Tag Archives: doctor who

Does Stephen Moffat Have A Woman Problem?

I keep being surprised to find people who love Doctor Who and Sherlock but hate Stephen Moffat. One thread seems to be to say that he has a ‘woman problem’.

One new friend posted this one her Facebook wall:

“Here’s a game for my fellow #Sherlock and #DoctorWho fans…name me a principal female character written by Moffatt that isn’t a puzzle, a problem, or a sacrifice.”

Some Background

OK, before I rise to the challenge, I should set the stage: I’m a lifelong Doctor Who fan who came on board at the end of Leila’s journeys with the doctor, and grew up under snotty-Romana-then-flirty-Romana, whiny Tegan and the gloriously glamorous AND SMART Nyssa (I so wanted to be her). I barely survived Mel and Perry and was  rewarded with intelligent and fierce Ace who might have been great if they stories hadn’t been mince, just before the show went on indefinite hiatus.

When it came back, i felt utterly betrayed by Russell T. Davies, who let the Doctor become a romantic figure (“Is this a kissing show?”). Part of the appeal, as a kid, of Doctor Who, was the idea that you could either BE the Doctor or run away with the doctor. It was an intelligent, family show, where young people ran off with a (mostly-)avuncular alien and had adventures. Now, as a grown up and new parent, I felt very queasy at the idea of parents being asked to trust this man with their barely-adult children, if he was going to get all sexy. Ugh. Plus there was an awful lot of emotional angst and despair.

Then along came Moffat’s episodes. I was thrilled to see powerful, cheeky women who were largely dismissive of the doctor — certainly not defined by him — and who, more often than not, turned out to be self-rescuing princesses.

Powerful Women In Moffat’s World

The Empty Child turns out to be not just about a creepy child  but about his courageous female relative. Before she even meets the Doctor she is saving kids and being incredibly resourceful (and cheeky) while doing so. With the help of the Doctor she’s even more powerful and becomes not just her own savior but that of her family, her country and quite possibly the world. Huzzah! Everybody lives!

Then along came Sally Sparrow, who carried a whole episode, solved the mystery and saved almost everyone, including her man AND the Doctor, before he even knew who she was.

And OK, The Girl in the Fireplace was a big icky because the little girl fell in love with the Doctor and waited for him, but to her credit she became the most powerful woman in France and saved herself from harm by being level-headed in a crisis and summoning the one person she knew could help.

Other Moffat Women Who Are Not Puzzles, Problems or Sacrifices

Linda from The Press Gang –  She was the editor of the school paper, with all the power and all the flaws you’d expect of a leading character. (I watched and enjoyed this long before I’d heard of Stephen Moffat)

Jeckyl’s wife – She wasn’t a character who appeared much in the show, but she was his motivation for resisting his demons. Does that make her a ‘problem’? If so, then love is a problem, and that’s not an idea to which I can subscribe. No, she doesn’t help out much, but Jeckyl is a show about a man wrestling with his demons. I don’t remember him letting ANYONE help much.

All the women in Coupling – OK, one of them was fairly bonkers, but so was at least one of the guys. Yes, the main woman was a problem for the main character, because: drama and comedy and romance And the other two characters (one male, one female) were pretty and shallow. So ti was completely balanced.

Molly Hooper – Yes, Molly is defined by her relationship to Sherlock, but she has skills and an education and you know she’d be just fine if he disappeared off the face of the earth. You can imagine her having a life without Sherlock and that, I think, counts. But she’s not a leading character (as requested in the initial question).

Detective Donovan – again, not a main character, but still, not a weak, traditional helpless female.

Mrs Hudson – yes, she’s doing traditional domestic work, but she is a well-rounded character.

Mary Moorstan/Watson – I think it’s unfair to criticize Moffat for writing a character who was introduced as a romantic interest, and writing her as…a romantic interest. She’s given a kick-ass job, a mysterious past, more skills than her husband, an ability to make his life better and be made better by him, and she gets more screen time than any other email character in this male-male buddy-cop version of a classic detective story. In the original stories, Mary appears to allow Watson to get heroic for a minute and then, when the practicalities of domestic life got in the way, she was promptly killed off with no ceremony, off-screen (and with no complicating offspring).

Puzzles, Problems & Sacrifices?

And to the extent that any of these women  are puzzles, problems, if they weren’t, where would the conflict come from? If we want characters to be interesting, they can’t just be badass and perfect. Are they used this way more than the men?

Yes, Amy sacrifices her future in this timeline to be with Rory in his timeline. But would you rather be the blundering bloke who accidentally gets zapped back in time or the determined, devoted character who CHOSES which of the people she loves she’s going to be with?

Yes, Clara sacrifices herself (twice) but she comes out of it all right. As does, eventually, Buffy Summers, who has a much harder time of it, I’d argue and Joss Whedon is lauded for writing ‘strong female characters’. In contrast Rory sacrifices himself so often it becomes a punchline. And I didn’t hear anyone complaining about Aslan…

Which leads me to a point: Moffat grew up in a culture steeped in Christian messages. We’re very big on self-sacrifice in Britain in general and in Glasgow in particular: socialist and Presbyterian/Catholic and chip-on-the-shoulder as we were throughout the 20th century.  It’s a culture that believes suffering is good for the soul and that no greater love hath man than he lay down his life for a friend, and all that.

The Doctor sacrifices all the time, in this current incarnation (except when he runs away for a while before facing up to a challenge. A lesson worth learning).

What Else Moffat Does Right

His women have jobs that are not traditionally female, they have skills and abilities, they are sassy and opinionated, they might like a bit of romance but they don’t cease to exist without it.

His couples (especially his married couples) are devoted to each other. They don’t gain their strength from putting the other half of the couple down. They bring out the best in each other, even when they’re bickering. I LOVE this. It is rare and beautiful and healthy.

His scripts are clever. You have to pay attention. They are witty, and all the characters have more going on than they’re telling you. You can always imagine them in their own, spin-off story.

He’s hopeful and funny. Unlike the end of the Russell T. Davies era of Doctor who, which was a maudlin, drawn-out sob-fest full of regrets and misery, Moffat writes stories with endings in which “Everybody lives!” or, even when they don’t get what they want, there’s hope that they’ll get something they can live with (e.g. Clara). We’re not finished with Sherlock yet, and we’ll see where that goes.

So I Respectfully Disagree

No, I don’t think Moffat has a woman problem. I don’t think all his women are problems, puzzles or sacrifices in any way disproportionate to the dramatic needs of the stories he tells or the way he treats men (most of his bad guys are men!)

Few things annoy me more than a shallow, one-dimensional helper-female character, but I just don’t see it with Moffat, unless you’re determined to find it. I don’t think it’s worth sacrificing complexity or dramatic needs to make a character all powerful just because of gender,

Writer, Interrupted

I was having a great writing morning, after a day when I couldn’t get my head to either wake up or focus on one thing for more than four seconds (I think that was, actually, my personal best).

I had just written most of a short story (a new episode in the Forgetown series) and was firing up my laptop in order to transfer my handwritten version into Scrivener (the program I’m using for this and most of my writing now).

“Just about to” I say, because then my 11 year old (wow, that still shocks me. I did so much blogging when he was a baby and toddler, that typing about him as an 11 year old seems weirder than looking at the evidence in front of me) burst out through the door to the deck, clutching handfuls of fabulously creative figures made from bits and pieces of Lego Hero Factory in a cross-over (in our minds at least) with Doctor Who. He wanted to tell me all about what he had created.

And really, how could I say no?

I see it as a mark of my increasing maturity that I did not run flailing around the deck, stamping my feet, wringing my hands and crying ‘No! No! No! But it was all going so well!”. Instead I listened to my child tell me all about his daydreams, made manifest in shades of plastic.

Eventually, of course, I dismissed him with the excuse that I had to get some stuff done before we went out to pick up his brother, and that was perfectly true. But I did listen and nod and even offer a thought or two during the 25 minute oration, which shows I was paying attention and not merely thinking about my own story behind fake-interested eyes!

In the Good News department, I finished the story and typed it up (with roving edits) this afternoon while said brother rotted his brain on a new twitch-video game. Will make amends later.

I’m up to 9 episodes complete in the Forgetown saga. When I get to 10 it might be time to start putting them online.  What do you think?

 

Don't Talk To Me!

I’ve just watched tonight’s Doctor Who.

For the love of cheese, if you’ve ever heard the words “Doctor Who” and know what they mean, don’t talk to me this week. At least not on the subject of anything Who-related. The suspense may kill me but I’m willing to take that risk.

I knew nothing about tonight’s episode (include who would be in it) and it was such a blast.  I’m sure 99.998% of the people who watched it had heard spoilers of one sort or another but I hadn’t and it almost blew my mind. Aren’t you envious?

Hee hee (hysteria will reign until next Saturday).

End transmission.

Cyberman Continues

Ok, this is a sweater for an 18-month-old (mine) boy and features the Cyberman picture I created (below).

I did the front quite quickly. I’m kind of busking the measurements on the raglan sleeves and neckline, but I’m trying to remember to write down what I’ve done.

The back went really well. I worked the sleeve decreases and the back of the neck, cast off for the shoulders and then, yes THEN, I remembered about the size of toddler’s heads in relation to the rest of their bodies….

Actually I had remembered about it before I cast on, and intended to build in a button-up opening in the back, but I had knitted the back while doing something else and completely forgotten all my good intentions.

So I ripped back a few rows and tried again.

When I had finished the opening and cast off again I realised that it was still woefully too small and I was going to have to go back almost all the way to where I started the armhole decreases.

It’s a good thing it’s a small sweater and knitted in worsted.

But we’re back on track now. I’m knitting up one side of the back with a built-in button band. I still have no idea if it’ll really fit him, but I’m having fun.

The body is in black, the Cyberman is in Berroco Metallix FX silver/black and the sleeves will be in a grey that sort of matches (not quite) the silver. The collar will be, hmm, whatever I feel like when I get there. Probably black, given that it is to be worn by a small boy with a slovenly mother who forgets about bibs until it’s too late.

Cyberman Knit


Cyberman Knit
Originally uploaded by jwordsmith.

For those non-Brits out there, this is one of the arch-baddies from Dr Wh, a recently-revived series from the BBC.

I started out to see if I could design a decent Jack Sparrow pirate but suddenly realised the face shape would lend itself very nicely to a the Cyberman.

I have an urge to design lots of cool boy clothes, since most knitting books (and clothes shops) are full of girl:boy clothes in the ratio 4:1 or thereabouts. And the boy stuff mostly consists of sporty-themed clothes or machine-themed clothes. My boys DO like their monster trucks but I want something a little different.

The Cyberman is part one of my plan.

I now have Berroco Metallic FX and Berroco Bling coming from Webs to see what I can do with that (for those not in the know, a Cyberman should be silver).