The world tuned in with bated breath this Sunday to find out who would be the next Doctor, after weeks of speculation and the bandying of names from Helen Mirren to Chiwetel Ejiofor. With Steven Moffat at the helm, many Whovians were nervous—the decision to cast a new Doctor is a serious responsibility, and given Moffat’s track record, one he might not necessarily be trusted to handle. Moffat’s world is one in which women are objects, people of colour don’t seem to exist, and anything can be resolved with enough manpain.
Oh, gentle readers, do let’s discuss Clara the Impossible Girl and the thrilling or perhap insipid conclusion of the seventh season, which just aired on televisions ‘round the world. We were promised a resolution to the Mystery that is Clara, and we certainly got it, and, shocker, it went along the same lines as all of Moffat’s usual misogynist garbage, as Ted Kissell pointed out in his withering review at The Atlantic.
We’ve been taunted throughout the season by visions of a woman who seems to slip back and forth through the Doctor’s timestream, someone who flits over and over again onto the scene just in time, and someone who dies over and over again, the words “run, you clever boy, and remember me” on her lips. She’s tormented the Doctor, who’s spent the entire season grappling with an understanding of who she is while Clara insists that she’s simply an ordinary girl.
Moffat has been criticised before for his limited way of writing female characters and his tendency to ultimately destroy them, making their entire existence about the Doctor; River Song was perhaps the most marked example, but he ruined Amy Pond, and let us not forget What Happened to Donna. So watching Clara’s story unfold—what story there was to unfold, at any rate, in a season that felt more like watching the Doctor on a hamster wheel—was really more like waiting for the other shoe to drop. We knew it was coming, we just didn’t know when.
And on Saturday night, Clara’s moment arrived at last: yet another chance to sacrifice herself that the Doctor might go on, and a definitive explanation for her character’s seemingly supernatural tendency to show up whenever and wherever. Clara, it turns out, is bound up within the Doctor’s timestream after throwing herself into it to undo the sabotage done by the Great Intelligence (note to Time Lords: perhaps you should secure your blobs of timey-wimey lightness better in the future so as to avoid this sort of thing). Which means she’s sentenced to die over and over again for the greater good.
This puts her in the same sort of company as the rest of the Doctor’s female companions, women who are doomed to constantly live in the shadow of the Doctor, and to live effectively for the Doctor. Some viewers seem determined to spin Clara’s ‘choice’ as one made independently, one that shows strength, conviction, and determination, but it’s anything but. She’s forced into a corner by the dawning reality that she’s supposed to be responsible for the Doctor and must be willing to sacrifice herself, tearing her very being into fragments, so that he might go on.
Madame Vastra points out that without the Doctor, the universe would be a much colder, darker place, that he’s been responsible for saving millions and likely billions of lives. Implication: everyone in the Doctor’s party should be prepared to give up everything for him, as he’s a big important man and the sacrifices of individuals are insignificant in the face of that. Thus, there’s no real surprise when Clara ‘selflessly’ plunges into the Doctor’s timestream even though she knows what the consequences will be—in truth, it’s a preordained outcome, as she herself points out, because she’s already done it.
Her entire life is about the Doctor. And we’re supposed to view this as some sort of rah-rah female empowerment storyline somehow? I think not. Not with Moffat’s history, and not with the way it’s played. This is just another case of a woman throwing herself off a cliff for the Doctor, casting aside her own value as an individual human being even though the Doctor’s patronised her, lied to her, and cheated her of an opportunity to truly live.
The Doctor takes advantage of an effective reset button to keep Clara from the truth in ‘Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS,’ for example, skipping back in time to avoid the ramifications of an uncomfortable and complicated conversation where he tries to figure out who Clara is and how she accomplishes the impossible. He also, of course, evades some vicious salvagers in the process, but at the same time, he doesn’t tell Clara what happened and seems to have no interest in volunteering information to her.
On the contrary, he spends a lot of time acting as though he’s much more capable and important than she is, dismissing her despite the fact that she’s demonstrated her grit on a number of occasions (let’s face it, she’s died many more times than the Doctor has, and without the benefit of regeneration). It’s ‘easy mode’ on the TARDIS for her, and don’t ask questions, girl, because your job is simply to be a companion awed by the Doctor’s presence.
This is a show where a nearly 30-year-old woman is still a girl, and where women are sacrificial cannonfodder provided to feed the story and make the world safer for the Doctor. When are we going to get a companion who truly lives and leaves on her own terms? The closest we’ve gotten is Martha, except that she, like so many other of his female companions, is hopelessly in love with him and that becomes the catalyst for her departure: hardly the sign of an independent woman making choices for herself, but rather the mark of yet another pulled under the Doctor’s spell.
Moffat didn’t just insult women this season: he also made dull television, and that’s simply unforgivable. In a sluggish season that went effectively nowhere, none of his characters developed, nothing changed, and above all, nothing showed us that Moffat has rethought his views on women in society.
Doctor Who came back from a brief hiatus this weekend with a rather unremarkable episode revolving around a plot to steal human minds over wifi networks in order to feed a mysterious client. Its main purpose seemed to be to introduce Clara Oswald as a companion rather than occasional character, though she still hasn’t committed to traveling space and time in his ‘snog box,’ as she so quaintly put it.
Christmas Day brought about the start of a new era on Doctor Who, as the Doctor himself reminded us while we met the woman destined to be his new companion along with the revamped TARDIS and title sequence. It might have felt a little abrupt to wipe the slate clean that way after the fall of the Ponds, but instead it felt more like turning over a new leaf, a reminder that change is constant when you’re a Time Lord, and each change is the start of the next great adventure, rather than something to be mourned.
Doctor: River, you know my name. You whispered my name in my ear! There’s only one reason I would ever tell anyone my name. There’s only one time I could. – Forests of the Dead, 4.9
Emperor Winston Churchill: What happened to time?
The Doctor: A woman.
Emperor Churchill: What’s she like? Attractive, I assume.
The Doctor: Hell. In high heels. – The Wedding of River Song, 6.13
The weekend brought us the return of Steven Moffat’s fixation on mothers in ‘Aslyum of the Daleks.’ The Doctor Who creator cannot seem to tear himself away from this theme, circling around it over and over again in a variety of ways. One wonders how he finds new territory to explore when he’s already gone over it so thoroughly.
As awareness of autism spectrum disorders, such as Asperger’s syndrome, in adults increases, characters with autistic traits are becoming increasingly common in television and other media. Temperance Brennan of Bones and Sheldon of Big Bang Theory exemplify this phenomenon, as does Sherlock from the BBC show of the same name.
BBC’s Sherlock has just started running its second season in the US on PBS, and viewers are flocking to watch, particularly after last week’s somewhat controversial Irene Adler storyline. Created by Steven Moffat of Doctor Who fame, the show is brilliant, but shows many of the fatal flaws Moffat’s demonstrated in Who, especially with regards to women. Moffat infamously has trouble grasping social justice-rooted critiques of his work and doesn’t seem to understand why people get so riled up about the women of Who.
Doctor Who fans around the world were far more interested in the landfall of this year’s Christmas special, ‘The Doctor, the Widow, and the Wardrobe,’ than they were in the progress of NORAD Tracks Santa, which is incidentally perhaps one of the best defense-related uses of my tax dollars I can possibly imagine. They gathered ‘round their televisions (or torrents) with glee, made sure their beverage containers were fully supplied, and prepared to settle in for a dose of winter magic on the BBC. They were not disappointed.