Women in NuWho: Stereotypes, Archetypes, Femmes Fatales and Steven Moffat

Someone’s dropped the S-Bomb on the Moff.

Again. In fact it’s the third accusation of sexism from this particular chap… Heavy-duty blogger, Alex Gabriel, has given a rather damning appraisal of women in Moffat’s writing – and not just in Doctor Who. This will be familiar ground for most Kasterborites.

Showrunner and BAFTA award winning writer, Steven Moffat has been charged with portraying women in an inherently sexist, or even misogynist, manner before. Previous attacks have pointed out how many of his female characters seem to deliver one witty one-liner after another following a sassy-feisty-sexy format. In short they’re not real women.

Melody Pond

Gabriel delivers a broad survey of different Moffat templates for “women” linking back to two previous articles where he outlined his complaint in more detail. His visually-enhanced summary notes there are such marked similarities between Missy, the latest incarnation of the Master, and previous central female characters in Moffat’s writing, in Who and beyond, that they are essentially the same character.

Or rather they’re not characters at all – instead he sees them as tropes. Missy, River Snog [no typo], Tasha Lem, Sherlock’s Irene Adler among others and characters in 2007’s Jekyll are all versions of the same…

“…feisty, morally ambiguous adventuress and femme fatale with a murky past who flirts with everything and controls men through sexuality, boasting a hands-on relationship with the Doctor.”

River flirts like a trooper and borrowed toxic lip-stick from Poison Ivy (comic book femme fatal par excellence), Missy force-snogs, Tasha Lem effectively invites the Doctor to her bed and Amy causes temporal disasters by wearing the wrong skirt over a glass floor. And by George he’s spot-on when it comes to Irene Adler! [Gulp]

He also refers to other characters that amount to repeats of the other basic moulds. Osgood and Sherlock’s Molly Hooper are intelligent women underminded by their idolisation of the leading man. Madam Korvarian, Miss Kizlet and Sherlock’s Miss Wencelsas are power-dressing executive ball-breakers. In an earlier article he states,

“it’s not that writing women requires some special or distinct approach. Moffat’s women, with the odd exception, are just tropes rather than characters, and often repetitions of the same tropes.”

So the charge it that he IS using a distinct approach to writing women. The accusation is that he is consistently writing them as tropes or pre-packed characters – vampish, saucy and manipulative mysteries in lippy and heels. The corollary is that he’s failing to represent them as real characters with actual personalities. Gabriel does also imply, though doesn’t state outright, that there is something pervasively negative about Moffat’s take on the female sex.

Madame Korvarian

Insidious Sexism?

Gabriel refers to a “casual sexism” in much of Moffat’s writing – like the Doctor’s comment on River Snog in Let’s Kill Hitler, “it all makes sense to her. She’s been brainwashed. Plus she’s a woman.” There are other examples we can call on – In The Bells of St John, when asked by a loitering monk whether an evil spirit is on the other end of the TARDIS phone in the 13th Century, the Doctor explains, “it’s a woman.” This prompts a protective sign of the cross from the monk. Similarly in The Wedding of River Song, when Churchill asks what has happened to all of time the Doctor ominously replies – “a woman…”

I think it’s fair to say we are –in part– supposed to be laughing at the Doctor’s or the monk’s trepidation towards the female sex. And I definitely did laugh at the monk’s shock. I thought it was a lovely character moment – fear or alarm at a woman is more understandable and palatable in a 13th Century monk. It was almost mocking historical institutionalised attitudes towards women. Almost. I feel less comfortable with the Doctor – a role model – viewing women as mysterious, troublesome or difficult to understand. They’re not a species – they’re *people*.

Helpline

I don’t think I’m misreading the dialogue and performances in these moments when I get the impression that we’re also supposed to side with the Doctor/ Monk to an extent. And this wouldn’t be an absurdity on the part of Moffat’s men as the central female characters he writes are deliberately alarming – in Song’s own words she’s a “psychopath” with a gun and Clara’s volcano-trip in Dark Water was truly chilling.

Those Legs Eleven

Now I think it’s very easy to level a claim of sexism at Moffat and I’m not entirely convinced on all sides. But there is something up. As a wise man pointed out over the interweb the other day, there’s no denying a significant change in the wardrobe of the companions as soon as Moffat took over as showrunner from Davies. Take a look at this line up…

Power Dressers

What happened to trousers? And there’s no getting around the fact that after Moff’s first contribution to regular female characters (after the gun-wielding archeologist in Louboutin’s) is the only Doctor Who character to come out as an action figure in a kissogram costume. In fact I’m still not sure how he managed to sneak that one into a child-friendly show about time travel…

The Male Gaze

So, dear reader, the question is whether women are written as borderline or frankly sexist cyphers instead of real people in Moff’s Who. A helpful concept in thinking about Gabriel’s criticism is the “male gaze”. This is the idea that when our cultural products reference women e.g. a film, television or book, they tend to do so from the point of view of an heterosexual man. And let’s make no mistake, Moffat has made it clear as far as character goes, the Eleventh Doctor, far from the lofty aspirations of “Space Gandalf”, is an heterosexual man. The Classic era Doctor’s disinterest in sex was transformed into a fear or anxiety over his own very human sexuality – at the end of Nightmare in Silver the Doctor has a moment of fantasizing about Clara before appearing to mentally tell himself off. There are no two ways about it – this is a character designed for straight men to relate to. I’ve argued before that while sex in Doctor Who is well and good, it should be kept away from the Doctor. You never saw Gandalf rubbing his knees at Galadriel for a reason.

Gandalf and Space Gandalf

The idea of the “male gaze” cropped up in feminist academic, Laura Mulvey’s 1975 essay on “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema.” In this she discusses a psychoanalytic approach to how women are used in cinema – both visually and narratively. While I’m not proposing a full-scale Freudian deconstruction of gender in Who (but do let rip in the comments below) it helps to set out one basic concern about how misogyny can appear in television and story-telling.

A “male gaze” implies a narrative might be told from a masculine perspective typical of the patriarchy that produced it. In a culture where women are explicitly or implicitly devalued, e.g. as sex objects or obstacles, they will be presented in that manner. Somehow the story tells things from a male point of view. The Doctor doesn’t congratulate Amy with a “good on you mate” despite being his best friend – he congratulates the man who’s got the girl. Mulvey’s essay quotes American film director Budd Boetticher on how this is supposed to work,

“What counts is what the heroine provokes, or rather what she represents. She is the one, or rather the love or fear she inspires in the hero, or else the concern he feels for her, who makes him act the way he does. In herself the woman has not the slightest importance.”

And that’s coming from a director of American Westerns who had spent time as a boxer, American Football player and BULLFIGHTER!

So while I’m cautious about full-on accusations of misogyny (it’s clear that Amy does have importance in the narrative) it does look as though Moffat writes with something of a male gaze. And of course he is an heterosexual man – to an extent this might be expected. But he’s also part of a profession that must take responsibility for the portrayal of stereotypes (negative or otherwise) in media designed for mass consumption.

Miss Kizlet

I’m mindful of not making over-the-top claims or wilfully misreading what is put on screen. But sexism can operate on very subtle levels – the whole point of the male gaze argument is that it becomes the norm for how people see the world. Whether you’re a man or a woman, you are surrounded by sexualised images of women in advertising and long traditions of story-telling where men act and women are acted on or for. Very few fairy tales involve a heroine rescuing a bloke in distress, and the Doctor could have said “good on you mate” to Amy – she’s his mate and she’s just bagged a guy who waited 2000 years for her. But he doesn’t. In Moff’s Who, the Doctor behaves and sees the world as an heterosexual male.

Handbags and Fisticuffs

So what? Why is this potentially a bad thing at all? My feeling is that Gabriel might be on to something in his summary of several female templates in Moff’s writing and this is all part of the same approach to gender in story-telling. It does seem as though in the world of the Eleventh Doctor, where two principle characters are of opposite sex, this will lead to, or is simply code for a power-struggle.

Of course there are always power dynamics between any two characters appearing in a narrative, but repeatedly there seems to be a law that that a man and a woman in a room together will start flirting, competing and vying for power. With the Doctor and River Snog this almost becomes a fight to see who can be the greatest self-sacrifice (the man wins, of course).

Tasha Lem

The potential problem here, as I see it, is not even necessarily that the Moff might use gender as a battleground – it’s the way in which so many of his women use their sex as a means of combat. There’s frequently a tension between blokes and birds in this era of Doctor Who and you get the sense we’re supposed to be siding with the man. Women are somehow dangerous – look what they can do to all of time! This would be fine if the women weren’t simply repeating tropes – shallow impressions of women from the male perspective.

But is this really true about Moffat’s writing? One way to assess Gabriel’s claim would be to see if we can produce a similar list of male tropes and repeating collections of character traits. It’s certainly interesting that both Sherlock and the Doctor are ultimately isolated super-intelligent men who have difficulty maintaining non-hazardous relationships with women and their male side-kicks (Watson and Rory) both get mistaken for being gay.

Park Bench

But after a brief survey of Moffat’s episodes (far from comprehensive – please set me straight if I’ve missed things) I can actually find very few principle male characters at all save for a handful army General types and briefly glimpsed panto villains. None of these get as much screen attention (nor interaction with the Doctor) compared to River, Tasha, Miss Kizlet, Madame Korvarian etc.

In fact Moffat writes oodles of women’s parts again and again. And it surely should be acknowledged that this in itself is quite the opposite of one kind of misogyny prevalent in television for decades. That’s not to say that the parts themselves are unproblematic, but in an industry where female actors are underrepresented and valued less than their male colleagues, this is most definitely a good thing.

To briefly, briefly touch on the issue of “strong” female characters: it’s frequently implied that sexist story-telling represents women as weak and passive in contrast to more dynamic and active men (who the audience are intended to empathise with). But just because a character is active, socially powerful and clever, doesn’t mean sexism can’t still be there. The concern here, as Gabriel’s article indicates, is that making women strong by writing them as using their sexuality to gain power over men doesn’t really achieve gender equality.

Kissogram

BLINK AND YOU’LL MISS IT

But something I had been forgetting and was pointed out to me by the same wise man with the action figures, was the female protagonist in Moffat’s earlier episodes. Nancy in The Empty Child is a quiet heroine with a complicated internal struggle. She’s gutsy and argues with men but she doesn’t flirt or use her sexuality to do it. Sally Sparrow in Blink is similarly one of the most reasonable and sensible characters on screen while the men are almost caricatures. And while the Doctor is ultimately the saving factor in both episodes, both stories also rely on the choices and courage of a central female character without her becoming totally besotted with the Doctor.

This contrasts with Gabriel’s complaint that River, Amy, Clara and even Reinette in the Girl in the Fireplace are women who became infatuated with the Doctor as little girls and end up “part companion, part love interest to the detriment of her own life.”

Sally Sparrow

So it looks like there are some clear examples of Moffat writing excellent leading ladies – but there has been a bit of a vampish run for a few years. It should also be pointed out that when a writer produces as much material as Moffat has, it’s hardly surprising that themes and character traits will be repeated.

I’ll leave you with these final thoughts. Series 8 has given us a new Moffat leading man – and Capaldi’s wonderful Doctor seems to subvert some aspects (if not all) of the male gaze. This Doctor can’t tell whether Clara is attractive or not, doesn’t care and certainly won’t need to tell himself off for having impure thoughts about her tight skirts. And, barring some over-enthusiastic slapping (which our own James McLean has called “irrational female anger”) the impossible plot device has had some much needed character development. Have we turned a corner with our new TARDIS team? Have we reached Space Gandalf?

So what do you think, dear readers – is Gabriel’s complaint justified? Does Moffat write with a male gaze? Are his women mere tropes and negative ones at that? Or is this a skewed view and Moff’s Who has given us far more rich and engaging female characters that a lot of shows out there? Let battle commence…

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  1. Niggling, niggling, niggling. Love these women for all these reasons and more.

  2. TimeChaser says:

    While I’m sure Mr. Gabriel’s points can be supported at least to some degree, I don’t fully agree with his entire assessment. For one thing, the skirts: that was not entirely Moffat. Karen Gillan herself preferred skirts over trousers. And yet as time went on we saw Amy dressed in all sorts of clothes, including trousers and jeans. More often than not, River is seen in pants. Clara has worn a variety of clothes, and Tasha Lem’s skirt was very long. So I think this argument is ultimately invalidated and just a pathetic and ultimately empty reach to support his claims.

    • Alex Gabriel says:

      Please note the point about Amy’s and Clara’s skirts was original to James Lomond’s piece above, not part of my commentary.

      • TimeChaser says:

        My apologies. I should have read closer. Article was long enough I was skimming by that point. No offense intended. 🙂

  3. TheLazyWomble says:

    Amy summed it up in one of the extra scenes from series 5. “You’re a bloke”. She was talking to the Doctor, but it applies equally to Mr Moff. His style of writing tends to be laddish. Just look at Coupling (I know: but I LIKE Coupling!) Actually, in that, none of them come across as characters. Is that excusable in a sitcom? Caricatures rather than characters?

    I’m not sure that I’d go as far as to accuse Mr Moff of misogyny. But I do believe that he is quite far removed from “New Man”. Sexist? I should say so.

  4. Ranger says:

    Great article, James

    I don’t think Moffatt is sexist per se -I think he is trying to portray “realistic” women in “unrealistic” situations. Women, in general, nowadays are more forthright, confident and willing to own their sexuality (or as my father would say, mouthy, opinionated, sex-mad and drunk) – and that has been equated to how men act – the “laddette” culture. And there’s no denying that Amy and River Snog are the archetypal laddettes. And I think the labelling of such women in the media as laddette is sexist – women enjoying the same things and freedoms as men? oh, they’re nothing but quasi-men. I’m personally not a great lover of some of these women’s behaviour – but then I’m not a lover of their male counterparts behaviour either.

    And here is where I think Moff gets accused as sexist – he is portraying a certain type of woman, with characteristics that ring alarm bells with some people: confident, open about sex, take charge, etc – and he has included a few of these women. But Moffatt has not pulled these characteristics from thin air and given them to inappropriate characters. So, he is giving the audience characters they can recognise from “real life” (stock figures)- so is he sexist, following the arguments given in the article, or is he merely reflecting a sexist society?

    Moffatt can and has written parts, both male and female, that show a greater and deeper range of emotions and characteristics than the norm. So perhaps the question should be, not is Moffatt sexist, but is Moffatt actually short-changing the audience by an over-reliance on stock figures?

  5. Dr Moo says:

    There is definitely something to the points Mr Gabriel has made but I still wouldn’t go so far as to call The Almighty Moff a sexist man. Yes, a lot of the female characters he’s written have been more confident and fill their lines with sexual tension or innuendo, having a series of younger men as the Doctor has certainly played a part in it. It does annoy me that people will then leap upon these character traits as a negative portrayal of women when the alternative character traits, being weak willed passive eye-candy and nothing more, would attract similar accusations of sexism for different reasons.

    But Moffat is not the first to do this, the classic series is not innocent of such things either: Remind me, what was Peri Brown wearing when she first boarded the TARDIS? How did Leela tend to dress? What did Nyssa famously do in part two of Terminus? After she’d left Doctor Who wasn’t there a famous photoshoot of Katy Manning and a Dalek?

    If you’re going to pick a TV show to criticise for sexism Doctor Who, though not exempt from such accusations, is a (relatively speaking) poor choice. In the 1960s women rarely got into positions high up on the production team of any TV series, but who did the original run of Doctor Who start off with in charge? Verity Lambert who, among other things, was a woman. Her work earned her an OBE eventually. So do not pick on a show for sexism against woman if the first person to run the show was a woman in a time when women could not usually get that kind of job, such a fact immediately moots your argument.

    • CrystalDawn0603 says:

      Hear, hear! Or here here! Whatever. Well said!

      • Dr Moo says:

        Thank you. It sometimes feels like I’m ‘not allowed’, as a man, to go on a rant like that one but I did and it was very satisfying to write. Your praise of my comment is appreciated.

        • CrystalDawn0603 says:

          I’ve noticed that some people don’t feel like men should have a say in “feminist” discussions. But what kind of conversation is it if half the people can’t participate? Not a very good one, in my opnion.

          • Dr Moo says:

            That’s the problem with “Modern Feminism”. I’m all for treating men and women with equality (but note how equal rights is not the same as being treated identically — a discussion for another occasion) but the modern feminist goes beyond that and tries to reverse the old-fashioned society of male superiority and make women superior instead of equal. Which is wrong. But if you say that it’s wrong then you are branded an intolerant misogynist – Which I am very much not! Such a view crosses the line of equality and turns the modern feminist into the very thing she wants to eradicate: A person who claims superiority over those with the opposite gender to you. The hypocrites! A true feminist does not try to put men down, rather she or he will strive to make sure that there is no advantage or disadvantage to being either.
            That’s my opinion, anyway.

          • Ranger says:

            Brilliantly said, Moo! That’s totally my opinion of modern feminism. I want to be equal, in things like pay, opportunities and respect, etc; but I don’t want to be treated the same as a man, conversely I don’t see why men have to be treated the same as women. If a man opens a door for me, I don’t see it as a hidden comment that I am too weak and feeble to open the door myself, I see it as good manners, just as I will hold a door open for an approaching man. That’s equal respect.

          • CrystalDawn0603 says:

            That’s exactly how I feel. I don’t feel males are superior to females and I don’t think females are superior to males. We’re complementary.

          • Dr Moo says:

            Exactly! We as a species wouldn’t have survived if people of both genders could cooperate with each other. Getting back to the topic of Doctor Who, there’s a reason why the majority of the companions have been female: It’s the male audience have got the Doctor to relate to so the companion has the to relate the other half of the audience to what’s happening on screen. If there were ever to be a female person playing the Doctor (my prediction: the 14th Doctor, next but one after Capaldi) then chances are that their companions would be mostly male. Having someone of each gender on the TARDIS allows for the complementary relationship you describe and it usually works well.

          • CrystalDawn0603 says:

            I hadn’t thought of that, as the Doctor can be very alien, but that’s actually a very good point. There needs to be a person in the TARDIS that can relate to the different demographics.

          • bar says:

            and on this site, also complimentary 🙂

          • CrystalDawn0603 says:

            If we don’t discuss all sides of the issue, we leave a lot unsaid that needs to be said. We can’t work through problems by ignoring the parts that make us uncomfortable.

          • kwijino says:

            For me, that’s liberaism/progressivism in general. I would love it if we could move towards Dr. King’s dream of judging people by the content of their character, not first deciding which of 17 groups I must think of first before judging what I say to them.

  6. Lara Harris says:

    Have to say I agree with the assessment.

    His characters ARE all the same, they do follow tropes and they are not “people” per say. I don’t think he intends it but it’s painfully obvious and before I get jumped all over, that doesn’t mean that you can’t enjoy the character but sexism is so subtle that we (people) are sexist on a daily basis and barely notice it. It’s cultural, it’s ingrained and ingrained to the point that a women can be sexist towards other women and neither of them even notice.

    I was somewhat alarmed at the fact that the first words that were used for the introduction of River were “I’m concentrating on a dress size” and when she the arrived, rushed off to check the size of both her hair and her ass and rounded it off with “ooh I’m going to wear *lots* of jodhpurs!”

    Amy and Clara are both plot points. Both are there, not as people but as things that have something interesting about them Amy and the Crack and Clara and the not dying (another dull and boring chestnut Moffat has done to death – even managing to resurrect the whole bloody planet in DIH).

    Yes… it seems he CAN write decent women, (Sally and Nancy) but it is interesting that he does that under RTD, Reinette is the first indication we get that when he writes women interacting with the Doctor, that there is something wrong with how he sees that dynamic.

    Misogynist? No, I think that may go too far. He doesn’t hate women. But he doesn’t seem to 1. Understand them and 2. See them as real people.

    • CrystalDawn0603 says:

      I think Amy started out as a plot point, but she became more a catalyst for action later on. I’m hoping the same will be true of Clara. I just hope she stops bullying the Doctor soon.

      • Lara Harris says:

        Well… she was needed for the story of River, she was a vessle (literally) for that.

        • CrystalDawn0603 says:

          But not all her episodes were about River. I think Moffatt has internalized sexism, like we all can have, but he can write decent female roles. Sally Sparrow was one of my favorite characters.

          • Lara Harris says:

            I liked Sally too… but he wrote her under the hand of RTD Nancy too. River was presumably allowed to be written whatever way he wanted because he had a long term plan for her and Moffat at that point already knew he would be leaving.

          • CrystalDawn0603 says:

            That’s true, but I think RTD could write weak female characters. Ok, one. I have a real problem with how Martha was portrayed in her series. She was so much better after she left and just made guest appearances.

          • Semi-Evil Semi-Genius says:

            Everyone obsesses about Sally Sparrow. She was in one episode. If she had a series, she would’ve had bad episodes like any other companion, and would’ve likely fallen to the same tropes as other females on the show. I just don’t get the Blinkiphilia with Who fans!

          • CrystalDawn0603 says:

            Well, Sally was an excellent character. And I have a bit of a soft spot for her and that episode as it was my introduction to Doctor Who. Also, I was just using her as an example.

          • Dr Moo says:

            It’s because it’s a good episode, very creepy, with a strong female lead. But I agree that it’s hardly the greatest episode of Doctor Who (the show’s TITLE CHARACTER only gets three scenes for the whole episode), it’s the Weeping Angels that make it work for me and not Sparrow.

  7. CrystalDawn0603 says:

    Very intriguing article. Lots to think about. I don’t think Moffatt is blatantly sexist, but he may have some sexist tendencies. He’s a heterosexual man and while I don’t think it’s impossible for a heterosexual man to write decent female parts, it does seem to be a challenge. Men are as sexualised as women are. It’s just that the sexualization
    takes a different form. Men are reared to be aggressors. We hear constantly how “boys will be boys” like it’s a given that males will act a certain way and view women a certain way.

    The character of Amy Pond was a strong character. She was an actor- not a reactor. She took an active role in whatever situations cropped up. Yes, her clothing could be a bit skimpy, but that hardly took away from her character development. She did start off as a companion in lust with the Doctor, but she definitely mellowed as time went on, becoming more mature. Besides Donna, I personally think that Amy had the most character development. If we wish to discuss weak female leads, there’s always Martha. Don’t misunderstand. I came to like Martha and she had the potential to be a great companion. She was smart and perfectly capable of holding her own with the Doctor. It was just that she was so besotted with him. Her problem was that she seemed just to be a place holder for Rose and didn’t become her own character until after she left the Doctor. It always seemed to me that RTD couldn’t imagine a
    woman NOT throwing herself at the Doctor, like Rose did. Rose may have genuinely loved the Doctor, but that didn’t have to mean that all companions following did, as well.

    As to Amy’s skirts, didn’t Leela wear equally provocative clothing, perhaps more so? (I haven’t seen any of Leela’s episodes, but I’ve seen some publicity stills. Did she ever change her clothing?) And Peri’s first visit to the TARDIS had her sporting a tiny bikini. So Classic Who could sometimes push the bar on clothing. It’s not an entirely new NuWho construct.

    • Lara Harris says:

      Yes, but society has also moved on from then too. In Tomb of the Cymbermen it was ok the portray black men as dumb slaves. We’ve kinda moved on from that. Sexism in the past does’t excuse it now.

      • CrystalDawn0603 says:

        No, it doesn’t. I think I was trying to say that there was a precedent for that kind of treatment of women. Science fiction has repeatedly portrayed women as weak or useless. I think some of the first strong female characters were from Doctor Who- Sarah Jane and Ace come to mind.

        • Lara Harris says:

          Agree with you on both of those, in fact I would argue *most* of the companions from the 3rd Doctor on, even Leela, were people. Yes, she was in skimpy clothes but she was an independent, whole character.

          • Dr Moo says:

            Like Dr Liz Shaw, for example. An intelligent person, a scientist even, who was capable of speaking to the Doctor on his level. Not many of the various companions can make THAT claim!

          • Ranger says:

            Leela in her skimpy clothing – a troublesome thing, in terms of appropriate clothing for her adventures. In the first story, perhaps understandable, as she is in a hot jungle and less clothing would make sense, but in subsequent stories? At least Terrance Dicks (I think it was he who wrote it) in Horror of Fang Rock realised her clothing was inappropriate and got her into a warm jumper and trousers as well as her gaining warm Victorian clothing in Talons (London can be very cold at times). But I suspect I may be willfully missing the point as to why they put her in revealing leathers!

        • RoastNewt says:

          I’m sorry, but this whole ‘Sarah Jane was the first strong female’ is one of my pet hates in the Doctor Who fandom. Sarah Jane was NOT the first female character to have strength and agency of her own. Barbara, Vicki, Sara Kingdom (if you count her), Zoe, Liz Shaw and Jo Grant were all strong leads as well (some I’d argue stronger), and they were part of the show long before Sarah was.

          • CrystalDawn0603 says:

            I’m sorry if I implied that I thought Sarah Jane was the first strong female. I just meant that she was one who came to mind. I’m not very familiar with Classic Who, although I’m working to remedy that.

          • RoastNewt says:

            Oh, I beg your pardon! I tend to take off a bit whenever I see people say that. Like I say, it’s a real pet hate of mine (although reading your comment more closely, it seems you didn’t actually say it all…). There seems to be a myth out there that all women from early Who were merely damsels in distress, but trust me when I say, that with some notable exceptions (namely Susan and Victoria), the females back then were just as good as the ones we get today. You have some great companions to look forward to!

          • CrystalDawn0603 says:

            That’s ok, really. I agree with you, though, that Barbara was definitely the first strong female. She wasn’t afraid to push back on the Doctor and she was an active participant in most of the stories she was involved in. The Unearthly Child and the Aztec serial stand out in my mind.

          • James Lomond says:

            Babs was the best! One of the best characters and best performances there has been on DW. And Louise Jameson did (and does) an incredible job of portraying a believable and consistent character. Stunningly good acting in spite of the skimpy costume but it’s a shame that quite how good she was seems to have been lost in all the publicity stills of her in leathers.

          • Semi-Evil Semi-Genius says:

            I think Barbara was alright in the bravery regard. She could be just as much as a wimp as Susan. But I blame the writing team of the times rather than the excellent Jacqueline Hill. When she got good stuff, like in the Aztecs, she was great.

          • James Lomond says:

            Hill oozed awesome 🙂

          • James Lomond says:

            [Maybe *radiated* is better].

          • Semi-Evil Semi-Genius says:

            Zoe was kickass! Destroying the entire Invasion fleet of Cyber-Men, with specific cluster bombing. “It was all perfectly logical, really”.

          • bar says:

            ‘Zoe was kickass’ – but looked more like Hit Girl, especially in that purple catsuit. Thankfully she was quite a bit more grown-up and broader role-model by War Games.

  8. Tomer Feiner says:

    “the Doctor’s comment on River Snog”

    “River Snog”

    Do I detect a Freudian slip?

    • TheLazyWomble says:

      Not quite: because it was deliberate rather than subconscious

      • Dr Moo says:

        As puns go (and I’ve seen a lot) it’s a little bit clever. Not great, but it’ll do. Still, one might PONDer (You know, Pond? As in Melody Pond? No? I’m wasted on this site!) over why it was used for the entire article. River is hardly the companion to criticise for ‘snogging’ (I really hate that word) the Doctor as she doesn’t do it as much as some others, that rather dubious honour goes to either Rose Tyler or to her immediate predecessor Dr. Grace Holloway (Remember her?) from that flop movie.

  9. bar says:

    Moff’s women are often a bit one-dimensional and interchangeable, but shallow isn’t the same as sexist: as a teenage GIRL I loved Robert Heinlein books, in which he never pretended to write ‘real’ women, just the heterosexual male fantasy versions that pushed his plots along (and possbily filled his dreams!).
    Moff grew up with the same sort of scifi tropes, so let’s cheer when he drops out of that hightened reality plot-device and sketches others like Sally Sparrow, Nancy, or, to bring it up to date, Shona and Prof Bellows – the one 12 calls ‘Sexy.’ I’d be more than happy getting to know any of those potentially real women as friends, but I don’t expect Who or Moff to provide the arena for that kind of role model.
    45 mins of action-packed adventure requires a particular set of qualities, common to a lot of real women but only a small percentage of who they are. So if modern sci fi imagination seems a little limited to Ripley, Buffy, Sarah Connor, Kickass or Heinlein/Moffat fantasy friends with a hint of dominatrix then let some women writers see if they can do better within the needs of the genre. Look at Paul Cornell’s Joan Redfern, who worked because the genre shifted in Human Nature.

    I still hope to emulate Barbara, who saved the universe with kindness, common sense and home-made knitwear. but times change! Liz Smith was an equal, but was replaced because the story required something different. Iris Wildthyme is a glorious one-off with rules of her own. Where Sarah Jane, Leela, Romana or Nyssa are given time to develop their own way some broader and deeper female qualities come through, as the longer format BF stories allow. Wonder what would happen if they were allowed to develop Moff’s women?

    I still think the most sexist thing in Moff Who is the fact that the interchangeable woman is allowed to slap the Doctor, when we know that if he hit any of them the show would be banned.

    • Dr Moo says:

      I wouldn’t say they’re ALL interchangeable one-dimensional characters, you yourself just listed several who are not. I would argue that the reason why the NuWho one-off characters are often like that (and I’m not just limiting this observation to the female ones) is because of the single episode format. This format (usually) forces all the action into 45-50 minutes and does not therefore allow for much character development unless the characters are recurring whereas all the one-off characters of ClassicWho got more screen time because of the serial format allowing for them to appear over several episodes in a single story so that the action could slow down and let the focus shift to character development for a while. Such stories as Inferno, The Keeper Of Traken, The Caves Of Androzani and The Enemy Of The World would not be so successful if they were done during NuWho for these reasons as all of them rely upon the large ensemble cast of guest actors.
      I think it’s too late now for series 9 to do it but maybe for series 10 we could test run a return to the serial format? I know both Capaldi and Moffat are lifelong fans of ClassicWho so if they wanted to try it I’m sure they’d be more than capable of carrying it off.

      • bar says:

        I agree that Moff and PC and the rest of the team would be capable, I’m just not optimistic about the markettability of the classic format. We could speculate all day about whether or not the show is at all market-driven these days, but I do fear that these ‘short-cut’ female characters sell well.
        However Jenna particularly has risen above the limits of format and plot-device characterisation, and Louise Jamieson has taken Leela to great depth and subtlety. so yeay for the real women in the roles!

        • Dr Moo says:

          I agree with you there. It’s a famous marketing slogan and it’s, sadly, true that “Sex Sells!”

          Series 7B served Clara rather poorly treating her as a plot device but Jenna Coleman proved consistently in every episode that she was an excellent actress and managed to rise above the material leaving us in hope that she’d be better in series 8. And she was. It’s good she didn’t leave at christmas so that she can continue to show us what she can do in series 9.
          Louise Jameson was rather hard done by with the costumes she had to wear as Leela but she too managed to show us that she could craft a great character regardless. You can see this particularly when she does get to wear actual clothes and Leela is still a good character, for example see one of the most well regarded serials of the show “Talons Of Weng-Chiang” where she spends her time in a Victorian-era dress.

          Just once I’d like to see a companion who was not a twenty-something attractive young woman (there have been a few but there was always a young woman on hand too) but as you have said it’s all about marketability and if the BBC can’t give it marketing then they won’t go with it. Even in the old series they got rid of Dr Liz Shaw, an intelligent scientist, and replaced her with Jo Grant, a ditzy blonde stereotype.

          • bar says:

            And that archetypal ditzy blonde is now rejoicing in the role of the definitely not 20-something Iris Wildthyme, praise be!

    • Ranger says:

      Exactly. I’ve written before that the doctor being slapped by his female companion is just wrong and an example that I don’t want my daughters seeing.

      • bar says:

        My instinctive reaction to the habit they have of getting River/Clara/etc to hit the Doctor is that it is just as wrong to hit a man as it is to hit a woman or a child. But then, thinking of your concern for your children, I find myself thinking it can be seen as sexist against women too:
        1. female violence doesn’t matter as much as male violence because women don’t matter as much as men
        2. women are not held accountable to the same moral standards as men because they are not seen as equally valid moral agents
        both of these first two suggest women are not to be taken seriously as role-models – look at the difference between what behaviour is acceptable for female Who Companions, but causes moral outrage when it’s male role-model footballers.
        3. female violence isn’t taken seriously but treated as a bit of a joke: someone out there is having a laugh
        4. female violence is titilating – someone out there is getting off on it.
        Ok, i acknowledge that there’s a huge, profitable industry that says violence is titilating and loads of people get off on watching it, but I would hope that Doctor Who is above that; a long, long way above that.

        • James Lomond says:

          I think you’re spot on, Bar- I found Clara slapping the Doctor both really jarred in the context of the show and was fundamentally objectionable for the reasons you list. Like James Maclean commented in the podkast, it’s almost only women in fiction that behave in such an unreasonable and violent way without their behaviour being criticised by other characters – it portrays women as irrational and female violence as trivial. Don’t want my niece or any other young women (or men) seeing that and thinking it’s a normal way to behave. But then I DO want my niece to see DW. Problem. …and then there are all the gender-based jokes about penis size (9th and Captain Jack in Empty Child, 10th and 11th in Day of the Doctor and 11th and Rory in Vampires of Venice) and the casual sexism that Alex Gabriel referred to – I just think a show like Doctor Who should be able to be witty and humerous without resorting to that kind of humour. Strax’s misidentification of gender I think can be genuinely funny when it works as a character moment for him – the enthusiasm that he approaches gender language with while getting it flatly wrong. (Perhaps how the French would find English speakers getting noun genders wrong… perhaps). But I do feel the rest of it is a bit beneath the show.

          • bar says:

            Maybe I can sum up my sense of what’s wrong here with:
            if violence or sexism is funny why not make the Doctor take part, or
            if the Doctor himself is above it, why is the show not?

            Someone (Shabgraf? Sandifer?) said he only ‘got’ Strax when he realised he was in ‘Allo ‘Allo. – but maybe that’s the problem; Who doesn’t shoehorn easily into one specific genre – comedy, sf, serious drama, family entertainment.
            It must be hard for the writers to pitch it so everyone’s happy.

          • Ranger says:

            You and James have expressed how I feel about Clara hitting the Doctor, it is just wrong on so many levels.

            I am going to put in a complaint to the BBC about this – do you or James mind if I use some of your very well expressed arguments?

          • bar says:

            I would be grateful if you make it clear we LOVE the show and are not Moff-trollers or whatever, and that these comments came up as part of a thought-through, considered debate. maybe send them a link – as the LazyWomble implied before, this is a rare site.

          • James Lomond says:

            Likewise – I LOVE what Moffat has done with DW and that producing huge amounts of original material and coordinating how that and more is produced is an enormous and difficult task. But very happy for you to use the points above.

          • James Lomond says:

            I’d say it even more simply- if Who as a format can do virtually anything, why have it do something sexist?

            Though yes, again, I’ve never written an episode of a television drama and appreciate it’s a far more complicated and demanding task than it might appear from watching the finished product.

          • Ranger says:

            Oh course James and Bar, I will emphasise how much we love DW and that this is not really a criticism so much as a concern that we have. Thanks.

  10. TheLazyWomble says:

    Will you just look at the sheer quality of the comments posted in this thread? Makes me glad to be part of this site.

  11. Planet of the Deaf says:

    But what about Kate Stewart or Madge Atwell, how do they fit into this “Moff can only write one type of woman” theory? Vastra and Jenny, Shona etc from Last Christmas, Clara’s gran, the Queen from the future in S5?
    11 had a slightly awkward attitude to women, that was part of his character. 11 and River, a younger man having a relationship with an older woman on screen, I’d say that was very refreshing and indeed quite feminist, in a world where women over the age of 40 are considered old and past it by much of the TV and film world.
    Clara had a defined character from the start. She didn’t drop her life to fly off with the Doctor, and insisted on seeing him on her terms. She’s kept down a decent job throughout S8, surely a better female role model for young girls than someone waiting for the ‘hero’ to sweep them off their feet and take them away from their humdrum world.

    • I’d say there is a further dimension to this: the woman and the women; the woman that to the male writer embodies sexuality and fantasy, and women who are just female. I’d say Kate and Madge probably largely fall into this category, though if we were going Mulvey on our asses here, you could say Kate lives in the shadow of the greater man (The Brigadier) and Madge longs for her husband. Shona again, her focus is forgiving her man.
      I don’t believe as I’ve said before this is indicative of sexism, I think it is indicative of male writing, where the male writer projects his fantasy strong woman onto the screen; a woman who is fun, feisty, often very open to sexual commentary, very independent but ultimately, ALWAYS falls behind the man. In the case of Vastra and Jenny, I’d say Jenny is the WOMAN and Vastra is the male version of the “women”; the sexual commentary is on Jenny, not Vastra who beyond her love of Jenny (and what person wouldn’t love a bit of Jenny, right men? eh? eh? eh? cor-blimey? eh? nudge nudge etc), is she really particularly gendered beyond her clothes and casting?

      I think Moffat does carry templates, but I think personally they are unconscious. They’re the type of women that men who perhaps aren’t that successful with women would fantasize about – strong, individuals that are chained to the male fantasy of being the dominant party when push comes to shove.

      I took great disappointed in Deep Breath with Clara’s scene with Strax and the football fantasy, again it seemed a personalised male titillation fantasy that doesn’t suit the character and the sort of example of male writing that solid, smart male writers need to try and avoid.

      • Dr Moo says:

        You suggest that Steven Moffat is unsuccessful with women. But the internet can and will inform you that he is married (and has been for some time) to someone with whom he has created two children — That doesn’t sound to me like he is unsuccessful with women, quite the opposite in fact! If you are going to make such a suggestion then I would advise you to check whether the facts back it up and in this case you’d have discovered that they do not.

        • Internet informs nothing. Married with children doesn’t infer any personality type, not that I was directly trying to. And yes, like most Who fans, or people who follow the industry, I am aware he’s married with children and beyond.

          My point was that I think if there is any link to the women Mr Moffat writes, that its not a deliberate attempt to “paint” women in any way; that its not sexism or necessarily relating to what he thinks of women. To me, it seems more innate, like the fantasies men have about the unattainable; women fantasies where the woman is a dominant, independent force, but requires to be ultimately devoted or submissive to the male because the male feels under-confident or unsuccessful with women to imagine themselves on equal terms with such fantastical archetypes. These are particularly young fantasies, sort of teen approaches to women than some grow up with. Whether or not that IS him, I don’t know. It’s a speculative point on what I see in the approach to writing women, not suggestive of a man I don’t know. You’re approaching this from the wrong end of the stick – it’s about what the writing suggests, not about who the writer is. And for all we know (or at least I know), this could be intentional writing for a specific audience group; not inate, but deliberate to appeal to a certain type of male watching the show who likes the idea of girls who are tough but devoted to the male audience via the cypher (the hero – more Mulvey).

          For instance, Mary Jane in Spider-Man is another example of the independent, funny, kind, sassy woman with a great job (which emphasizes her amazing looks), but is utterly devoted to the man. Look to The Simpsons, Family Guy (though Family Guy subverts this model) or a multitude of sit-com marriage dynamics and you often see the same thing; the male with the unattainable wonderful woman, who everyone finds attractive, is a great person, and no matter what the male does, no matter what daftness, she remains utterly devoted.

          Most important of all, this is ALL speculative. Only one person knows, and best that no argument forgets that.

          • bar says:

            I used to think this was common to all science fiction, a stereotype of all who read/write/view it, but then I read Proverbs 31 (also written by men for men) about the unattainable perfect strong woman and I wonder just how far back the trait goes.
            Also, if women were writing more sf, would it be about strong men they could lean on, or strong women in charge? I spent much of yesterday weeping with laughter til my face hurt at ‘Adventures with the wife and Blake.’
            http://thewifeandblake.com/introduction/
            the panto version of this discussion, for anyone who wants some light relief.

          • Dr Moo says:

            Proverbs 31 was written by a woman, the only part of the Bible that can make that claim. Verse 1 states that these words were spoken by a woman referred to as “Lemuel’s Mother”.
            Sorry, I couldn’t let that one go by uncorrected.

          • bar says:

            maybe she had her tongue in her cheek!

          • Dr Moo says:

            Would explain why it’s anonymous, Greek culture being what it was.

            I can’t honestly say that I was expecting theology to come up here but here we are…

          • Ranger says:

            Perhaps it was written by a man claiming to be a woman? One never knows with the Bible.

          • Dr Moo says:

            In the ancient world? I doubt it very much!

          • bar says:

            with Doctor WHo there is often great debate as to what counts as canon, and quite often deliberately opaque authorship credited to certain stories.
            But that’s nothing compared with the Bible!
            One thing’s generally accepted is that, like Who, it was incredibly non-sexist For Its Day.

          • Ranger says:

            I could argue that this is what love is supposed to be, supporting your man whatever. And love after all is somewhat based on irrationality. But I take your point, James.

          • I understand your point Ranger, I guess what makes this difference is whether you believe there is a fantasy attribute to the female character; that she’s created to fulfill a sexual archetype/fantasy that the audience will resonate with. Rory is an ordinary guy, like Peter Parker (well clearly both aren’t as characters, being one’s been an Auton and one dresses like a, erm, spider-man), but their roles in the story are ordinary, while the girls who they are connected to are extraordinary, fantasy women you wouldn’t call ordinary; beautiful, stunning, cool, sassy, smart, characters who despite being so amazing are absolutely devoted to the men in their lives. Amy even manages to try trumping Rory saying 2000 years of protecting her trumps her love, which the writer seems happy to let Amy totally dismiss. Amy is devoted to the ordinary man, and the ordinary man is who is watching the show. This is Mulvey’s argument James mentioned – that we live our fantasy dreams as men through the men on the screen. We are voyeurs suckling to their experience of the fantasy women presented.

            Another example is the Spice Girls. A manufactured pop band deliberately created to represent 5 different variations of girls guys might pull down the club, and girls might feel they could realistically aspire to. They are cyphers for our fantasies. Moffat’s females seem just that. The question is whether that writing leaves Doctor Who perpetuating male fantasy rather than offering a broader, and equal depiction of the genders – and whether you even think that’s an issue.

          • Ranger says:

            Totally agree with you James – but it works the other way as well. I wouldn’t assume that you read romantic fiction (though I could be encroaching on stereotyping here! After all, my Dad proudly boasts he has read 2 Mills and Boon books!) but the portrayal of the hero contains many fantasy attributes to appeal to women – the Alpha male. And there are many aspects of the Doctor that incorporate this Alpha male fantasy, even Rory with his waiting 2000 years has this aspect.

            So, the sexism is working both ways – but is it really sexism or just biology? We are programmed to find certain things appealing and attractive and who can really blame writers wanting to incorporate this into their characters – after all they want us to like their shows!

          • bar says:

            good reply Ranger – where would ‘Blake’s’ 7 have been without the undeniable appeal of certain characters… but I don’t think it was ever a role-model-for-children show in quite the same way!

          • Ranger says:

            Oh, hell, yes! I had such a major crush on Avon – the alpha male personified! He was definitely written to bring in the female viewers!

            Interesting to note, reading Adventures with the Wife and Blake (thanks for alerting me to this Bar, I hadn’t realised they had done that – I love Sue!) that in the comments section it is noted that DW fandom was mostly male-based for the classic series, whilst Blake’s 7 was the reverse. And I bet 99.9% of that female fandom were lusting after Avon!

          • bar says:

            I think you’re understimating his appeal to other demographics, to quote Neil and Sue:

            “Sue: She’s gorgeous. I bet Servalan had a huge gay and lesbian following.

            Me: Straight men fancied her too, you know.

            Avon prepares to teleport down to the surface of Cephlon.

            Sue: It’s oven-ready Avon. But at least he’s getting
            involved in the action for a change, so I shouldn’t complain. I bet
            Avon had a big gay following as well.

            Me: Yes, and straight men fancied him too.

            I think I’ve said too much.”

            In the context of this discussion all that sexy, lol pantomime stuff was set in a police state, with chemically sedated population, and beaurocratic unstable totalitarian regime. Avon may have been pretty – Paul Darrow is stuck with that – but he made the character into one of the most interesting in SF ever, because he was so much else, and NOT a trope.

          • Dr Moo says:

            You should also try http://wifeinspace.com to see them do the same with Doctor Who (classics only, sadly). Particularly recommend their take on Time & The Rani.

          • Ranger says:

            Thanks Moo, I have read the the DW one, just hadn’t realised they’d followed it up with Blake’s 7.

          • James Lomond says:

            Very much agree with your overall assessment there, James – it’s pretty clear Amy wasn’t written for the women in the audience to feel they could identify with (particularly latter-day Amy with the modelling contract and Petrichor perfume range -wtf??). Though I do wonder about where you left things – querying whether it’s an issue at all. I certainly don’t think DW nor Moffat’s writing is particularly more sexist or polar than other dramas (or films, adverts, cartoons etc etc) but I do think there’s something to be gained from considering the counterfactual…

            …Had a stunningly attractive fantasy male character been cast for the female audience to oggle at with a less attractive but more realistic every-woman girlfriend that waited 2000 years… and if the Doctor were a female character that made comments about things making sense to someone because they’re brainwashed, “and they’re a *man*”… and all this was being produced and broadcast in a world where women earned substantially more than men on average, occupied the majority of the executive posts in the world and men didn’t go out alone at night for fear of a rape culture etc etc – then it begins to look like a not so benign part of a gendered hegemony. Arguably.

            Of course it would still be no where near as bad as the counterfactual androgynist version of Top Gear (struggling to imagine that one), but I think there is something subtle yet problematic to be found in DW’s gender stereotypes. Not least Clara’s slapping (!)

      • Planet of the Deaf says:

        Rory longs for his wife, he waited 2000 years for her, and is definitely in the shadow of her. Madge longing for her husband is hardly the sign of a woman “falling behind her man” she wants her children to have their father, which is NORMAL behaviour. And her husband in the plane was desperate to see her again. Kate is a very independent woman, there has never been any hint of flirting or her sexuality being relevant.
        And the whole thing about the Doctor, is that he isn’t a man, he’s a different species who just looks like a man. If people are swept of their feet by him and ‘worship’ him it isn’t because he’s “male” it’s because he’s an ancient Time Lord with a magic blue box, who can take them to amazing places, and does amazing things. Rose, for example, was just as obsessed with him as any Moff females, to the extent that she ended up with a half human version of him!
        I don’t understand your Deep Breath point, in Clara’s subconscious she likes muscular sportsmen (or women seeing that Strax gets his sexes wrong!). If you looked in the subconscious of most men you’d see that they enjoy looking at scantily glad attractive women (or men). Hardly a titillation fantasy, just acknowledgement of normal human desires.

        • I would respectfully saying you’re missing the point on archetypes. Rory is a real-life cypher; he is written as an ordinary man who is not looking for fantastical adventures who is devoted to a girl who is written as a fantasy female; she is beautiful, smart, sassy, adventurous, adaptive, a counterpart to the Doctor. She is not a character audiences are meant to directly relate to as a cypher beyond her earliest adventures, and even then, she offers examples of behaviour that fall outside ordinary (she pins the Doctor to a car to explain doomsday than get hysterical as most would). Later she becomes a model and a successful journalist. She is not ordinary. She is a fantasy type. Rory is ordinary, and he’s in love with a fantasy character. He is the parallel for the male audience, one could argue he is an audience archetype for a large male demographic for the show: smart, sensitive, thoughtful, maybe a little cautious, but ultimately (as the archetype will see themselves), witty and courageous when it counts. His love for Amy parallels that the fantasy model we’re talking about responds to. So he is in effect PART of that fantasy model, not an example against it.
          As for the Doctor POV, you are using the inworld digetic logic and putting it on the audience and writer. The Doctor is an alien within the story, but he is a male character to the audience. The audience relate to him as a man because he is by all intents and purposes, a man. He reacts as we would expect a man to react, often to surprise us when he doesn’t. The base we attribute to the Doctor is human, so his actions are judged as a human. Same way people relate to Superman as a man, not an alien. This is how we relate to fictional characters – by our own measures. As such, audiences will see the Doctor as a cypher for themselves. Same way an audience will “live” through Batman without being mega rich and wearing a cape. The point is the audience will perceive the character relationships by their own social conventions. We don’t look back at the Doctor in the Moonbase and tut because he gets Polly to get them all tea because he’s an alien who doesn’t see the nuances of gender equality, we tut because we see the situation from human point of view, both in terms of the actions of the characters and our knowledge of how it represents the actions and intends of the writer/social conventions of the time.
          As for your point with Rose, yes she was obsessed with the Doctor, but the Doctor was AS devoted, if not more so (Rise of the Cybermen, Fathers Day). Donna wasn’t at all. Martha had a crush but the resolution of her tale actually has her reject the male figure and leave the TARDIS as an independent woman.
          As for Deep Breath, crikey you missed the innuendo. He says it’s sport, then changes it to he “thinks” it’s sport, before concluding whatever the men are doing with each other could be “considered sport”. It’s a sexual reference, and beyond the fact it IS a sexual reference, the invasive act of looking into a woman’s subconscious, particularly her sexuality is an invasive act in itself but also I’d suggest a gender invasive one too. What women fantasise about is a keen interest of men, there is an uncomfortable titillation factor in exposing the sexual consciousness of a female character who up until this point (and even after) is not one who shows much openness to her sexual preferences. It therefore adds to the sexual invasiveness of the act as we wouldn’t know from the characters dialogue what she enjoys, unlike Amy and Rory who allude to sexual acts as I recall (and River).
          Long reply, and I’ll leave you with it. I don’t expect you to suddenly change your mind, but it offers food for thought, it was worth the effort.

          • bar says:

            food for thought for me anyway James. it’s interesting who we identify with and why. I identified with Rory infinitely more than with Amy, but can quite chime with Clara’s AdventureswiththeDoctor addiction in S8, if not in her attitudes. but as a kid I identified with the Doctor – Pertwee. quite a range there!
            sorry but my ocdesque attention snagged at the moonbase ref:
            1. it was coffee
            and 2. it was referenced in Last Christmas by Clara
            both moments can be read sexist, or as an in-joke.

            this discussion is raising the real question of how self-aware any writer, viewer or fan might be.

          • Coffee I stand corrected!
            Well this is my point, and you’re right, its worth highlighting: it’s not about the show being sexist, its a question if the principle women characters in the show aren’t as female enpowered as people think. When you scrutinize their interaction and motivations, you still see a very male driven model running through – but this is the case in many shows. Strong women are written from the biased perspective of male writers.
            Doctor Who isn’t abnormal, but perhaps indicative of how a female showrunner might offer a very refreshing twist to the production.

          • Planet of the Deaf says:

            But Rory didn’t fall for Amy because she was ‘a fantasy type’, he loves her because she’s the girl he knew from school. And when they left the Doctor, they lived a normal life together in New York. if you want a ‘fantasy figure’ surely Captain Jack fits the bill, someone clearly designed to be a sex symbol (for both women and gay men), someone who went naked, on screen.

            Rose was only happy when she got her man in the end. She came back from a parallel universe to be with the Doctor
            Martha met a man when walking around the world, then curiously ended up with Mickey.
            We met Donna when she was about to get married, and in her final episode she did get married.
            In all 3 cases, men played an important part of their character ending on screen, so I don’t get the differentiation between the RTD and Moffat eras.

            And yes, while Amy’s career paths make no sense (I slightly cringed at the modelling), Martha becoming a freelance alien hunter with Mickey was just as bad. And one who wasn’t very good, seeing how the Doctor had to save her and Mickey in their scene in TEOT.

            Clara was being examined by an non sexual alien with no concept of human lives and indeed human sexes. Any comments have to be taken in that context, and to call it sexual invasiveness is somewhat over egging what most viewers would consider a humorous and insignificant scene judging from the lack of negative reaction I’ve seen elsewhere.

          • No you’re missing the point: She IS a fantasy type. The illusion is that a humble “average” guy like Rory or the audience would have a hot, adventurous fantasy woman fall devotedly for them. The diegesis justifications for Rory’s relationship isn’t the point – this is about how the relationships between fantasy/extraordinary women in Doctor Who of late tend to have to have their independence and strengths constantly undermined by the need to be devoted to a male character. This isn’t just in Doctor Who, it happens in Sherlock too; strong women, strong enough to challenge the principle heroes, nearly always have an Achilles heel of being devoted to one of them.
            Captain Jack is a fantasy character. Don’t think there’s much argument there. Moving on.
            Again, you’re missing the point on the other characters – bar Rose – in which I don’t disagree, but even there, the Doctor was equally spellbound, to the point we have the character moping over her for series to come. It’s not girls can’t have relationships. It’s not that girls can’t fall in love. It’s about girls who are written as strong independent and brilliant characters, where the stories like to highlight how unique, special and amazing they are, are ultimately, devoted to a male character. Martha wasn’t like this, she spurns that model. Donna never fit it. Rose, does, but this is the rub: you can write a character like that, but nearly all the principle females in the show under one showrunner have all the same template in their female to male dynamic, you question whether this is an identity gifted to one particular character, or a template bestowed on the characters consciously or subconsciously.
            The Clara thing: it’s on iPlayer. Watch it again. There is no way you can read that as other than sexual. Men playing sport… or I think it’s sport… well, it COULD be sport… is very, very clear. There are no other obvious allusions that sexual that fit the joke.
            There is no “over egging”. The point is most issues aren’t an issue for casual viewers. Doesn’t mean the issues aren’t there. The root of the joke in that seen was an invasive sexual comment. I do hope we don’t go down the road of “well if most people find it’s okay, then it is okay”, road. 🙂 The whole point of the article, and this conversation, is to make people re-consider what they take for granted. Not necessarily agree, but to think on the models they’ve not given close assessment to.
            However you diegetically bind that up as being Strax doing a routine mind scan, the joke is a sexual one where the female character has something embarrassing revealed for the titillation and amusement of the audience.

  12. Pantz says:

    This might be a controversial comment – do you think Moffat intentionally wrote better female characters under RTD to help with his push to take over the show?

  13. TheLazyWomble says:

    James, when you wrote this article, did you imagine it would provoke so much comment? And all of it positive and respectful of other opinions.
    This is a brave and excellent article and shows Whdom at its best. Well done.

  14. Lokitty Laufeyson says:

    The Doctor flirts with countless guys… but yeah, no. Of course he’s straight(!) Heteronormatist trash.

    • James Lomond says:

      You think Moff’s writing is heteronormative or the view that the Doctor’s character is written essentially as an heterosexual male is somehow heteronormative? (And who has he flirted with since Captain Jack?)

  15. Triggerpigking says:

    Sorry for the wall of text but I have alot to say about this stuff XD.

    ______
    Ugh I always find these sexism arguments awful especially since I found Davies female characters(Aside from the amazing Donna) to be awful or just bland for the most part, not sexist mind you but still bad.
    Rose is one of my all time most hated characters, she pretty much is obsessed with the doctor to the point of caring little about her friends or family but being happy enough to use them when she needs them, plus Moffats never condemned a woman to eternity as a living blowjob toy(Love and monsters), funny how people glance over that when pointing out what a god davies is supposed to be for gender equality.

    Moffat writes alot of characters similairly yes, but they all develop in different ways, Amy reminded me of Rose at first but unlike rose she developed into a much better person by the end of the series.

    River is more complex in that you have to look at her character development out of order of the show, but generally she starts of insane about killin the doctor, then after relizing what she’s doing she becomes obsessive about him(which while weird makes sense when killin this said person is the one goal you’ve had in life and he then turns said goal completely around) and eventually begins to see him as an equal rather then this almost religious figure as amy did for a while(which is what made the ending of the god complex and the girl who waited episodes so good).

    As for the doctor himself’s aproach to sexism, for one, it’s a joke, they make jokes about male stupidity such as with rory in it as well and I don’t see anyone bitching about that, they are jokes nothing more but Matt’s doctor unlike david’s is much MUCH more alien, he barely understands humans in general so him making these sorta jokes makes sense and imo is funny(especially since some of these jokes pointed out such as the monk one are’nt so much HAH woman as joking more about the monks themselves).
    The only female character moffats wrote that I truly had a problem with was Clara during season 7, for one she was rushed in and she had barely any personality(which is odd considering how great her future and victorian counterparts were), and while i’m not sure if this was intentional due to the doctor treating her like a mystery that has to be solved up until the events of journey to the centre of the tardis(once again a problem people bring up when him himself relized how wrong he was), Clara did come off as more of a plot device then a person. But even she has been fixed now and is one of my all time favorite companions and she can defineitly not be accused of idolizing the doctor.

    I have to wonder if alot of these complaints stem from people who just could’nt adapt to a new writer/director, Davies was the first person to bring back who and both him and Moffat have an incredibly different writing style(ironically i’ve heard they both envy eachothers writing XD).

    I did’nt grow up with Davies writing barring the second and third season which I stopped watching after a while and I only picked up on who again a few years ago when series 6 was released(but I started from 5), both writers have their good and bad parts, I personally like Moffats aproach more but I did find alot to love from davies sometimes as well, his writing was capable of making me want to punch the screen(daleks in manhatten and love and monsters) but he also made some of the best sci-fi i’ve ever seen in midnight and the waters of mars, weird actually that he feels like two different writers sometimes, honestly i’d love for him to come back as a side writer though, alot of his best work were just side stories not related to the overal plot.

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