“Rather well, as it happens. With a story not short of a surprise or two, the trick to Time Heist is that it keeps things moving. Whilst few characters smile much, there’s no shortage of fun. After all, we’ve got high-tech technology and a different planet to explore - albeit one that features the traditional same corridor shot from different angles - and there’s a very different feel from the scares of last week’s Listen.”
It also presents us with Peter Capaldi’s Doctor slightly out of his depth, having to put his trust in others, and work it out along with the rest of us pudding brains. There’s enough twists and turns in the plot to keep you guessing right up until the end. Why are they breaking in to the bank? Who sent them here? Where’s the TARDIS? And why do they have to go about the break-in like this?
Along with the two Pinks, and Clara and the Doctor, there is a fifth character which is within the web of influence and inspiration – the TARDIS. Look again at the shape of barn-walls, and the blue of this place-of-safety that the young Doctor has run to. Chameleon Circuit “error” or calming echo?
As always, you should read Andrew Ellard’s Tweetnotes, this time on “Listen”. As Ellard points out, there are a few notes that hit wrong in this story: Clara hiding facts from the Doctor but wanting to be trusted; the Doctor implanting Rupert’s future as Danny the soldier.
[…] is, categorically, an episode by a dad for children. Not exclusively, but intentionally.
This is a key approach to Moffat’s Doctor Who. He runs many of his ideas by his sons. He writes the stories to have role-models for children. The Doctor’s “fear is a superpower” speech is something I will be saying to my daughter for years.
Casey, at like breath on a mirror, on the eleventh Doctor, specifically on how he is afraid of waiting and of endings:
Yet curiously, this runaway Time Lord surrounds himself with people who wait. There’s obviously Amy, the girl who waited for him. Then there’s Rory, the boy who waited two-thousand years for the woman he loves. River waits patiently for the Doctor to learn who she is, never revealing any of her spoilers. The Doctor befriends Craig, an regular man who waits for his best friend to realize his love for her. And then of course there is Clara, the young lady who put her life on hold to help her friends without even a hint of resentment. […]
And finally, on Trenzalore, he stayed put to do exactly what he respected in Clara: to not skip out on people he cared about.
Casey argues that the eleventh Doctor’s story resolves his inability to wait and to avoid endings. His story concludes, staying still on Trenzalore, each day following the next, ready for his own ending.
PK: What’s your fantasy casting for a female Doctor?
UM: Siobhan Redmond, Mel Giedroyc, Zawe Ashton… oh, so many you could choose. In my opinion, Jon Pertwee was a woman Doctor. Shakespeare’s plays had men playing women, and I think they cast a man to play a woman Doctor with Pertwee. He’s a female Doctor!
One of the negative aspects of current Doctor Who1 is that displays sexism. There are regular comments that Steven Moffat’s female characters do not display agency. They only exist in relation to the Doctor. They are two dimensional. I don’t agree that Moffat is sexist, but do agree he can display sexism. Not all sexism exists on the worse side of the spectrum, of actively working against equality and actively hurting people. But there are everyday moments of sexism that cause harm, smaller scale problems that cumulatively are terrible. Moffat has his flaws. We all do. And we should all aim to improve ourselves.
Again, in other words, Moffat is engaging in auto-critique, not just with self-loathing narration about his life, but in his writing. And if you want the motherlode of this, go back a to Coupling’s spiritual prequel, Joking Apart, a sitcom retelling of Moffat’s divorce in which he’s at times a profoundly unsympathetic character who is shown to be largely responsible for his marriage’s failure. This is one of the most basic things Moffat does - he writes scathing self-critiques about his failings as a man, then dresses them up as comedies where the joke is on the character based on him. Indeed, for anyone who has taken the time to look at Moffat’s entire career and actually think about his common themes, it will be fairly obvious that he writes both Sherlock and the Doctor as characters in the same tradition as his auto-critique self-inserts. Indeed, given the frequency with which Moffat focuses on the failures of masculinity, if anything, I would argue that Moffat is extremely prone to something approaching misandry, with all the irony that term implies.
Any critique of Moffat’s portrayal of women should also consider his portrayal of men.
[Steven Moffat said that] “I think it’s important that there is a feminist critique of television because things that go unquestioned go unchanged and what goes unchanged becomes institutionalized and what becomes institutionalized becomes your fault. So, it should be questioned. I think some of the criticisms that are aimed at me personally are absurdly over the top and unfair, but then, who said the prosecution has to be fair? And it’s a case that needs to be prosecuted.”
There we have it. A writer who is willing to accept criticism of his work that he finds actively hurtful because he thinks it’s more important that there be feminist media criticism that holds the world accountable for its ideology than it is that he not have his feelings hurt.
I am comfortable saying that this man is feminist, and that he is considerably less misogynistic than the culture he exists in. And I think any argument that tries to suggest that his work is not feminist (in a practical sense as well as in the sense of authorial intent) or that it is misogynist has to grapple with the strong evidence that he is a consciously feminist writer who is trying to critique problematic masculinity.
You may agree or disagree with Sandifer’s argument. This is something important to debate. But I encourage everyone to spend the time to read his essay.
Doctor Who is a show about the wonder and terror of time as well the wonder and terror of space. Moffat understands that, using time travel as a tool to explore the horror of old age and loneliness, to examine the redemptive power, not of love, but of memory. That’s a rabbit hole worthy of exploring.
Casey Jones at io9asks “Can Steven Moffat Write Women Who AREN’T Obsessed?”. In her article, Jones identifies case after case where Moffat creates a female character who is obsessed with the Doctor: Amy, River, Clara, Tasha and more. And she answers her own question with the following exception:
There’s also Madame Vastra and Jenny (who should totally get a spin-off), who are happily married. But for a couple with their own home, lives, and careers, it’s easy to argue that their lives still revolve around the Doctor. (Scratch that. They should absolutely get their own spin-off. I’d be delighted to see what they’re like when the Doctor’s not around to eclipse them.)
You could argue that all characters in Doctor Who revolve around the Doctor. He is the title character. But does that mean they are obsessed with him?
A common question is the lack of dimensions of Moffat’s female characters. Or the apparent sexism displayed in his stories. Some people raise the example of how Amy reacts to her baby daughter being stolen. (Though they don’t raise what it means for Rory. For me, I would do anything to protect my daughter.) Others raise the issue, as did Jones, that all Moffat’s female characters are obsessed with the Doctor. (But forget that the Master, Daleks, Cybermen and other villains who are also obsessed with the Doctor.) There are those that state that most of the female characters are versions of Moffat’s wife Sue Virtue. (But do people notice that all the male characters must be aspects of Moffat himself?)
All my points are overly simplified. But so are the arguments that Moffat is sexist or reuses the same character. All writers have their underlying, common themes.All writers have their own style and approach. All writers have flaws. For example, despite my admiration of Russell T Davies, his talents and amazing skill in creating an amazing version of Doctor Who, I dislike his portrayal of mothers: Jackie Tyler, the Empress of the Racnoss, Francine Jones, Sylvia Noble and others. All one-note kill-joy mothers.
But that doesn’t spoil my love of Russell T Davies’s work.
A side note: I wonder whether Steven Moffat will experiment and make the Master’s next incarnation female. The risk with that approach is that we will have another woman obsessing over the Doctor. Except we shouldn’t forget that the Master has almost always obsessed over the Doctor.
Early female companions, like Victoria in the Patrick Troughton years, screamed pathetically when in danger. More positive female companions eventually emerged in the form of the knife-wielding Leela, who starred alongside Tom Baker, and Sylvester McCoy’s companion Ace, who memorably beat up a Dalek with a baseball bat.
Are Leela and Ace great female role-models? They are women with weapons: a knife and explosives. They kill; they beat up.
Is the Doctor a better role model, someone whose first option is a solution that doesn’t need violence? Is he a better role model for anyone, male or female?
Which is why the Doctor’s gender does not matter. The Doctor could be male. The Doctor could be female. As long as the Doctor shows intelligence and the non-violent option, the Doctor remains the same.