Sexism: The Terrible Secret of Steven Moffat’s Doctor Who?

steven-mofatt

Something’s gone terribly wrong with the Doctor.

I used to love Doctor Who. It used to be wonderful. But something’s been bothering me for a while, and I honestly think I might be about at the breaking point with this formerly delightful show.

It’s Moffat. I’ve slowly become convinced, by careful analysis, that he’s a terrible sexist. Looking back through Moffat’s tenure, I have no choice but to accept the truth: that Steven Moffat hates men.

Oh sure, there’s the Doctor. But he’s not exactly a paragon of manly heroics, is he? For proof of this, just look at how often he lies around helplessly, waiting for a woman to come and save him. In series seven alone, he does it in 6 episodes.

helpless 2

Pathetic.

helpless

Ridiculously pathetic.

Pathetic.

Yet more pathetic.

day-of-the-doctor-tv-trailer-26-clara

Buy The Day of the Doctor–It’s Worth Every Penny

That’s nearly a third of the season. That’s one hell of a pattern. And if you add the episodes where he’s left unable to save the day until some woman waltzes in, you’re up to more than half the year. Even in this last episode, he only saved the day when Clara got all touch-feely with him. Then Moffat wrote this charming line: “I hope someday to be half the man you are, Clara Oswald.” Seriously, the Doctor just dissed himself in favor of his companion.

This sexism constitutes a clear deviation from Classic Who, where the Doctor was always the one saving the day. This silly “triumph of human emotion” trope—which Moffat is definitely overusing as a plot device—was never as important as the Doctor’s wild intellect and last-minute heroics. Back then we had proper Doctors, whose companions were willing to follow directions instead of stealing the Doctor’s thunder.

Romana, perhaps the Doctor's most brilliant companion (another Time Lord), seen here being saved from a door.

Romana, perhaps the Doctor’s most brilliant companion (another Time Lord), seen here being saved from a door.

And honestly, Moffat seems to have a really simplistic view of the male psyche. Yeah, the Doctor shows a lot of depth, has a lot of inner life, but he’s the example who proves the rule. All the other men in “The Day of the Doctor” were in bit parts, with one basic job. The women were the ones running around, manipulating timelines and negotiating with aliens for the future of the Earth. There isn’t one other major male character with any hint of multiple dimensions.

Rory is the ultimate proof of this.

deaths_of_rory_williams_gif_by_sharingan1115-d3lkhah

Doctor Who Series 5

I think Rory’s story, more than any other character’s, reveals the sexism embedded in Moffat’s plots. I mean, the man’s a nurse (a traditionally girl job) and is repeatedly referred to as Mr. Pond, and his daughter is called Melody Pond? I can’t believe Moffat can get away with something so blatantly anti-male on television. Let’s just throw centuries of patriarchal progress out the window, shall we! Not only that, but every time it looks like Rory’s story is going to be about his role, his agency, and his manliness, Moffat throws something in the way. Rory never gets to be the hero, and always plays second fiddle to Amy. He doesn’t seem to mind that his wife’s best friend is a man, even though any husband would have the right to get very territorial. And his plots are endlessly characterized by two things: a complete lack of agency and an overwhelming obsession with a woman. Unlike Amy, Rory never seems in any sort of control over the Tardis’s destination. His investment in plots like Amy’s pregnancy and sterility—female oriented plots which take up a ton of screen time—is portrayed as overriding, severely limiting the dimensions of his character.

"Rory the Roman" was even a diminutive.

“Rory the Roman” was even a diminutive.

This wouldn’t be so bad if it were only one male character. But it’s every male character. They are all constantly sidelined, their plots ending either in death or a happy family life. And that’s if the plots get attention at all: most of the last two years of Doctor Who have positively vilified male plots like war and politics, in favor of examining boring woman stuff like having children, settling down, and building relationships. Moffat clearly thinks that all men’s lives should lead to one, emasculated, endgame. And don’t tell me that the Doctor doesn’t fit into this type—he always insists to his companions on the importance of growing up and having a family, and seems lonely when he can’t have those things.

Let's talk about the symbolism in this bad boy.

Let’s talk about the symbolism in this bad boy.

Then there’s “The Name of the Doctor,” which I think reveals Moffat’s fear of men more than any other episode. Think about it: the only non-Doctor male characters are Strax and the Great Intelligence (although does he count as a man?). The Doctor is repeatedly rendered helpless in the episode, and never has any plan or any idea what to do. He can’t escape the whispermen without help from River and Clara, he can’t save his friends without River, he can’t even save himself without Clara! The Great Intelligence–in the form of an old, patriarchal man–steps into the Doctor’s life and ruins the universe, leaving the Doctor totally incapacitated, hysterically shrieking. It’s not difficult to perceive in the Great Intelligence Moffat’s fear of men’s power and agency.

name of the doctor damsel

A Fitting End To A Steven Moffat Season

Maybe if the show was acknowledging this lack of male agency, this wouldn’t be such a problem. Which brings me to Moffat’s slow destruction and “feminization” of the Doctor.

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Series 6

Firstly, why don’t the Doctor’s companions let him be awesome anymore? Here he is, whisking them around the galaxy, but none of them ever defer to him. Take “The God Complex,” which is very much an episode that could only appear under Moffat. Rather than fulfilling Amy’s faith in his power, the Doctor actively undermines it. He insists to her that he isn’t a hero, that he is often very selfish, and that she needs to see him as he really is. Seriously, what is so bad about being a masculine hero?Screen shot 2011-06-05 at 9.33.12 PM Then there’s “A Good Man Goes to War,” which is a sexist plot of ever I saw one. The drama is firmly rooted in straight-feminine baby-having, and the villain who defeats the Doctor is even a woman. At the end of the episode, the Doctor is subject to a scolding by his bitchy wife, who insists that she knows better and that he must not act the masculine hero role he embraced in the episode.the-doctor-the-widow-and-the-wardrobe

An extension of this rejection of the Doctor’s heroism is the way Moffat has also systematically rejected and even vilified male virtues. Instead of having a proper masculine hero, a “man as an island” fellow with very low investment, this Doctor is constantly portrayed as being full of emotions. He’s crying all the time, his hearts break and he goes and sulks until some woman comes along and rescues him. He even gets married and establishes a family unit with the Ponds! Even when he’s supposed to be traveling alone, like in “Closing Time,” he’s drawn to family life.

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Series 6

Under Moffat, the show is structured so that companions have to save him about as much as he saves them. In fact, every finale under Moffat has been all about some woman trying to save the Doctor. In none of the last three years could the Doctor have pulled off his plan without his lady friends. It completely undermines his agency. What kind of amazing Doctor can’t even save his own skin?

Moffat has also subtly inserted many ways to undermine and emasculate the Doctor. The women on the show are always using diminutives, degrading him: “Sweetie,” “Clever boy,” “raggedy man.” It’s a very, very clear undermining of the Doctor’s manly awesomeness. And they even comment on his personal appearance, bitching about his chin or hair or clothing choices. I mean, we spend twice as much time playing around with the Doctor’s clothes as with River’s or Amy’s—how ridiculous is that? As if men care about clothing.

clothes

Once again, a re-statement of the premise makes fun of the Doctor.

Finally, not only do the Doctor’s friends constantly degrade, undermine, nastily tease, and insist on rescuing him; they also can’t take a joke. Take this kiss in Crimson Horror:

swept off feet

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Obviously, Jenny shouldn’t mind that the Doctor did this. She’s married, sure, but it was just a bit of harmless fun. So how dare she immediately rearrange his face!

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Seriously, what is her problem? And I’m aware that this episode wasn’t written by Moffat, but his fingerprints are all over it.

in her hands

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There are two episodes that have sealed the deal, for me: Journey to the Center of the Tardis and The Doctor, the Widow, and the Wardrobe. In “Journey,” the writers twist themselves in knots to make sure that the Doctor’s life is in the companion’s hands again. I think they may even be self-aware of their overuse of this trope, because the key to the Doctor’s survival is literally in Clara’s hand.

There were a million ways to write around this, but no, they had to write it so that the Doctor, with a useless screwdriver and without even his nice masculine coat, depends completely on his companion.

the-doctor-the-widow-and-the-wardrobe-doctor-who-171211-

Then there’s “The Widow.” Seriously, I cannot believe in this day and age a piece as sexist as this can appear on television without mass outcry. Even though the show is called Doctor Who, YET AGAIN the hero of the episode isn’t the Doctor: it’s a woman who acts as his companion. Rather than being debilitated by her feminine qualities, like motherhood and empathy, she actually draws strength from them! The Doctor really spends the entire episode bumbling around. He can’t even drive the spaceship towards the end: he has to wait for a woman to come along and do it for him.

Above: Thinly veiled metaphor for being a bad driver.

Above: Thinly veiled metaphor for being a bad driver.

The key to the sexism in this episode is, yet again, in Moffat’s language. Two aliens translate the word “woman” as “strong.” As if that weren’t bad enough, they also translate “man” as “weak!” I still cringe remembering this.

Steven Moffat has a pathological fear of men. He should probably seek professional help, and we should save the Doctor from his sexism.

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36 thoughts on “Sexism: The Terrible Secret of Steven Moffat’s Doctor Who?

  1. You are wonderful and this article is a huge breath of fresh air. You know, I’ve read so many negative things about how Moffat writes female characters that I was starting to think “hmm, maybe they have a point…” – but I’ve always known in my heart that their nonsense wasn’t what I believed to be true. To finally find someone who feels the same way as I do about the latest women of Doctor Who is just so awesome.

    I believe they all have quite deep, fascinating stories and I enjoy Moffat’s writing greatly. It definitely takes time to analyze the stories of Clara, River, and Amy (which I do – #writer problems), but I find all three of them to be so interesting and strong. What I enjoy about how Moffat wrote all three women is that they start off mysterious and seemingly supernatural, yet in the end, turn out to have of some of humanity’s most beautiful traits. Clara, for example – she had the Doctor questioning her humanity for half a season. She just seemed TOO perfect to him. Yet the thing that led him to question her all along was the fact that she made such a wonderfully human decision – to save the Doctor be cause she was brave and kind and bright.

    I could go on and on, but I won’t. Thank you for writing this.

    • Thank YOU so much for reading! I know what you mean about the weight of the accusations against Moffat starting to persuade you–that’s really why I wrote this, to have a bit of fun and turn them on their heads. I really do love Clara, and Amy, and I enjoyed the hell out of River even if she wasn’t my favorite. Say what you will about him and his sense of humor, but he’s far from misogynist.

  2. I’ve been a huge fan of the show under Moffat and Smith, and it’s never once occurred to me before today that there was even a sexism debate to be had about it. Having googled ‘Steven Moffat sexist’ I’ve been directed at dozens of links full of bile, a small number that actually seemed to talk sense and then this that made me laugh. Thanks for that 🙂

  3. Didn’t you know it was the companions job to save the universe! As the Doctor Said in “Time of the Doctor” He’ll come up with something more out of luck and then anything and take the credit for it. 🙂
    mydoctorwhoblog.wordpress.com

  4. I’m not sure that there is anything ‘strange’ about the incompetence of the Doctor, in fact I think it’s one of his most endearing qualities as a hero. He isn’t the all-conquering blue-eyed boy who knows how to solve every problem and always gets the girl. He’s a genius yes, but he has limits – real ones. And *that’s* why he needs companions.

  5. Absolutely loved this review. I’ve been reading mixed opinions about Clara, and when I started reading this, I thought it was going to be another “Moffat changed things” whine. I was really surprised and enjoyed this article.

  6. I’m glad to see this here. This really is a breath of fresh air, I swear. It’s so nice to have someone cut through all the feminist bile that’s been going on towards Moffat.

    Though in all seriousness, that translating woman as strong and man as weak did make me cringe quite a bit. I can understand only the woman can fly (although that’s a bit odd as well), but weak and strong? Of all things? >_>

  7. So, it’s blatantly anti-male to call a man by a woman’s name, & have their children called by her last name? Thank you for perfectly encapsulating the feminist position on naming traditions up through the CENTURIES until this point.

  8. The only sexism I see here is done by you, my friend. This is absolutely gross, and if the male and female roles in this show were changed, then no one would even bat an eyelash. The fact that you would consider making a male character “have a female’s job” such as nursing to be sexism is really disgusting, and is in fact steering towards equality, which is the complete opposite of sexism. Although I do agree that men should not have been blatantly called weak, there is absolutely nothing wrong with calling women strong, and a woman should NEVER be “debilitated by her feminine qualities.” It’s absolutely vile that you believe people should be considered stronger simply because they have a dick. News Flash: you won’t seem so “strong” when someone kicks it. Oh, and what the hell do you mean by “centuries of patriarchal progress”? That is such an ignorant string of words to the point where it’s actually quite humorous. Also to the doctor showing more emotions, perhaps he is just trusting in people more often and starting to display more human characteristics, which would not be a bad thing, and it wouldn’t make him weaker or “like a female.” Overall, I am disgusted by this review and I also pity you because you feel so threatened by the possibility of all humans becoming equal that you feel the need to put women down as “weak” and “debilitated”. Good luck with the rest of your life because the fight for gender equality is coming hard and fast, and I’m afraid that you will be left behind.

    • I would like to give you a big, big hug for saying exactly what I wanted to with this parody: that ridiculous things can be manipulated to prove “sexism,” and that Doctor Who is anything but sexist. Thank you!

      Oh, and cudos for picking out my “centuries of patriarchal progress” thing!

      • Oh my god I’m so sorry that I didn’t even stop to think that this could be satire. Honestly my sincerest apologies for just ridiculing you like that. I do appreciate the parody now that I am aware of it. Half way through reading, I started laughing because I did not see how it could possibly be a serious review, but I figured that this is the internet and some people are crazy. Haha sorry again

  9. So I was just reading this and I was about to comment “Don’t type. You’ll lower the IQ of the entire internet.” and then I saw the comments where you said this was a parody. You aren’t an idiot, you’re a genius! I’M the idiot now for taking this seriously. EVERYTHING ABOUT THIS PARODY IS PERFECT!

  10. I’m not sure what’s better: the article itself or the fact that some of the replies actually drove your point home. I was prepared to run screaming from this because of the title but it’s beautiful. (And in all seriousness, whenever someone goes after Moff for his depiction of genders, I point them to ‘Coupling’ — where absolutely no one was safe and the whole point of it was as a metaphor for a couple trying to hide their faults from each other.)

    • Thank you so much–I’m so glad you enjoyed it! And I totally agree with you about ‘Coupling’–I’ve seen people complain that it essentializes gender difference, but given how often those gender differences are exactly the opposite of what is supposed to be coded “male” and “female” I just don’t understand how people get this.

  11. Aha. I almost was gonna go and headdesk for a bit because I just got done reading an article obliterating my love for Moffat’s writing and then found this one. I was like, “Noooo…not another one.” Then I read the comments and was rest assured that this was simply satire. WHEW. I see the world does not lack so much humanity over fictional pieces after all.

    Thank you for this. Love for the Doctor restored! (Actually, it never really left but I was just starting to doubt Moffat’s writing.)

  12. Parody is always fun. 🙂
    Also, people can and will complain about anything and everything, it seems. I suppose that is life.

  13. I just watch the final episode featuring the 11th Doctor ( a cross between George McFly and Woody Allen) and after seeing this a Google search brought me here, why? Because I have been coming to the conclusion that is proffered here: namely Steven Moffat is a flat out self-hating male. Over time the Doctor has become more sickeningly weak childish, cowardly and incompetent – a regular dithering milkquetoast who more than not has to be saved by an assertive, brave and intelligent women. I am not against such female characters but not at the expense of the male characters. Were things reversed cries of sexism would be coming from feminists.

  14. Like Jonathan Swift, your satire is too good — I believed you! And was wondering whether or not it was worth my time to go on a “WHATS WRONG WITH MEN BEING NURSES” rant! I will now go read more of your website in order to learn your actual stance on things before composing any sort of rebuttal. 🙂

    • Yes! Exactly! That’s the comparison I was looking for–Jonathan Swift! Don’t worry, you’re not the only one–I believed it, too.

  15. I cannot express in mere words how MUCH LOVE I have for this article. I started watching Doctor Who from season 5, because from all I saw on the internet, nothing intrigued me as much as Amy Pond’s story, and I absolutely loved it from season 5 to the ending of Matt Smith’s era. But then to come online and see my favorite female characters reduced to one dimensional damsel in distresses just to prove how sexist the showrunner is, it just baffled me to be quite honest. That these metas were coming from self proclaimed feminists yet they took complex amazing ladies and turned them into something ridiculous with no narrative proof to actually support their accusations of misogyny and sexism, in fact these feminists seemed more sexist to me than Steven Moffat ever could!

    Anywho, I digress, but my point is, I sincerely thank you from the bottom of my heart for writing this humorous lovely piece on Doctor Who and the very REAL sexism against the men in the show. We must not let such blatant preference of the females slide without raising our collective voices against it! 😀

    • Thank you so much for reading! We all need to stop getting so caught up in our craziness declaring “so and so hates so and so!” It’s just an oversimplification that gets in the way of actually talking!

  16. You should watch more classic Who if you think that the companions did nothing but stand by when the Doctor saved the day. It’s just as bad & ignorant to generalise the classic era as it is to generalise Moffat’s Who.

    🙂

  17. “And then there’s Rory, standing guard for a couple thousand years, waiting, for A GIRL!”

    Sheesh. A real man would have waited 10 minutes before saying, “I’m outta here.”

    Or showed up late. Or not at all.

    😉

  18. This was GENIUS. I was in a terrible, terrible mood and really needed a laugh, and you obliged. Thank you for that. I was one of the many who thought at first that this was serious–probably because I’m so NOT in the mood to joke lately that I can’t recognize a joke when it smacks me int he face–but I realized about halfway through, went back to the beginning, and started reading again, and then I laughed from beginning to end.

  19. This is absolutely brilliant! I’ll point anyone who rants at me about Moffat this way now, as you’ve explained my point perfectly and much more eloquently than me in this satire. Well done to you for this 🙂

  20. If you think “saving the day” is all it takes to make a character well-rounded, you’ve got bigger problems than people dissing a TV writer you like. The very fact that the male characters show traditionally “feminine” traits proves that they are more well-written than the women.

  21. Parody or no, I actually agree with about 50% of this (excluding the wilder remarks of course). Moffat has sucked a lot of the fun out of Doctor Who by his inability to refrain from inserting his political views into the writing, whatever they may be.

    I want to see women and men portrayed as equals. I don’t want to see the purposeful emasculation of men or the patronization of women.

    As a man, I find a lot of sexism toward my gender on Doctor Who, but many women I know also find sexism aligned against them on the show and I often see their points. I sometimes think he’s offending everyone across the board, honestly.

    Maybe Moffat hates men AND women. Misanthropist might be the more accurate accusation to make. In any case, as time rolls on, when I watch I think less and less about a clever time traveling alien and more and more about the writer’s politics. Which really isn’t much fun on a sci-fi show… or… ever.

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