I LOVE ALISHA. Both she and Kelly were bloody awesome characters, but Alisha especially. Basically just cast Antonia Thomas in everything, please?
I wrote this blog for the Guardian’s TV blog because I was getting a bit fed up with the idea that characters like Alisha represented steps back for British female characters just because they liked boys. This seems to have resulted in me getting quoted on Wikipedia a lot. I also had a lot of people in the comments ‘reminding’ me about Buffy which I then had to point out wasn’t actually British.
Misfits’ women are not to be messed with
It’s tough being a female character in a British sci-fi show. You’re going to be exposed to peril on a weekly basis. You’ll definitely need to book in some time to be saved by the show’s dashing yet mildly geeky hero. If you’re lucky you’ll get to be the season cliffhanger – but usually because you’ve been messing around with Powerful Fantastical Gubbins and it’s made you go a bit weird. Seriously, can’t you girls just learn to stay out of trouble?
Fortunately, the re-emerging British sci-fi genre is starting to show us female characters who don’t exist just to be rescued – and nowhere is that more evident than in the mayhem of Misfits. Kelly introduced herself to the world by dispatching Tony, the Original Psychotic Probation Worker, without flinching. She fights with fists and words, telling one villain: “If you wanna spunk all over someone’s tattoos, just ask ’em, yeah?” Her decision to buy the power of rocket science as her new superpower is beyond useless in community service, and on the evidence of the world’s strangest interview, even more so if potential employers don’t believe it. Yet not so long ago Kelly would never have dared to even dream of the almost unlimited power of being brainy.
Alisha’s somewhat notorious “sex power”, meanwhile, proved problematic for feminists everywhere – and deeply uncomfortable to watch. Yet her role as the reluctant observer forced her to learn about herself. In choosing her new power (which allows her to see what other people are doing) and a relationship with Simon, she’s also chosen to embrace both the superhero life and her own vulnerability, despite knowing that disaster likely awaits in both. The ability to put herself in others’ shoes – and control them, maybe? – reflects her newfound empathy and her determination not to lose it, while putting her at the plotting heart of the gang’s shenanigans. Not bad for the formerly untouchable party girl.
Elsewhere, Doctor Who has River Song: a gun-toting femme fatale, channelling Mrs Robinson and capitalising on her own enigmatic status as murderer/wife/daughter/archaeologist. And in the latest series of Torchwood, Gwen Cooper took the protective mum role to the extreme, engaging in a shoot-out while holding the baby. It’d be difficult to find two superwomen in less need of a man to save them.
But for all the genre’s strengths, younger women particularly are often still written more like props than characters. Doctor Who’s last series might not have been so criticised had the “modern” Amy Pond done more than hatch The Doctor’s future wife/murderer in a pod, having somehow failed to notice her own kidnapping. The girls of The Fades fared even worse: with a tendency towards killing off the more intriguing women almost as soon as we’d met them, its central (living) female characters were either the lead’s bitchy sister or the lead’s girlfriend, rather than people in their own right.
Yet these sketches of women are shown up by others who manage to subvert type. For much of Misfits’ first series Alisha certainly wasn’t nice, and Kelly rarely lets anyone get close enough to like her. And River Song spends much of her time treading the line between knowing smiles and being knowingly smug. But having been given the opportunity to get to know these characters, flaws and all, we like them anyway. Unlike Amy Pond, or The Fades’ Sarah, Misfits hasn’t needed to make a big deal of telling audiences how empowered, interesting or complicated its women are, because they just are.