At the behest of a friend, I started watching Doctor Who in November. He promised me that if the first season started out rough, I’d settle into it and really enjoy it. As indeed I did; judging from the large number of fans of the show, I probably don’t need to tell you why I love so many aspects of it. I ended up tearing through all the available episodes just in time for the Christmas special.
There’s something about watching a lot of television in very short order that allows for some fascinating processes. Because you’re seeing it in compressed form, rather than stretched out over weeks, some of the flaws become more apparent, as of course do the things that work well. It’s also much easier to follow the various bread crumbs dropped, because you can think back two weeks instead of two years to remember the significance of something. One consequence of watching Doctor Who all at once was that I developed a deep and uncontrollable loathing of Steven Moffat.
Which isn’t terribly surprising; many people don’t like him. I note that these people are primarily women, and usually women involved in feminism or social justice work, who may be trying to reconcile their underlying love of the show with the significant problems under Moffat. Men, in general, seem to be more positive about him. Strikingly, several men I talked to about the show told me that it got ‘really good’ under Moffat, implying that it was worth slogging through boggy bits in earlier seasons to get to Love in the Time of Moffat. Why on earth men of my acquaintance would think I’d be delighted with Who under Moffat is beyond me—I thought they knew better than that.
Moffat doesn’t seem to know how to deal with women, at all. Obviously, the show centres around the male character of the Doctor, which is not necessarily a bad thing, but it’s possible to balance that out with positive depictions of women, if the creators put in the effort. Sadly, the recent revival of the series already sort of set a precedent with the Doctor being accompanied by a series of attractive female companions whom he discards over time. Bad enough that Davies should set up with what happens to Donna, showing that the show’s creative team by and large doesn’t seem to think much of women. Moffat took it to a whole new level of disgustingness.
Under Moffat’s tenure, women seem to be primarily framed as vessels, which is, bluntly, rather gross. We have the whole situation with Amy Pond that unfolds over a series of episodes, where it’s made apparent that she’s being used as an incubator and that this is really her primary function. Amy’s also the character everyone needs to surround and protect because clearly she’s incapable of staying out of trouble on her own. A far cry from the independent Rose and Donna, who were much more proactive, aggressive, interesting characters because they were allowed to have personalities, since no one seemed to fear this would detract from the Doctor.
Amy is instead a pale foil, along with bumbling Rory, and, of course, the vessel. Tropes leaning heavily on cis women as incubators are certainly nothing new in science fiction, but that doesn’t mean we should keep using them. What happens to Amy is profoundly dehumanising, at the same time it’s hard to feel affected by it as a viewer because she’s such a paper-thin character to begin with. Her identity, it turns out, is wrapped up around being a mother, a carrier, an object to hold something else.
This also popped up again in the Christmas special, which brought a side of gender essentialism to the trope with a storyline about how women are ‘strong.’ Not to defy stereotypes, of course, but because cis women have uteruses and can bear children, and a mother is the most strong and developed of all because she’s successfully had children. I’m reminded of people pacing around a horse auction, checking out the broodmares, looking for the ones who’ve been proven successful, to find the right one to take home. You want a nice strong one, you know, one who’s successfully foaled, because otherwise she’d be a poor investment.
Moffat’s terror of women and uncertainty about what to do with them are palpable. He shoves them as far into the stereotype box as possible, framing them as vessels, as one-dimensional mothers, as helpmeets, but not as independent individuals. Even River Song under Moffat’s tenure is diluted; instead of being an interesting and enigmatic figure, she’s a tool created by someone else and redeemed, of course, by the Doctor. It rather leads one to wonder what would happen to all these poor hapless women without the influence of a lovely man like the Doctor in their lives. Surely they would all just wither away with no purpose in life, eh?
Moffat’s tenure doesn’t impress me in the slightest, and it sours my appreciation of the show. Instead of being simply a timey-wimey adventure, it’s got to have all of this unpleasant gender essentialism and stereotypes and cissexism crammed in there, which makes it hard to focus on enjoying the show for what it is. I don’t know how much more I’ll be able to watch, as it’s growing increasingly difficult to continually overlook Moffat’s shortcomings in order to enjoy myself.
And this is why I hate you, Steven Moffat, because just as I discovered something good and fun, you totally ruined it for me. Steven Moffat, you are a ruiner, and you should sit in a corner and feel bad about what you have done.