Tuesday, September 10, 2013

The Definitive Moffat and Feminism Post

I went back and forth over whether to post this, having drawn it up for my reference. But ultimately, I decided that, as we get closer to the Moffat era (which in many ways starts with Blink, the story with which it became obvious who the next showrunner would be) that I wanted one definitive, centralized post on the subject. (Edit: It's rather closing the barn door after the cows have gone, but since this got way wider linkage than I expected... I don't mean "definitive" in the sense of "the last word ever on the subject." Rather, I mean it as "here is this Doctor Who blog's one-stop definitive comment on feminism in the Moffat era so that, when I get to it in a few months, there's an overall statement in place that provides context for my comments on any given story." So, definitive for the context of TARDIS Eruditorum. Not for, like, the entirety of the cosmos.)

Let’s start with a brief overview of the history of feminism in Doctor Who. It’s never been the case that Doctor Who has been a tremendously misogynistic show. It’s also never been the case that it’s been a terribly feminist one. Instead it has always been somewhere in the middle, but unmistakably behind its times.

It started well enough, with Barbara serving as a terribly strong and iconic female character of the sort the series would go over forty years without seeing again - a middle aged woman who was not there primarily as sex appeal, but who was sensible, practical, and able to carry her own plot on her own terms. But she was paired with Susan, who, by the end of the first season, was such an obedient little peril monkey that she’d successfully avoid breaking out of prison cells because there were rats and would go willingly to the guillotine because she was feeling a bit queasy.

The history of subsequent female companions can hardly be called any better. No matter how lofty their intentions, they all ended up the same way. Let’s take a brief tour of the post-Susan female companions, or, more accurately, their fates. Married off hastily, as a last-minute replacement for a plot where she’d have died; died; died; mind-raped and dumped in London; hastily written out after only appearing in two episodes of her last story, last seen being told to look after the male companion who was also departing; given six episodes of 1960s torture porn before she sobbingly asks to leave because she can’t take it anymore; mind-raped into forgetting all her adventures with the Doctor.

One can only hope the refrigerator is bigger on the inside too. Sure, there are cases where male companions had similar fates, but that's not the point; the point is that all of the female characters suffered ignoble and humiliating fates that cut them down to size. Every single one.

This brings us to the granddaddy of them all, Terrance Dicks. Who writes out a smart and capable female character with no explanation to replace her with a dumb blonde, declaring openly that he considers the companion’s only role to be getting captured and rescued. Dicks goes on to script edit two separate stories that make fun of feminists (The Time Monster and The Time Warrior). Despite all of this he is feted as “Uncle Tewwance” and treated as an untouchable icon of Doctor Who’s history.

The mid-70s show something vaguely resembling an uptick in feminism in Doctor Who, in that you get three companions in a row who were, at least in initial premise, more interesting than the Terrance Dicks model would have allowed. All, of course, have their problems - Leela mostly avoided regressing completely towards peril monkey, though not for lack of trying. That she was dressed in her underwear for a season and a half, however, remains distressing. The two Romanas were more promising, but even a peek behind the scenes reveals how much their screen time and ability to function as strong characters was tied to the dictatorial whims of the show’s star, and the version of Romana that offers a credible view of what a female Doctor might look like is, depressingly, the only one of the era’s companions played by someone who was sleeping with the star. Yes, Ward's Romana is fabulous... but how many other companions could have been just as fabulous if sleeping with the star weren't a necessary step in getting him not to be an abusive ass?

Then comes John Nathan-Turner, who offers a barely reconstructed view of Terrance Dicks’s sexist antics. He quickly pares away the capable characters, jettisons the one capable replacement he came up with (over the objections of Peter Davison, who viewed Nyssa as the one sensible companion his Doctor ever got), and started in a parade of peril monkeys. The nadir is Nicola Bryant, treated appallingly by both scripts and the production team. Things improved slightly in 1988, where Ace serves as a sort of Leela with clothes, but between the script editor somewhat creepily leering at her and the Doctor being written as an unnervingly paternal emotional torturer, it’s tough to call this a win so much as "not quite as bad as what's come before."

Enter the wilderness years, where Doctor Who gets its first ever feminist writers: Paul Cornell and Kate Orman. They do an impressive job where they’re allowed, but even they can’t solve a McGann-era plot about Time Lord rape camps, and it’s telling that when it comes time to dramatically kill off companions it’s, once again, the female ones that bite it while the male companions bounce merrily along.

The new series at least seems to offer some relief, with better defined female characters than we’ve ever seen before. But for a show whose overt model is Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the female characters sure lack autonomy. The Davies era, as we'll see, has its own problems, such that we get Martha and Donna played as Queer Eye for the Straight Girl - fag hags needing their gay best friend to fix them up so they can find a proper man.

Yes, it’s progress, but so was Ace, and Sarah Jane, and a host of other things that were better than what came before without living up to what could reasonably be expected of the culture at the time. The Davies era is telling largely because its model is the genuinely feminist Buffy, and yet it falls so spectacularly short of what that show musters. It's not, as I said, that Doctor Who has a history of misogyny. It's just that it has never had a particularly impressive history of feminism. When reaching for cultural artifacts that represent feminism, Doctor Who has never been the most obvious thing to reach for.

And this is the show that Steven Moffat inherited in 2010. Now, I’m certainly not going to suggest that the Moffat era has no problems whatsoever with sexism and that it gets everything right. It doesn’t, any more than Joss Whedon gets everything right with feminism. A misogynistic culture is going to produce misogynistic cultural artifacts. There’s always a background radiation of misogyny. And what we treat as feminist is usually more accurately described as works that manage to rise above that background radiation.

We should also discuss the nature of rising above. I saw a lovely thing a while ago that suggested a distinction between works that are a product of feminism - that is, stuff that expresses a basically utopian feminist ideology - and works that are expressions of feminism, which try to work through feminist problems and end up being deeply uncomfortable as a result. There’s an important distinction here, in other words, between feminism that tries to respond to the concerns of feminism and create a safe space and feminism that tries to interrogate the existing culture and highlight its flaws. We might also note that Doctor Who, being a show about revolution and not about building a better world, is probably inherently more suited towards the latter.

Which brings us to Moffat. Notably, Moffat starts with what looks like a faithful imitation of the Davies approach. But five episodes in he shifts the game, with the Doctor actively refusing Amy’s interest in him (after a story in which the Doctor confronts his seeming wife) and Amy thereafter focusing her attention on her life with Rory. Which is how she remains for the next two seasons - a woman with her own life that travels with the Doctor sometimes. As does River. As does Clara. This is unheard of in Doctor Who - the idea that the companion might have a life outside the Doctor. For all that Moffat gets stick for defining female characters in terms of the Doctor, we shouldn’t forget that he’s the one who finally came up with a credible response to the problems posed by Sarah Jane’s anguished “you were my life” in School Reunion. The Doctor isn't the life of any of his companions under Moffat.

And often this is the point of the exercise. The entire resolution of The Name of the Doctor hinges on the fact that Clara never has been the solution to the textual problem of Jenna Louise-Coleman’s appearances as other characters, but has in fact been a character in her own right with her own story. That the audience misses this is the point and the trap; the audience is invited to think of Clara as a mystery, when in fact she's been a character all along. The Name of the Doctor is, in fact, a story in which huge amounts of the plot are given to the female characters - has there ever been a Doctor Who story so dominated by female characters? Well, yes - but it was The Crimson Horror a few episodes later.

It’s worth looking at Moffat’s larger career. He is, after all, close friends with Paul Cornell (he was the best man at Cornell’s wedding), and the influence of Cornell on his work is demonstrable. So it certainly isn’t a reach to think that he might share Cornell’s commitment to feminism. His earlier work is often about the damage that masculinity does; his first sitcom is a sitcom about divorce in which his self-insert is an unsympathetic figure, and the audience is meant to understand why his wife left him. Coupling is a sex farce about men and women, yes, but men come under interrogation repeatedly and ruthlessly.

Doctor Who continues in this vein - we see the Doctor’s marriage to River, but the Doctor is not meant as a sympathetic character in this. In Angels Take Manhattan, the Doctor is forced to the edges of his own story, made ineffectual, reduced to shouting impossible demands at River. It’s a very different sort of masculinity that saves the day - Rory’s.

Ah yes, Rory. The figure that critiques of misogyny in Moffat’s Doctor Who love to simply ignore. Because, of course, he is the Moffat era’s actual vision of idealized masculinity - a figure at relative peace with what he has in the world who retains his own identity and saves the day, but is nevertheless wholly devoted to the needs of the woman he loves. At every turn he’s the ideal husband. He’s always willing to do what needs to be done, even when it’s unpleasant and scary. He’s actually older than the Doctor - another fact that nobody bothers to remark upon.

The Doctor, meanwhile, is something else. Something more akin to the defining line of his take on Sherlock - a great man who, if we’re very lucky, might some day be a good one. And much of Moffat’s Doctor Who is about the damage such a man does to the people around him, and specifically to the women around him. From Rory’s anguished “you’re making me like you” to River’s “you learn to hide the damage” to Madame Vastara’s decision to protect the Doctor, Moffat has focused repeatedly not just on the people in the Doctor’s wake, but on their dignity and worth. And while Moffat never wavers on the idea that the Doctor is worth the monsters, to use his own line, he also never wavers on depicting just how bad the monsters can be. This culminates with what is, for my money, the single best depiction of what the “survivor” part of “rape survivor” actually means that I’ve ever seen, as Amy, despite the genuinely horrible things that happen to her, discovers that she still has her life and her loved ones, that she does have a relationship with her daughter, and that she can survive and get on with her life.

And what’s the usual response to this? People who wanted more scenes of her in agony and suffering. Give people “oh look, there is such a thing as someone who isn’t defined by their rape” and they ask to see more rape scenes.

Which is the weird phenomenon of Moffat’s Doctor Who. Despite being the most consistently and investedly feminist take on Doctor Who… ever, actually, it’s routinely pilloried for being anti-feminist. Why?

To some extent, the answer seems to be that Moffat has created a Doctor Who that’s feminist enough to get criticized. The truism that Moffat broke Doctor Who out in America requires some elucidation; by all appearances, he broke it out among female geek fandom. That is, he did what Davies’s Doctor Who couldn’t - sell Doctor Who to the post-Buffy audience.

It may be worth remembering the sheer hatred that Joss Whedon was the target of at the end of Season Six of Buffy. And rightly so, given his use of Tara as a sacrificial lamb and the way in which it pushed Willow into a painfully stereotypical plot of being the crazy lesbian. (Ironically, the hatred there seems to have been what made Amber Benson balk at reprising Tara in Season Seven, denying Whedon the resolution he wanted, which was to bring Tara back and give her and Willow a happy ending. But that’s another story.) Nevertheless, it’s worth remembering that this is a part of feminist fandom - it is unapologetically savage in naming and shaming misogyny in the media it loves.

But we should also note that the reason feminist fandom is even targeting Moffat is that Moffat finally made a version of Doctor Who that speaks meaningfully to feminist fandom at large. If you’ve been to American cons over the course of the new series you know exactly what I mean. I did Dragon*Con in 2009, 2011, and 2012. I can say emphatically that the amount of Doctor Who cosplay skyrocketed from 2009 to 2011. River and Amy were characters people latched onto in a way they never did Martha or Donna or Rose. More stunning, though, is the amount of genderswapped cosplay Doctor Who generated - a raft of genderswapped Doctors, several genderswapped Jacks. And not just genderswapped Elevens and Tens, but Sevens and Twos and Fours. (The genderswapped Two I met in 2011 is firmly my second-favorite piece of cosplay ever, my favorite being the genderswapped Link/Navi I saw in 2012 in which Link was leading her Navi around on a leash with “No you listen” scrawled on his chest. But I digress.)

And no wonder. Because for all of its faults, Moffat’s Doctor Who is doing things no other series is in terms of geek feminism. River is instructive - a middle-aged woman who is confident in her own desires, can act as a Doctor surrogate every bit as much as Romana ever could, and has a strong emotional arc defined by her own choices, even when those choices are made out of love. I mean, holy crap. Is there another character like her in geek media? All I can think of is some of Greg Rucka and Bryan Q Miller’s contributions to the Batman mythos. You know the ones I’m talking about - the ones that were all retconned in The New 52. (And even there, it's not a character that allows a fifty year old woman to play a sexually confident action hero. Is there another show on television that comes close to that?)

But by doing this, and doing it consciously, Moffat suddenly found himself being handed authorship of the 47 years of behind-the-times Doctor Who that preceded him. This is perhaps inevitable, and certainly not a bad thing for the series. The pressure to cast a female Doctor felt genuinely different this time around - I don’t think there were ever people who talked seriously about walking away from the series over a male Doctor before 2013. This is what progress looks like. The next showrunner has to do better than Moffat, and that’s as it should be. But the next showrunner has a much shallower hole to climb out of than Moffat did.

And that’s the thing that usually frustrates me in discussions of sexism in Doctor Who. The decision to treat the flaws of the series as authorial criticisms of the big bad sexist Moffat simply does not match up with the actual history of the series. I don’t think there’s been a single leap forward in feminism in the series larger than what happens between The End of Time Part II (Oh look, the Doctor’s finally managed to marry off his last two companions) and Series Five. The only contender is Romana, really.

Yes, the Moffat era of Doctor Who is sexist. Because it’s television made in a sexist society. But it has things to say about that society, and they are not kind things. I genuinely fail to understand anybody who claims that the Moffat era is sexist in excess of background radiation. This is a show that’s repeatedly telling girls that they can be as cool as the boys, that the boys don’t always know better than them, and that love and independence don’t have to be antagonistic qualities for women. It’s a show that tells rape survivors that it’s OK to not be defined by the terrible things that happen to them. It’s a show that says that women aren’t done being sexy once they get a grey hair and their first wrinkle, and that tells the Doctor off for thinking otherwise.

Yes, it can be better. Yes, it should be better. And yes, when we get to the Moffat era I'll talk about that.

But to me, what's key to note is that the practice of demanding that it be better should be separated from authorial criticism of the person who has done more to make it better than anyone in the history of Doctor Who. And that's why, in the end, I'm hard pressed to treat Moffat as anything other than a massive positive for Doctor Who and feminism.

174 comments:

  1. Brilliant post.

    Back around January 2012, Jon Blum said that when the same man is being pilloried by the Guardian as sexist for Scandal in Bohemia *and* by the Mail as a misandrist for The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe, there's probably something more complicated going on.

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    1. The "more complicated thing going on" is that 99.999% of the times someone is accused of misandry, what's actually happening is "Butthurt men bitching that someone is failing to treat them as Sooper Special Snowflakes"

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    2. Well, yes. And that 0.001% of other times will never be in the Daily Mail.

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    3. Is it ok to pillory TDTW&TW as just...bad?

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    4. I wouldn't call The Doctor,Widow,Wardrobe feminist or misandrist. If anything it wasn't good for feminism. It wasn't overtly negative, but to reinforce this male/female binary in a way where womanhood and motherhood are both upheld as going together to form an ideal model of strength is not good. And by placing male against female, it accidentally places maleness in opposition to parenting.

      Which is odd for Moffat, since he has had stories about fatherhood (most obviously, Craig).

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  3. One of the things I love about this excellent post is its clear-eyed assessment of the series' past. It has always befuddled me when the anti-Moffat critics lay out their list of his alleged sins--by describing things that have pretty much always been true of the show for 50 years. I want to ask them, if these issues are deal-killers for you, how did you ever start watching Doctor Who in the first place?

    As this post beautifully argues, and I wholeheartedly agree, the Moffat era has been better than that past in so many demonstrable ways.

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    2. My key problem with many of these critics is that so many of them rave uncritically about the Davies era in comparison when any reasonably fair comparison would have to allow that when it comes to the depiction of women, in several key ways they're really not that far off. Certainly, you do a side-by-side comparison between the Moffat era and the Davies era, I'm willing to bet that there's just as many problematic aspects to the Davies era as the Moffat era, even if the ways in which they're problematic are a little bit different.

      Not saying that the Moffat era doesn't have it's problems at all, or that the Davies era doesn't do a lot of things worthy of praise. And I can't say I agree wholeheartedly with what the article's saying. But the unquestioning love that the Davies era gets from these critics really does make it seem like it's just the same old stuck-in-the-past fan-complaining about how their favourite isn't around anymore and the new guy's Ruined It Forever, except instead of tedious anoraky fan-wanking this time the weapons of choice are self-righteousness and using social justice as an excuse for petty point-scoring.

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    3. @Scott: And I think that's largely the point. It's not that Moffat's era lacks problems (as Phil says many times) or that Davies's doesn't represent progress -- it's that Moffat receives far more vitriol than any previous era, despite the fact that every previous era is just as problematic if not more so than the current one.

      But I'm not so sure that the unquestioning love of the Davies era isn't a matter of being "stuck in the past." To some extent, sure, but by and large I don't think that's the case. I think there's two other factors to consider.

      First, Moffat is avowedly feminist. Not just in the, "Sure, I'm feminist," sort of way, but rather that this is something he actively puts out in the world. This position begs for critique -- is he really as feminist as he claims? And more to the point, does his work really advance the cause of feminism? Davies never called attention to his feminism in such a way, and hence never invited such a critique. I suspect that if Moffat never called attention to his feminism, his era would receive more feminist praise, and recognized for the incremental step of progress that it is.

      Secondly, and I think this might be even more telling, is that Moffat consciously plays with problematic tropes and attempts to subvert them. For example, it's a trope to define supporting characters in terms of the lead. Moffat's companions are -- more than anywhere else in the show -- deliberately mirrored with the Doctor. This is done in order to subvert the character of the Doctor himself, and that he has this effect on others, but it creates the side-effect of making the supporting characters less self-defined than they otherwise would be. In essence, it's sacrificing character for meta-commentary, and it comes at the expense of the companions, who are primarily female.

      Not that Davies' characters don't suffer in a similar way, but he handles this trope differently. Rose, Martha, and Donna aren't mirrors of the Doctor, not at first at least. Rather, they are defined by their romantic inclinations towards him -- even Donna, yes, because she's defined by her lack of such an inclination. Over time, though, they acquire Doctorish traits -- Rose takes on Doctorish roles in Season Two, and Donna becomes "the DoctorDonna"; their character arcs are largely motivated by the Doctor himself. (Martha, who is already a doctor, resists -- but still becomes a John the Baptist for her Christ stand-in.)

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    4. Okay, I'd rather like some sources here, because I've never seen Moffat getting nearly as much criticism as Davies. Even the people who didn't spend five years screaming homophobic rants about Davies were all shouting "THanks for bringing doctor who back but please leave now because you're destroying it," while you can't so much as hint that Moffat might have some backwards sexual ideas without a hundred people screaming at you for daring the impugn the honor of the most honorable man to ever have honor. Five years of "Davies is destroying Doctor Who by turning it into a soap opera full of chavs and trying ot turn children queer!" replaced by absolute hero worship of Moffatt that can brook no dissent

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    5. Please note: I never said that no one in the history of Doctor Who fandom ever criticised Russell T. Davies, nor that Russell T. Davies himself never received a lot of ridiculous and fatuous criticism (particularly from the other side of the fandom spectrum), nor that all of the criticism Moffat receives is inherently wrong or easily dismissed.

      I also feel I have to point out that I did suggest that a lot of this is retroactive (although I have to concede that Jane raises some good points that challenge that), and that it is partly a case of a creator's faults being retroactively downplayed once he's no longer around and thus the subject of quite as much vitriol.

      As for sources, well, to be honest it's a bit late in the day where I am to be trawling the internet looking for specific examples just to satisfy an argument on a comment thread (although if memory serves, having a bit of a wander through certain regions of Tumblr alone would, from my personal experience, provide plenty of examples). I will respectfully suggest, however, that the very presence of a blog proudly titled "STFU Moffat", coupled with a healthy amount of criticism of Moffat in the comments section of this very essay, would suggest that the claim that we are currently existing within an environment of 'absolute hero worship of Moffat that can brook no dissent' is itself something of a questionable assertion. At the very least, it's no less an exaggeration than anything I may have said, and if you're demanding sources of me, well, I'd have to turn it back around on you there.

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    6. Ross:
      http://stfu-moffat.tumblr.com/

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    7. Since Mr Moffat became showrunner, he's come in for a fair degree of criticism, and it shows more harshly because from 2005-2009 he pretty much had universal praise. As with anyone in charge, some it's constructive and accurate and some of it's ill-considered bile.

      Jane's "Moffat receives far more vitriol than any previous era" can charitably be taken to mean 'the current era receives more vitriol', which is always the case, because it's current. If the meaning was 'Moffat is uniquely a victim', it must be through former-praise-tinted glasses. The level of vitriolic attack balanced against vitriolic defence is far more in Mr Moffat's favour than...

      Actually, the tilt is more in Mr Moffat's favour than any 'lead producer' since organised fandom was born. Look at the only three other long-term leads behind the scenes on TV Doctor Who since Philip Hinchcliffe (the dawn of organised fandom, and still sainted): Graham Williams, John Nathan-Turner and Russell T Davies all had to withstand a far more unified fan "X must go!" hate.

      Throwing ill-considered bile from either side is very off-putting, so it'll be a while before history can judge whether the more even balance of bile today is fandom starting to grow up and not just shout hate at whoever's in charge or merely growing into more even camps of fixed antagonistic views...

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    8. Sorry -- to be clear, specifically, Moffat's received more "feminist vitriol" than any other producer, despite the fact that his era is no more problematic in this regard than any other era preceding him, and in general is far more feminist than any other era, save for RTD's -- and even here, it's par, with different issues coming to the fore that have more to do with their storytelling devices than their philosophies per se.

      Generally speaking, though, of course Alex is right that every "current" producer receives vitriol for his work, at least since the advent of professional fandoms. Even Hinchcliffe's era received ill-considered bile -- the rant against The Deadly Assassin for changing Time Lord mythology, and the invectives of Mary Whitehouse (not really a fan, but still) for the violence in the show; these complaints have, in hindsight, been dismissed within fandom itself. Williams for being too silly -- another reaction against change. JNT for general incompetence; not unfair, given it was his first shot at showrunning, and he wasn't really a writer, but never in proportion to his actual sins.

      I think the hatred expressed against Davies is worth exploring, versus the kind of hate that Moffat receives. On the one hand, Davies was scorned for successfully bringing in soap-opera tropes to the show, which again is more along the lines of doing things differently. But the other kind of hate Davies got was for "the gay agenda." Notably, it's not that he wasn't "gay enough." No, the common complaint was that he was "shoving it down our throats," though the incidence of queer characters in Who wasn't particularly common, and other eras have been just as camp if not more so in their aesthetics. The fact that he's openly gay, it seems, invited this particular criticism.

      But there's an important distinction to make here -- Davies is gay, but Moffat is not a woman. So the approach taken to criticizing their respective takes on their declared progressive issues is practically reversed; Davies is too gay, while Moffat isn't feminist enough. I don't know if this is because feminist theory and queer theory have different approaches themselves, but I think it's very interesting nevertheless.

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    9. It really does seem a pointless task trying to pin down, quantify, or just plain discuss how much fan vitriol a current showrunner is getting, in comparison to a previous one. The things are so subjective and so misrepresentative.

      I don't go anywhere near Gallifrey Base any more, but round about Series 2 I was deep in it, and the "RTD Must Go" War Cry was in full force. It hadn't yet turned into "Moff for Showrunner!", that was still a series away, but it was there. RTD was hated. RTD had ruined Who with his Gay Agenda.

      I said it was subjective, and it was, depending on how much you noticed it and how much you let it affect you. I also said it was misrepresentative, because it was a very vocal minority who were shouting the loudest. This in itself is a subjective viewpoint, but you did tend to see the same people saying the same things (and the same people arguing back at them - resulting in the usual and inevitable labels of "haters" and "lovers").

      The thing is, RTD wasn't universally hated, but but fans on the forums would comment that they were sick of the "RTD hate" out there, and other fans would take this as evidence that there in fact was a groundswell of hate for RTD. Some fans would even start to agree with this viewpoint, taking the cited reasons as their own. And so the view that RTD was ruining the show and that Moff would save it began to perpetuate. This despite the fact that not only did the vast majority of viewing public love the show, but the majority of fans who voted in online polls did too. (If I may digress for a second, Christ, some online fans really are f*****g sheep sometimes!)

      But the evidence for this only really exists in the transitory cloud of past forum posts. It's so difficult to retrieve any concrete evidence that this actually went on, other than more recent forum posts that mention it. Gallifrey Base has been revamped so many times that the archive of 2007/2008 is now lost in the past, but even if it wasn't, how would anyone be able to dig out a definitive snapshot of what was going on? You had to live it, you had to be there.

      But the Moff took over and everything was fine for a while, but then (probably about a series or 2 in) the whole thing started again, and other Dr Who writers were being held up as the future saviours of a programme that Steven Moffat had now ruined. Except this time there seemed little sign of the Moff going, and even less sign of Mark Gatiss replacing him. Plus Gatiss was problematic anyway, as unlike the Moff, a vocal subset of fandom already hate Gatiss.

      So where are we now? Every current series is hated by the VFM (the Vocal Fandom Minority), who continue to claim that it is getting steadily worse (God, Series 1 must have been sublime!), that the only answer is to replace the showrunner, and the last one should never have gone. Interestingly the "Bring Back-" trope was conspicuously absent during the RTD era, unless meant ironically ("Bring back Cartmel/Dicks/Hinchcliffe").

      If you sit back and look critically at it, it's a Madhouse you know, and we really shouldn't take it seriously at all. And yet we do.

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    10. "God, Series 1 must have been sublime!)"

      Well, really, has anything matched the sheer quality of An Unearthly Child (part 1)? All downhill from there! ;-)

      Seriously, the history of Doctor Who is that it benefits from changing the showrunner regularly. JN-T's worst period was after he wanted to quit and before he handed it off to Andrew Cartmel, and that's close to a consensus view. Barry Letts is generally thought to have dropped in quality as his tenure went on. Even late-period Verity Lambert is generally seen as a decline from early-period. Most of the showrunners had tenures of three years or less.

      So perhaps it's unsurprising that every producer starts out very popular and gets less popular as time goes on; their output usually does get worse as they use up their best ideas early.

      I think fans who are newer to the show may have a "bring back X" reaction, whereas the longer-standing fans may have realized that that won't help.

      It is interesting that there was an "obvious heir" last time and there certainly isn't this time. I wouldn't want Moffat to stay on as long as JN-T was forced to and I think he doesn't want to either.

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  4. Hmm.

    I won't respond to the whole thing (bizarrely, in the middle of writing something about Doctor Who and the Bechdel Test at the mo), but I find myself in a mixture of 'Yes, but...' and 'Oh, not again'. No writer gets it right all the time, and you're right to find a redemptive reading, but I find it very offputting that you choose only one person to redeem by pouring criticism on everyone else. And surely the only reason you can't see any particularly Moffat sexist tropes is because you've never read your own comment threads, which frequently buzz with them.

    My main problem with what you've written is that you dismiss every other period of Doctor Who in a one-liner and blaming the writers, then defend Moffat at length, ignore all the counter-argument and say that absolutely anyone problematic must be society's fault. Now, you don't have to be rabidly in the other direction to think, hmm, not much of a balance there.

    I do think Moffat's writing for Rory (a development of his typical male character from Coupling on, but more nuanced) is a deliberate and positive statement from him, though I ground my teeth at his also typical 'But in the end, all this feminism is just playing and we must grow up and stop all that' of Mr Pond reverting to Mrs Williams, just as I was so pleased that at last someone wrote an Irene Adler who wasn't a villain and who wasn't interested in Sherlock... Oh.

    But I don't want to go on at length, so here we go, hackles rise, I've been accused of being 'single issue' in a massive political row this week so I may as well be here too. I find it disturbing and disheartening that you so frequently reduce gay contributors to the series to 'Oh, but he's gay and therefore all gays...' but never, ever, 'Oh but he's straight and therefore all straight men...'

    Seriously? Martha as fag hag because the gays? Like your reductionism of 2005 Captain Jack to "camp" - actually, no - because the actor's gay, but not mentioning the campery of River Song because that doesn't fit? Not suggesting that so many of Mr Moffat's female characters fall into the identical strong-supertittilating-need my man when the chips fall mould and that this might just conceivably have anything to do with his personal view of sexuality, which isn't in fact the same as all straight men because such reductionism would be ludicrous and insulting? As was Moffat's stated message through Doctor Who that all men should grow up and find a girlfriend, because really there's only one proper way to live your own life and that coincidentally is his?

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    1. I think his goal with this post was to emphasize the sexist issues that already existed in Doctor Who, because a lot of people act like Doctor Who was a feminist show that Steven Moffat drove into the ground by being a misogynist, which isn't overall a fair assessment in my opinion.

      I agree with the "Mrs Pond/Mrs Williams" thing, but that was written by Toby Whithouse, who has written other problematic scripts, most notably an incredibly transphobic scene in "Greeks Bearing Gifts."

      Oh, and I also totally agree with being irritated with Irene Adler as well.

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    2. @Alex: Yes to all of this. This is a case in which I find myself in disagreement with just about everything written by our host. It's a terribly reductionist view of the past 50 years, all in support of one person.

      Who was "mind-raped and dumped in London?" Barbara? How is being told to look after Ben a "ignoble and humiliating fate?" Yet poor Sarah Jane barely gets a mention.

      I'm not all that interested in whether Moffat is feminist or anti-feminist; the problems with the Moffat era are so much larger than that. (If anything, I'm more concerned about his having had the Doctor meet all of his potential sexual interests as children.) But that's a story for another day.

      I like Clara, but I don't get how she was "a character all along." She was largely a cypher and a placeholder until the Mystery of the Impossible Girl could be resolved. I think that she could become a very good companion, but the evidence is not yet in.

      As for the others, Amy rapidly devolved into an unpleasant, emasculating presence who treated the men in her life as appendages. And River's relationship with the childlike Eleven often struck me as borderline predatory.

      Again, my own concerns about the Moffat era lie elsewhere, but one pretty much has to dismiss out of hand everything that came before to render him as a feminist.

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    3. "Who was "mind-raped and dumped in London?""

      Dodo, at the end of "The War Machines".

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    4. So, Dodo counts for two? I thought she was "hastily written out after only appearing in two episodes of her last story."

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    5. I guess so; remember, the reason she was hastily written out after only appearing in two episodes of her last story was because she was mind-raped.

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    6. (Not in reality, of course, but you know what I mean.)

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    7. I thought it was because Jackie Lane's contract expired mid-season and wasn't renewed?

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    8. Argh. Just had Blogger eat my comment mostly written, so this is going to be a shortened version of it.

      I can see your point. I don't think that's what I've done, and I think I've been very careful in approaching it specifically to avoid that. But there's a specific clarification I should probably have already made, and will make when I actually tackle the Martha issue in the season finale.

      To wit, what I'm interested in when it comes to how sexual identity has impacted Doctor Who is not so much a matter of the personal identities of various creators as it's a matter of the subcultures that have sprung up around those identities. Not all gay men are part of gay male culture, and there's no inherent reason why being gay makes gay male culture appeal. (Indeed, gay male culture largely exists because of historical oppression, and it's increasingly looking like the many civil rights victories that have been won are weakening it as more and more gay people feel like they can come out without allying with a specific subculture.)

      Davies is a part of gay culture - Queer as Folk demonstrates that. I think the ways in which his Doctor Who reflects values and prejudices of that culture is fair game. But that is distinct from being gay, and I both should and will put some paragraphs to that effect in next time I talk about it.

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    9. Oh, and Polly was also hastily ditched after appearing in two episodes of her last story, with her departure scene filmed along with the location work so that she didn't have to come in for the last four weeks of The Faceless Ones. Note that the list is separated by semicolons, not commas.

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    10. Actually, no, wrong, my bad; "hastily written out after only appearing in two episodes of her last story" also refers to Polly, I believe.

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    11. .... Aaaaaaand Phil corrected us just as I was writing my hastily-realized correction.

      I'll get my coat.

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    12. @David: So, Dodo counts for two? I thought she was "hastily written out after only appearing in two episodes of her last story."

      No, that's Polly. The list is delimited by semicolons, so "hastily written out after only appearing in two episodes of her last story, last seen being told to look after the male companion who was also departing" is all Polly.

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    13. The problems of fixing breakfast while writing...

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    14. Re: Callum, although Mr Whithouse's de-Ponding as part of the Doctor's Fenric-style 'you must lose your faith in me' was problematic, and I said so at the time, I found the end of the Ponds as written by Mr Moffat much more so: they put away childish things and all the play-acting that women can be equal and live their Angel-sent lives with the man the important one.

      I've not called Mr Moffat a misogynist - I don't know him personally, and his writing isn't - but I do think his work is problematic in a lot of ways, and saying 'All previous Who was much worse so be grateful' is really not the way to defend him. It's the most strawmannery I've ever seen Phil write, and all it's done is wound people up.

      For example, I think Phil's got a great point about River as a middle-aged woman action hero. I put the more problematic case about her. The truth is that she's both, as are a lot of characters, and pretending of either a character or a real person that here's something good therefore they are perfect / here's something bad therefore they are irredeemable is why I didn't really feel like coming back to this thread...

      Phil's experience of US fandom being much more breakthrough-female since Mr Moffat became showrunner is an interesting one. I found the same, very heavily, on Russell taking over: there had always been women viewers and women fans, but the BBC largely ignored them because they didn't fit the narrative. Russell made a very blatant effort to alter that, and the UK viewing figures and new generation of younger UK fans bore that out.

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    15. Re: Phil, I find it quite difficult to see how you've been "very careful" here. You dismissed Russell - literally - with two lines of gay gay gay gay gay stereotype gay therefore useless at women gay gay gay.

      Your writing repeatedly pushes gay men into stereotypes and dismisses them, but this was the most blatant example.

      I don't know if you really think you are exploring "gay culture" or if it's a blind spot, but if you were commenting on anyone else's writing that did the same for women, Jews, black people, straight men - well, you'd call them on it. Gay men are the only group you repeatedly reduce in this way. Consider yourself called.

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    16. Alex: In what sense does Amy becoming a well-known and beloved author mean she puts away her things and makes the man important? At what point in their home life do we EVER see Amy's career as less than Rory's or secondary to his needs? I can't think of one bit of evidence.

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    17. I did waffle on this piece, largely because it was going to require summarizing a lengthy chunk of the yet-to-be-written Sound of Drums/Last of the Time Lords post in which I intend to make the Martha critique in detail. Much like the Terrance Dicks material is quite harsh here, but balanced out by the rest of the blog.

      But "Your writing repeatedly pushes gay men into stereotypes and dismisses them, but this was the most blatant example." Really? I'm racking my brain here, and I don't see it. I really don't. I mean, I've just gone through and looked over the posts where I've dealt substantively with gay culture, and the idea that it's a dismissal is... I mean, certainly I don't see it. I see the argument I thought I was writing, which starts in the Pertwee era and traces its way through the rest of the classic series to show why the links between the series and gay culture existed in the first place. That develops in my wholesale embrace of the "frock" aesthetic from the wilderness years, which I credit Davies with a large part of, resulting in the Queer as Folk post, in which I proclaim an aesthetic hedonism that serves as the explicit antidote to the banal sterility of the late wilderness years.

      Yes, in the new series I've been setting up a critique of the Davies era that is based on its paralleling of a misogynistic trope common in gay culture. I've talked about it in Greeks Bearing Gifts and The Runaway Bride. It'll get at least one more mention, as I said, in Sound of Drums/Last of the Time Lords, where it'll sit alongside a lengthy discussion of how brilliant that story's slashing of the Doctor and the Master is.

      So what I can find, at least, is two parts of an as-of-yet-unfinished critique into one specific gay man who I've previously praised at length, and praised for specifically gay culture based reasons. This does not seem to me to come close to "Your writing repeatedly pushes gay men into stereotypes and dismisses them, but this was the most blatant example."

      Are there more examples? I would be interested in knowing what you think this repeated pushing is. Because this specific line of critique of Davies aside, I'm hard pressed to think of a gay man whose work I've dismissed for reasons having anything to do with stereotypes.

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    18. At what point in their home life do we EVER see Amy's career as less than Rory's or secondary to his needs? I can't think of one bit of evidence.

      Well, at the beginning of the run, Rory's a nurse, while Amy is not a police officer, as we're initially led to believe, but a kiss-o-gram. One of these careers is not like the other...

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    19. "last seen being told to look after the male companion who was also departing".

      But if Ben had been told to look after the female companion who was also departing, wouldn't that have been just as problematic?

      Someone's got to say the line.

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    20. Okay, I admit that I missed the lone comma in the field of semicolons. It's doubly confusing because the previous companion in the list also left two episodes into her final story.

      To me, resorting to such a long phrase as "hastily written out after only appearing in two episodes of her last story, last seen being told to look after the male companion who was also departing" suggests stretching a point to in order to fit the criticism that "every single one" of the female companions "suffered ignoble and humiliating fates that cut them down to size."

      Well, every single one if you stop at Zoe (or Liz), think that being told to look after someone is "humiliating," and ignore the two male companions during that same era who shared those fates. (And no, I'm not "mansplaining," just pointing out that this is a very selective accounting.)

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    21. "Polly, you really don't have anything special to do on your own now that your headed home. Why don't you go marry Ben and take care of his home? Maybe have some babies? Make sure he doesn't get into too much trouble...he's the one who gets to be successful!"

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    22. I'm pretty sure Moffat doesn't intend Amy to be seen as unpleasant or emasculating. I think he intends her to be assertive.

      The usual criticism of misogyny is that behaviour that in a man is accepted as assertive in a woman is stigmatised as unpleasant or emasculating. Yet when Moffat writes women whom he intends to be sympathetic and assertive and his critics find emasculating and unpleasant they attribute the misogyny to Moffat.

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    23. I'm pretty sure he doesn't intend Amy to be seen that way either. And I'm not accusing him of misogyny. Not in the least. As I've said, I've got issues with Moffat, but that's not one of them.

      That said, I do see Amy that way, and it's not because she's assertive or because I'm a man who wants women to know their place. (And if you think otherwise, I've got a wife who would strongly disagree with you on that score.) It's because she treats Rory and the Doctor as secondary characters in her own personal narrative. To be fair, they allow it. ("Rory Pond.") Rory can steadfastly guard a box for 2,000 years without any acknowledgement from his beloved. (I can't recall, does he ever call her on that? I'd think "2,000 years guarding a box" would trump most complaints.)

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    24. "Steven's journey eventually ends during the The Savages, when he decides to accept the responsibility of leading the combined society of Savages and Elders that is attempting a lasting peace. His life beyond that is not explored in the series."
      "The Doctor seems to think that Ben will become an Admiral and that Polly will look after Ben, but it is unclear if this is a prediction or simply wishing them well."
      The difference is that there are two male companions who are going off to do interesting stuff without dying, versus none for the female companions.

      @David Thiel: guarding her for 2000 years makes up for shooting her dead. He does bring it up in Asylum of the Daleks, when they're separated. In her own personal narrative, they ARE secondary characters, given that it's, um, her personal narrative.

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    25. I can't recall, does he ever call her on that? I'd think "2,000 years guarding a box" would trump most complaints.

      Yes, in Asylum of the Daleks. It's a... It's not a scene where Amy comes off well.

      RORY: It's arithmetic. It'll take longer with me because we both know, we've always known, that. Amy, the basic fact of our relationship is that I love you more than you love me, which today is good news because it might just save both of our lives.
      AMY: How can you say that?
      RORY: Two thousand years, waiting for you outside a box. Don't say it isn't true, you know it's true. Give me your arm. Amy!
      (Amy slaps Rory.)
      AMY: Don't you dare say that to me. Don't you ever dare.
      RORY: Amy, you kicked me out.
      AMY: You want kids. You have always wanted kids. Ever since you were a kid. And I can't have them.
      RORY: I know.
      AMY: Whatever they did to me at Demons Run, I can't ever give you children. I didn't kick you out. I gave you up.
      RORY: Amy, I don't
      AMY: Don't you dare talk to me about waiting outside a box, because that is nothing, Rory, nothing, compared to giving you up.

      Because nothing says "No, I love you more" than giving up on the guy with no explanation after he waited most of recorded human history to be with you, because you think he should go have children with someone else, completely missing that being with you is what makes him happy, not anything else. Oh, and hit him again while you're at it. That's how we know your memories aren't totally erased.

      The Doctor does refer to Rory as Mr. Pond at the beginning of this episode, though. Make of that what you will.

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    26. Granted, Rory comes off as terribly passive-aggressive here too. But I'd argue he has the more defensible point, given the events of the past 20 some episodes.

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    27. Phil, I do get a sense sometimes that your discussions of gay culture and gay men in particular are often informed more by received ideas of what those things are like than by real-life experience with either of them. For all I know, you have plenty of real-life experience with both, but I don't think it always comes across. I don't typically feel offended by it (at most, a bit alienated, as with your essay on the "queerness" of Turlough), but then I'm in the middle of the Kinsey scale and in a relationship that appears heterosexual so I might not be the best judge.

      I don't blame you if your assumptions about and ideas of gay men come more from Queer Theory than Practice. But I continue to be really struck by the difference in the way you talk about gay men and the way you talk about transgender people, and if nothing else I'm glad Alex opened up the topic for discussion.

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    28. P.S. By "received ideas" I don't necessarily mean lowest-common-denominator stereotypes. If yours are stereotypes (and it's not for me to say, really), they are at least the stereotypes floating around academia and not the ones floating around the Westboro Baptist Church. :)

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    29. @mengu: I'll be honest here, I have little familiarity with the specifics of "The Faceless Ones," as I've only watched the extant episodes. Yeah, that's a problematic line of dialogue, though I don't know that it deserves the same level of scorn as the rest of the list.

      The other male character I referred to was Jamie. As you note, Steven comes to a good end. So do Ian and Turlough. Harry was perfunctorily written out, and never even got a goodbye from the Doctor and Sarah in "The Android Invasion." Adric, of course, lived a fully and happy life. Which is, again, not to "mansplain." There aren't enough data points to even make a valid comparison, even if I wanted to.

      @mengu, Spoilers: Thanks for the reminder about "Asylum of the Daleks." I'm pretty sure that I punched the air at that moment. (I thought that it would've been more appropriate to bring it up in "The Girl Who Waited." Granted that 36 years alone fending off Handbots would be terrible to endure, but it pales in comparison to 2,000 years sitting next to a box.)

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    30. Jamie gets a bad end, Ben and Steven get good ends. All the female companions from Vicki to Zoe get bad ends. That's the comparison that matters.

      By the way Rory shot and killed Amy. Not his choice, but he killed her. And then he chose to spend 1894 years guarding the box which only opened when she touched it as a kid or by sonic, and basically showed no signs of actually being in danger.
      Nothing says I love you more like thinking that after all they've given up for you, they deserve to have a chance at the family they've wanted since they were a kid, even when it means your own unhappiness.

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    31. Well, two thousand years which featured countless wars, including the on screen mention of the Last Centurion defending the box from London bombings. It was hardly just sitting on a park bench nearby for a long time.

      From The Big Bang:
      "According to legend, wherever the Pandorica was taken, throughout its long history, the Centurion would be there, guarding it. He appears as an iconic image in the artwork of many cultures, and there are several documented accounts of his appearances, and his warnings to the many who attempted to open the box before its time. His last recorded appearance was during the London blitz in 1941. The warehouse where the Pandorica was stored was destroyed by incendiary bombs, but the box itself was found the next morning, a safe distance from the blaze. There are eyewitness accounts from the night of the fire of a figure in Roman dress, carrying the box from the flames. Since then, there have been no sightings of the Lone Centurion, and many have speculated that if he ever existed, he perished in the fires of that night, performing one last act of devotion to the box he had pledged to protect for nearly two thousand years."

      She loved him so much she couldn't say "I can't have kids. Do you still want to be with me?" rather than booting him out the house, divorcing him, hitting him during arguments, and damning herself to suffer in silence because she doesn't want to confront the problem? I like Amy a lot as a character, but it's very hard to spin this incident in her favor.

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    32. I actually find Asylum of the Daleks's handling of Amy and Rory's relationship to be one of its strong points.

      No matter how much waiting they did for each other, their relationship up until this point still had a fatal flaw - they were incapable of communicating honestly and openly with each other.

      Yes, Amy does not come across well. But Rory comes across no better (the sequence in Amy's dressing room underlines the fact that neither Amy nor Rory should be fully sympathetic or unsympathetic). And this is significant, because part of being open and honest in a relationship is not being afraid to be ugly in front of your partner*.

      We all have ugly thoughts. If they're repressed, they can never be healed. By sharing their ugliness, Amy and Rory allow each other the chance to dismiss it. These events are not about 'correcting a divorce', but about building their relationship to a new point - a point where we can believe that they can spend the rest of their lives together and be happy to do so.


      *I should emphasise, because it is so easy to have meaning misinterpreted when typing over the Internet, that I intend a clear distinction between being ugly and being cruel. The latter has no place in any relationship.

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    33. @Spoilers: Or suggesting adoption or surrogacy. Or perhaps talking to her son-in-law who happens to have access to all of time and space and might be able to take her someplace with the technology to reverse the damage. (Nanogenes, anyone?) Or maybe, just maybe, living like the millions of married couples who, through choice or for medical reasons, do not have children and who yet somehow manage.

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    34. I wonder along with encyclops if queer theory isn't part of the problem here, not there's a single theory to be articulated here. ("Fag hag" in particular strikes me as a queer theory concept that's actively harmful to just about any possible conversation.)

      I also want to object to the idea of River-as-predator of a childlike Eleven. Despite Matt Smith's youth, his Doctor is one of the oldest and weariest; most of his childishness is a front. An 1100 year old referring to a much younger girlfriend as Mrs. Robinson pretty clearly knows what he's doing, and it's not being strictly serious but it's also dodging the issues that haunted Ten through banter. Or trying to, at least.

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    35. re:Asylum

      I tend to concur with Bennett's reading, which is well in line with Moffat's larger themes and concerns. The question isn't whether Amy or Rory should be "one up" in the relationship; that one-up-manship is toxic to a relationship, and neither of them is "right" in it. Rather, what's going on here is a basic failure to communicate, which stems from their repressive psychologies and insecurities.

      Amy learned to repress herself after a childhood of not being believed, not to mention being abandoned by both her parents and the Doctor. She sabotages her own relationship out of that dynamic, which is a way of maintaining control without having to own up to her own fears. She can't be abandoned if she's the one doing the leaving.

      Rory, in the meantime, represses his own self-doubts as well as his own resentments in the relationship -- on the one hand he struggles to believe he's up to Amy's standards (as evidenced by the insecurity he shows in Eleventh Hour) as well as feeling he's not gotten enough credit for his "waiting" and putting up with Amy's baggage.

      That these characters are so repressed is both clever and a cheat. It's clever because we really haven't seen much in the way of this psychology on the show before, and makes it much more imperative that the stories themselves function metaphorically to reveal their underlying psyches; some stories are more obvious than others, like Amy's Choice, which is entirely built on this premise. On the other hand, it's a cheat, because it lets the show get on with its action-adventure stories without spending so much time engaging in the soap opera tropes of the previous era.

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    36. "Well, every single one if you stop at Zoe (or Liz), think that being told to look after someone is "humiliating," and ignore the two male companions during that same era who shared those fates. (And no, I'm not "mansplaining," just pointing out that this is a very selective accounting.)"

      Except that it seems to me that the sentence in question is referring specifically to the 60s-era companions- not every past companion in the entire show. It's a little unclear in the wording, but the fact that he only specifically mentions the fates of the 60s-era companions and then follows up the paragraph with "This brings us to the granddaddy of them all, Terrance Dicks..." definitely implies that the critique at that point is restricted solely to the show during the 60s.

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    38. @David A: The problem with it for me is that doesn't play as a front; this Doctor comes off much of the time as someone so childlike that he thinks girls (well, human girls) are icky. During the majority of their on-screen encounters, he displays neither sexual nor romantic interest in River. (Imagine how their one-sided interactions would play if their genders were swapped.) "The Name of the Doctor" was the first time I actually bought them as a couple.

      @T.: Yes, I understand that it refers to the '60s companions. My point is that for the "every single one" argument to work, one has to set arbitrary limits, and even then it's a stretch to include Polly.

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    39. Childlike yes, but I'd dispute "thinks girls are icky" or "displays [no] sexual interest". I'd say his behavior is more like a preteen boy who's just on the cusp of discovering sexuality.

      I had a coworker some years back who described that stage with the rather charming description, "It's like, you're going along, being all interested in math and science and doing good in school, and then you wake up one day and all of the sudden whenever you try to do long division or answer a question about the battle of Gettysburg, suddenly everything in your brain is replaced by 'BOOBS!' over and over all the time for about the next ten years."

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    40. I'll retract the "girls are icky" thing. I was thinking of the scene in "Flesh and Stone" in which Amy throws herself at the Doctor, and having just watched it again, I'll agree that it doesn't play as I remembered it. (Though he does object to her on the grounds of being human, which was apparently not so much a problem for Ten.)

      I won't attempt to claim that Eleven shows no sexual interest in anyone, if for no other reason that I'm too lazy to scour every episode. It's just that for most of their on-screen relationship, he does not reciprocate or even appear to welcome River's sexual aggressiveness. If the TARDIS were a workplace environment, this discussion would be about what constitutes harassment.

      I'm not sure that likening him to a preteen boy disputes my premise.

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    41. One more thing that just occurred to me in the shower...if one applied the same approach to the Moffat era as was done to the '60s female companions, you'd have "dead; sexually violated and mutilated, then dead; and twice-dead-and-counting." Which proves nothing, except perhaps that--if you add in all the times that Rory died--Steven Moffat really likes killing people.

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    42. Don't we have "Dead and lingering, Dead of Old Age, Dead of Old Age, Still a Companion?"

      The things Dr. Sandifer lists happened in their final stories.

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    43. Dead's dead. And so long as we're splitting hairs, it was indeed the final story for those two iterations of Clara.

      Which just goes to show, so long as one is being arbitrary and reductionist, you can make anyone look bad.

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    44. I'm not really seeing how the statement is being arbitrary and reductionist- "every single one" refers specifically to every female companion in the sixties post-Susan. Polly may be a bit of a stretch, but when she's the only companion in that period who is the stretch it doesn't really invalidate the argument much.

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    45. Arbitrary because there's no reason to stop at the '60s companions except that the argument begins to break down once you hit Jo and Sarah and Romana and Nyssa and Tegan.

      Reductionist because it looks only at one small set of data--the final episodes of each of this particular group of characters--without considering how they were treated over the rest of their time on the show, what outside circumstances led to their departures, etc. If you just say "died, died, mind-raped then dumped," it says very little, just as it did when I attempted to apply similar criteria to the Moffat years.

      It's a weak argument in support of a weak premise.

      Look, folks, this has been fun and all, but I'm going to move on to other topics at this point. I'm sure that everyone is sick of hearing from me.

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    46. ...but that's not at all what the argument is discussing- The argument as he presents it is that all the 60s-era female companions were given absolutely awful ways to exit. So anything about the later companions or anything about the rest of their time on the show is irrelevant to that specific argument.

      I mean, you seem to be reading it as a blanket statement talking about the companions in general (and thus critiquing the show as a whole), when it's not. It's a specific critique of a specific era of the show that is compounded with other critiques of other eras to form the consensus of the show as a whole.

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    47. The difference is that in the 60s you have Steven going off to do something important with alien war thingy and Ben leaving to be a naval officer; two of the three male companions get good endings. Whereas in Moffat!Who Rory is just as dead as Amy and we don't have a word on his career in New York. You could make an argument for Craig, but then you'd have to include Jenny, Vastra and Strax too, if not Sophie.

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    48. "David AndersonSeptember 10, 2013 at 12:53 PM

      I'm pretty sure Moffat doesn't intend Amy to be seen as unpleasant or emasculating. I think he intends her to be assertive.

      The usual criticism of misogyny is that behaviour that in a man is accepted as assertive in a woman is stigmatised as unpleasant or emasculating. Yet when Moffat writes women whom he intends to be sympathetic and assertive and his critics find emasculating and unpleasant they attribute the misogyny to Moffat."

      Direct hit there. I knew there was something bugging me about some of the claims of "misogyny". I don't find Amy "unpleasant" or "emasculating".

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      "menguSeptember 10, 2013 at 5:30 PM

      Jamie gets a bad end, Ben and Steven get good ends. All the female companions from Vicki to Zoe get bad ends. That's the comparison that matters."

      Stats are not useful across this long a period. First of all, if we're looking at showrunners, some clear trends stand out: first, Verity Lambert (departure of Ian, Barbara, Susan) did relatively well.

      John Wiles just really liked killing characters (Vicki, Katarina, Bret Vyon -- why is he left off of companion lists? something to do with publicity? sexism?, Sara Kingdom, one-shot companion Anne Chaplette). But then he hated Doctor Who.

      Innes Lloyd seems to have been rather rushed and uncaring about Dodo (a character he inherited), and somewhat more careful with Ben and Polly; there seems to be a fair degree of misogyny there, though, especially given that he replaced Polly with Victoria.

      Peter Bryant has only one character departure in his run, Victoria, and frankly I think he treated her better than Innes Lloyd did.

      Derrick Sherwin is an interesting case: he does the two nastiest write-outs (Jamie and Zoe) -- and he did it to both of them -- but then he introduced the best female character since Barbara (Liz Shaw). If it weren't for the fashion show sequences and sexist comments in _The Invasion_, I'd give him a great deal of credit.

      Barry Letts & Terrance Dicks did make things much worse than it needed to be, as Philip has already noticed. The Hinchcliffe/Holmes period is practically as bad, leaning heavily on gendered tropes from horror, but then Leela pops out from the pen of Chris Boucher.

      Graham Williams gives us the least sexist period yet. J-NT reverses this, as noted.

      What frustrates me about RTD is that he introduced new forms of sexism which had previously been kept out of the show, by having all the female regulars mooning after men. I'm sure it's partly an accident. Based on his other writings RTD is very concerned with early-stage relationships and unrequited love -- but in Doctor Who he gendered the characters in a way that ends up fitting into sexist stereotypes (it doesn't come off the same way in Queer as Folk). He really should have thought about it more.

      As Philip says, Moffat, for a change, *did* think about it. Cartmel is documented as also having thought about it, but I'm not sure any of the other producers did. There's certainly stuff which is definitely problematic in terms of sexism in the Moffat era, but large portions of Moffat's show are deliberately setting up expectations of the worst possible interpretation before actively subverting it. For some reason Moffat really likes that form of teasing, but boy does it invite misinterpretation. Particularly when he doesn't manage to pull off the subversion effectively, which I argue happened with River.

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  5. You are so right on the money with this, thank you for writing it. I'm a feminist fan of Who and I often feel I'm the only person who thinks these things. Thank you for proving me wrong.

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  6. An essay like this deserves an essay in response—one that in my case would be full of vehement, even vitriolic, disagreement--but since I don't have the time to write it at the moment, I'll just make this one point. As ripe as the Who regulars are for analysis, focusing exclusively on them means telling only half a story. Among other things, these characters are implicitly and explicitly treated as exceptional, which means their usefulness is limited when it comes to making feminist analyses.

    One of the best things Davies did with his universe, to me, was make it feel like a place where it actually felt like women made up anything close to fifty percent of the population. A lot of these depictions could be problematic to some degree, but in the end, Harriet Jones was different from Joan Redfern was different from the Cassini Sisters were different from Martha Jones, which in the end, helped the show make the implicit argument that There's No One Right Way of Being A Woman, which I appreciate to an immeasurable degree. The same cannot be said of Moffat's Who, which is but one of the (very justified, in my opinion) reasons why it's criticized.

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    1. This criticism doesn't really stand up. Mrs Angelo is very different from Mandy, who is different from Sophie, and Nasreen, and Alaya, and Ambrose, and Abigail, and the Siren, and Cleaves, and Lorna Bucket, and Rita, and Madge, and Merry, and Emma Grayling, and Ada Gillyflower. Not to mention Vastra and Jenny.

      There's an incredible diversity of female characters in both eras.

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    2. Beat me to it Jane. All I can add really is that ignoring the mains is cutting off one's nose to spite one's face. These are our characters with development and arc. This lets us really get under the hood in a way that looking at a character we might meet for 90 minutes tops really doesn't.

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    3. The Cassini sisters? There ain't no sich people as the Cassini sisters.

      As I said in the Gridlock comments, if Moffat had written a straight man jokingly calling a married lesbian couple sisters it would be cited as one more piece of evidence that he's misogynistic and heteronormative. Davies does it and that's what the characters are known as.
      Do you see why people think that Moffat is being held to a different standard?

      Aside from the character's jane cites, there are two more reasons why Moffat would have a limited number of non-supporting women characters. Firstly, Davies has written more episodes absolutely and relatively. Secondly, Moffat likes to write episodes with fewer supporting characters concentrating more on the dynamics between the regular characters. For most of the Pandorica Opens / The Big Bang the only characters are the regulars, and that's not atypical of Moffat's approach.

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    4. I disagree that Moffat would have been slagged for it had he written that scene. Not unless he wrote it differently, say, removing the bit where person saying it is in an inter-species marriage.

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    5. @David: As you say, Moffat's stories (and the stories he commissions) have fewer characters to begin with; he's more interested in exploring the more intimate dynamics of relationship, and this is all fine. But I wouldn't necessarily discount the effect this has on the larger background of his era's Universe. doknowbitchie is right that this has had an impact on the ratio of male to female characters, and in particular on the number and kind of interactions between women in particular.

      The Bechdel Test is instructive. It's not by any means a perfect lens for evaluating the overall "feminism" of a particular story, or even across an entire era, but it does highlight what can happen given the smaller casts that Moffat prefers. Because his TARDIS crew has one woman and two men, a lot of the stories in his era end up pairing Amy off with another man; she doesn't get nearly as many conversations with other women. Because Davies has his companions' mothers as their primary non-Doctor relationship, he gets a lot more female conversations going.

      The other thing that plays into the many more Bechdel fails in Moffat's run is that he's made "Who is The Doctor?" into a running theme. There are a lot more conversations about the Doctor in general, especially between Amy and River. While it's not unreasonable to make this theme an undercurrent of this particular show, it does undercut the broader scope established by his predecessor.

      So I do think it's true that Davies' era "feels" more gender inclusive and representative -- by and large, it is. But I wouldn't attribute that to Moffat's era lacking a diversity of supporting female characters.

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    6. The Bechdel test is one of those things that is highly instructive but is so easy to abuse that half the time someone brings it up, it does more harm than good. It makes much more sense when considered in aggregate than considered for any individual story, and I think a big part of the reason it's meaningful is that it's not a measure of an individual work's feminism: Without even trying, I can think of explicitly and deliberately feminist works that fail it, and I can think of (mainstream) pornography that passes it. Rather, what's instructive is that it would be so incredibly trivial for any given work to pass it, you would expect that just by dumb luck about 50% of all works would, and yet the actual percentage is much, much lower.

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  7. I think you're a bit down on Zoe, and unfairly down on Ace. Ace's relationship with the Doctor is a bit less one-sided than you make out - in particular she is aware of the Doctor's limitations and capable of being right where he is wrong. And that's not just in a Davies-era 'the female companion is the male Doctor's conscience' kind of way; it's more in a 'it would actually be a good idea to bring along some high explosive' kind of way.

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    1. That part kinda felt a bit like it was written backwards to me: he wanted to conclusion to be 'Therefore Moffat is way more feminist than the old series,' so he had to work backwards and find antifeminist things to say about previous eras (as if the ones that are patent and unarguable aren't enough).

      The whole article strikes me as dangerously close to asserting that intent is magic, because at some level the argument boils down to "Lay off Moffatt you guys. He's trying REAL HARD to be a feminist!*"

      And frankly, no one worth listening to is seriously arguing that he doesn't try: my problem with Moffatt, and I think the problem most people have with him from a feminist perspective, is that any attempt he makes at feminism is undercut by the fact that he apparently doesn't see any need to actually look ay anyone's experience other than his own to inform how he presents gender roles -- he's his One True Way to Be a Man and his One True Way to Be A Woman, and they're both fine ways to be and they both subvert traditional gender roles in their ways, but it's still got an element of "This is how it should be for everyone and any people who don't conform to my model are doing their gender wrong"

      Moffatt's 'feminism' reminds me more than a little of William Moulton Marston's.


      (* Public discourse has stuffed the term so full of straw that I don't have any idea if Moffatt would actually claim it for himself)

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    2. But whereas Marston worshipped the Woman, Moffat worships the Relationship. His characters put each other on pedestals, hold hands, and look down together at the world below. This isn't even a metaphor. By "The Snowmen", the Doctor is alone on his pedestal and needs to return to the world.

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    3. I don't mean that Marston and Moffatt reach the same conclusions, just that they take a similar approach, in that both seem to be broadly in favor of egalitarianism, but this is undermined by them being unwilling or unable to completely set aside essentialism.

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    4. Yes, where there is a problem with Moffat it tends to stem from essentialism (with the stuff about motherhood in "The Doctor, the Widow, and the Wardrobe" being one of the most egregious examples). That's also why the way I enjoyed Coupling (as a satire on constructed gender differences) was different from the way I suspect I was intended to enjoy it (as a satire on inherent and natural gender differences).

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    5. And this is the crux of the matter. If you believe that essentialism always undermines feminism then you will always have problems with Moffatt.

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  8. I think a lot of my problems with Moffat and feminism boil down to painful wrong notes in an otherwise promising melody.

    River is an awesome 50 year old woman action hero, whose entire life revolves around her boyfriend/husband. Amy is this incredible action hero whose force of personality can equal the Doctor's, and she goes on to be a ... Model (yes, she moves on, but really?).

    I get this basic vibe tha Moffat is well-meaning, but kind of inept in *how* he chooses to underscore women's 'strength', falling back on defining them via their sexuality or motherhood.

    He keeps creating these pedestals out of attractiveness or sexiness or, yes, motherhood, and showing us *this is what is important* about these characters when they 'grow up' from adventuring.

    It's this super-annoying wrong note that ends up grating far more than it might otherwise. Moffat keeps setting up these amazing, hopeful characters and then kind of turfing them with this very particular pedestal of what womanhood is, and where the power and greatness of womanhood resides, and it just makes me want to strangle him.

    At least he's a) trying and b) engaging these topics. But we shouldn't give him a pass when he falls short, just because he's doing better than his predecessors.

    P.S: Team Donna forever!

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    1. "River is an awesome 50 year old woman action hero, whose entire life revolves around her boyfriend/husband."

      But this is eventually shown to be problematic. By the time we get to Manhattan, the Library, and Trenzalore, River's life doesn't revolve around the Doctor. She's an Angel investigator who refuses to travel with her husband, an archeologist who hires out her own team, and a ghost who consults with a Victorian detective agency in her spare time. She's a writer, a storyteller, and a critic. In Davies' era, it falls primarily to the mothers of companions to critique the Doctor, especially in the case of Donna, whose agency is completely stripped away at the end.


      "Amy is this incredible action hero whose force of personality can equal the Doctor's, and she goes on to be a ... Model (yes, she moves on, but really?)."

      Again, this is a trope that's shown to be problematic. The fact that she moves on from it is very important in its reading; Amy isn't satisfied with it, and goes on to be a storyteller -- a publisher, it seems, given the dialogue in Manhattan. To deconstruct a trope, it must first be invoked. The other option is, of course, to leave the trope alone and do something else instead, but either way there's still a problematic trope to deal with. By leaving it alone, its power can grow and fester. But invoking, even while deconstructing it, can lead to misinterpretation. This latter problem is what led Dave Chappelle to abandon his line of comedy.


      "He keeps creating these pedestals out of attractiveness or sexiness or, yes, motherhood, and showing us *this is what is important* about these characters when they 'grow up' from adventuring."

      Except this isn't really the case! River's sexiness is completely downplayed by the time she gets to the Library, and it certainly isn't a factor on Trenzalore; rather, the fact that she's earned enough trust from the Doctor to learn his name is an indication of mature intimacy. On the other hand, the fact that Donna's sexuality is treated as a joke in the Davies era is of far more concern. She has sexual desires, but the narrative dismisses them; she is the only person Captain Jack isn't attracted to, while her entire denouement reverts to her original caricature of "getting a man to marry." It's not very flattering.

      Likewise, Amy encounters the trope of motherhood, but this doesn't become her defining feature. It isn't presented as something wonderful, but something terrifying. The fact that's shown as something forced on her represents how society forces this trope on all women. And it's something she ultimately resists. After childbirth, she goes on adventuring. She's still the action-hero, but she doesn't sacrifice her relationship with her daughter going forward; if anything, it helps her to understand her daughter, and to respect her daughter's wishes not to have her own life rewritten.

      The real problem with Moffat's approach is that he's so focused on setting up tropes to tear down that he often fails to engage in alternative visions. There's too much deconstruction, and not enough positive construction in its wake.

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    2. We know that River has her own adventures and own life outside of the Doctor. She calls him in sometimes but by no account was my impression EVER that her entire life was "All Doctor, All the Time".

      A Model, Travel Writer, and beloved Children's Author. She has a full and developed career. Or can a person not have a fulfilling and meaningful career as a model or in fashion? I mean she was doing well enough to have her own scent, name it, and dictate the advertising phrase. She was famous enough that people wanted her autograph. That is not small time success.

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    3. We know that River has her own adventures and own life outside of the Doctor. She calls him in sometimes but by no account was my impression EVER that her entire life was "All Doctor, All the Time".

      That's certainly the impression we started with.

      But when the full story comes out, it turns out that her adult life is "The day she gets her doctorate, she's kidnapped back to Utah, and a few hours later is arrested for murder. She goes on to spend an unspecified amount of time in jail, being sprung at the Doctor's convenience. Eventually she is released, and shortly thereafter goes to New York where she loses her parents, and starts traveling with the Doctor full-time for an unspecified period which appears to end because the Doctor's used up the allotment of time she has before her destined appointment with the reaper." 'Angels in Manhattan' -- and consequentially her release from prison -- is explicitly "late" in their relationship.

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    4. @Ross: When the full story comes it, it's anything but as you depict it. She isn't sprung at the Doctor's convenience -- he says, explicitly, that she can leave whenever she wants; indeed, we see her leave plenty of times all on her own.

      After she loses her parents in New York, she does not start traveling with the Doctor full-time; this is made quite clear at the end of Manhattan, so I'm not sure where you get this idea. Even in the Library, it's clear that she isn't a full-time traveler with him -- she says specifically that he "turned up on my doorstep with a new haircut and a suit," which implies she's got her own place, and that she's not a full-time companion.

      There's also the matter of her release from prison, and what that signifies. Importantly, the fact that her marriage to the Doctor is marked by "imprisonment" is in itself a commentary, and it's not that prison is a glorious thing to love. (Rather, it's that her going along with the Doctor's definition of their relationship is itself a prison.) By the time she gets to New York, her pardon was "ages ago" and she corrects the Doctor -- she's a Professor now. Both serve to show that it was not "shortly" after her imprisonment that she lost her parents.

      But it's easy to mis-read the show in this fashion, I agree. Moffat depends on his audience to pay close attention to the myriad details, but this isn't how we actually watch television. The broad strokes and easily recognizable tropes tend to stick, and the missing blanks for us to fill in tend to sit there as gaps; the small details aren't picked up. This isn't a feminist problem, it's a storytelling problem, with implications for the underlying feminist principles that he's trying to evoke. It is, as Phil says, "a trap" -- but narratives that try to implicate their audiences may not be the most effective way to promote progress.

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    5. Shortly thereafter? Or is that more another Unspecified period? Late in the relationship can mean YEARS. Especially in the year 5000. I don't see any hard definitions in her late timeline. Lots of open space.

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    6. @jane: So you don't consider the bit where the Doctor asks River to stay with him, and she says she will, and then the next time we see him, he's in mourning and has caught up to River's death indicative of them having stayed together after that episode?

      @Theonlyspiral: You don't consider the exchange where she basically says "Oh, I just got out of prison because they realized there was no record of the man I killed having ever existed" to indicate recency?

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    7. It's been a while since I've seen it, but as I recall she never indicates that her release is recent. Merely that she got her pardon when the man who she murdered stopped existing.

      In terms of your other point, she refuses to travel full-time with the Doctor. That much is explicit. We also know that the night where the Doctor gave her the Screwdriver was a one-off date night from having seen it in "Last Night" on the season 6 box set.

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    8. As far as I know, it is not expicit that she never travels full time with the Doctor, just that she's not doing it immediately before the library mission.

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    9. Textually we have no evidence they ever travel together full time. We know it's not after Manhattan, and we know it's not immediately before the library. So short of inventing something I don't see any basis for a theory where they travel together.

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    10. she is the only person Captain Jack isn't attracted to

      Until, for some reason, Esther Drummond.

      Admittedly, Esther Drummond is boring as hell, which could explain it.

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    11. @Theonlyspiral: He asks her to and she says yes. Exactly how much more evidence do you need?

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    12. Just pulled up an online transcript of Angels. The line is "Oh, I was pardoned ages ago". So yeah, it was ages ago.

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    13. Ross - I think you're inverting the scene at the end of Angels Take Manhattan.

      RIVER: What matters is this. Doctor, don't travel alone.
      DOCTOR: Travel with me, then.
      RIVER: Whenever and wherever you want. But not all the time. One psychopath per Tardis, don't you think? Okay. This book I've got to write. Melody Malone. I presume I send it to Amy to get it published?

      River overtly refuses to travel with him full-time.

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    14. RIVER: What matters is this. Doctor, don't travel alone.
      DOCTOR: Travel with me, then.
      RIVER: Whenever and wherever you want. But not all the time. One psychopath per Tardis, don't you think?

      Seems clear that they go on a trip, he drops her off, and then goes into seclusion.

      And in terms of the Pardon...
      DOCTOR: So where are we now, Doctor Song? How's prison?
      RIVER: Oh, I was pardoned ages ago. And it's Professor Song to you.
      DOCTOR: Pardoned?
      RIVER: Mmm. Turns out the person I killed never existed in the first place. Apparently, there's no record of him. It's almost as if someone's gone around deleting himself from every database in the universe.

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    15. @Ross: He asks her to travel with him and she says "but not all the time". I find it hard to interprete that as her agreeing to travel with him full time.

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    16. Ross, it *is* explicit that River doesn't travel with the Doctor "full-time." He asks her to travel with him after losing the Ponds, and she says, "Whenever and wherever you want, but not all the time. One psychopath per TARDIS, don't you think?" That's a pretty clear rejection of "full-time" traveling, as opposed to regular traveling.

      Regarding the recency of her release from prison, she says, "Oh, I was pardoned ages ago. And it's 'Professor Song' to you." She then explains the reasoning of her pardon, which narratively speaking is recent for us, and for the Doctor, but not from her perspective. Again, I think it's very easy to miss this exchange, as a small detail (a single line of dialogue) is meant to correct a misperception in narrative flow -- and this isn't generally how people watch television.

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    17. Serves me right for citing dialogue without having a transcript at hand. Consider me corrected, redacted and chastened.

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    18. "I get this basic vibe tha Moffat is well-meaning, but kind of inept in *how* he chooses to underscore women's 'strength', falling back on defining them via their sexuality or motherhood. "

      Well, Moffat does habitually overdefine everyone by their sexuality in most of the shows he writes. But within that frame, Madame Vashtra? And even outside that habitual frame, Clara -- I know she's supposed to be a nanny, but it seems like it isn't a priority for her.

      " It is, as Phil says, "a trap" -- but narratives that try to implicate their audiences may not be the most effective way to promote progress."
      This may be the most cogent point. Moffat loves to set up false expectations in people in order to subvert them, and if you miss it, you're going to be left with the wrong impression. It's actually a rather mean habit.

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  9. Yeah, Phil, I like you and your work but this is a stretch. Once we left 1989 your arguments for Doctor Who (as a singular, linear program evolving consistently towards the present-day incarnation, which is implicitly the best it's ever been) have become more contrived and less appropriate.

    I think you decided on a conclusion before you began research, and while given the sheer volume of Doctor Who material I don't exactly BLAME you for doing so, your argument has become a lot less plausible in recent months.

    The results have been a distressing dismissal of Big Finish as a medium post-revival and posts like this, which as Ross said above seem to be "written backwards", desperately trying to excuse Moffat's casual misogyny in order to maintain that Doctor Who is only getting better.

    Because now, at this point, you are simply WRONG about this. Moffat's female characters, regardless of "intent", ARE sexist. "Amy Pond" is childish, but "Amy Williams" is mature? CHRIST. Not to mention that Moffat's outside statements have been very distressing, expressing a deep belief in gender-essentialism and other sexist worldviews.

    So yeah. Please reconsider the argument you made here. It's a bad one.

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    1. I had a similar initial reaction on hearing the "Mrs Williams" line in The God Complex, but it was followed by a "No, Steven couldn't possibly be that stupid." I was familiar enough with his other works, and had seen how progressive Joking Apart and Coupling really were, that I knew he intended something other than this. He was either idiotically tone-deaf or intentionally baiting people who would inevitably interpret such a line as repugnant sexism through and through.

      However, if he intended the role to reflect a division of possibly incompatible worlds, then we have an unfortunately-titled but interesting aspect of Moffat's real innovation with companions: their having lives that aren't entirely centred around the Doctor. The names Mrs Pond and Mrs Williams each have their own powers, and are considered equally. Pond designates the world of the Doctor that's literally (as of The Beast Below) a fairy story come to life. Williams designates the practical world where light bulbs need changing. These worlds blur and merge and ultimately separate. For the first time on Doctor Who, even more than with the innovation of the Superphone, Doctor Who encounters resistance in falling out of the world. Indeed, it sometimes has to pull people out of the world (I'd say that's what the Superphones did in the Davies era; instead of anchoring a companion to her origin world, it pulled that separate origin into the Doctor's stories). This seems to be what Tat Wood explicitly hates about the new series. The world now resists its members falling away from it.

      I certainly could develop a healthy resentment to Moffat for including so many tropes of sexism in the show, for not thinking through how easily misinterpreted his profound idea that the world resists the Doctor pulling people away from it would be. See more of my longer comment below for my detailed reasons on this. But ultimately, my world is better for giving him the credit of a sometimes-clumsy yet intentionally-profound reconfiguration of Doctor Who. Instead of a sexist old Scot fucking up my favourite show, I have a brilliant writer and conceptual innovator who's kind of a dick who quite possibly includes sexist lines in the show just to provoke people. My world is more vast, complex, and interesting. And it's more forgiving.

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    2. The thing about the "Amy Williams" line in The God Complex is that it's coming at a point where the Doctor is actively trying to disabuse Amy's faith in him. That has to inform the reading of that line -- in that context, it's saying that such a naming convention *is* problematic.

      Just to echo Adam's fantastic reading of names, it's important to note that Amy goes through several name changes. When she first meets the Doctor, she's Amelia Pond. She changes Amelia to Amy on account that Amelia is "too fairy-tale." So it's established that "Amelia" is fairy-tale and hence "Amy" is practical. It's as Amy Pond that she travels with the Doctor -- her name at that point is balanced between the practical "Amy" and the fairy-tale "Pond."

      When she's finally dropped off on Earth as "Amy Williams" there's no more fairy-tale in her name; there's no balance. And without that balance, her life begins to unravel. She starts traveling with the Doctor again, and he constantly refers to her and her family as "Pond." However, in Manhattan she takes yet another name: Amelia Williams. Once again, she's got a balance of fairy-tale and practical, but it's reversed. She's finally figured out how to bring the fairy-tale in the practical world, rather than bringing the practical world into the fairy-tale. This, then, is what it means to be "grown up." To live in this world, not a fantasy world, but with the imagination of the fantasy world shaping and informing our material concerns.

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    3. Productively insightful as usual, Jane. That's my highest compliment too. I hadn't thought of the Amelia/Amy transition. And it fits really quite well. Given that Amy is implied to become a publisher does make her a parallel of her earlier characterization.

      Amelia Pond was a pure fairy story character, the little girl who meets a magic man. Amy Pond has a realistic sensibility, but she's cynical about it, bitter that she has to give up the magic of the world — her line in The Eleventh Hour is "I grew up." In embracing life with the Doctor, she falls away from the real, practical world for a fantastic, magical life. Even her first image in The Beast Below is floating in zero-gravity, a phenomenon of falling, but without momentum.

      Her relationship with Rory introduces productive practicality into her life, and lets her grow up a bit more. The two of them travelling with the Doctor are Mr and Mrs Pond, but on their own, she reverts to an orbit closer to Amy Williams. And The God Complex conversation is the Doctor trying to impress upon Amy the worst of himself, so he would give her the Amy Williams moniker.

      Then as Amelia Williams, she's a publisher. Someone who brings the fantastic and magical into the real practical world.

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    4. Jane, thanks for articulating the way I've always read the "Mrs. Williams" line so elegantly.

      All I can add is that I also interpret this line as a 'callback' (Moffat's stock-in-trade as an ex-sitcom-writer) to a line in A Good Man Goes to War.

      "Melody Williams is a geography teacher. Melody Pond is a superhero."

      That is, this is the moment where the Doctor tells Amy that she is not a superhero. Yes it is cruel, but it is a necessary cruelty to save her from the Minotaur and, as we see at the end of the episode, from the Doctor.

      Of course, if you need further weight for this reading, The Name of the Doctor has made it quite clear that the theme of names which has run through-out Moffat's era is not coincidental.

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    5. I'm a strong supporter of women who choose to keep their names and, should I ever be married, I plan to do the same (and to give my children only my surname as well). I was disheartened when I discovered Amy had legally changed her name to Williams, but in the context of Amy and Rory's relationship, it makes sense. Not because Amy's a secretly a woman who adheres to tradition, but because of the give-and-take of relationships. I believe Amy recognized that Rory gives a lot for her and in their relationship, so in this instance, she changed her name as a sign of love and respect for him.

      That said, I think it's a very powerful statement that Amy named their daughter Melody Pond, despite having Rory's last name legally herself, and when Rory called her on this, she fought him over the name. Names are important, defining things. You give up a piece of your identity when you give up or change a name, which may or may not be a negative thing in a person's life. Amelia Pond became Amelia Williams, but it was not done lightly. Melody Pond is not a nickname, this is the name inscribed on Melody's clear cot at the beginning of "A Good Man Goes to War"; this is the name Lorna Bucket and the rest of Demon's Run known Amy's child as; this is the name that becomes River Song. Melody Pond, *not* Melody Williams, was the adamant decision of Amelia Williams.

      There are also plenty of women who get married and change their names legally, but are only ever known by their maiden names in every instance except legally. With Amy, I don't think we know which category she falls into until *after* she's sent to 1930s New York and founds her publishing company, Pond River (again, reverence to her maiden name), and writes afterwords, novels, etc...

      Given the fact that they are in the past (and Amy goes on to once again make a name for herself there), it's practical for Amy to go by her married name: not only because they are living in the 1930s, but also because Pond is a very unique surname in and of itself, while Williams is one of the most popular U.S. surnames. Its popularity gives them a level of anonymity in the past (especially for Amy, who was already well known for her Petrichor line, as a model, and a travel journalist in her own time period). In the event that her professional life in her own time period were to ever overlap with her professional life from the past (and in the age of the Internet and uber fans, it wouldn't be out of the realm of possibility), two Amelia Ponds would be much more curious than an Amelia Pond and an Amelia Williams or even two Amelia Williamses.

      If Amy Pond becoming Amy Williams was some big joke, or if it was some ugly sexist symbolism about her finally admitting she was Rory's property upon marriage, then Melody Pond would have been Melody Williams. But she was not, because Amy actively refused to let that happen.

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  10. I'm glad you wrote this now, if only so your regular readers who'd help you with such things can gear up early to protect you from the inevitable flame wars when people from the STFUMoffat Party try to ruin your reputation and crush your burgeoning career as a critical writer. I completely agree with your analysis, though I think my own is also reasonably insightful as well.

    I ventured my own thoughts about the opposition to Moffat in feminism's name in the comment section of The Shakespeare Code, when we were talking about how hooking up two black characters on the show can be perceived as racist. You're right, Phil, to point out that the Davies era had its problems in the treatment of its female leads: their desires were all defined in terms of their relationship with the Doctor. Rose and the Doctor fell in love, Martha fell in unrequited love with the Doctor, and Donna became the Doctor's best bro. Rose and Martha's entire arcs were defined by how this relationship developed. Donna had more wiggle room, which is why I think her character fared best over the full season, but she still ended her arc with an old-fashioned mind-rape / marry-off combo.

    But I don't think the community of fans (distinct from fandom, which is a matter of self-identification and involvement in communities; I've been a fan since I was a child, but I only joined fandom when I started talking about Doctor Who in other communities of fans) noticed this unfortunate aspect of Davies' traditionalism. The self-identified progressive mind-set would tend to focus on Davies' profusion of multiple sexualities on Doctor Who, whether explicit like Captain Jack or implicit like a lot of the other aliens or the throwaway lines. Who doesn't laugh and sneer today at the line in Waters of Mars referencing a Russian gay marriage?

    I remember the first volleys from STFUMoffatt weren't explicitly accusations of sexism, but of heteronormativity. Stories and key lines that implied male-female relationships to be the paradigm for human romance. The four protagonists of the Smith era (and River is a protagonist, even though she's recurring) are two straight couples deeply in love. Their relationships are validated and depicted as wonderful. Remember the hook of the return of series seven. It wasn't some big alien threat, but that Amy and Rory seemed to have broken up. That last prequel, in writing and cinematography, treated Amy and Rory's split as a cataclysm.

    Moffat just doesn't write those throwaway lines (ex. gay marriage in Russia by the 2050s) that attentive viewers can pick up as signs of the show's progressivism. He's unfortunately not interested in the angles by which his characterizations can be read as socially conservative. The Amy Williams line is a sign of how Moffat delineates TARDIS life to planetary life: a place of childlike variety and adventures in the TARDIS contrasted with ordinary adult life. He and Whithouse are either dummies for not seeing the possible anti-feminist interpretation of switching from Pond to Williams, or else they're just being dicks to their fans who cry misogynist but watch every episode anyway.

    TO BE CONTINUED

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    1. Moffat's biggest innovation in Doctor Who's characterization was the companion with a life outside the TARDIS, with real-world relationships that weren't focussed on the Doctor or didn't involve him at all. You're right, Phil, and it's a brilliant idea. Davies was the first to introduce families for companions, but even with these characters, the gravity of the Doctor pulled their arcs to him. Only in the Moffat era does a companion's life achieve genuine autonomy: there are parts of Amy and Rory's, and Clara's (and possibly River's, but so much of her is kept hidden) lives that the Doctor not only never sees, but doesn't understand when they try to explain to him. That's the signal that even the Mrs Williams lines aren't what people think they are: the Doctor only understands the world of Mr and Mrs Pond, because it's his world. But his world is lacking because it can't comprehend the intricacies of the Mr and Mrs Williams world.

      Mickey and Martha were thrown together hastily because Noel Clarke made films and Freema Agyeman landed Law and Order UK, so their plots on Torchwood where they fell in love could never be filmed. So Davies was, however briefly, accused of racism. But only by the principles that would make Cliff and Claire Huxtable a racist pairing: after an era of throwaway lines and goodies about inter-racial/species/sexuality relationships, two black straight characters hooked up. Moffat faces the same problem: after an era of token lines covering up how problematically traditionalist so much of the Davies era was, Moffat designed a model of Doctor Who focussed on two straight white couples. That appearance gave accusations of heteronormativity as least a case to be considered, and because the internet is an echo chamber, that evolved into the vitriolic Moffat hate that exists today.

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    2. The objection to Martha/Mickey isn't that it's a same race pairing. It's that it looks a lot like a pair the spares pairing. Especially as it undoes that bit of Martha's character arc in Season 3 and Season 4 which involves finding a life for herself not based around the Doctor.

      If there was originally supposed to be a plotline that was abandonded it may explain it but doesn't alter the appearance given the absence of that plotline.

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    3. And that's another example of the problems with throw-away continuity. Without the backstory, we can't always understand the decisions that were made, and make up our own stories instead, which are almost, but not entirely, unlike the truth.

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  11. a middle aged woman

    Jacqueline Hill was 33 -- a bit younger than most definitions of "middle aged."


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    1. The young end of "middle aged" but certainly more middle-aged than "young." The character is definitely played as "middle-aged" -- someone who's responsible, fully adult, with an established career and who is now in the position of caring for others rather than being cared for herself.

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    2. You could say Barbara is middle aged in the same way that Ace, played by 26 year old Sophie Aldred, is a teenager.

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    3. The young end of "middle aged"

      I usually see "middle-aged" used to describe the span from 40 to 60, though admittedly there's no canonical definition. From my current 49-year-old standpoint, 33 seems closer to young than to middle-aged.

      You could say Barbara is middle aged in the same way that Ace, played by 26 year old Sophie Aldred, is a teenager

      But Ace is officially described as being a teenager (in the long tradition of teens being played by non-teens), whereas there's no official description of Barbara as being older than the age of the actress who plays her (de re).

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    4. The thing is, until you said that Hill was 33, I'd always assumed that she was in her early 40s. Partly because of the role of wise schoolteacher (not one still learning the ropes), partly because of her dowdy fashion sense, and partly because the camera wasn't particularly flattering. For much the same reasons, I pegged Ian as middle-aged, too, even though the actor playing him had just turned 39 when he started playing the role.

      But all that said, at least in my own life, I pretty much associate the 30s, 40s, and 50s of adulthood as middle-aged.

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    5. Given that Barbara is unmarried, is she actually supposed to be as old as 33? It's pretty common for older actors to be playing younger parts, like Carole Ann Ford.

      It seems plausible that Barbara is intended as a woman in her twenties.

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    6. The thing is that most women looks matronly and older in the early 1960s. Honor Blackman springs to mind. The style of dress and appearance gave an older look (I remember as a teenager looking in at my high school's yearbooks from the '60s. All the teenagers looked like adults!) Look at the cast of Mad Men without their '60s hairstyles and costuming -- 10 years younger.

      So it's a common mistake to make from a modern viewer.

      For what it's worth, I always figured Ian and Barbara were written to be in their early 30s.

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    7. In fact, Barbara does not always dress that matronly. In several stories she wears quite modern looking sleeveless dresses.

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    9. There shone a young woman so bright
      Her pulchritude caused many a fight.
      But now I'm enraged.
      Jacqueline Hill middle-aged?
      Yetaxa my patience, all Wright.

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  12. I agree with most of what Phil says here, but also with what most of what his critics are saying in the talkback. I think on this issue Moffat has enormous virtues and enormous flaws, and we should keep both in view.

    For more of my wishy-washy moderate take on Moffat's portrayal of women, see here and here.

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  13. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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    1. I apparently said something insulting here and am rather confused. I apologize if the original comment caused offense.

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    2. Oh, none at all. It just mentioned something I've elsewhere asked not to be directly mentioned on the blog. In fact, you should probably go have a quick look at said elsewhere. :)

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    3. I didn't know. Sorry about that. Won't happen again.

      To restate my feelings properly:

      This is a perfect summation on Moffat and Misogyny. Entries like this is why I read your blog. Well these and your bonkers insane posts.

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    4. Well, that nicely creates a sense of mystery for those of us not in the know.

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    5. Ah. Just solved the mystery with my mad sleuthing skilz.

      And my life didn't get worse as a result. I reckon life is better with mysteries arriving, being solved, then followed by new mysteries, which get solved in turn, and so on. Life as a detective show.

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  14. while I generally agree with your take, Phil, the near-complete absence of Sarah Jane from the account of Who's past is rather odd. SJ is about as ideal a feminist companion as the old show ever got---she has her own life, which she goes back to when her travels are over; she has a real obvious friendship with the Doctor, and they travel as equals. SJ ought to be the standard the new show measures itself against, basically (w/ Liz Shaw and Barbara as other candidates).

    also, the detail about Cartmel "leering" at Ace is a bit odd, esp as it's tied back to Lalla Ward/Tom Baker in a way. How did this play out in the actual show? Was there ever an attempt by Cartmel to make Ace dress sexier or make her character do inappropriate things, etc? and Aldred and Cartmel were fairly close in age: is it wrong for him to admit, years later, he was attracted to her, if it didn't affect her role and he didn't make her feel uncomfortable on set? (but again, don't know the anecdotes you're talking about here).

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    1. Re. Sarah Jane and Elisabeth Sladen. I get the feeling Phil's planning something nefarious and complicated for his coverage of the Sarah Jane Adventures once that series launches its main first season.

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    2. I'm planning on covering it episode by episode, certainly. No overly ambitious plans as of yet, but then again, no sitting down and watching it as of yet either.

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    3. Liz has to have the Brigadier deliver it for her, but she does get a wonderful parting shot in.

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    4. Both Lis Sladen and Katy Manning do a lot more with their roles than they're typically written. And even though Sarah Jane is openly feminist, the first thing that's done with her character is to put her in positions where her feminism gets played for laughs. Ha ha, the silly feminist doesn't recognize she's in a boys' own adventure serial, ha ha.

      In her final serial, her departure is rather a blow-off. After listing what amounts to a feminist critique of the handling of her character's role, she's unceremoniously dumped back on Earth, not good enough to visit the Doctor's homeworld. (This is made doubly insulting by having Leela come the very next season, after she's relentlessly dumbed down over most of her final season after what appears to be an unsuccessful Pymalioning of her character.)

      Yes, Sarah Jane's a step up from the 60s, but she's still too often a peril-monkey, and eventually regresses to the "generic companion" tropes before too long. Most of what's truly marvelous about the character has more to do with Lis Sladen than with the writing per se.

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    5. also, the detail about Cartmel "leering" at Ace is a bit odd, esp as it's tied back to Lalla Ward/Tom Baker in a way. How did this play out in the actual show? Was there ever an attempt by Cartmel to make Ace dress sexier or make her character do inappropriate things, etc?

      From a New Zealand Doctor Who Fan Club interview with Cartmel: (http://nzdwfc.tetrap.com/archive/tsv40/andrewcartmel.html)

      "We wrote two stories, each with a potential companion in mind, so John could get them on, shoot their shows and decide from there. If he'd chosen Sara Griffiths, we could have done great stuff with her too. I'm terribly fond of Sophie [Aldred], so I'm glad we chose her, but the qualities she had in common with Sara Griffiths were being spunkier than Mel.

      "I don't know if you read Love and Rockets [highly praised US independent comic series], but we were going for that sort of sisters-are-doing-it-for-themselves kind of thing, which was not Bonnie. We wanted a post-Alien teenage girl - again, that probably says something about my psyche. That was something Stephen Wyatt said - the hallmark of Season 24 is tough young bitches. [Laughs]"

      [...]

      "I remember in Dragonfire, there's a scene where she's goes back to her room and throws herself on her bed, putting her hands behind her head. And there was this appalled comment from the floor manager: 'We can't use this - she hasn't shaved under her arms.' I was sitting there thinking it was quite sexy but I was out-voted. The unshaven armpits of a female companion could bring down the nation."

      Aldred on Cartmel: http://www.denofgeek.us/tv/doctor-who/19406/the-den-of-geek-interview-sophie-aldred

      "My concept of a Doctor Who girl was that you screamed a lot and ran around quarries in unsuitable footwear. Of course you fell over and twisted your ankle, because you had high heels on.

      "So when I was allowed to wear Doc Martens and not scream, it was a complete breath of fresh air for me. I think that’s down a lot to the script editor at the time, Andrew Cartmel. He was young, had his finger on the pulse, and wanted to try new thing. He and the writer of that first story that I did, Ian Briggs, came up with this character, and John went with it. Which was amazing really, because it was a departure for Doctor Who."

      Apparently they (and McCoy) bonded quite well over their mutual hatred of Margaret Thatcher.

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  15. I read this essay as a sort of "angel's advocate" position; that is, I think it's what you believe, but I also think you're deliberately exaggerating the case against previous companions and showrunners in order to make the point that those eras are quite easy to attack on pretty much the same grounds. Though I disagree with some of your particulars, which is to be expected if you're doing what I think you're doing, I appreciate the effort in general and am grateful you've made the case for Moffat here.

    I would love, LOVE to see more of River's life away from the Doctor. If you told me Season 8 was going to be The River Song Chronicles before getting back to the Doctor in Season 9, I'd be over the moon, and not just because I'm lukewarm on Capaldi. I like River Song as Alex Kingston plays her and as I imagined her initially quite a bit, but I have to agree that the way her story's played out has served to diminish her somewhat and close off her story (though others have argued above that there's still plenty of room in there for her own adventures, I haven't been satisfied with how much of them we've actually glimpsed).

    My reaction may not matter, given that I've never experienced it and am relatively unlikely to, but I found myself a little uncomfortable with the broad definition of "rape" here. I get what you mean but still flinch when you call something "mindrape." And I must be misremembering something key about Amy's experience at the hands of the Silence: didn't she and Rory conceive Melody in the ordinary consensual way? I'm not saying kidnapping a mother, then stealing and brainwashing her baby isn't a pretty horrible thing to do, but I'm not sure whether it's appropriate to describe it as "rape." Like I said, I don't know whether my personal discomfort with that does or even should matter to you in any way, but for what it's worth, I found it an unpleasant speed bump every time it happened.

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    1. Regarding wanting Amy to be further traumatized: I have to wonder if Amy experienced the whole thing much as we did -- the pregnancy and infancy were so timey-wimey weird that it just wouldn't feel the way it would if, say, she and Rory had spent seven months painting the nursery and buying baby things and picking out names and so on, and then she'd been kidnapped and been fully aware of her imprisonment for the remaining two. I do think the lack of any dialogue that address her (or Rory's) emotions about these events is a little damning in revealing that they're primarily there to be a spectacular puzzle rather than as part of a character arc -- such that once the puzzle's over, it's no longer interesting dramatically -- but I like your angle on it a lot: Amy's a survivor and ultimately her strength is more inspiring than her pain would have been.

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    2. Another odd aspect of the Moffat era is that a lot of these quieter character moments are depicted on the show . . . in DVD extras. Think of all those little segments and scenes of the characters interacting on the TARDIS. There's no plot, just conversation. Sometimes, it's funny, like the scene leading into The Beast Below. Other times, Amy and the Doctor are having an intimate conversation about her having missed so much of River's life. The broadcast episodes get on with the adventures. But when so much television watching is disconnected from the broadcast, the DVD extras become places for genuine storytelling.

      Also, following an interpretation of Jane's from way back, I've come to think that many of the episodes are symbolic takes on personal character conflicts and traumas. She made brilliant accounts of Night Terrors and The Girl Who Waited as working through a parent's alienation from his child and the psychological weirdness of missing huge swaths of the life of someone you care about.

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  16. Very much a side note, but you mention Susan about to go to the guillotine in Reign Of Terror: obviously it predates the concept, but I wonder if you could regenerate after being beheaded.

    Which bit regenerates, the head or the rest?

    Surely someone has discussed this on Gallifrey Base...

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    1. Like the Vampires that the Time Lords stole secrets of immortality from, apparently beheading and destroying the hearts will stop them dead.

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    2. In Journey's End, just a hand was reconstituted into the DoctorDonna. With his whole body (or possibly just his head), I should think a complete regeneration would be possible. This would have to take place in the Tardis, with her ready supply of Artron energy.

      This is my first post, after a long period of lurking, so be gentle.

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    3. If both parts of her were to regenerate, wouldn't that cause a doubling of The Problem of Susan, or even...a Twin Dilemma?

      I'll show myself out.

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  17. I basically just want to thank you for this post, because - yes. Yes to all of it.

    That Tumblr blog "STFU-Moffat" bothers the hell out of me. Not because it's "challenging my male privilege." Not because "waah! the mean girls are making fun of my show!" It's because they're writing from a point of view I generally share - representation is important, we should hold our favorite shows accountable for their problematic elements etc. - and they're doing it wrong.

    Very, very, very wrong. Insultingly, hurtingly, painfully, wrong. Consistently taking things out of context, cherry-picking and highlighting problematic elements while ignoring anything positive, casting *every* hint of sexism - no matter how small, unintended, or imaginary - as worthy of outrage and scorn, and - worst of all, IMHO - tacitly blaming ALL sexism in the media on one guy by calling their blog "STFU-Moffat" even though 40% of their posts aren't about Moffat's shows... I'm pretty sure they're the feminist equivalent of Evangelical Christians who hate Harry Potter. And they're making the rest of us look bad.

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    1. Couldn't agree more about STFU-Moffat. What I find most repugnant about them are that so many of their "arguments" against Moffat are rife with slut shaming (here's a favorite: how dare Moffat exploit Amy's body by making her wear mini skirts! never mind that it's not their right to condemn a woman for what she chooses to wear or not to wear with the kicker being that Karen Gillan, not Moffat, chose Amy's mini skirts, so they are effectively shaming Karen as well as Amy for choosing how to display her body), victim blaming, sexism, and misogyny. They promote highly problematic messages under the guise of "feminism" and it's sickening to see feminism abused in this way.

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  18. As usual, I'm late to the party on this one, but this was an important post. Glad to see you, once and for all, lay out the case that Moffat's not actively horrible on gender problems. I've waffled on my opinions on this before, but putting it in context of the rest of the show helps considerably. Even Davies--who does a great job on many other fronts--doesn't approach giving women the dignity Moffat does. And I think you're very right to point to the material effects of this at cons and the like.

    Incidentally, the MLA JIL is out today. Don't know if you're still abstaining from the market at this point, but I wish you the best of luck if you aren't.

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  19. I find it difficult to lap up all this praise of Moffat as feminist hero when he hasn't managed to let a single woman near a Doctor Who script since he took over in 2010.

    I'd rather leave it to women to decide whether Moffat's ladies are convincing human beings or not, but I've always felt they represented an exceptionally *male* idea of how a cool and clever lady might acquit herself. You may have a point that in Classic Who they weren't even allowed to be cool and clever... but I feel like we've still got a long way to go before things are entirely unproblematic in this department.

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    1. I find it difficult to lap up all this praise of Moffat as feminist hero when he hasn't managed to let a single woman near a Doctor Who script since he took over in 2010.

      Since Moffat took over four women (Lindsey Alford, Caroline Henry, Denise Paul and Emma Freud) have held the position of script editor / script executive / script producer...which I think qualifies as 'letting them near a script'.

      I agree that the show has a discomforting lack of female writers (across all eras), but that's not a problem that can be solved by making false and weasely statements.

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    2. The "new show" has been particularly discomfiting in this regard. RTD only hired one female scriptwriter, and it was one of his ex-script-editors.

      JN-T hired three (Barbara Clegg, Rona Munro, and Jane Baker of "Pip and Jane"), of whom two are extremely well-reviewed.

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  20. I've been known to cut Moffat a lot of slack, but sorry--I'm just not buying him as Feminist Hero. Not only do we have stories about women being kept in boxes and removed from them to be played with by men once a year, he consistently writes women with a particular sort of "cheekiness" and uses that as a substitute for personality. I am also really unimpressed by his failure to hire female writers.

    But most of all, I fault him for consistently being unwilling to listen and engage with his critics. Now, I wish to be clear here that I absolutely do *not* believe that vox fandom = vox dei. Fans can be blinkered and entitled--witness the Save Ianto crowd. But I do believe that when you have engaged in patterns of behavior, as Moffatt has, and been called out on it, as Moffatt has, you at the least think about what they are saying instead of brushing it off with "I can't be sexist; I *love* women!"

    I think, Dr. S, that you have fallen into the trap of viewing social justice in Who as a more or less straight line from the bigoted past to the enlightened present, instead of a jumbled mess of unequal numbers of steps forward and steps back.

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    1. RTD never listened to or engaged with his critics. And as for JN-T, oy -- he openly insulted his critics.

      Moffet actually does, substantially more, but you can't engage with people like STFU-Moffat, who are not making cogent arguments.

      So, y'know, what else is new? It is a jumbled mess...

      As for the Save Ianto crowd, they had a point, which was basically that Children of Earth was cheap, lazy, badly written melodrama -- and it always hurts to see a character killed off for a cheap stunt. Captain Jack's character was trashed for the same cheap stunt.

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  21. "Ah yes, Rory. The figure that critiques of misogyny in Moffat’s Doctor Who love to simply ignore. Because, of course, he is the Moffat era’s actual vision of idealized masculinity - a figure at relative peace with what he has in the world who retains his own identity and saves the day, but is nevertheless wholly devoted to the needs of the woman he loves. At every turn he’s the ideal husband. He’s always willing to do what needs to be done, even when it’s unpleasant and scary. He’s actually older than the Doctor - another fact that nobody bothers to remark upon."

    I disagree that Rory is ignored. On the contrary, he is frequently mentioned by feminist critiques of Moffat's era as a particularly problematic character.

    The reason that Rory is constantly played up as a devoted, ideal husband is because the entire Amy/Rory romance is fuelled by the concept of Nice Guy Syndrome. This is the idea that women - who are fickle, shallow and Don't Know What They Want - are constantly ignoring Nice Guys in favour of "jerks". This theory is usually propagated by self-described Nice Guys who believe that women should be obliged to fall for them because they hang around them constantly as their friends being "nice" to them (albeit with rather dishonest motives). When women turn them down or start a relationship with somebody else, their reaction is often to complain about the women being shallow and manipulative or putting them in the "Friend Zone".

    This has many parallels with Rory's story. He hangs around Amy from their childhood, being her friend and never telling her how she feels about him while she remains oblivious. Then after years of hanging around her like a puppy she starts a relationship with him, albeit seemingly half-heartedly. Then a handsome, fascinating, exciting man who is also a bit of a "jerk" comes along and offers her a more exciting. Being a fickle woman who is really a child deep down, she falls for him while Rory tags along making passive-aggressive comments about how she needs to grow up and choose the Sensible Nice Guy like him. His ideal world in Amy's Choice is one where she abandons all her dreams and settles down as a supportive wife in a village she clearly hates while he has a successful job. Eventually Amy matures and picks the Nice Guy as she realises that he is Nice enough to wait 2000 years for her beside a box (albeit not nice enough to be supportive when he sees her crying at their wedding rather than making more passive aggressive comments). So they get married... yet he is still "emasculated" enough to not even have the silly woman give up her name for his (which is portrayed as some huge injustice rather than perfectly acceptable, and is something he constantly refuses to accept by trying to insist on "Mrs. Williams"), expresses a paranoid obsession with her being unfaithful and has to give her permission for her best mate to hug her, and is constantly portrayed as a comically mistreated henpecked husband. But don't worry, Rory. You'll get your Mrs. Williams eventually. She just hasn't "matured" enough yet.

    (For the record, I love Amy and Rory. But the Nice Guy reading is there, and it's not very subtle either).

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  22. Okay, hello, occasional reader, first time commenter.

    I'm one of those women who have found much in the Moffat era problematic, and to me this post felt a bit... well. Given so much criticism of Moffat's sexism has come from feminists/women this felt a bit like, "women, let this man explain to you why you're wrong and Moffat isn't sexist". I've read enough of this blog to know that this would never have been the author's intention, nevertheless, it certainly feels a bit like that.

    As a side note, also, the phrase mind "rape" trivialises rape, and I think of "bimbo" as a sexist word to be honest. Jo Grant may have been written to be extra "girly" and less clever than Liz Shaw, but that doesn't make her a "bimbo" any more than you'd call Martha a "bitch" for leaving the Doctor. It's not a nice word and it's not one I'd use about a woman.

    I think this tries to make sexism in Doctor Who a strict linear progression from deeply misogynist to, well, Steven "erection 'joke', sexual assault (on a married lesbian), mystical pregnancy, male on female stalking, asking a man permission to kiss his wife, and more..." Moffat, but actually from a non linear, non subjective viewpoint... ah, you know the rest.

    What I'm saying is, other eras in Doctor Who are problematic too (including, yes, Davies) and Moffat doesn't feel that different to me. There's good, and yes, even pro-woman stuff in his writing, but I really can't see it as feminist over all.

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    1. Broadly, points well taken, though I do want to clarify on "bimbo," which I used specifically because I do think Dicks's intentions were as sexist as that word implies. If you go look at some of my Pertwee era stuff, I'm absolutely effusive in my praise of how Katy Manning subverted that character into something far more interesting than Dicks intended, but Dicks's intentions were absolutely dreadful.

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    2. It seems to me like a big part of your argument is "Moffat isn't perfect but he's way better than a lot of what happened in the previous fortyseveral years," which has an awkward element of "Moffat deserves credit for it no longer being the 1970s"

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    3. Philip, thanks for replying and clarifying the "bimbo" remark.

      As a little girl reading the Target novelisations I was a massive fan of "Uncle Terrance" and it's difficult looking back as an adult and realising his sexism retrospectively.

      I met him at a convention recently and was disappointed but unsurprised at his remarks about the possibility of there being a woman Doctor (as you'd imagine, he was against the idea, but also managed to throw in an ill-timed sexist joke about giving women the vote).

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    4. "Steven 'erection 'joke'"

      "The Crimson Horror" by Mark Gatiss?

      "Pond Life" episode one by Chris Chibnall?

      Or perhaps the abhorrent "Love & Monsters" by Russell T Davies?

      "sexual assault (on a married lesbian)"

      You mean the scene that Matt Smith came up with last minute for Mark Gatiss's script?

      "mystical pregnancy"

      Which is written as a horrific and unacceptable experience for a reason.

      "asking a man permission to kiss his wife"

      And finally something that is being deliberately taken out of context in order to fit the rubbish Moffat-is-a-raging-sexist Agenda.

      "and more...' Moffat"

      Oh, there is much, much more to Moffat's writing, but I find plenty of it feminist. I've used River Song as an exemplar in Women's Studies time and again. Brilliant character and one I'm proud to refer to with regard to female representation in fiction.

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    5. It's really amazing how long and unbroken the strings of excuses people can make for Moffat are.Hundreds of slights all excused away, leaving Moffat blameless.

      Funny, though, how such a feminist beacon as Moffat needs SO MANY excuses made for him.

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    6. It's funny how far people will go to cherry pick and twist facts in order to blame him for things he didn't do.

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  23. Great.

    Moffat's just done the "Hot Lesbo action with twins is fun!" 'joke again.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=du_JQFz9y_I

    JB

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  24. The "We've got to share a bed..." bit, whilst both check each other out.

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  26. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IE704glbhWQ 1 minute and 45 seconds in. So funny.

    Mind you, at least there's not the 'hilarious' joke of a male character looking up a skirt.

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  27. The problem with Rory using the 2000 years as proof that he loved Amy more than she loved him is that who loves whom more is not a game he should be playing. It is quite unfair to Amy, because no matter how much she loves Rory, she never had the chance to wait 2000 years for him, so she is, through no fault of her own, in a one-down position when he brings this up.

    Plus, it ignores the fact that the only reason Rory had to wait 2000 years is because he'd just killed Amy. Those 2000 years were atonement and restittuion, keeping her body safe until she could get suitable care to be brought back. He'd owe that to anyone he'd murdered in that way, not just Amy.

    Yet Amy doesn't bring up the fact that Rory killed her, and she forgave him. Not just forgave him, but willingly sleeps every night in the same arms that turned into the gun that killed her. The one thing that could outscore Rory in the who-loves-whom more contest, and she doesn't play that card, because it would be too painful, both for her and for Rory.

    Amy and Rory had discussed her infertility. When she said that she could never have kids, Rory answered, confused, "I know." And he probably had told her that he would give up on having kids, to be with her. But if he's playing games and keeping score about how much he's sacrificed because he loved her, then this becomes yet one more thing, like the 2000 years, that Rory is giving up for Amy, yet one more point in his keeping score about how much more he loves her than she loves him.

    And it is the keeping score that is driving Amy to distraction. She doesn't want to play that game. She can't win that game, through no fault of her own.

    In "The Big Bang" when Rory was apologizing for killing Amy, and Amy was forgiving and appriciative for him protecting her, it was adorable how much they loved each other.

    When Rory (and the audience) forgot about him killing her, and made it about him loving her more than she loved him, something that was charming became manipulative and ugly.

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  28. Can I just say, this is a great post! It held my attention from beginning to end and raises some excellent points! Thanks for this!

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  29. Great post, I have to know, what old school Doctor Who are you referring to where the females suffered more than the males did?

    Jamie got his mind wiped just like Zoe did.
    Brigadier became progressively stupider and stupider becoming nothing more than a farce.
    Harry Sullivan was nothing but a dunce in a hat, and was treated as such repeatedly while Sarah Jane was a much better and more intelligent character.
    Adric: a socially inept twit that the girls hated, who ended up being killed off.
    Turlough: a companion who constantly argued with the Doctor, and was going to try to kill him.

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  30. There are many things in this which I cannot agree with. First, the idea that Moffat was able to win over the female American audience in a way that RTD never could. Moffat won over male American audiences as well as female and I believe this has more to do with marketing than any feminism or lack thereof in his writing. Female participation and visibility in male-dominated areas is increasing on the whole.

    I also disagree with the idea that Moffat's companions are doing things which RTD's did not. As Sandifer says, most people complained that Moffat's companions have no lives outside of the Doctor. Sandifer says however that Moffat's companions do and that this is unheard of in Doctor Who. Which is frankly ridiculous. Rose, Martha and Donna's family all play a role in their respective companions' lives, and in fact, their family overlaps into the Doctor's world (or vice versa) more often than Moffats' companions do (we got a couple episodes with Brian, Big Bang and two episodes for Clara).

    In fact, the idea that River's life does not revolve around the Doctor couldn't be further from the truth. While Moffat does well to write an -older- female character who can be aggressive and/or sexual, River's life almost entirely revolves around the Doctor. She was conceived in the TARDIS, born and raised by an organization designed to kill the Doctor, River dedicates her "Mels childhood" to finding the Doctor and befriending a girl who has a hero worship complex for him, then after falling in love with him, dedicates her education to finding him. Then she kills him, winds up in jail because she murdered him, and apparently only escapes whenever she goes on an adventure with him. There is not a single line in the show which indicates River has an adventure totally unrelated to the Doctor. It seemed so when she said it was a shame the Doctor had been busy the day she learned to fly the TARDIS, but it turns out, that was Let's Kill Hitler.

    And to suggest that Rory is the ideal form of masculinity in Moffat Who is a worrying claim. While Rory's calmness and devotion are certainly admirable traits, his jealousy toward the Doctor in Amy's Choice was just as immature as the Doctor's (whose was also out of character). Moreover, one cannot call Rory an ideal masculinity without addressing the sense of entitlement and emotional blackmail which ensued at the latter end of Asylum of the Daleks. There's a difference between fighting for who you love (which was what made Rory's waiting for Amy so refreshing in series 5) and the feeling that this grants you the rights to someone's affection.

    One thing most lacking in Moffat's female companions is agency. Sandifer criticizes classic Who companions' mind rapes (Zoe) as instances of misogyny but fails to recognize the ways in which the eleventh Doctor's treatment of his companions has often stripped them of their personal agency (this comes mostly in the form of him withholding information from them- most notably, Amy's pregnancy). This is big criticism of Moffat Sandifer neglects. Also noteworthy is the lack of criticism Moffat received for his pre-2010 works as compared to The Eleventh Hour and on. It's been pointed out to me, is that all of Moffat's pre-2010 stories have been edited by Helen Raynor- the one woman to write for the new series.

    Coupled with many quotes by Moffat, his companions' lack of agency, their objectification (most notably Clara), and their lack of 3D development (Clara again), there's definitely something negative to be said about Moffat in regards to feminism. Yet Sandifer never goes into specific instances of Moffat's sexism, despite acknowledging that his reign of DW is sexist (whilst throwing in some sexist mentions for RTD).

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  31. I'll add my two cents in case you read through these comments as you revise for the book version.

    I have to agree with some of the commenters here who've said it would strengthen your argument to be less dismissive of earlier eras. In general it's better and more convincing to make positive statements - here's how the Moffat era is feminist - rather than negative statements - here's how every other era was less feminist. Even if that's true, it undercuts your argument from the start and puts your reader on the defensive before they've even heard your analysis.

    To be less politic about it, I'm not even sure that those claims are totally defensible. I can't really speak for the classic era (everything I know about it I learned here, and even my subsequent watching of it is seen through Eruditorum-colored glasses), but to speak of the RTD era as significantly behind Moffat in terms of feminist outlook seems pretty flimsy. You mention that Who broke out in America under Moffat, and that's true, but it ignores a few other points - that it was under RTD that the show broke out significantly under female audiences/fandom, and that the shift in American popularity had already started under Davies and the move from Scifi to BBC America. This doesn't really contradict your argument, but it comes across as you ignoring inconvenient truths that don't support your thesis. Also, be careful with the anecdotal evidence. You might have seen an uptick in female cosplay w/ Moffat's characters, but there are also a lot of women who have issues with those same Moffat characters. As with everything subjective, it depends who you talk to.

    I think Jane's point is more convincing - that both RTD and Moffat did a lot to strengthen the role of women in Doctor Who, but that their preferred narrative styles necessitate different strengths and weaknesses. Moffat has improved in some areas, but in others some ground has been lots - simply because of the way they write. Both are trying (imperfectly) to be feminist, and not always succeeding. I think you'll gain more goodwill from your readers if you acknowledge this and maybe go into a bit more detail about both the positive and negative aspects of each era.

    Finally, where Moffat is concerned, I think far and away the most convincing argument for his feminism is in the way he sets up stereotypical tropes to be subverted and deconstructed. This is the only thing that makes his feminism plausible in the light of how many people find his portrayal of women troubling. If I were you, I would run with this, keeping most of the discussion to the text and detailing how it is that he achieves this, and why it is that so many people miss what he's doing. Again, keep the statements positive about what he's achieved, not negative about how everyone did worse or how it's frustrating that everyone is so hard on him.

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  32. The comments here suggest that feminism is in some way a good thing. If something gets poisoned by feminism it's best to avoid it.

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    1. http://i.imgur.com/IAhssTs.gif

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    2. Although, "Poisoned By Feminism" would be a cool all-female metal band. I think I own their first album, Trigger Warning Discipline.

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