Over the weekend the BBC announced, with much fanfare, that the actor who would play the 12th Doctor is “The Thick Of It” star Peter Capaldi.
Fans of the series who had all their hopes pinned on something seeing something new, gender or race-wise, in the 12th Doctor were rather disappointed by the reveal. Alternatively, those who prefer their Doctors younger and “sexier” were also a bit put out by the Capaldi choice. But those of us with our heads screwed on tight were over the moon because Capaldi is amazing in everything he’s done. And it’s my hope that with a slightly older (though certainly not unfoxy) Doctor, we’ll be done with the lovey-dovey Doctor nonsense for a bit.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t have minded a bit of racial diversity. The previous showrunner, Russell T. Davies, was always much better at presenting this massive time/space saga in varying shades. But did I want the 12th Doctor to be a woman? I did not. Why not? Well because Steven Moffat, “Doctor Who” showruiner extraordinaire is absolutely crap at writing women. We talked about this issue last week on The Station Agents podcast, but it’s my pet theory that the reason “Sherlock” works so well and Moffat-era “Doctor Who” doesn’t is Moffat’s inability to write a well-rounded and compelling female. And it all comes down to Moffat having a fundamentally laddish attitude. One that worked in his favor on “Coupling” and with the bromance of “Sherlock” and works against him on “Who.”
Listen, I know the following quote was taken out context, but go ahead and show me the context where the following ideas don’t make you uneasy:
“There’s this issue you’re not allowed to discuss: that women are needy. Men can go for longer, more happily, without women. That’s the truth. We don’t, as little boys, play at being married - we try to avoid it for as long as possible. Meanwhile women are out there hunting for husbands. The world is vastly counted in favour of men at every level - except if you live in a civilised country and you’re sort of educated and middle-class, because then you’re almost certainly junior in your relationship and in a state of permanent, crippled apology. Your preferences are routinely mocked. There’s a huge, unfortunate lack of respect for anything male.”
Irritatingly, in the same 2004 interview (found here), Moffat proclaimed about “Doctor Who”: “You can’t be thinking about lovey-dovey stuff when there’s that level of jeopardy involved.” Yes, obviously, there has been zero lovey-dovey stuff during his “Doctor Who” run. Anyway, you don’t have to take that 9-year-old out-of-context quote’s word for it. Moffat’s Woman Problem can be seen all up and down Matt Smith’s tenure as The Doctor. They’re most eloquently and succinctly outlined in this fabulous Tiger Beatdown article, but here are a few visuals to remind you how lucky we are the the first female Doctor will not be written by Steven Moffat.
“You Embarrass Me”: River Song, who was such a fantastic character in her Davies-era two-parter (written, of course, by Steven Moffat), became increasingly problematic as a more prominent player in the Moffat-era. Every aspect of her life became tied to the Doctor (raised to kill him, obsessed and infatuated by him, incarcerated because of him, married to him). Let’s not forget those three little words he said to her on their wedding day. Swoonworthy.
“The Girl Who Waited”: I hated this episode for a lot of reason and chief among them is the fact that Old Amy had to die so Young Amy could live. Old Amy, by the way, was a complete badass. How much more interesting would this story have been if the robot re-wiring, hand-to-hand combat proficient Amy had survived? Sure, Karen Gillan didn’t look quite as cute in that aged make-up, but the amount of drama that could have been wrung from that scenario would have made for a much better yarn. And because Moffat-era Who is pretty terrible at explaining paradoxes, it just felt like Old Amy died so Young Amy could continue to rock mini-skirts.
The Doctor’s Wife: This is the exception that proves the rule. Episode writer Neil Gaiman did a fabulous job with Idris. So much so that I’m constantly wishing for her return. Gaiman cleverly flipped the whole Who concept of the TARDIS on its head. Idris doesn’t exist so the Doctor can roam all of Time and Space, she stole him so that she could have an adventure.
This Is The Night Before Her Wedding To Her “Soulmate”: I never liked the way Amy played both sides with Rory and The Doctor. The narrative somewhat supported the idea that Rory was being paranoid in his jealousies of The Doctor. Looking at this? I have to disagree.
Uterus In A Box: As I mentioned before, that Tiger Beatdown article makes this case much better than I could, but it’s not inaccurate to say that Amy Pond spends basically an entire season in a box making a baby. It’s also not inaccurate to say her entire arc revolves around “her boys” and an antiquated definition of femininity. She went from the Girl Who Waited to The Bride Who Remembers to River Songs Mother to (briefly) A Model and finally The Woman Who Followed Her Husband. Don’t get me wrong. I cried my eyes out when Rory and Amy left the show. That was some potent and emotional storytelling. I also don’t want to imply that the story of a woman as a wife or a mother or (I guess) a model is unimportant. These are things that women do. For sure. Is it the most interesting thing a woman can do in the context of massive time and space adventure? I’d argue, no. But your mileage may vary.
The Impossible Girl: Then we come to Clara. Someone I quite like. She’s spunky and in at least one incarnation, smart as a whip. But, say it with me now, “she was born to save The Doctor.” That’s…I’m just getting tired of it. I hope with Capaldi at the console we’ll see something new. I just don’t hold out any hopes for it being something amazingly great for women. Until we get the right showrunner for that, I’m happy to be the girl who waits.
Joanna Robinson is aware that there are only supposed to be twelve doctors, but she highly doubts the BBC will let this ratings juggernaut slip through their fingers over something silly like “canon.”