Like father like daughter?

Something occurred to me today that’s bothered me quite a bit. I hate to think that I’m being over-picky about things, but this one has really gripped my brain and it really bothers me. And here it is.

doctor_who_kate_stewartKate Stewart has appeared three times in the Doctor Who TV series, and all three times, she was co-opted by the Brigadier.

She first appears in “Power of Three”, when we don’t know who she is other than she’s the science advisor for UNIT and has worked on decreasing the organization’s dependence on weapons and the military mindset. As the situation gets out of hand in the episode, she starts to realize that there’s nothing she can do, and the Doctor gives her a pep talk, saying, “Don’t despair, Kate. Your dad never did. Kate Stewart, heading up UNIT, changing the way they work. How could you not be? Why did you drop Lethbridge?” This is, of course, the revelation for the audience that she’s the Brigadier’s daughter, and now your attention is on her as the Brigadier’s daughter and not the leader of UNIT. The Doctor’s first tactic is to encourage her with who her father is, not what she has been able to accomplish. He even says that she must be the Brig’s daughter, since she’s the head of UNIT and changing them, implying that she couldn’t have done that if she wasn’t his blood relation. (Is that really what he said? That’s really kind of insulting.)

She then returns in “The Day of the Doctor”, and while she’s a very strong, capable commander throughout the episode (while human or Zygon), her best scene was when she was facing off with her Zygon duplicate, threatening to destroy London to save the world. When the duplicate doubts that she could do such a thing, she doesn’t say, “Look in my mind. You can see what I’m thinking, and you know that I would do this to save my world.” Instead, she says, “Somewhere in your memory is a man called Brigadier Alistair Gordon Lethbridge Stewart. I am his daughter.” Her stand against the threat is based on her father’s strength, not her own.

Her last and most recent appearance was in “Death in Heaven’. (Spoilers in this paragraph if you haven’t seen it yet.  In this episode, she performs well, though she is mostly powerless to solve the issue at hand, through no fault of her own. But first, on the plane that’s meant to be the base of the “President of the World”, there’s a portrait of the Brigadier. There’s no real reason for it, as the Brigadier retired from UNIT in the 1970s and there have been several brigadier-generals of UNIT since then; the Doctor even pokes her about it, saying, “Ah, I see you’re bringing Daddy along, too.” Then, she is later saved by the resurrected CyberBrig, which is certainly one of the coolest moments of the show (if you don’t feel it the resurrection desecrated his memory; I’m on the fence about that still), but, while it doesn’t insult her in any way, it certainly turns the spotlight away from her and right on the Brigadier.

Is there some rule that Kate is not allowed to be a strong character on her own? Must everything she does be weighed in reference to her father? It’s ironic that she dropped the “Lethbridge” because she “didn’t want any favours,” and yet it seems that the scripts are only letting her into the show so that they can bring the Brigadier back in. She’s a scientist and a leader, direct and decisive, but she is always written as her father’s daughter – or at least, the Doctor seems to think that she’s nothing but that. Which is insulting for both her AND the Doctor – well, perhaps the Twelfth Doctor might feel that way, but it is surprising that the Eleventh Doctor did.

I do honestly think that this has all happened as a side-effect of the writers wanting to pay homage to the Brigadier, but they’re playing that card too many times at the expense of an otherwise great character. They need to stop relying on nostalgia and let Kate be her own woman, and perhaps she’ll become as iconic to the current series as the Brigadier was to the classic show.

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3 responses to “Like father like daughter?

  1. …well, this is a sad realization. 😦

    I figure they created her because they couldn’t get the original Brigadier, so I never gave it much thought. (I love the Brigadier.) You’re right, though. There are some unfortunate side effects, and given the lady problems the show has in general, they even become rather sexist side effects.

    On the plus side, even including side effects, she’s a quite different character from the two sorts of ladies we usually get! (i.e. Flirty Quip Machine and Sexy Umbridge).

    • Yeah, I try very hard to not lay the “sexist” label on the show and Moffat. I really believe that he’s not so much sexist as just a poor character designer in general, because his male characters are just as poor as his female ones (except Rory, the one really well-designed and well-defined character). But sometimes, I’m not sure I can deny it. In this particular case, I really can’t imagine a writer having the Doctor say the same things to the son of the Brigadier, especially the line about “bringing Daddy along.”

      I really like Kate. She’s very real. They just need to use her for herself, not her dad. And I just love “Flirty Quip Machine” and “Sexy Umbridge.” I might have to start using those terms myself. 🙂

      • Yeah, I’d agree that it’s mostly unintentional sexism and his male characters have issues too. Come to that, his EPISODES tend to bear some striking similarities. That doesn’t make the sexism less sexist, though.

        You’re welcome to them. 😀 Flirty Quip Machine isn’t mine and I have no idea where it came from, I think it’s in semi-common use already.

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