The Great Doctor of History

(Being my out-of-season contribution to the Moffatt/Dr. Who and Feminism genre). Many people have pointed out Moffatt’s issues with women. There are some good rebuttals – the best being Philip Sandifer’s at the TARDIS eruditorium.

It is, however, obvious that something is going on. And although whoever said you can’t argue with numbers didn’t have a clue – but numbers on their own are a question. Becca Moore has excellent research summarised as an infographic. This is what’s going on. So why?IS DOCTOR WHO SEXIST-01 2

The key thing being missed by such research is that the scale and the scope of storytelling changed from Davis’ run to Moffat’s. Even as the scale increased (Moffatt’s first season, of course, ended with rebooting the universe) the focus tightened to The Doctor. I’m struggling to think of a single character in the Moffatt run other than Danny Pink who appeared in more than one episode (or a two-part episode) that didn’t travel on the TARDIS outside a season finale. And he saved the day against the (silly looking) Monster of the Week.

Rose had a family. Martha had a family. Donna had a family. Amy’s parents? Turned up at her wedding and that was it. Rory, Amy, and Clara are almost cyphers in how they relate to the world they live in. I work in a hospital – which department did Rory work in for preference? I don’t know – and there’s a difference between the types of nurse who go into A&E (ER), theatres, renal, or a range of other specialties. It would have been actual foreshadowing if he’d been in paediatrics. And black humour if he’d been in obstetrics most of the time. But Rory (Amy isn’t as bad as the other two because it’s shown her relations have been messed up by The Doctor). Clara, of course, is a deconstruction. The Doctor treats her as “The Impossible Girl” and encourages the audience to (and she of course creates masks quite deliberately). Why was she seemingly impossible and what was special about her? That she was in the right place at the right time. Deconstructing not supporting.

But this doesn’t change the fundamental point. When you cut down the number of people who matter to the show, you exclude voices. Normally starting with minority voices. (And before anyone objects about me calling 51% of the population a minority, it’s the strength of the voices that matter). Moffat’s Who, by its much tighter focus on the white, male Doctor, has given a greater proportion of the show to a white male and taken it from … everyone else.

Even Moffat knows that’s problematic. Indeed, A Good Man Goes To War is a scathing deconstruction of the “Male hero war story”.s But it’s the wrong deconstruction. It’s doing what Moffat does and Davis normally fails to. Humanising him and showing him to be flawed. What’s missing from the narrative is Amy’s story (and to a lesser extent Rory’s and Melody’s). Amy is almost entirely made passive for the story – not even reacting much when the baby melts into Flesh. Which is ridiculous – and that’s the politest word I can use for it. (It also undermines the storytelling even for The Doctor and the outcome of the Great Savior War Story by not showing the cost).

However it’s important to say what’s done right as well as wrong. And why even right can be wrong.

Awesome clip. Awesome speech. And far more importantly a clip that shows and deals with The Doctor’s flaws. Hubris, as there, is inevitably followed by nemesis. Things boomerang on Moffat’s Doctors in a way they don’t on Davis’ Doctors. The Doctor is more of a well rounded character. One whose personal flaws matter and, more importantly, get called out in the series. Ten is a “Doctor” that quite literally erases the mind of his friend who is begging him not to when she knows exactly what she is saying. Instantly struck off as a doctor, and the analogy is far nastier than that. And more importantly isn’t directly dealt with by the story in any way that not having ignored her choices wouldn’t have been. And even that was a fridging. (To me that was a moral event horizon – I don’t rewatch Ten because of it).

But even making The Doctor more subject to consequences isn’t always a good thing. The one serious case of things boomeranging on The Doctor under Davis I recall is in Season 1: In The Long Game he destroyed The Jagrafess without worrying what would come after. And back on the station in Bad Wolf he found that nothing was fixed. Stories like Gridlock are unlikely from Moffatt.

By centring the show on the personality of The Doctor, as well as massively cutting down on the diversity of recurring minor characters Moffat has turned what was a socially sharp show into a merely witty one.passage in  The key  Orwell’s critique of Dickens is:

The truth is that Dickens’s criticism of society is almost exclusively moral. Hence the utter lack of any constructive suggestion anywhere in his work. He attacks the law, parliamentary government, the educational system and so forth, without ever clearly suggesting what he would put in their places. Of course it is not necessarily the business of a novelist, or a satirist, to make constructive suggestions, but the point is that Dickens’s attitude is at bottom not even destructive. There is no clear sign that he wants the existing order to be overthrown, or that he believes it would make very much difference if it were overthrown. For in reality his target is not so much society as ‘human nature’.

And if that’s Dickens, Moffatt’s shifted target isn’t so much human nature as the nature of an approximately 1000 year old almost immortal alien. And although there are interesting stories to be told there (I consider Eleven and Twelve both far more interesting than Ten – and Nine was cut short) Moffat has taken the focus of the show away from the Companions and the worlds they visit (I recall none that stay with me as much even as Nancy and her group in The Empty Child – and that was a Moffat episode back in S1) and moved it squarely onto the less interesting question of “What is the nature of this Great Alien of Fictional History?”

And I’m hard pushed to think of anything that attempts to remove minority voices more thoroughly than the Great Man of History theory. Or that makes storytelling less real.

The Great Alien of Fictional History has always been a part of Dr Who. But when not being deconstructed (as in RTD’s chilling Midnight) or having The Doctor be a Magnificent Bastard (as in Rememberance of the Daleks and most of the rest of the Seventh Doctor stories) it’s generally best left in the background. The star of the very early Dr Who episodes wasn’t the cranky old misanthropic Doctor. It was scripted as Ian Chesterton with Barbara Wright frequently stealing the show.

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