on female Doctors has evolved somewhat since I originally wrote this: while I still think that more attention could be paid to the female-led spinoffs, I’m beginning to agree with Courtney that even many wonderful supporting characters do not equal a lead character.)
She’s a little bit River Song, a little bit Lara Croft, but predates either. She’s worshiped on some planets as a minor goddess of inebriation. She’s interstellar archaeologist Bernice Summerfield, one of the Whoniverse’s most successful spinoffs, whose audio adventures with Big Finish are on season 13.
Check her out on YouTube in her first animated adventure, a prequel for season 11, with this link: Bernice Summerfield: Dead And Buried
Several months back, I wrote a piece on femme Doctors. It subsequently got linked to from a couple of places (including here, in French!); where, oddly enough, one throwaway detail got picked up on: that I, personally, don’t particularly want to see a female Doctor. People seemed to think that that implied I didn’t see women seeing themselves in the lead roles; in fact, I’d stated that it was because I thought the Whoniverse has plenty of kickass female characters already.*
Front and center of these is Professor Bernice Summerfield, interstellar archaeologist and action heroine. Why Benny Is Awesome is a long and complex topic, and better writers than me have had a go. But let’s say that any random Doctor Who companion discovered that the Doctor had lied to them, by omission or not, and/or tinkered with their destinies.
- Probable Rose reaction: None, too busy making googly eyes at Doctor.
- Probable Martha reaction: Expression on face indicates that she’s hurt and disappointed.
- Actual Benny reaction: “Git! Git! Git!“
For everyone who’s complained that the Doctor’s companions are wide-eyed teenyboppers with supermodel bodies, Benny is the tonic. She’s over 30, ex-military, smart and focused, with a career and a backstory and (you may wish to sit down for this) regular-sized boobs. And that was just when she was introduced, in 1992, by feminist Who writer and all ’round mensch Paul Cornell. Since then, she’s acquired an ex-husband, a half-human son (long story), an implacable nemesis or two, a best-selling book or three, and has died at least twice. Think Martha kicked ass in “Human Nature / The Family of Blood“? She did–but the original companion for that story (in the Virgin New Adventures novel “Human Nature”) was Benny.
Find out more about Benny at the TARDIS Wiki, or check out the Big Finish page. You can start from the beginning with the audios; or, if you’re into books, I suggest you start with The Dead Men Diaries, a collection of short stories that picks up Benny’s life as she starts work at the Braxiatel Collection.
Or, if you can wait a few months, there will be the perfect intro to the Benny stories: Bernice’s first story, Love And War, adapted by Jacqueline Rayner (who REALLY needs to write for the TV show, am I right, Big Finish fans?) from Paul Cornell’s novel, is coming to audio this fall.
* In fact, of the many spinoffs, no fewer than
seven nine have or have had female leads (The Sarah Jane Adventures, K9 & Company, the Sarah Jane Smith audios, Virgin New Adventures, Bernice Summerfield, Gallifrey, Graceless, Counter-Measures) and one has three have two female co-leads (Gallifrey, Graceless, Counter-Measures). (Thanks to Kieran for reminding me of Graceless and Counter-Measures!)