Recently, I’ve been very excited by a new Kickstarter project – the SF comedy radio serial Night Terrace (made by the creators of the Splendid Chaps podcasts), about Anastasia Black (Jackie Woodburne of Neighbours fame) a retired world-saving adventurer who finds her quiet life irritatingly interrupted when her house starts inexplicably travelling through space and time. Stuck with her (or indeed the other way around) is Eddie Jones (Ben McKenzie), who was trying to sell her something at the time.
Of course, the show needs funding first!
The makers of the Night Terrace radio series knew from the start that they wanted their lead character to be an adventuring woman. Ben McKenzie – actor, writer and co-producer of the series – writes about why.
Read on! (or skip straight to pledging support for Night Terrace at Kickstarter.)
Night Terrace’s Adventurous Woman
When we started to work out Night Terrace, the Chaps wanted to make a show that was unique but Doctor Who-esque: a versatile travelling narrative based around a central hero, more “smarts and adventure” than “violence and action”. We all thought it would be great to have a female Doctor, and we’re among those were a little disappointed that Twelve is still a man (though we are quite excited about Peter Capaldi). But why wait for the BBC to get with the times? “Female protagonist” was one of the first things to go on the list of ingredients that eventually became Night Terrace.
But why does it feel so important to have a female character who’s Doctorish?
For starters, the Doctor is a character with unprecedented freedom. He travels wherever and whenever he likes. He does what’s right where he can, but not out of obligation (unlike Starfleet Captains, for example, who are bound by duty and their jobs). On the whole he’s never been tied down with responsibilities of family and he needs no further motivation than being intrigued or enjoying himself. Even his love life allows him to wander. His relationship with River Song, whatever else it might be, is clearly at both of their convenience.
Other male characters have similar freedom, like Hercules or MacGuyver, but female genre heroes always have to justify their status as adventurers.
Xena is trying to atone for past wrongs; Buffy has been chosen by fate (and is trying to live a normal life alongside her role as Slayer); Helen Magnus was initiated into the family business by her father; Lara Croft had a traumatic experience in her youth which leads her to seek out danger. A woman who travels and has adventures “just because” bucks the idea that unless she has some kind of excuse, she ought to be settling down and having children.
It’s fair to say that our character, Anastasia Black, isn’t entirely free – her adventures are forced upon her, and initially at least she resents them. But she’s been an adventurer a long time before Night Terrace begins. And despite the interruption to her retirement, she starts to realise that without the red tape of her old job she might actually enjoy saving civilisations and exploring new worlds. Though she’s still learned to be a bit cynical, at her age.
Speaking of age: the Doctor is also old. Sometimes he looks young, but certainly among the Chaps we feel it’s best when a young actor captures that feeling of an old man on the inside. He’s presumably hundreds of years old when he begins his journey – he’s already a grandfather – and yet there’s rarely a sense that he’s too old to cope with adventuring.
Of course the Doctor is a special case, being a nearly immortal Time Lord, but male human adventurers are allowed to be older too. Sean Connery, Harrison Ford, Bruce Willis, Patrick Stewart, Liam Neeson and Ian McKellan didn’t stop at 40. It’s only very recently that older women have been allowed adventures: Helen Mirren in RED, Judi Dench as 007’s boss M, or Amanda Redman in New Tricks. Like them, Anastasia is of retirement age, but she’s not slowing down or stopping until she wants to.
But perhaps most importantly, the Doctor is a brain-hero at least as much as a fists-hero (or so we like to think of him, despite all evidence to the contrary). Such heroes are fairly thin on the ground, but among female characters they seem even less likely. Xena, Buffy, Lara Croft and the others are all arse-kickers; even Captain Janeway is a fairly ruthless starship captain by Starfleet standards, more Kirk than Picard, and most of the time she has people to do the science for her (though it’s worth noting both B’Lanna Torres and 7 of 9 are sciencey and can kick arse when required).
Helen Magnus of Sanctuary is probably the only counter-example, and indeed she has some other Doctorish qualities as well.
So we’ve put all these traits into Anastasia. She’s a trained scientist with decades of field experience studying unusual phenomena. If the Third Doctor had never shown up and Liz Shaw had stayed with UNIT for thirty years, she might have ended up like Anastasia: brilliant, capable, knowledgable, and sick of working for The Man. She’s a real pleasure to write for, she’ll be played by the brilliant Jackie Woodburne and I can’t wait for all of you to meet her.
– Ben McKenzie
WHAT IS NIGHT TERRACE?
Night Terrace is a new audio comedy from the minds behind ABC1′s Outland, ABC2′s Bazura Project and the hit podcast Splendid Chaps. It follows the adventures of Anastasia Black (played by Neighbours veteran Jackie Woodburne), who used to save the world for the government but now just wants a quiet life in retirement. So when her house inexplicably starts travelling in time and space she’s understandably miffed. She’s also not exactly thrilled about Eddie Jones, who happened to be on her doorstep at the time and is now her unlikely fellow traveller. University hasn’t prepared Eddie to cope with other worlds or time paradoxes, but he still thinks they’re a step up from selling electricity plans door-to-door.
Together Anastasia and Eddie will face alien invasions, hideous monsters, and a shadowy figure known only as “Sue”. All the while hoping the house will eventually take them home…
The team are crowdfunding the first series of Night Terrace right now. Jane Badler, chanteuse and actress (the original Diana of the original V!) is also slated for a role if the show is funded. They’re getting close to their target – and you can help them reach their funding goal at Kickstarter. I have a Key to the Terrace, but if you’re really keen you can be listed as a producer!
Who are your favourite female lead characters in TV, film or books? Feel free to leave a comment!