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Wednesday, 19 December 2012

Sexism in Steven Moffat's Doctor Who?


Doctor Who has been a part of my life for just about as long as I can remember. Even before I started watching it regularly, it had imprinted itself on me. I was terrified of it, of course, at first, but even then, something drew me to it and fascinated me about it. At age 10, I fell in love with Doctor Who and never missed an episode again. Eventually, I even gained the opportunity to go back and watch all the earlier ones I’d missed (or, at the very least, listen to them in the case of missing 60’s episodes).

What exactly drew, and still draws, me to the show is hard to narrow down. Tom Baker’s mesmerizing presence certainly played a role, but he wasn’t actually the first Doctor I ever saw—Jon Pertwee was—even if there was a period when I didn’t realize Jon Pertwee had ever been there and Tom Baker had superimposed himself on my memories of the third Doctor. Until Tom Baker took over, there was still something drawing me to it. I’ve always had a proclivity towards science fiction and fantasy, so that’s undoubtedly a very major part. Around the same time I was falling in love with Doctor Who, I also discovered Star Wars and fell in love with that, too. The action and adventure definitely kept me coming back. Yet I’ve fallen out of love with Star Wars in recent years (and I’m not referring to any opinion on the quality of the prequels—I’m referring to the original, non-special-edition trilogy), but the same hasn’t happened with Doctor Who. I have also watched many other science fiction programmes and movies over the years (many of which I consider myself a fan of), but none have ever held the same place as Doctor Who. Something sets Doctor Who apart from all the others. To be honest, I’m not sure I can accurately say exactly what it is that draws me to the show, be it the sheer breadth of possibility the show covers, the writing, the acting, the concepts, the action, or the characters. The show has changed so much over the years, yet still it draws me in.

Of course, just because one loves something doesn’t necessarily mean one finds it perfect, and Doctor Who is no different. To criticize something does not necessarily indicate dislike. And fans tend to criticize. Personally, I don’t just criticize things I’m a fan of. I watch and read everything with a critical eye. Some people might say I go over the top, but I actually believe it to be very important. Something can be good and still have flaws, and I think it’s important to acknowledge those flaws. Similarly, I believe there is a difference between the two spectrums of like/dislike and good/bad. We can, and often do, like things that we know are bad (often called “guilty pleasures”). Likewise, we can dislike things that are good (although in these cases, we often go out of our way to try to prove that the things in question are actually bad in order to justify our dislike rather than just admit it’s a matter of personal taste).

Doctor Who has had its ups and downs. It’s usually good, but sometimes bad. A lot of the time that it’s bad, I still like it, but every now and then, it does an episode that I just plain don’t like. Throughout it all, I’ve always still loved the show as a whole. People who have read my reviews of recent episodes will know that I have not felt the last couple of years have been Doctor Who at its best. I have taken issues with a number of things, particularly poor character development. However, there is one issue that has been lying heavily on me for some time, one that has become a hotbed of argument amongst fandom: the presentation of women since Steven Moffat took over as showrunner.

A quick search through messageboards like Gallifrey Base will turn up numerous threads asking whether Moffat is sexist. A Google search will turn up tons of websites devoted to the topic, some outright vitriolic and over-the-top, some well-argued and reasonable (Doctor Her is a particularly excellent source for feminist criticism of Doctor Who). Readers of my reviews will know where I stand on the issue, but I will reiterate here: I see some very worrying trends in the representation of women on the programme. In fact, in my reviews, I’ve made a couple references to being able to write an entire essay on the topic, and I’ve decided it’s about time to put my money where my mouth is and write that essay. (Just to add, I find some worrying trends in the presentation of racial and sexual minorities, as well, but I can only fit so much in one essay, so my focus at this time is on sexism.)

In order to fully examine the state of women in the programme currently, I think it’s important to take a brief look at the broader historical context. Doctor Who has certainly never been perfect. In its long history, it has had some sexist and racist moments. Of course, to a great extent, it was a product of its time, and television as a whole has had a lot of very sexist and racist moments. In fact, Doctor Who was often ahead of its time, even if it was still not perfect. Its first producer, Verity Lambert, was one of the very few women producers in the industry. Barbara Wright, one of the Doctor’s first companions, was quite a strong female character when compared to what was typical of female characters in the 60’s (even if she wouldn’t meet modern standards). The 60’s also saw characters like Sara Kingdom, who was a space security agent, carried a gun, and shot at Daleks instead of screaming at them (alas, she was also written out very quickly, likely because higher-ups at the BBC didn’t approve of her). Of course, the 60’s also saw characters like Susan and Victoria, who screamed and cried and twisted their ankles over every little thing, so it was far from perfect. But a principal facet of my argument that I will be getting into is that variety is important, and 60’s Who does have a variety of female characters even if the male characters outnumber them significantly.

In some ways, the seventies were actually a step backwards for the presentation of women. The female companions, from Liz Shaw to Sarah Jane Smith to Romana, were often very strong characters, but unfortunately, there were very few other female characters at all. In particular, during the early Tom Baker years, Sarah Jane was often the only female character except for a few background extras. There were even several stories where women didn’t even get to be extras (“The Sontaran Experiment”, “Revenge of the Cybermen”, “Pyramids of Mars”, “Planet of Evil”).

By the eighties, the number of roles for women began to broaden out significantly. There were women scientists again and women officers on spaceships. Companions, such as Ace, became more independent and less prone to screaming (although there were exceptions, like Melanie). Although the show ended in 1989, preliminary plans for the 1990 season included the introduction of the Doctor’s first non-white companion, which would have been a great step forward for the visibility of minority women.

Although Doctor Who was off the air for most of the nineties, it continued unabated in other media, particularly the New Adventures novel series and then, later, in the BBC book series. It was in these books that the series had something of a renaissance in its portrayal of women and minorities with characters such as the ever-popular Bernice Summerfield (who has gone on to appear in Big Finish audio adventures and have her own spin-off series in both novel and audio play forms) and Roz Forrester. Even the 1996 TV movie, which had a number of faults when it came to plotting, contained one of the strongest woman companions of all time. Ironically, Doctor Grace Holloway was also the first companion to have any romantic interest in the Doctor and to actually kiss him, something that still makes many fans angry (those that feel that there should be “no hanky-panky in the TARDIS”). But romance, sexual attraction, and love are all parts of life. Falling in love, having sex, or even having a baby doesn’t automatically disqualify a character as a strong one (which many people who don’t see the sexism in modern Who seem to think is an argument those of us who do see it make—something I’ll go into more detail about later). Grace never defines herself by the Doctor. She finds him an amazing man, one who shows her new things about the universe, but she remains her own person, with her own goals. She’s interested in the Doctor, but she doesn’t let that overshadow the rest of her. At the end, when the Doctor asks her to come with him, she says, “You come with me.” Suddenly, the Doctor is the one contemplating an upheaval of his life. It’s a unique moment in the show’s history. Only Donna’s initial refusal to join the Doctor in “The Runaway Bride” is remotely similar.

When Doctor Who returned in 2005 under the helm of Russel T Davies, it was another renaissance for the show. For the first time, the show began to look at the families and friends of the Doctor’s companions. Davies rooted the companions to Earth with a home life and made them into far more fleshed-out characters than they had ever been before. While the old series made very occasional references to companions’ families, now those families were seen regularly. The characters had real lives. Beyond the companions, there was a wider variety of character representation than had ever been seen before: non-white characters in numbers that actually reflected their real-world presence. The sexuality of characters was acknowledged, including gay and lesbian characters.

When arguments about sexism in modern Who come up, detractors often refer back to Rose and Martha, claiming that they are worse examples of sexism because of their romantic interest in the Doctor. But I say that people are missing the point when they make these arguments. The problem is not at all that people fall in love, whether with the Doctor or anyone else. The problem is with lack of variety and showing only one type of woman. During the Russel T Davies years, variety was not a problem. I will admit that I was getting very tired of Rose’s pining over the Doctor by the end of her time, and yes, by the end, Rose did define much of herself by the Doctor. But Rose is one character, and one character does not create a problematic pattern. More to the point, Rose still had qualities beyond the men in her life. We actually knew what Roes wanted out of life: “a better life” being a main part of it. Rose loved the Doctor, but she also had other people in her life, such as her mother Jacquie and Mickey. I ask, what interests or desires does Amy have that do not have something to do with the Doctor or Rory? But I’m getting ahead of myself.

I will also concede that Martha’s attraction to the Doctor was initially annoying because, at first, the situation looks like Rose all over again. For a while, it does seem that an unfortunate pattern is forming, but then that pattern is completely twisted around. Martha never defines her life by the Doctor, and when she realizes that her love for the Doctor is actually ruining her life, she leaves him. She knows she can’t spend forever with him, so she gets out and decides to go after what she can achieve. When we next see Martha, she is a fully certified doctor and working for UNIT. But putting aside the end of her story, even from the beginning, Martha is a fully rounded character with interests and a life that makes her unique.

I’m not saying that the Russel T Davies years were perfect, but I do believe they brought the show forward more than ever before or since. As I move now into current Doctor Who, that obviously means that I believe the show has taken a step back. The problem is most egregious in the episodes written by Steven Moffat himself, but as the showrunner, it’s also natural that it has seeped into other episodes as well. Indeed, the beginnings of the pattern can be seen in Steven Moffat’s scripts during Russel T Davies’s time. And that problem is that virtually every woman is defined by either the men in her life or her reproductive tract or both. I want to re-emphasize though that the problem is not with characters falling in love. It’s not with people wanting or having babies. Lots of people in the real world fall in love. Lots of people want families, both women and men. It makes sense that characters in the show should reflect these real-life tendencies. The problem is that Moffat’s women never display anything else. We don’t get to see any women who don’t fall in love or want babies (they do exist in real life). Worse, we rarely get to see these women’s interests and motivations beyond love and babies (and while I can’t prove it, I would argue that there are very few real women who want nothing but romantic love and babies in their lives). To be fair, Moffat’s early stories are better in this regard, but the pattern begins to establish itself.

In 2004, Steven Moffat did an interview for The Scotsman, in which he talked a little about Doctor Who (which he had just been hired to write two episodes for) and Coupling, one of the sitcom series which were instrumental in establishing him as a big name in television. This interview has resurfaced frequently in the last couple years due to a few specific comments he makes. You can read the full article at this link, but here is the relevant quotation:

There’s this issue you’re not allowed to discuss: that women are needy. Men can go for longer, more happily, without women. That’s the truth. We don’t, as little boys, play at being married—we try to avoid it for as long as possible. Meanwhile women are out there hunting for husbands.

With increasing cries that his Doctor Who writing is sexist, this quotation has proliferated around the internet as proof of Moffat’s sexist ways. And there’s little denying that it’s pretty damning. In his defence, Moffat has stated that people are using the quotation out of context, that he was speaking from the point of view of Patrick, one of the characters in Coupling, who is portrayed as extremely sexist in the show. He did not mean that as his personal beliefs. However, there is nothing at all in the article to suggest this is the case, so I can only conclude that either the article completely misrepresents Moffat (either through misunderstanding or deliberately editing out relevant portions of the interview) or that Moffat is lying. In the absence of any proof one way or the other, I have to take Moffat at his word and assume that the article’s author misunderstood what Moffat was saying. Nonetheless, on a close examination of his writing (and while I am focusing on Doctor Who here, this is also true in his writing for other shows, such as Sherlock), it would seem that he has those same beliefs anyway.

Steven Moffat’s first Doctor Who story was actually the comedy special, “Curse of the Fatal Death” (in which, I should note, the Doctor and his female companion have decided to get married and that companion really doesn’t have any character beyond swooning over the Doctor). However, his first story for the actual series was in the Christopher Eccleston two-parter, “The Empty Child”/”The Doctor Dances”. Now, I’ll be honest. I love this story. I loved it when it first aired and I still love it today. If, when it first aired, somebody had told me that Moffat writes sexist characters, I would have scoffed, and that’s because, taken out of context, by itself, the story isn’t sexist at all. It’s a strong story and it does have a strong female character who is central to the plot: Nancy.

This is where the difficulties in recognizing the sexism come in, and why I believe that some people fail to recognize that it’s there. As I’ve said repeatedly, the problem is with repetition. When “The Empty Child” first aired, the repetition hadn’t yet been established. Nancy is a fully realized and believable character—indeed, I would argue one of the best female characters Moffat has ever written. Unlike many of his later characters, she does have goals and interests beyond her child. If she were just one of many different kinds of women characters, there would be no problem with her at all. She even has less of the snark that he writes into most of his women characters (although it’s not entirely absent).

Alas, Nancy’s character arc establishes a pattern that repeats over and over in Moffat’s stories. The culmination of her tale comes with her acknowledging that her little brother is actually her son. By embracing her motherhood, she cures her little boy and reprograms the nanites so that the Doctor can then cure everyone else. And it was great at the time. It made sense and worked dramatically for her character. But then, the same basic finale kept happening. It just took awhile to notice.

The Girl in the Fireplace” is another story that I highly liked when it first aired; however, my appreciation of it has actually diminished somewhat over time. It’s not a bad story, but I can see more of its flaws. Reinette, “Madame Pompadour”, shows the other side of Moffat’s woman-writing coin. She defines herself by the men in her life, in particular, the Doctor. We never actually learn the identity of the father of Nancy’s child (and, mercifully, she doesn’t define her life around him), but she still ends up defining herself by her motherhood. In contrast, Reinette never has a child and doesn’t define herself that way, but her whole life is about the men in her life, be that the king of France or the Doctor. Like Amy later, she spends her whole life waiting for the Doctor (although, admittedly, unlike Amy, she actually accomplishes things during that time). She even tells Rose at one point that a life full of monsters and nightmares is worth it for an “angel” (i.e. the Doctor). In essence, she is saying that it’s worth being miserable as long as there’s a man for you to love. Somewhat alarmingly, Rose never repudiates her, even though Rose, while in love with the Doctor, clearly doesn’t consider life with the Doctor to be a nightmare. Now, this wouldn’t be quite so problematic if it wasn’t again establishing a pattern. There are, unfortunately, real women who spend years in terrible relationships for reasons very similar to Reinette’s statements about the Doctor. If this wasn’t part of a pattern on the show, one could simply criticize the episode for not showing that there is an alternative (such as by having Rose repudiate her), but at least Reinette would be just one character among many different ones. But alas, the theme of women putting up with horrible, horrible things, for the sake of their men alone, becomes a recurring theme later on.

Blink”, Moffat’s next script for the show during Series III, is one of the show’s most popular episodes amongst fans. And for good reason. It’s brilliantly plotted, tense, and scary. As a “Doctor-lite” episode, it is able to focus much more on characters who would normally be peripherals and as such gives an excellent insight into a side of the Doctor’s travels we don’t often see. Sally Sparrow is also one of Moffat’s female characters who least fits his typical pattern—mainly because the pattern is tacked on at the end. She has goals and interests, including being attracted to men and susceptible to some rather overt come-ons. But then, some women like that. She doesn’t define herself by the men around her and she shows little to no interest in having children. But then, what happens at the end? Now that she’s finally delivered her story to the Doctor, she can relax and start a relationship with a man she’s shown no previous interest in whatsoever. It wouldn’t be so bad if she ended up with the police officer that she had actually shown an interest in. But he died, so she settles for the other guy. We learn that her life really does revolve around the men in it: first, the Doctor, as she must wait to pass on her story to him, and then the nerdy guy that she was previously embarrassed by. In essence, she defines the ultimate nerd-boy fantasy: the awkward nerdy boy who gets the hot girl in the end. The worst part of this all is that it is simply tacked on unnecessarily at the end, with no hint of it beforehand. But as we’re starting to learn, in Moffat’s worldview, every woman’s story ends with her settling down with a man or a family.

There’s another problematic area in “Blink”, one that is much subtler, but also repeats itself in Moffat’s writing. Sally’s friend, Kathy, is transported to the past where, like all women, she meets a man, gets married, and has a family. However, we learn that the man she marries wins her heart by following her around and asking her repeatedly to marry him until she finally gives in and does so. The story makes this out to be romantic, but it has disturbing stalkerish undertones. Admittedly, we don’t learn enough of the background to make a final judgement. Kathy may simply have been flirting with him and playing hard-to-get. But the fact that we don’t learn enough of the background is half the problem. Without the context, the relationship isn’t believable and her husband’s actions take on their disturbing stalker-like qualities. Worse, this is not the only time this happens in a Steven Moffat story.

The Series IV two-episode story, “Silence in the Library”/”Forest of the Dead” has two significant female characters. One, of course, is Donna, the current companion. Donna is quite quickly relegated to a fantasy world in which she meets the man of her dreams, gets married, and has a family, once again demonstrating that the ideal end for a woman, according to Moffat, is a family. Now, it has been established previously that Donna is interested in getting married eventually (though, thankfully, she’s not interested at all in the Doctor), but she has also previously been established to want much more than this. Donna is a full and strong character, but not because of anything Steven Moffat does with her in this story. She is a full and strong character because of what Russel T Davies and other writers have done with her before (and after) this story.

The same story also introduces us for the first time to Professor River Song, an archaeologist from the far future who has uncanny knowledge about the Doctor, even though he’s never met her before. Similarly to Sally Sparrow, River starts out as a very strong character. She has goals, a career, and a life of her own. She’s snarky and full of witty comments and come-backs, as so many of Moffat’s female characters seem to be, but she stands on her own. She obviously has a complex relationship with the Doctor (or will have from his point of view), but at this point, her life doesn’t seem to be defined by him. After all, she spends most of her life travelling apart from him. Much of this will fall apart later on return appearances by River, but for this story, she remains a strong, independent character. However, even here, we see the pattern re-emerging because here, we see the end of her life before we see any other part of it. She sacrifices herself nobly, but the Doctor then reincarnates her mind within the computer along with everybody else. And what does River do there? She settles down to take care of the children. She becomes a mother. River, the independent adventurer, settles down with a family because according to Moffat, that’s what every woman does.

But things are even more insidious than that. When Moffat took over as showrunner in Series V, River became a commonly recurring character. As we learn more and more about her past, we learn that she’s not an independent adventurer after all. Her entire life revolves around the Doctor, and everything she does, she does because of him, not because it’s something she’s interested in. In fact, her life is defined by the Doctor more so than any other female character Moffat has written. She was stolen at birth, and programmed to kill the Doctor. When that brainwashing is overridden, she instantly falls in love with him and spends the next part of her life searching for him. We learn that she becomes an archaeologist not out of an interest in archaeology, but simply as a way to track down the Doctor. Her love for him is so great that she is willing to sacrifice the entire rest of the universe in “The Wedding of River Song” just to save his life, even knowing that he wouldn’t approve, just because she can’t bear to live without him. She then allows herself to be thrown in jail for his murder to hide the fact that he's still alive. Over every individual appearance of River, Moffat has slowly snipped away every bit of personal agency River had, leaving her with no independence whatsoever.

In her most recent appearance in “The Angels Take Manhattan”, she says, “When one’s in love with an ageless god who insists on the face of a twelve-year-old, one does one’s best to hide the damage.” She then tells Amy, “Never ever let him see you age. He doesn’t like endings.” The message? Like Reinette says in “Girl in the Fireplace”, misery is worth an angel. It’s a very disturbing message to the young girls who watch the show (and there are a lot of young girls who do): Not only should you put up with misery for the sake of love, you also better make certain you look damn good the whole time. Getting old is bad.

Now, I should point out that characters should have flaws. No one should be perfect, and some characters should occasionally say some very questionable things. The Doctor is a very flawed character, and that’s one of the things that makes him a great character. But since Steven Moffat became showrunner, the Doctor no longer gets called out for his flaws. The Doctor has frequently taken away his companions’ agencies, but the ninth and tenth Doctors always suffered repercussions for it. Here, the story makes River out to be right—and that’s just plain wrong. If the story went on to show that River was wrong, that the Doctor shouldn’t be allowed to get away with what he’s done to her (forcing her to break her own wrist just because he’s having a temper tantrum), the problem wouldn’t be there. But the story never does that.

This, of course, brings us to Amelia Pond, the first companion created by Steven Moffat. Amy’s first appearance is in “The Eleventh Hour”, the first Moffat-produced episode and the first with the eleventh Doctor. Much like River Song and Sally Sparrow, Amy starts out appearing to be a strong, independent character. The idea of a companion who first met the Doctor as a child and whose life was forever altered because of that is a strong and compelling one. The idea that Amy might be a little mentally unstable because of being sent to psychiatrist after psychiatrist could make for a very interesting and unique companion. But it’s never mentioned again after that episode. Indeed, we see a lot of Amy’s life in “The Eleventh Hour” that is then discarded and never mentioned again. We meet a slew of characters, her neighbours and people that she grew up with, but with the exception of Rory, not one of them ever shows up again. I don’t think they’re even mentioned again.

Since 2005, Doctor Who had been providing us with companions who had full lives and families beyond their travels with the Doctor, but suddenly, with Amy, we were back to an old-style companion, someone who completely left their family behind. The odd thing with Amy is, her parents are mentioned fairly frequently during Series V. We learn that they have been gone since she was a child. Her aunt raised her (although we never meet the aunt). It eventually becomes clear that her parents were victims of the cracks that erase people from existence. For a little while, it starts to look like Amy isn’t an old-style companion after all. She does have a life and a family; it’s just been stolen from her. What a brilliant idea! At the end of Series V, in “The Big Bang”, the entire universe is rebooted and Amy gets her parents and family back.

Then they never appear again. They aren’t even mentioned.

Amy goes right back to being a character who has no life beyond the Doctor. But while restoring her family is a plot point in Series V, the focus for Amy that year is much more on her having to choose between the Doctor and Rory. It’s the central point of the episode, “Amy’s Choice”, but it carries on throughout the rest of the series as well, and all throughout this we never really learn much about who she is. I asked the question earlier: Aside from the Doctor and Rory, what does Amy want from life? What are her interests? Does she have any hobbies? Some might say modelling, since she briefly has a career as a model. That would be fine, except that she soon doesn’t have that career any more and it’s never mentioned again. Perhaps she’s interested in writing, since she later becomes a travel journalist? Well, she never shows any interest in writing before then, and even once she becomes one, we never actually see her doing any writing or travelling (except with the Doctor).

Throughout Series V, Amy’s entire being is centred around the two men in her life. There’s nothing else to her (especially since her family is missing), other than being kind of snarky and saying witty things, much like so many other women Moffat writes. In Series VI, we see her continue down the standard path Moffat has all his female characters follow. She’s married to Rory now and she gets pregnant. Then she is kidnapped and her baby stolen from her.

The “Mystical Pregnancy” is, unfortunately, a far overused trope in science fiction. Steven Moffat is far from the only one to use it, and like so many things, it’s problematic partially due to its overuse. If it were done just once in a while, it might not be so bad, especially if the long-term implications of it were ever explored. Unfortunately, those implications rarely are, and they certainly aren’t with Amy’s pregnancy. Like all Mystical Pregnancies, Amy’s starts under mysterious circumstances: a child conceived in the TARDIS. There is actually a father (often, there isn’t with this trope) and we know who he is (Rory), but the pregnancy itself is skimmed over. Amy is replaced with a doppelgänger so that she rarely has to appear pregnant on-screen (can’t start messing with Amy’s supermodel looks!). Almost immediately after the baby is born, the child is stolen from her and taken away. She never gets a chance to raise the child (and no, Mels, her childhood friend who turns out to be her daughter doesn’t count as raising).

The worst part of this, though, is that Amy doesn’t seem to care. After the story “Let’s Kill Hitler” when she learns who Mels is, she goes right back to being her usual snarky, wise-cracking self. She is never affected by the traumatic events she has been through, and it becomes almost as though they never happened. But of course, Amy can’t have a child yet because her story isn’t over. She hasn’t learnt yet that she needs to settle down. (For more information about the Mystical Pregnancy trope, see the following video from Feminist Frequency.)



I say “hasn’t learnt” quite deliberately, for that becomes the focus of “The God Complex”. Although Moffat didn’t write this story, his hand as showrunner can certainly be felt over it. At the end, the Doctor quite unceremoniously drops Amy and Rory back off at their new home that he has bought for them (he has also bought a car for Rory, but apparently, he feels the home alone is enough for Amy). Amy learns that she needs to grow up. She can’t travel with the Doctor anymore because that’s a childish thing to do. Grown-ups have homes and families. It’s another instance of the Doctor removing his companion’s agency. As I said before, the Doctor actually does this sort of thing quite a lot, so it’s in character for him. However, in the past, it has always turned out to be a mistake for him to do this, and he would have to live with the consequences (or even regenerate because of them—the ninth Doctor sending Rose home against her will in “Parting of the Ways” is a direct cause of his regeneration), but the Doctor nowadays is never wrong. The only thing we really know about Amy is that she wants to travel with the Doctor and even that is snatched away from her. It’s time to settle down.

But her story still isn’t over as the Doctor keeps returning to her life. Oddly enough, I feel that there is a great missed opportunity here. Never before (to this extent at any rate) have we had companions who only travel with the Doctor part-time and spend the rest of the time making lives for themselves. And that’s what Amy and Rory do. Except they don’t. Not really. Oh, we’re told they make lives for themselves. We’re told several times in fact, but except in “The Power of Three” (a story not written by Moffat), we never see it. Even what we see in “The Power of Three” is but a small slice of their life that never gets expanded on at any other time. The focus remains squarely on the adventures. The thing is, it doesn’t take a lot to show those lives. Russel T Davies successfully showed the companions having lives without taking away from the adventure. There’s no reason why Moffat’s version of Doctor Who can’t do that as well.

In the opening of Series VII, “Asylum of the Daleks”, we return to the idea that a woman isn’t complete without a baby. We learn that Amy and Rory are getting a divorce. Of course, we never see any of the events leading up to this. We’re just unceremoniously told that it’s happening. Even the web-series “Pond Life”, which forms a prequel to the story gives no hints about any problems between Amy and Rory until the very final episode where it’s just tacked on with no explanation. It turns out that Amy’s sole reason for breaking up with Rory is because she can no longer have children. She knows that Rory wants kids, and since she can’t give him any, she is no longer worthy of him. This whole sequence is problematic in a large number of ways. First off, although it’s hard to say what is and isn’t out of character for Amy since she has had such poor character development overall, it still feels very out of character for her to get so worked up about such a thing (especially since losing her previous baby didn’t seem to affect her much at all). Second, that Rory didn’t know why she was breaking up with him speaks to huge communication problems in their relationship. Third, that she apparently never considers adoption or other means of having a child is mind-boggling. Worst of all though is that this revelation once again teaches that a woman’s worth lies solely in her ability to have a child. As soon as she loses that ability, Amy suddenly considers herself worthless. Of course, it’s all wrapped up by the end of the episode and they’re back together again. Amy learns that Rory still loves her and wants to be with her even if she can’t have a baby. They declare their love for each other and everything returns to the way it was. There are no consequences. These two people go from having a perfect relationship to almost divorcing to having a perfect relationship again in the space of forty-five minutes. The near-divorce is never mentioned again. Real people simply don’t work that way.

When Amy’s story finally does come to an end, she winds up trapped in the past (for once, though, it is her decision), living out an idyllic home life with Rory and even having a family. Although it’s not revealed in “The Angels Take Manhattan”, the web episode “P.S.” reveals that Amy and Rory do adopt a child eventually. While the final end is not as problematic as what comes before, she does have that same end that every woman has in Moffat’s view of the programme. As an aside, it's also interesting to note that Amy retains her last name, Pond, after marrying Rory. Except in two cases: In "The God Complex", when the Doctor is trying to break her faith in him, he refers to her as "Mrs Williams", and at the end of "The Angels Take Manhattan", her gravestone shows the name, "Amelia Williams". Quite a lot can be read into this.

Since Steven Moffat became showrunner, Amy and River have been very prominent characters, but they certainly haven’t been the only female characters. However, even the guest stars and smaller bit parts tend to follow this same sort of pattern when it’s an episode written by Moffat himself. Abigail in “A Christmas Carol” (an otherwise very good story) exists solely as a love interest for Kazran, unfrozen each year to go on a date with him and then frozen up again until she’s next needed (she is being kept frozen because of a disease that will kill her in just a few days time; she was put into suspended animation in the hopes that one day she could be cured). She does exert a bit of her own agency at the end when she insists on being left unfrozen to live out her last few days as she wants to. Of course, she only wants to spend them with Kazran.

Perhaps the most egregious example of the sexism in Moffat’s writing, however, comes with Madge in “The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe”. I go on quite a bit about Madge in my review of that episode, so I’ll keep it brief here (click here to read that review for further details). Madge is the epitome of a woman who has no existence beyond her family. She has two children and she is mourning for her husband whom she thinks is dead. Apart from her being a bad driver (something problematic in itself), we literally learn nothing else about her. Without her children and husband, she has no identity whatsoever. And she goes on to save the day simply because she’s a mother. She doesn’t even have to do anything heroic or make any real effort. She’s a mother, so she wins. As the Doctor says to her son, “Don’t you see? We’re weak, but she’s strong. She woman! She’s more than woman! She’s Mum!” This story also has another example of the man who follows the woman stalker-like until she marries him.

As I look back over all the Steven Moffat-written episodes of Doctor Who, both in his time as showrunner and during Russel T Davies’s time, I can find only one female character who does not fit this mould: Liz 10 in “The Beast Below”. She’s not a particularly well-developed character, but she does have her own agency and she is an active participant in the story rather than a passive one. But she’s one lone character amidst a sea of others who follow the pattern I’ve outlined in this essay. And in a sense, even she settles down with a family. It’s more of a metaphorical one in this case—the people she rules over as queen. I will fully admit, though, that in this case, I’m probably over-analysing. Liz 10 would seem to be the one shining exception to the way Moffat usually writes women.

One could argue that Oswin in “Asylum of the Daleks” doesn’t follow the pattern either. Personality-wise, she does seem a bit like another Amy or River as she speaks with the same kind of dialogue (full of sarcasm, snark, and wittiness); however, her story doesn’t end with either marriage or children. But, in a sense, the story we see of Oswin is already over when the episode starts. She’s been turned into a Dalek and just hasn’t accepted it yet. As Oswin is played by Jenna Louise Coleman, who is also playing the new companion, Clara, I can’t help but get the feeling we haven’t learnt all of Oswin’s story yet, and for that reason she can’t be listed as either conforming to the pattern or breaking it. I sincerely hope that Clara/Oswin will be a new, unique woman character, but I honestly doubt she will be.

There are two other female characters who may yet follow a different path: the Silurian Madame Vastra and her sidekick Jenny. Two more characters whose full stories have not been told yet. In fact, so far, we know very little about them, but we do know one thing that sets them apart from other Moffat women: they are a lesbian couple. But here we move into another area that is problematic in Moffat’s writing: the presentation of non-heterosexual couples. In short, they’re usually played for laughs (just take a look at “Vastra Investigates”, the latest prequel for the upcoming Christmas special). Moffat does have an opportunity with these two to redeem himself on two fronts, and perhaps “The Snowmen” will do so. Or perhaps their relationship is just a “phase” as Oswin puts it in “Asylum of the Daleks”. However, this is a topic for another essay.

When looking over Moffat-produced episodes that he didn’t personally write, there are some much better examples of women. Kate Stewart in “The Power of Three” is a good example. However, there are still an alarming number of problematic examples. Nefertiti in “Dinosaurs on a Spaceship” is a strong character throughout most of the episode, but then shacks up with the offensively sexist Riddell, giving the message that even powerful queens are tamed by a man in the end.

I think it’s important to note again that much of the problem comes from repetition. Many of the situations and characters I’ve listed above wouldn’t be quite so problematic if they were the only examples (although Madge in “The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe” would still be just as bad). There are many types of women in the world, and Doctor Who should show that, rather than presenting the same story arc every single time. I would note, however, that some of the problem also stems from the fact that Moffat is just not a good character writer. His male characters are frequently underdeveloped as well, although he does have a larger variety of male characters than female. He tends to rely a lot on stereotypes, and unfortunately, many of those are sexist stereotypes.

It’s also important to acknowledge the basic structure of the series. Doctor Who is about a man. An extremely brilliant man who saves worlds. He pretty much always has an assistant who is usually a woman. In this structure, it’s easy for gender inequality to occur—but that doesn’t excuse it. What it means is that writers must take greater care to avoid that inequality. Russel T Davies did it by giving the companions story arcs in which they learned and grew as people to become the equals of the Doctor, allowing them to save the world themselves and even save the Doctor on occasion. Steven Moffat seems to have forgotten that important addition. The article, “Gandalf and the Hero: Moffat vs. RTD” on Doctor Her sums up this idea nicely:

Where Davies’ Who said, “The Doctor is a brilliant dude, but his female friends, with a bit of practice, can be just as brilliant,” Moffat’s Who says, “The Doctor is a brilliant dude, and his girlfriends think he’s awesome for it.”

Some people will argue that I’m making a mountain out of a molehill, that these examples of sexism are minor and that we shouldn’t worry about them. There are areas of the world where women have virtually no rights whatsoever. Compared to that, these “minor” examples of sexism are nothing. By making such a big deal over them, I am trivializing the real suffering of real downtrodden women. To that I say, yes, there are much, much worse examples of sexism and outright misogyny in the world. We most definitely should not ignore those problems. But just because something is worse somewhere else, doesn’t mean we should ignore problems where we are. I haven’t stopped watching Doctor Who because of these problems, but I have become aware of them and awareness can help lead to change when enough others become aware too.

Doctor Who is a series about a man who fights for the rights of the downtrodden. He stands up for the oppressed and protects them against the oppressor, and almost always in non-violent ways. The show should take after its main character in this regard. Doctor Who should be at the forefront of presenting characters from all walks of life: men and women of all races, gays, lesbians, bisexuals, transgenders, and more. The show has never been perfect, and perhaps it never will be, but it has been better than it is now. And that’s just not right. While an occasional slip-up might occur, it should always be improving, not moving backwards.

In a few days time, “The Snowmen” will air, introducing us to the new companion, Clara. There will also be a new TARDIS console room set, a new title sequence, and a new version of the theme music. All this signals change. Perhaps that change will bring about a new way the show portrays women and minorities. While I have my doubts, I sincerely hope it does. Doctor Who deserves it.

78 comments:

  1. Excelent article! I think you missed one female character, the Sauntaren from "A Good Man Goes to War" - kind of hard to tell since all members of that species look like short trolls, but there are enough clues to pick it up.

    I actualy thought she was an awesome represntation of what a Sauntaren woman could be like - and I am impressed with her because a race like Sauntaren is easily thought of as a "male exclusive" race.


    Here's holding my fingers in hope that Clara would be a great companion!

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    1. Ah yes, you're thinking of Strax (who died but is somehow back alive for the Christmas special). It's actually stated in "A Good Man Goes to War" that Strax was physically altered as part of his role as a nurse. Strax is still referred to as a "he" throughout the story. As a clone species, Sontarans don't technically have males and females, but they're always identified as males.

      Still, you have a good point that Strax is the closest to a female Sontaran there is, and there's a lot of potential to do something with that. Unfortunately, it looks like Strax is just the comic relief in the Christmas special (though maybe that will turn out not to be the case).

      Anyway, thanks for reading, and glad you liked it!

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    2. I loved this whole post. It was very well written and thought out - I'd love to know your thoughts on the whole Clara thing and saying goodbye to River :).

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    3. Check out my review of The Name of the Doctor for some of my thoughts on Clara and saying goodbye to River: http://ofdiceandpenblog.blogspot.com/2013/05/doctor-who-name-of-doctor.html

      I intend to do a follow-up to this article eventually, but it will be after Matt Smith's final story.

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  2. I can't help but think this was a conclusion already drawn with evidence built to fit around it.

    All this talk of women defining themselves by men is ridiculous.

    Firstly, the programme is about the Doctor. He is supposed to be rather special. It's perfectly reasonable that female characters become attached to the mysterious, exciting, heroic protagonist.

    Secondly, there has been an awful lot of cherry-picking when it comes to the "evidence". Rory is always the one who wants the "traditional" life more than Amy. He always wanted to get married - she had serious doubts. He also, let's be honest, wants Amy more than she wants him. Amy is portrayed as strong and intelligent while Rory is good-hearted but not especially useful, and somewhat pathetic when he's first introduced. He's the third wheel much as Mickey was. You ask, "Aside from the Doctor and Rory, what does Amy want from life?". You could ask exactly the same question for Rory. What does he want? You say Amy's life is "discarded" in that parents, friends etc. are not seen again. The same goes for Rory. The reason is that, throughout most of their time on the show, their life is each other and the TARDIS.

    The other major female character Moffat has written is River. She is the only (non-evil) character who can really keep up with the Doctor, and evidently the person he trusts the most in the universe.

    You can't just take the flaws or shortcomings of female characters and use them as evidence for sexism without examining the male characters and the context they're in too. It seems to me that once the seed is planted in people's minds that something is sexist, or racist, or otherwise bigoted, it's very easy to find "evidence" for it, and I think it's somewhat unfair.

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    1. Rory wants to be a Nurse. And we get to know his dad quite well. So much so that he got his own little star role in P.S. Hmmm, where's Amy's mom and dad again? What career did she ever settle on?

      Right.

      And if you had read the article, the author stated that there wasnt anything wrong with being in love or having children. It's the pattern that hurts.

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    2. You don't know if Rory wants to be a nurse. He just is a nurse. And you you barely get to know his father and what we do know of him is that he's a nitwit.

      If there's nothing 'wrong' with falling in love and having children then why does it hurt?

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    3. It's the repetition, the same thing over and over again. It gives the impression that there's no other option for women. The lack of other options is what hurts.

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    4. The repetition? It happens every day in life. There are 7 billion people on this planet. The majority of them women. If they never settled down and had families we'd have been extinct ages ago. I'd like to think women as more complex than either "One dimensional ass kicking and taking names better than men" or "One dimensional nurturer and matriarchal family backbone" So basically for women to love someone and want to be with them and have a family is wrong. I see where it's coming from

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    5. Yes, but there are also plenty more women out there who aren't defined by the ment they are with, don't settle down to motherhood or want a long term relationship or are obsessed or want to sacrifice everything for a man. Instead of showing a single one of these women Moffat chooses to show the same thing over and over again. It is the repetition. It doesn't matter how often it happens in real life, what matters is there are plenty of women out there who don't chose this and yet Moffat chooses to forget this and just show the same arch making it seem like he thinks all women are good for is settling down, loving their man and having children.
      To be honest I think Moffat is just a bit crap at character development in general and it just comes across on screen as sexism. Luckily with Sherlock the characters are already there and developed in the book and he has Mark to balance him out. So hopefully he can't cause too much damage.

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    6. For the question about Amy's career, after the Angels send her and Rory back, she works in publishing (Melody Malone) and is a writer (the children's book in Clara's house which BBC released as a ghostwritten downloadable).

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    7. I completely agree with Anonymous. I don't think that Moffat is sexist, I think he just has terrible character development in general when characters last longer than a few episodes. And I agree with Kombucha, even the men in all the eps story revolves around the doctor or the woman. If you watch Moffat's other shows (Coupling for ex) you can see he doesn't write relationships very well. They are really abrupt and disjointed. I personally like alot of the ideas he has brought forward and many of the characters including River, Sally etc but I agree he could've written them better. But I disagree, I don't think its because he's sexist. He is just not capable of character development in general.

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  3. I agree with Kombucha. Rory consistently wants to settle down and have a family. And he spends 2000 years outside a box pining after Amy, much like Rose Tyler pining after the Doctor in her alternate universe or River Song waiting for the Doctor in her jail cell. And as far as River, that only applies to the portion of her life she spent in the jail cell waiting--we know she did quite a bit with her life outside of that; she's got an advanced degree in archeology, for heaven's sake.
    Then there's Craig from "The Lodger" (rewritten for the show by Roberts under Moffat's supervision) and "Closing Time." Craig gets sorted out by the end of his story by settling down with the woman he's been pining over and having a baby. Like the ending to Amy and Rory's story--settling down and adopting a son. Which by the way, was written by Chris Chibnall, and isn't so much about a happy ending for Amy as a happy ending for Rory; not only was Rory always the one hoping for a settled life and a family, their breakup & divorce was about Rory's potential unhappiness without a biological child, not Amy's.
    Moffat certainly has a thing for people pining over each other, falling in love, and having babies. But that storyline isn't at all exclusive to women. And for the record, there is nothing inherently unimpressive about falling in love and having babies.

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    2. The problem isn't that Moffat has a thing for people pining, falling in love and having babies, though her certainly does have a thing. And no, there is nothing inherently unimpressive about falling in love and having babies.

      The problem is twofold. First, Moffat superimposes this desire for love and babies everywhere, tacking it onto endings for characters that make no fucking sense. It's as though he doesn't have to show us a character wanting love and children or even tell us that a character wants to fall in love and have children (and he replies on Telling instead of Showing too much as it is). He can simply tack on love and children at the end without explaining it at all because it's a universal desire...duh! It really ends up undermining otherwise great characters.

      Sally Sparrow is perhaps the most egregious example of this. I loved Blink and I loved Sally Sparrow but the ending, wow. Larry works at Banto's DVD's and then suddenly at the end, only a year later it belongs to him and Sally? Sally who has little interest in DVDs and was a photographer now owns and works in a DVD store? And even though we've never seen her show it or say it, Sally is in love with Larry but doesn't feel free to do anything until the whole Doctor mystery is resolved? There are other, better ways to show that it wasn't the Doctor she was hung up with, but the mystery and once she'd solved it she could move on with her life. The ending scene isn't much, but it could have built upon Sally's character and agency. Instead it undoes everything that we've spent the hour learning. Here Moffat's desire for all of his characters to fall in love and mate just wrecks the character because it's so supremely out of left field. You have to except his weird premise that this is what she wants, and the problem is that nothing supports that.

      The other problem is a numbers problem. Craig's an exception and not the rule. It's not so much that the characters or stories are a problem in and of themselves--they're a problem because they create a larger troubling pattern. Take the Bedchel test. A movie passes if it has two named female characters who have a conversation with each other about something other than a man. Is every movie that fails the Bedchel test sexist? No, of course not. There are often good reasons for movies that have all male casts, or mostly male casts. The problem is the percentage of movies that fail this test, especially when compared the percentage of movies that fail a reverse Bedchel test (two named male characters who have a convo about something other than a women). It's really hard to come up with female characters that aren't defined in some way by love, marriage and babies, and fairly easy to come up with male characters. And that's the real problem.

      In regards to Rory, when we're introduced to him he has a career. He's a nurse, and he has the goal of being a doctor. He investigates the multiform (Prisoner 0) without being prompted to by the Doctor. He knows that something is up and has been pursuing it on his own. He even gets penalised at work because of this. When the Doctor picks him up from his bachelor party he's not too surprised by the TARDIS being bigger on the inside because he's done some research since he met the Doctor. Now yes, we don't see a lot of Rory's dad and his mum is never even named, but the whole picking up and leaving your family behind thing is only ever explored through his dad. We don't see it at all with Amy's family. We also learn little tidbits about him that expand his character. He carries a med-pack with him and collects nursing supplies on his travels.

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    3. (cont)

      We don't really learn much about Amy. She's the girl who grew up with time pouring into her head through a crack on a wall. She loves Rory. She loves the Doctor. She's River's mother through a magical pregnancy. Except for the time-rift thing, everything we know about Amy is in direct regards to a man in her life, or her uterus. We know nothing else about her. We know she lost her child but the effect that that has on her is never explored. She has a grand total of two lines about losing Melody. That's it. Her pregnancy, birth, and the loss of her child are, over the course of several episodes only given a couple lines. And the time-rift thing is never really explored. It's used as a handy device for removing characters and bringing them back when the show needed them. It gives us the orphan child trope, removes Rory for a few episodes, brings Rory back when the show needs him and rescues the Doctor. But we never actually hear about or see what having time running through her head does to Amy. She's the girl who grew up all alone in a house that was too big and empty and the girl who had a perfectly normal childhood with a house full of family and laughter. When she hugs her father she's simultaneously hugging the man who raised her and was there for her whole life, and the man who was never there and was supposed to be. And that's never explored. It's only even mentioned once.

      Yes, Rory only travels with the Doctor because Amy does, but that actually provides needed depth for his character. He becomes friends with the Doctor, gets good at handling time-travel adventures because he loves Amy. Part of the problem with Moffat's women is that they're so freaking pliable. If they have independence and agency of their own, they lose it because they WANT to fall in love and settle down and they do so often on a hairpin turn with no foundational support.
      Look at Sophie (from The Lodger). She has very little screen time and most it involves her relationship with Craig. The audience sees that they are both helplessly in love with each other and afraid to admit it. But when it looks like Craig has no interest in her she doesn't mope around or try to get his attention. Her actions aren't based around Craig at all. She goes online and volunteers for a position with an animal charity. We see Sophie at work in an office and we hear her discuss her job aspirations with the Doctor and Craig. And she's basically in one episode and isn't even the main guest. She has very little screen time. Compare that to Amy Pond, who's the main companion for seasons and we see her at work for the exact same amount of time we see Sophie at work (maybe less) and we only see her at her modeling job. We don't see her write. She doesn't show an interest in writing. She never discusses her job with anyone. The only reason we know she's a writer is because she tells him so in a throw away line in The Power of Three, and because we see her name on a book.

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    4. (cont)

      And as for River, the ending scene with River in the library isn't that bad, partially because we not only want to see River happy and alive, we want to see everyone trapped inside CAL happy and alive and we want to see that they have other people to live with and for. But the more we learn about River Song, the worse that ending becomes. A woman who runs through all of time and space with the Doctor confined to living in an artificial matrix with a little girl, a computer program and a few of her colleagues? Ouch! Everything that's impressive about River slowly gets taken away from us. That archeology degree--she gets that for the Doctor. Because she's in love with him and archeology is a way for her to find him. River can fly the TARDIS--that's not an earned skill, it's a birthright. River's ability to read Old High Gallifreyan? Not because she has a love of old languages, but because she's in love with the Doctor. I love River Song and I think that there are some great concepts behind her character and I love that her relationship with the Doctor is tragic both ways, and not just from the Doctor's point of view, but my god, does the woman have zero independent agency? This is an incredible woman who is skilled and learned and has wonderful adventures but everything she is and does is because of the Doctor.

      For me though, it's those little one liners that cut deeply. Because remember, the Doctor often forgets the social mores of the time. Who can remember if the way people greet each other is with two cheek kisses or a handshake? He also finds certain human perceptions of the time incredibly odd and dated. But when the Doctor says things like "because she's a woman" or when he smirks when Clara asks him if he's making flying the TARDIS easy because she's a girl, then you get the sense that the Doctor has this perception of women that belongs to the present time. A perception of women that women are fighting hard to erase. I could forgive Amy being a bad driver and using her looks to pass her driving exam, but it's not an important plot point, the dialogue isn't that creative and Amy is almost nothing but a collection of female stereotypes. And it's not like she's the only bad female driver on the show. And while this was subverted for a delightful bit by River who can pilot the TARDIS better than the Doctor (whom it's implied drives the TARDIS badly partially because flying it well is so boring), this was then whitewashed by her ability being genetic. Every time we see River another part of her incredibly awesome character gets retconned into one of two boxes: "because of the Doctor" or "for the Doctor"

      Part of the reason that women are so up in arms about Moffat is that the way he writes women hurts stories and characters with so much potential. A lot of the stereotypes he indulges in are so incredibly unnecessary to the story he's telling and you wonder why they are there at all. They strain credulity, twist the story and characters in weird ways and he doesn't really get a whole lot of bang for what's a very expensive buck. And the thing is, Moffat has come up with characters who are the embodiment of some pretty interesting concepts. The ideas behind Amy are incredibly fascinating. But instead of fully embracing and exploring these ideas and the incredibly interesting character that I see them creating he instead fills the time with standard female tropes that only manage to pass because of some witty writing and interesting surroundings. When you think about the potential he wastes, that's the part that gets me so upset.

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    5. Awesome response! Thanks so much for that!

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    6. The thing is, just because he writes the same story into the odd male character. It doesn't okay the fact that he writes it into pretty much every female character over and over again.

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  4. really enjoyed this essay. i have such a hard time with moffat's who, although i want so badly to love it. i think you phrase these issues very, very well.

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  5. I feel really sad for the people that commented above and completely missed the point of this fully fleshed out, well written article.

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    1. Thanks for the support, Erika! And for the well-reasoned rebuttal to Kombucha above.

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    2. Haha, I'm a year late, and I kept making typos, but I got your back, lol!

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    3. Not a year late, just a few months. I wrote the essay just this past December, so technically last year, but at the end of the year. :)

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  7. This article seems to have really made me see it and it seems to be happening all again with Clara having no life apart from looking after kids because there isn't anything else for women to do and one particularly sexist moment was when Clara automatically presumed it was a snog booth because thats all She thinks about.

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  8. What you've written here is the sad truth I suppose...
    At first I thought Amy still had a life of her own, with her best friend and all - but then, even that person turned out to be her own child. Same with Clara: She seemed to be somewhat independent at first, rejecting the Doctor, having her own hobbies and badass moments...but of course, she'll eventually fancy the Doctor, blah, blah, blah. I still can't quite put my finger on what I have against Moffat's badass-seeming women, but the closest I've come to is that they are absolutely flat and poorly developed. Donna, for example, had the same kind of loud, strong personality - but she also had her own insecurities, like feeling worthless because she was only a temp. Clara and River have none of that, they're onedimensionally awesome and flawless and just not believable.
    Fortunately, we'll probably see a new showrunner some time soon - I'm beginning to think anything is better than Moffat.

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    1. Moffat has said in interviews that he is now closer to the end of his time than the beginning. My suspicion (and this is only suspicion--I don't have any inside data) is that he will leave after Series 8.

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    2. Late to the party but it's just occurred to me what it is that I like about Donna in the context of the issues talked about above.

      Psychologically, she started from the marriage-desperate place but when she went through the traumatic loss of her dream it actually changed her and she developed. She retained the shadow of the partner-fixated mindset ("do I look single" or whatever it was she said, and eyeing up the men at the party in The Unicorn and the Wasp, though who's to say she wouldn't be interested in something casual while on her travels ;)), but it was held in her mind simultaneously with her desire for adventure, travel and knowledge. It wasn't her end-game, more something she was on the lookout for should it come along but meanwhile there's a universe to see, which seems a little more urgent and exciting. That to me feels like realistic complexity.

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    3. I completely agree. Donna was interested in marriage, but she was also interested in a whole lot more. Donna remains one of my favourite companions of all time.

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  9. This is an excellently written article. I've had issues with Doctor Who since Moffat took over and this pretty much sums up the character side, especially with the women, of my issues. The lack of character depth annoys me, mainly because my fist companion was Rose and there was so much contact with her life on earth, and similarly with Martha and Donna. I'm hoping for a new head writer and a new direction with the characters.

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    1. Character depth. I'll go back and ask Jo Grant about that one.

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  10. Great piece.

    Was wondering what you think of Clara now the new series is underway? Do you feel she also follows the pattern?

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    1. It's a bit early to say for sure, although there are certainly some elements of it. Clara has put her life goals on hold to raise her friend's family. She's doing it for valid and honourable reasons, but it does make her yet another woman raising children. Still, we need to wait and see how much of a focus this becomes for her character and how her story ends.

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  11. I'll be honest and say I never noticed anything sexist about Doctor Who until I read this article. Now I'm thinking back and remembering some of the Doctor's companions and things I didn't like about their characters.

    Rose has always been my favorite companion, though I think that's because she was the first one I met. And I thought Martha and Donna were both pretty good companions even though I occasionally had issues with them, but even those issues were issues I would have with an actual person, which shows they were well-developed characters.

    Of the recent companions, Amy is my least favorite (I haven't met Clara yet), but even she is preferable to those women characters who show up for a special and then die or otherwise gotten rid of. I especially hated the female lead in "Voyage of the Damned". I don't know who wrote that particular story, but I think she might follow the pattern a little bit, growing emotionally attached to multiple male characters, including the Doctor, in that episode before dying in order to help the Doctor.

    Personally, I would like to see a female companion on the show who is the complete opposite of all the companions we've seen so far, a woman who eschews female gender roles. I've got my fingers crossed for the more traditional Action Girl because, let's face it, a young woman who smacks people upside the head with a baseball bat and then wanders off to read in a corner of the TARDIS like whacking people is an everyday occurrence would make a refreshing change from "Oh, Doctor, my Doctor!"

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    1. I'm glad to know my thoughts have helped you rethink things.

      "Voyage of the Damned" was written by Russell T Davies, and I agree it's one of his weaker stories.

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  12. your views are an absolute waste of space. Pathetic

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  13. Oh my gosh, I've been thinking all of this for forever, but I could never phrase it right! It's genius!
    I also don't like the fact that all of his main women are the same: River, Amy, and Clara. They're sassy and snarky and all three madly in love with the Doctor, but flirting with anyone and anything else male that comes along.

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  14. This is so brilliant, Until recently i hadn't really noticed the sexism in Doctor who but this was very well written and really made me think. In my opinion the show has utterly gone downhill but i couldn't really put my finger on why, the story lines have been quite low quality for a rather long time (With the exception of the occasional good episode), I totally agree with what you said about Amy's pregnancy plot,i found the whole thing utterly ridiculous, how Amy could go from such a traumatic experience completely unscathed really bugged me, after Melody is born, Amy tries so hard to protect her and acts like a real 'mother' clearly showing to love her daughter regardless of the fact that the pregnancy was so unexpected, but what annoyed me so much about this plot is that after the baby is stolen, Amys fine, she continues her life with Rory and the Doctor completely fine, she goes from being utterly and completely in love with her child to then not caring that her only baby was stolen from her, she just doesn't care, and unfortunately this kind of thing is the case with so many recent plot lines.
    Anyway my point is, well done this is a brilliant essay and it really does highlight some serious issues with the show, hopefully more people with read this (Or articles like it) and start to think about the recent writing and plot lines and characters instead of just lying down and accepting thats how it is.

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  15. This is extremely interesting because it is well-thought out and well considered. You consider some good characters of women, you consider the whole way women are portrayed overall. You even know the details, episode titles etc (which I have found a lot of DW Feminists are not able to do, thus it just looks like they want to moan).
    I think Rory is a good example of a man who does seem to really want to settle down etc, but he is shown to not be that interested in The Doctor and we are shown his Dad more and his working life.In the same way, some men are portrayed as whimpering idiots and that annoys me too. Sexism works both ways and I know most would agree with this, without taking your points away.

    I adore Amy's character overall. I just really like her. I think her interest in the Doctor was more than most, in that she was a little messed up by it from a kid and it defined her because of that. There were moments or hints at her being more than this, but there should have been more, like you said.

    In the end, I felt the Amy character was mis-handled completely. I hated the divorce story-line. It was unrealistic and rushed. It spat on the development Rory and Amy made in the series together and it being over her being pregnant was silly too. Like Chandler and Monica in Friends, they did not file for divorce (seperation is one thing, but FILING for a divorce shows a really bad relationship and adopted and they came to this decision quite easily (as most couples would because there are more options to having children now).

    And as an ex-fan of The X-Files, I know too well about the Mystical Pregnancy storyline.It happened twice for Scully:in the end she had a mystical pregnancy(she was barren after the 1st time),it was unknown who impregnated her &then we are led to assume it was Mulder, who then he leaves her & baby, she gives it up in the last 5 minutes of an episode, after only "looking" after it for some months.My issues with Amy and River as her child are the same as The X-Files handling of it,in that the emotions of being pregnant,bringing them up the normal way are overlooked and instead the baby is dumped out of the storyline once its born, no thoughts from the mother(nor father)on how she feels about this,so its obvious its used for a story,then thrown out once the mother is meant to deal with it. I even take issue with the fact River never got to say goodbye to her father Rory, nor did Rory seem to be able to get really close to his daughter, even less than Amy did.I loved the storyline of this older woman being their kid, but it was not dealt with on an emotional level at all.
    And look at Clara. She literally looks to the Doctor for verification ("Did I do well?" "Did you miss me?" (once I helped you out with something you are meant to miss me) ). She has not said why she is travelling with him, she is also a woman who looks after children, that's her life, she has ran off with this stranger (The Doctor) with no clue to who he is or if he is safe - even less clue to it than any of the other companions (at least Rory spoke up a lot about The Doctor being dangerous) and she is just like a trophy ina new dress every week, adding nothing, just standing there looking pretty and saying a few smug lines - thats not good enough for me.

    I also did not like The Doctor forcing a kiss on Jenny in The Crimson Horror, nor his sonic having an erection at seeing her in leather (and even after she kicked some butt, he took her hand and forced her to just run instead of showing off her skills). The Doctor is almost meant to be asexual because of his alien-ness! Why would his sonic have an erection. If its just a cheap joke, then as a family show its unnecessary.

    This was one well-written article on a sensitive subject and applaud anyone who read it and even disagreed with it, because its good to discuss this like mature people, even if we all don't agree.

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  16. So, is it sexism, or overuse of the mother archetype? I like this article because it's well-reasoned, and not angry vitriole, but it has got me thinking. I'm not sure it's sexism, because modern feminism is very much about reclaiming motherhood, and Moffat's women, the well-done ones anyway, def fall into the fierce mother archetype, though it is strange that Amy barely thinks twice about Mels/Melody, and there does seem to be a conspicuous number of these women in most things Moffat writes (hell, even in Jekyll, he had Claire who was the epitome of the Fierce Mother, though she was extremely well-done in that regard). My thing is that it's not necessarily sexism, just Moffat loving one archetype far too much. Though other writers have made it work. The Girl Who Waited was a fantastic character episode IMO, we definitely need more of those...

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    1. It's definitely overuse of the mother archetype. On that, we can fully agree. However, its overuse is one of the main things that makes it sexist. However, I should point out, I don't considerate it deliberate sexism. Modern feminism isn't so much about reclaiming motherhood. It's about letting women be what they want (whether that's a mother or not) and combating the stereotypes that society pressures women to follow. It's also about recognizing privileges (and this is where it goes beyond just sexism and intersects with topics like racism, ableism, etc.). When it comes to presentation of women in media, it's about showing all different kinds of women. So there should be mothers, but there should also be lots of other women. And most importantly, the women should have goals of their own that go beyond their need for a man in their life. They need to be shown as independent beings, and fully realized individuals.

      If you want more information on sexism in media, Feminist Frequency is an excellent place to go (I have a link to her videos in the sidebar). For a specifically feminist approach to Doctor Who, there's Doctor Her (also linked in the sidebar).

      I agree that we definitely need more good character episodes. Thanks for your response!

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    2. Actually, what makes mother archetype sexist is the lack of that type of male characters.

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  17. I find all of this fascinating; as a Doctor Who fan who started watching when Tennant began, and as one who also found the 11th version distasteful from the start.

    The irony is that I've not seen any episodes after the "regeneration" from 10 to 11, and for a very short but precise reason: the 11th doctor's first words including a version of a shocked "Am I a woman?" apparently due to longer hair. (this quote is probably wrong but I couldn't find it online, so it's just from memory)

    That might appear meaningless or arbitrary, to be offended or disturbed by just that one line, but right away my thoughts spread to the fact that if he suspected he might have become a woman, then it must be possible for Time Lords to regenerate into different genders; therefore he was seemingly horrified by something that must have been common and accepted among the Time Lords; and finally, his own horror at something so common insinuates that the doctor, himself, is (suddenly) quite sexist.

    Tennant's Doctor personified a creature far older and grander than anything we can truly envision; sexuality was something he not only had under control, but possibly never even crossed his mind unless he wanted it to. Furthermore, gender or sexual orientation (or even inter-species mating for that matter!) didn't phase him in the slightest. He was beyond such basic mortal concerns.

    It saddens me to find that my instinct apparently held true; If I were to ever want to watch those seasons now, it would only be to see the degradation for my own eyes.

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    1. The Doctor have been a man more than 900 years. It's obvious that, if he suddenly turns into a woman, he will be surprised and a little shocked by that.

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  18. I really like this article. Some of the points are really good and are very obvious sexism, but shouldn't we be applying the sexixism both ways? And is it that it is their actions that defines the woman or is it her personality?

    The fact that most of the characters (Male and Female) lives are altered to the extreme by meeting the doctor is very obvious, but I feel that many of the women, written in a time where women didn't have as much power as men, is very accurate.

    And for the divorce arc in Amy and Rory's life, it is very much a real issue in heterosexual cis-couples lifes. I know of many people who have gotten diverces and broken off engagements because of one of them being unable to have biological children. I found it extremly refreshing that they actually solved it and talked about it because many couples fail to do so in todays sociaty. Adoption might not be the frist thing that pops into ones head when you find out that you're infertil.

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  19. I see a lot of excuse making for Moffat. He doesn't deserve any excuses because in this day and age there is no excuse for such ignorant writing.
    River is disgusting sociopath. Several psychologists I know have said so. I told them and even showed them her storyline in order. They just shrugged and said she was a classic science fiction villain. I then shocked them and informed them that many emotionally retarded and morally bankrupted fools consider her a hero. They also think The Doctor loves her. Not even close. And as she IS a sociopath, she is NOT capable of love. Not the healthy kind. Nor is she competent to have children. Except the computer kind. Maybe.

    Amy started out okay. She was unusually smart for the first two stories and then she sort of became more ordinary and THEN Rory joined and she became verbally abusive. Now River has an excuse for her verbally abusive bs. She was brainwashed to kill the Dr. OH and neither love nor showing someone their future can break brainwashing in real life. lol BUT anyway, she treated poor Rory like Dirt! And he just took it! That is NOT a sign of love but of desperation and low self-esteem.
    I think that's what's wrong with Moffat in spite of his Megalomaniacal approach to writing in which HIS PRECIOUS CREATION IS THE "BEST" I think at the end of the day he is just really really insecure and uses boasting as a cover.
    Martha was NOT a bad character. She had a lot more going for her then Rose. She was a medical student and we get to meet both of her parents and what a mess their lives are, so we get the idea that maybe she isn't so much "In Love" with the Doctor but is in fact infatuated enough with him to run away with him and by doing so, running away from her life.

    Clara started out interesting, then became bland and then all of a sudden she became the ultimate Mary-Sue in Doctor Who History! The BULLCRAP idea that SHE was the one who chose the Tardis and that she is somehow responsible for many of the Doctor's accomplishments?! WTF?! Talk about degrading the Doctor JUST SO HIS CREATION can look "So Special". (GAG)

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    1. Whoa...

      I'm curious about the process of TV-show psychoanalysis. Did you literally wave a script at your shrink(s)?

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    2. Well you were a little more clinical about it. My assessment was that River was a manipulative nutcase. I was intrigued by her in SitL but her riff about how inferior this younger Doctor was compared to her Doctor worried me. Then when she suicided in front of him while telling him how much they meant to each other in his future my first thought was emotional blackmail, and this was the most mature and stable this character ever became. Earlier in her life she holds all of time hostage to possess the Doctor and only gives up when he marries her.

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    3. So, in your opinion "sociopaths are disgusting".
      wow, that is very smart from you, and I still want to hear all that pshycologists saying "River is a sociopath" even when half of her life she did a lot of things because she loved the Doctor.
      Moffat haters complain because "River is in love with The Doctor and that makes her dependent of him" or "The Doctor is abusive to River", they talk about Domestic Violence and sexism and mysoginy, etc. But you are very far away from that, you are saying she is a "disgusting sociopath", well, Sherlock Holmes is a sociopath and he would die saving John Watson.
      And River Song died saving a lot of people, a lot.
      Being a sociopath is something so terrible, so disgusting?

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    4. psychologists*

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  20. Yeah super deep analysis here: "many emotionally retarded and morally bankrupted fools". Nice way to label and to shut down others point of view.

    I found River Song interesting the first time she appeared, when I thought she was a archaeologist. I think she could have been developed in a interesting way (as a flawed character) but she ended up a super caricature of her own character.

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  21. Excellent essay. I had no idea how big the examples of sexism where on this tv show until I read this. I knew that at some point as the seasons passed, the episodes started to become a bit uninteresting (at least for me) I felt that everything was about him and well, yeah, nothing about his companions. Have a good day

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  22. Thank you so much for this. You put into words everything I felt but couldn't express. I actually stopped watching the show because I was just so frustrated with River Song. She had so much potential but in the end I just wanted her to go away. I don't think I can bring myself to watch anymore. Maybe when Moffat leaves.

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  23. What are your thoughts on this - “There’s this issue you’re not allowed to discuss: that women are needy. Men can go for longer, more happily, without women. That’s the truth. We don’t, as little boys, play at being married - we try to avoid it for as long as possible. Meanwhile women are out there hunting for husbands.” (Steven Moffat). If this is what his view truly is, it could explain some things especially in DW.

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    1. It certainly could explain some things, and I do talk about this specific quote in the essay (just after my discussion of pre-Moffat Doctor Who--it's a couple paragraphs below the picture of Martha). Moffat claims he was quoted out of context (and that he was talking from the point of view of a character from Coupling), which may well be true. There's not enough evidence either way, so all we can do is take him at his word on it. However, the way he writes female characters tends to suggest he really does believe those words whether he was talking from the point of view of another character or not.

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    2. There is another quote from that article, where he talks about a 'distinct lack of respect for anything male' in society. I wonder, has he made the same claim that he was merely representing his character's view for that one as well?

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    3. I'm pretty certain he makes the same claim about that quote too.

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  24. Yes, Amy and Clara were brought on board because they had something mysterious that even they did not know about, and Davies’ companions weren’t. They were just ordinary people.

    Yet here’s the thing. Why did this have to continue, exactly? Why shouldn’t there be someone who has a lot more to them than first meets the eye? In fact, Davies’ female characters soon started following an insulting pattern themselves.

    They’re introduced, set up as being ordinary and that somehow makes them “remarkable", they do a few fun “companion" things, make out with The Doctor, and then, because all the stars just had to align (aka Davies is a fucking horrible finale writer) they suddenly become “The Most Important Being In The Universe", rendering the entire “normal person" idea null.

    "But it was a metaphor for showing how much those characters grew" No, Davies is a bad writer. (See: Journey’s End.)

    So it was actually refreshing to have Amy Pond as a character who isn’t just normal, she’s mysterious. Why shouldn’t we have characters who aren’t just “normal"? Normal people are boring. “Because they provide a window in which we see the universe". Why the hell do we need a window character? Simply watching Matt Smith do his thing is enough joy for me.

    I find it silly for people to believe that Amy in "Angels take Manhatten" is the same person as she was back in The Eleventh Hour, or even some of Series 6.

    Besides, what exactly made Rose “smart" to begin with? She was a very badly written character. (This video only scratches the surface: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hRjwsBZBC_I)

    Martha showed her worth only by the end of the Series, and Donna’s incompetence became a running joke. (Do not mention Journey’s End to me or we’ll be here all day).

    Clara actually takes the lead quite a few times during her few episodes on the show so far. She saves a whole bunch of people from an angry God Star, she stopped an Ice Warrior from causing World War 3, she actually made a pretty good damn effort trying to hold the Cybermen and by the end of it she, in a complete disregard for her own life, sacrifices herself to save The Doctor. Now a complete cynic (or feminist) might see this as some kind of sexist statement “She gave herself up for a man". Yes, but not out of any, and I repeat, any kind of sexual desire. It was because The Doctor, who happens to be a man, is her friend. And he would do the same for her. And hey, by the end of the episode he did!

    That’s hell of a lot more than Rose ever fucking did.

    Martha saved the world.

    Donna saved the universe.

    Clara saved The Doctor.


    Donna saved the universe, but out of complete horrible writing that completely insulted the audiences intelligence.
    Journey’s End was shit.
    The Big Bang and The Name Of The Doctor were not shit. (for those wanting a reason why The Big Bang was as amazing as it is, google "Fish Custard 18", it's part of an essay written by Andrew Rilstone which explains how great Series 5 actually is.)

    Should every companion (be it male or female) from now on be mysterious? No, and I hope Moffat changes this for next time. But it was a welcome change from the norm, and change is good.

    Besides, Rory was actually the one who wanted to settle down, falling into Moffat's supposed "motherly trope". This is was made obvious in Amy's Choice. Amy never knew about her pregnancy and it was basically forced upon her. But Series 6 had so many dark undertones. The Doctor influences so much of people's lives that they become absolutely destroyed. Because of him Amy and Rory went from being ordinary to losing their new-born child right in front of their eyes.
    It's The Doctor who's made out to be evil and doesn't even know it.

    Yes, River knows a lot because of her connection to The Doctor, but the reason behind it "she's Amy and Rory's daughter" is a hell of a lot more interesting and satisfying plot-wise than "she just does, deal with it yo".

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  25. Just wanted to say that, hearing the accusations of Stephen Moffat being sexist and never understanding the basis for those statements that this is an expertly well written article. I don't necessarily agree with all of the conclusions, and while there's a disturbing pattern for sure, I don't think it makes any them bad characters [or even bad role models]. I'll be curious to see where they're going to take Clara. She hasn't had much development since she only had half a season's worth of episodes and had her story thread as "The Impossible Girl", which is now resolved.

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  26. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this article as well as many of the corresponding comments from thoughtful users on both sides of this argument. I'd have to agree that Moffat's character development overall could use some serious intervention, but some of the story ideas he's come up with are really rather intriguing and enjoyable.
    I actually only started watching Doctor Who in November 2012 and marathoned all the seasons and episodes beginning with the introduction of Rose to current over winter break with my teenage daughter. There were certainly some female characters more than others whose story arch, character development, and dialogue fell flat for us and we would pause the show and talk about it.
    One item I noticed that was a bit overlooked here was the emasculation of some of the male characters like Mickey and Rory. Both of them were clearly very much in love and devoted to Rose and Amy respectively, but I was really rather sad to see how they grew into characters that were obviously written in such a way as to be disrespected in general. Another user made an interesting comment about the verbal abuse and that was another item that I found difficulty with, as well. There definitely was some mental, verbal, and emotional abuse going on with some of the character interactions. It always drives me nuts when they’re not called out on their bad behavior and The Doctor, this 900 creature who you would think would have at least as much wisdom as the average 40 year old earthling, might A) avoid persons with an abuse pattern in the first place or B) set them straight about why that’s so screwed up and how if they didn’t knock it off he’d take them straight home. If you can’t even be nice to people you love how are you supposed to interact appropriately with other advanced civilizations?
    The martyrdom, oh constantly the martyrdom is another plot line that happens far too regularly to be compelling (along with the magical pregnancy phenomenon).
    I find the whole idea that a woman running off to marry and have children marks "the end of her life" or that of her mate’s. My children are all nearly grown and I have decades of life ahead of me that will not include the constant, daily tasks involved in motherhood. I'm very much looking forward to the whole experience as a new adventure filled with travel and discovery. How telling is it that Rory and Amy decided to stay together while in their youth and the very next thing and last thing we see of them is their headstones. I think someone might be a bit commitment phobic.
    As for the idea that little boys don't dream of marriage? I'm not entirely sure what everyone else's experience is, but when I was 5 years old I got married to each of the little boys in my neighborhood weekly in the backyard and it wasn't exactly my idea. In fact, one of them in particular was very angry every time I married someone other than him. I think society has had a tendency to force that issue on girls and thankfully we're growing away from it with each passing generation, but boys also wonder about love and marriage from young ages, too. Apparently, those boys grow into weak, whiney, hen pecked men according to Moffat.
    I’d kind of like to see them do away with the romance aspect of The Doctor, all together. It’s a little too “rescue me from my boring life because I can’t manage it myself.”

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  27. the fact that some of the women were badly written has NOTHING to do with sexism... So if a man is badly written and is shown to have no interests its bad writing, but if a woman is badly made is sexism?

    Sigh..

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    1. You've completely missed the point. Sigh indeed.

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  28. I think there are some interesting points raised here, but I think that there are issues not just with the female characters. One is the fact that so many of the characters, male or female define themselves around relationships and the opposite sex, it's not just the females. Looking through the male characters they all tend to define themselves quite strongly around their relationships. The issue I think is not so much sexism surrounding neediness, but the fact that everyone is needy in general. The Doctor included.

    Rory defines himself around Amy, I mean the guy waits for thousands of years for her, while Amy is busy defining herself around the Doctor, and the Doctor is busy defining himself around anyone he can. Madame Vestra and Jenny sit off to the side acting as parents to The Doctor's needy man-child.

    River defines herself around the doctor more and more the younger she gets (travelling backwards remember) and with a story arc like hers it makes total character sense. It's true there is somewhat of a pattern emerging. Clara I think seemed to be subverting it a little until she risked her life to save the Doctor then he had to continue. But this is hardly unique to her, I mean the Doctor became entirely and unwaveringly focused on his "Impossible Girl". Before this it was Amy he defined himself around.

    It seems to me unhealthy relationships and lack of concern for the extra-personal world seems to dominate Moffat-Who more so than sexism does. It will be interesting to see what happens with the introduction of Capaldi as an older Doctor again, if the pattern continues it will be glaringly obvious I think with the cast getting older that they're all as needy as 15 year olds.

    I think the injured, broody, needy nature of the current Doctor is possibly harming the show as much as any potential sexism from Moffat.

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  29. Absolutely smashing and well written piece, straightforward and in-depth analysis. I really enjoyed it, thank you!

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  30. This was fantastic.

    Unfortunately, I'm sure you'll agree that Clara did not break the pattern in the least. Though she wasn't as mindbendingly awful as Amy, her story still resulted in her having absolutely no definable character or personality, and again whose sole existence revolved around the Doctor and "saving" him - twist: he saves her in the end anyway!

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    1. Yeah, while I had some hope for Clara early on, nothing came of it. She's just an empty slate as far as personality goes.

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  31. This was a really well-written article, and as someone who was only really getting into Dr Who at the end of Russell T Davies' tenure it was very frustrating to have the tone of the show change so drastically when Steven Moffat took over.
    I must admit that I haven't watched much of it since then, but whenever I did catch an episode, it struck me that Rory's character was composed of more of the traditionally feminine traits than Amy's was. For example, his desire to get married and settle down, his being more timid, even his career as a nurse. And the thing which bothered me about that was that it was played for laughs, and the doctor seemed to take cruel digs at Rory for them...
    I was wondering if you (with your much more eloquent brain) might have some thoughts on that?

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    1. I think Rory overall is a better character than Amy, but there are issues with him. You're right that he is often the comic relief, particularly early on. He does experience more growth than Amy does, and gets a few awesome moments later on. Sort of similar to Mickey earlier, he grows out of being just comic relief.

      Nevertheless, his more "feminine" traits do tend to continue to be played for laughs, particularly his timidity. The biggest issue I have is Amy slapping him repeatedly. We only see it happen a couple times (two or three, I think), but there is another instance where Rory instinctively flinches away from her because he thinks she's going to slap him (even though she doesn't actually do so on that occasion). The implication is that she slaps him quite a lot and the scene is played entirely for laughs.

      Women slapping men on tv shows (and unfortunately, it's not limited to just Doctor Who) is often short-hand for the writers and producers trying to say, "Look! We have a strong female character who won't take any guff from her man! We're not sexist!" That's certainly how it comes across in Amy's case. Yet the comedy relies on the fact that she's a member of the "weaker sex" beating up on the "stronger". We're not laughing at the woman, but rather the man because he's not manly enough. The story is ultimately shaming the man for having traits that are traditionally feminine--as if there's something wrong with those traits. Yet if it was the other way around--a man slapping a woman--no one would be laughing.

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  32. Thanks for this interesting and thought-provoking piece. As others have said, I never really considered this trend until I read your article. I can think of counterpoints to many of your arguments, but I can't argue that the trend is there.

    But as to the point about not seeing enough of the companions' families and lives at home--I honestly don't care about that. I love Doctor Who for the adventure and the imaginative stories about time and space. I really enjoy the tangled webs that Moffat weaves throughout the series and seeing how they all resolve at the end. For me, everything else is ancillary to that.

    Just my two cents. But I can't deny your larger point that there is certainly some sexism inherent in the show. I don't think it's on purpose, but it's there.

    Anyway, thanks!

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  33. *Not "ancillary"...that's the opposite of what I mean. Should have written "secondary."

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  34. I think this article makes two points in a way. 1. Moffat reuses same patterns 2. Sexism. I agree Moffatt reuses similar characters but both male and female. Ex. Larry and Rory, both just run after a girl and do whatever she asks of them. But I’m just not sure about pt 2.
    Reinette:
    I don’t think her life revolves around the men. If you look at the time this is taking place woman had no rights. So I could completely understand how someone as ambitious as she was, chose to be with the King to get the opportunity to fulfill her goals. And the other comment, “She even tells Rose at one point that a life full of monsters and nightmares is worth it for an “angel” (i.e. the Doctor)”. If you look at the context, the lines are actually: “REINETTE: It's the way it's always been. The monsters and the Doctor. It seems you cannot have one without the other. ROSE: Tell me about it. The thing is, you weren't supposed to have either. Those creatures are messing with history. None of this was ever supposed to happen to you. REINETTE: Supposed to happen? What does that mean? It happened, child, and I would not have it any other way. One may tolerate a world of demons for the sake of an angel.” I see this as, the things that happen in your life, shape you and make you who you are. She’s always seen both of them together, and if she hadn’t she wouldn’t have been able to see the world that he comes from. I would say the Doctor’s life seemed to revolve around her. He went back in time for her even though he knew there was no way back.
    River:
    I agree it does seem as though river’s character revolves around the Doctor. She gets stolen at birth and programmed to kill him. But that’s out of her control. She doesn’t just instantly fall in love with him. She spends most of the episode trying to kill him. Then the Doctor tries to stop Teselecta from punishing her even though she has just poisoned him. He doesn’t think about revenge or himself but is selfless. Once they are able to stop the Teselecta, Amy/Rory are in trouble. He again pushes through to do whatever he can to help them. River finds this impressive that he cares so much that he keeps trying to help them rather than save himself. I think this is where if you take a moment, she starts to feel for him. It’s something she’s never seen anyone do growing up with the Silence.
    Next, she is willing to sacrifice the entire universe. It’s not to save his life or because she can’t bear to live without him. Instead, its because she can’t bear to kill him. It’s not about being with him, it’s about loving him so much that she can’t kill him. That’s a big point. I think that’s completely normal for anyone male/female to feel that way about killing someone they love. I also don’t think that she needed him to marry her. She didn’t ask for that either. If you watch the scene, the doctor is frustrated with River for doing this. And he finally understands that the reason shes doing it because like she said I can’t kill you. He uses the backdrop of the wedding ceremony for the sake of any Silence watching, to whisper in her ear that its not him, she won’t be killing him.
    There’s been enough times she’s been asked to come w/ him and be his companion. But she’s always said no, because her adult life didn’t necessarily revolve around him. She went out and had her own adventures unrelated to him. Next, after being uploaded to the library, she settles down to take care of children. I think this is the first time we’ve seen a woman do that. I would say in a way that completed breaks his patterns. And just because someone’s an independent adventurer doesn’t mean she can’t have kids and do the adventures too. We also see her whole team there at the end, so who’s to say that she isn’t doing both?
    Lastly, if you watch the mini episodes, Night and the Doctor, you see that he has feelings for her too. Again, I think the problem lies in Moffat’s inability to write abt relationships and develop characters well, both males and females.

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    1. Actually River pretty much does just instantly fall in love with the Doctor. She goes from trying to kill him to in love with him in a matter of moments. That's not realistic character development.

      I agree with you absolutely that Moffat is poor at character development. Because of his poor ability to develop characters, he relies heavily on gendered tropes. It's the overuse of those tropes that results in the sexist writing. I'm not saying that he's deliberately sexist. But you don't have to be deliberately sexist to do sexist things.

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