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