3 Female Characters Who Are Damned Good At Their Jobs

You wouldn’t think, in 2013, that a female character with workplace competence would be something to write home about – but in a year when Aaron Sorkin’s The Newsroom undid its own good work and women are still earning 75¢ to every man’s $, it might be nice to remind ourselves of the women on the small screen who prove that we are, you know…good at what we do.

With that in mind I took to twitter to see who they wanted on the list, with pleasing results (do read their responses, as they’re excellent), and I’ve whittled it down to my own three favourites…


Olivia Dunham / Fringe
Let’s kick this off with one of my favourite telly investigators, FBI agent Olivia Dunham. Quiet and reserved, Olivia was a breath of fresh air from the moment she appeared on screen, but perhaps the most gratifying thing was to see a female character who could do the proverbial taking of names without the sassy, ass-kicking personality that so often goes with that. Sure, a sassy, ass-kicking lady isn’t necessarily a bad thing – but personalities come in all shapes and sizes, and film and television often seem to forget that. That Olivia can be herself – reticent, thoughtful, aloof – and yet still work hard and work well is a sign that telly has woken up to the idea that shy people can be awesome too.

Sally Donovan / Sherlock
Alright, post-Reichenbach Fall this is an admittedly controversial choice – Sally’s complicity in (spoilers!) Moriarty’s plan to destroy Sherlock didn’t earn her a place in the Cumberbitches’ hearts – but it’s for that exact reason that Sally makes this list. Her ability to follow Moriarty’s subtly-placed breadcrumb trail demonstrates her skills as a detective, as she puts the pieces together long before anybody else – and Moriarty is, after all, the Napolean of crime, so falling into his carefully woven web isn’t that much of a big deal. What it does show us (especially when we remember that we as the audience are also only human) is someone who isn’t as one-dimensional as people think. When Sherlock is viewed from Sally’s perspective – in a (still) heavily male profession, as both a woman and as a woman of colour – calling the privileged white guy trampling all over your crime scene a freak is actually pretty restrained.

Martha Costello / Silk
Ah, Martha Costello – definitely the woman I’d most like to marry. It helps that Silk stars Maxine Peake, one of Britain’s best actresses, well…ever, but Peter Moffat’s fantastic show gives her a serenely acerbic, dynamic, skilled character to play with, and the result is an aspiring QC who is more “protagonist” than “female protagonist”. Silk is a legal drama, and as such the series hangs on Martha’s abilities as a barrister – but where the show really shines is in making her realistically talented. This is no souped-up superheroine who never fails to win a case – Martha has her flaws, from a terrible work-life balance to an impetuousness that flares when she least needs it to, and this combines with her talent to develop a fully-rounded working professional who leads her show with confidence and competence.