Five reasons why Madame Vastra and Jenny should get their own spin-off show

Today I’m going to discuss gender and sexual politics on British TV in a rather roundabout way.

Last Saturday the BBC showed the Doctor Who mid-series finale, “A good Man goes to War”. I have to say that while not perfect, it was easily one of the best bits of TV I’ve seen in a long while. It also introduced two new characters to the Doctor Who universe who really should get their own spin-off series. I’m referring here to Madame Vastra, the Victorian Silurian (a sort of lizard person), who seems to spend her time hunting down serial killers with katanas. She’s aided in this endeavor by her human assistant Jenny, who’s also handy with a sword. It’s strongly implied that the two are in some sort of romantic relationship, despite the obvious species and class barriers that separate them.

Doctor Who itself is no stranger to spin-off series, having spawned both Torchwood and the Sarah Jane Smith Adventures in recent years (the less said about K9 and Company the better). There is also a long history of possible spin-off series that never made it to screen, including the Daleks, UNIT and Jago and Litefoot. Most of these have appeared at some point or another as Big Finish audio stories.

Here then are five reasons why Madame Vastra and Jenny should get a spin-off series of their own:

1) There should be more female fronted adventure series

Since 2006 we’ve seen a huge boom in family friendly adventure shows, largely based on the popularity of Doctor Who and the discovery by TV executives that people do still watch television on a Saturday night. As well as Doctor Who we’ve had Merlin, Robin Hood, Demons and Primeval, and I’m sure more are in the pipeline. However all of these have male leads with women as sidekicks or as the romantic interest. Is it too much to ask for a British adventure series with a female lead character?

2) There should be more female fronted adventure series where the lead character isn’t a teenager or there as eye-candy

Buffy the Vampire Slayer is often cited as a landmark TV series for promoting strong female characters. This is true up to a point, but as many critics have noted, the female empowerment on display here only seem to feature young women who look like they should be models. Dark Angel, Dollhouse and Alias have the same problem of featuring stunning looking women under the age of thirty who have a habit of running around while not wearing very much. It would be great to see a female character who is a proper grown-up (the lizard bit is kind of optional).

3) There aren’t enough homosexual characters on television

We live in a tolerant, diverse and multicultural society (well at least I hope we do). However you wouldn’t immediately guess this by watching British TV, which is still largely dominated by white male heterosexual characters. When homosexual characters do appear from time to time they’re often represented as being either tortured by their sexuality or full of angst. It would be nice for once to have a family show where you had a homosexual couple in a loving relationship where their sexuality was in the background rather than driving the story.

4) Originality

In an age of increasingly generic TV full of cop shows and rather plodding melodramas I’d love to see a show about a female katana carrying reptilian detective, having adventures and fighting crime in Victorian London. If that isn’t original then I don’t know what is. There is also the fact that the BBC tends to be rather good at doing these sort of costume dramas and this would be a good way of doing a series like Sherlock Holmes, without actually having to do remake Sherlock Holmes again (possibly the most overused character in fiction).

5) It would really annoy the right-wingers

Which seems like a good reason for doing it but that’s just me. The whole point of the BBC is to make TV shows that commercial channels wouldn’t take a risk on. I’m sure that there is a whole section of society who would be annoyed by the very idea of something like this being on the box, but as far as I’m concerned as long as it’s well written acted and directed the more genre TV the better.

Someone on Youtube put this montage together which cheered me up immensely as I was having a rubbish day and the bizarre contrast of music and visuals instantly put me in a better mood (now I’m off to mark another 100 exam papers):

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About matthewashton

I'm a Politics Lecturer at Nottingham Trent University. I specialise in the fields of American, British and media politics.
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23 Responses to Five reasons why Madame Vastra and Jenny should get their own spin-off show

  1. roopost says:

    Okay Matthew! For us in North America you need to post ‘Spoiler Alert’! No Doctor Who narratives until they’ve played here!
    Kind regards,

  2. Hi John, sorry about that. I thought you guys were getting the show the same day as us though this time round. I know the Australians are a week behind so I tried to avoid mentioning anything that specifically linked into the plot. It is an amazing episode though. Once you’ve seen it you’ll have to let me know what you thought of it.

  3. Dryhad says:

    Sorry but, uh, shouldn’t they get a spin-off because they’re awesome characters that deserve more exploration and clearly have a lot of interesting stories behind them, rather than for ticking underrepresented demographic boxes?

    • Well obviously those should been the prime reasons to give anyone a spin-off series.

      In all seriousness I’d already read five or six blog posts outlining the reasons for giving Madame Vastra a spin-off show that focussed on exactly those things. I didn’t want to write a post that simply replicated stuff other people had already written so I thought that I’d try to come to it from a slightly different angle.

      Also I’d like to emphasis that I’m not promoting tokenism or box ticking. I just wanted to point out that there was a serious lack of decent adventure shows with female leads. Those that do exist sometimes (although not always) pander to the worst elements of the male audience. We live in a diverse society and wanting to see TV reflect this a little bit more is not necessarily box ticking.

      Ultimately I’m a big fan of Steven Moffat’s writing and I’d love to see Madame Vastra and Jenny get their own series set in Victorian London. If it was written as well as Doctor Who and Sherlock that would be pretty much perfect TV as far as I’m concerned.

      I’ve been watching Doctor Who for years now and I think it’s really interesting that this is the most positive fan response to a one episode character that I can remember (even more positive than for Captain Jack and Sally Sparrow both Moffat creations). Apart from the fact that the concept itself is cool I’d be very keen to know why fans seem to have taken them to their hearts so quickly.

  4. Mark Childs says:

    I think the main reason is that the concept is so cool, from the potential for an action-adventure series of stories, and also because there’s a sexual intrigue thing going on (see it still manages to pander to the baser elements of the male audience). It’s even cooler because of the heaping of uniqueness on top of each other, to produce the sort of randomness that you could only get from a spin-off – reptile from a lost civilisation + samurai + Victorian London + lesbian relationship with maid + serial killers. There’d be little chance of getting to something like that from scratch,

    Also Vastra and Jenny aren’t just different species, they’re different classes (reptile and mammal) in the Linnaen biological sense. I remember when I read the novelisation of The Silurians that the idea of the nonhumans (not aliens, which is crucial) weren’t the bad guys any more than the humans were, and where the Doctor was actually in conflict with the humans, had quite an impact on me. Humans were first geneticially engineered to be livestock for Silurians (according to Bloodtide anyway) , they’ve supplanted their owners. Mammals rtunning things now is the epitome of an underclass rising (or immigrants replacing). Seeing two united like that offers some resolution of a conflict that’s been seen on TV since 1970 (which is also part of the appeal of this couple perhaps).But the opportunity for poltical/racial metaphors around that continued tension are numerous. Better get ready to start writing those papers :-)

    oh btw – we were in synch with the US but they got a week behind due to memorial day or labor day or some colonial thing. It’s been a source of frustration for the past week not being able to post anything about the episode in any social media for fear of annoying any of my US friends. Only a day to wait now though.

    • I think you’ve hit the nail on the head with a lot of those points. Also I didn’t realise we’d gotten out of synch with the US. I don’t think I mentioned anything in my original post about ‘A good man goes to war’ that would count as spoilers but I apologise if I have.

      Thinking about your points I suppose Madame Vastra would count as the classic fish out of water hero that’s so popular in genre fiction e.g. A hero that is removed from the audience an different from everyone else around them like Superman or the Doctor. Jenny would be the audience point of view character.

      Personally I really liked them as they were fun (with some great banter) and seemed like genuinely interesting characters with a potentially huge backstory. Victorian London is always a good location for adventure stories and you’d be able combine adventure crime and sci-fi in a unique way. As you said, the number of different directions you take it in is almost infinite.

      Also wants not to like about samurai lizards? (presumably though Madame Vastra would have some sort of perception filter some of the time as otherwise walking the streets might be a bit tricky).

  5. Em says:

    If they do make a spinoff they better bring Neve Mcintosh and Catrin Stewart back as Madame Vastra and Jenny.

    • It would be terrible if they made a spin-off and tried to recast it. It always annoys me when people say that actors playing aliens wearing masks don’t give much of a performance and that anyone could do it. That might be true for certain things like Darth Vader, but ignores the huge amount of work actors put into making their characters feel like real people.

      If you look at the contrast between Neve Mcintosh’s performance last year playing the Siluraian sisters, and this year playing Madame Vastra the difference in amazing. Also Catrin Stewart was really good as Jenny. When she first turned up I thought she was playing another sterotypical Victorian maid but she managed to really shine given her limited amount of screentime.

      I think it’s a testament to both actresses skill how much praise the characters have recieved over the past week or so, even though they’re weren’t even the main pratagonists in the episode (having Steven Moffat write the scripts clearly helps as the man is a genius).

  6. Jayne Gudkov says:

    I love the idea :)

  7. Pingback: Five reasons why Madame Vastra and Jenny should get their own spin-off show (via Dr Matthew Ashton’s Politics Blog) « Rhys Parton

  8. Pingback: The Adventures of Madame Vastra and Jenny « No, Really, I Am an American

  9. Tom says:

    Why are they so awesome?
    a) Silurians are awesome
    b) There’s not enough of them (though that’s kind of good because it makes them more awesome when the do appear)
    c) A lizard woman with katanas eating Jack the Ripper in Victorian London? It it humanly (or silurianly) possible to be more awesome?

  10. Paul B. =:o} says:

    6: Catrin Stuart’s eyebrows.
    7. Catrin Stuart’s cheekbones.
    8. Catrin Stuart’s delightful mouth shape.
    9. Catrin Stuart’s perfectly positioned mole.
    10. Catrin Stuart’s deliciously cheeky little grin…
    … Uh, stay tuned, I’m sure there will be more reasons that occur to me…

  11. jonathon says:

    jenney often calles vastra “mother” implying a more family relationship than sexual, plus the fact that i never felt anything of a lez from ether of them.

    • I think mother or ma’am used in the Victorian context is more about Vastra being her boss than anything else. If you watch Upstairs Downstairs or any other drama set in that period the maids use it all the time to their superiors. As regards to Vastra and Jenny being involved in a romantic relationship the actresses involved certainly thought this was the case (see interviews in Doctor Who magazine) and the whole internet think they’re a couple.

  12. Mike says:

    Hmmmm, I’m a right-winger and I think Vastra and Jenny are great.

    • That’s good, most of my Conservative friends aren’t down with the same sex interspecies romance angle. I’m really hoping that Vastra and Jenny are in the new series and that eventually they get their own spin off. Presumably Steven Moffat has too much on his plate already what with Sherlock and all.

  13. if there was a spin off with these two as t main characters id love to watch it :) but i hear there making another appearance in DW again

  14. Gil says:

    Jenny sucks. Vastra and a new female partner would be fine.

  15. Rick says:

    There aren’t enough homosexual characters on television? Sorry, but in America there are more homosexual characters on television than there are Hispanic characters despite the fact that Hispanics make up a larger percentage of the population than homosexuals. The GLBT population is estimated at 4%, the Hispanic population at 17%. The GLBT characters on television are at 4-5%, Hispanics 4%. Frankly, Madame Vastra & Jenny did not impress me as “genius”, and I’m tired of every character on Who being thought of for spin-offs. Spin-off for Rose, spin-off for Captain Jack, spin-off for roly-poly Craig Owens, spin-off for River Song. Can’t we just concentrate on the Doctor for once?

    • Hi Rick, I was thinking more of the UK where far too many of the gay characters on TV are camp stereotypes. One of the things I liked about Madame Vastra and Jenny is that this element of their personalities wasn’t played up (I don’t think either of them could be described as camp).

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