2/2 - It’s a space train set hundreds of years in the future, is it really that unbelievable that women could do science too? Would love to hear your thoughts, thanks
I actually took a look into this and I think this perception brings up a fascinating point.
So, if you take a second look at all of the scientists, the group is actually a little bit more diverse than you remember.
Here’s half the scientists:
And here’s the other half:
Ignoring the four named characters (Quell, Perkins, Moorhouse, and the Doctor) I count eleven unnamed scientists. Seven are men, four are women. So men definitely outnumber women, but there was definitely more than one woman scientist.
So why, thinking back on the episode, do we forget the other women are present? Why, when we remember the science scenes, does it feel so heavily male? I think it has to do with which characters were named and which characters got to speak.
As I said above, there are 15 people present in the room but only four, to my recollection, are named and have lines, and all of them are men. They are the ones who are most actively involved in the science and deductions. Quell and Moorhouse provide data as they die, and Perkins bounces off deductions with the Doctor. For most of these scenes, the other scientists sit in the background with lab coats on. We’re meant to infer that they’re doing vaguely science-y things, but we don’t actually know what they’re doing for the most part. There is one woman who provides information about who they’ve deduced is the next victim, but that information is passed on wordlessly to Perkins, who then passes that information on to the Doctor.
When we look back and think about these scenes, we remember the characters which are most distinctive, particularly those who are named and have lines. None of the female scientists are named and have lines, and there’s only one who does something that appears to contribute to the plot. I think that’s why we forget how many women were actually present.
The Bechdel Test isn’t necessarily designed to capture things like this, but it can provide a useful framework for how to think about representation of women in situations like this. Remember, the three conditions of the Bechdel test are that the female characters must 1) be named, 2) talk to each other, and 3) talk to each other about something other than a man.
The Bechdel test touches on three important elements of representation in film: which characters, by virtue of being named, are given extra importance by the narrative; which characters get to speak; and what do they get to talk about? It is important because it helps illustrate how few women are given prominent roles, and that when they do get prominent speaking roles, they tend only to talk about the male characters.
The female scientists are present. But most of the important scientific and deductive work is done by the men. There are a lot of scientists in the background who don’t get any lines, and Clara and Maisie do contribute to uncovering the mystery of the Foretold and the Orient Express, so I’m not particularly bothered that those female scientists didn’t get any lines. But I understand where your perception that most of the scientists on the train were men comes from. The female scientists just didn’t receive that much attention.
(For the record, “Mummy on the Orient Express” passes the Bechdel test. And the Bechdel test even received a subtle call-out in the episode! Clara, trying to get Maisie to stop talking about the Doctor, says “Seriously? We’re stuck in this carriage, probably all night, and all we can talk about is some man?”)