It’s safe to say I’ve been highly critical of Doctor Who’s executive producer Steven Moffat. Before he took over as showrunner, his episodes were always some of my favorites (“The Girl in the Fireplace,” “Blink”). When he took over with Season 5, I really enjoyed myself, but he seemed to lose focus after that. He had grand ideas but the execution of those ideas never lived up to their potential, and when they take a whole season or more to play out, that can be particularly disappointing for fans.
Besides the show as a whole, I’ve found his treatment of female character less than stellar, but his comments outside of the show bothered me as well. There was his assertion that women didn’t actually want to write or direct the show, or his discussions surrounding a female version of the Doctor. We know Moffat is stepping down from the show after the next series wraps up in 2017 with Broadchurch and Torchwood’s Chris Chibnall taking over. And while we haven’t seen new companion Pearl Mackie’s work on the show yet, I’ve noticed some hopeful words coming from Moffat.
I’m talking specifically about his thoughts on diversity, a topic being discussed more openly than ever in Hollywood this year. He admitted past failures when it came to representing the very diverse United Kingdom Doctor Who normally takes place in. He and his casting director have been making a conscious effort to do better moving forward. But he’s always had a clear view of what Doctor Who is, and it seems those strict ideas haven’t changed.
“Science-fiction is notoriously male. You can tell that because everyone wears uniforms and marches around talking about rules. But Doctor Who has always felt to me, rather female. It’s full of kindness and compassion and eccentricity and wisdom instead of violence. And from that point of view it is important that the main character, the Doctor’s best friend, should be female. Someone will now pop up and say it’s called Doctor Who, not Clara (or or Rose or whatever). Well, listen you, it’s not called The Doctor either, it’s called Doctor Who – it’s about that question and who’s asking it.”
The landscape of sci-fi is certainly changing thanks to women taking lead roles in films like Star Wars: The Force Awakens and Mad Max: Fury Road, but I’d agree with Moffat that the genre has been historically male driven. It feels like Moffat is explaining his thoughts on the topic with the best of intentions but it also sounds like he’s limiting himself in terms of gender roles.
“Doctor Who has a tremendous appeal to young girls as well as young boys. They have to have an identification point; someone that they can imagine themselves being,” he also said. “The truth about Doctor Who is the main character has never been the Doctor. He the star turn, with the best lines, and the big moments, but it’s always been the story of his companions – and often his companion has been a young woman he has met and befriended. I think it would be damaging to Doctor Who if that voice and viewpoint were not represented.”
I’m constantly talking about the need for representation and how seeing yourself on screen is incredibly important, especially as a young person, so I’m glad Moffat is considering that. But I think he also underplays the importance of the Doctor himself and how perhaps, if the character were played by a woman, that would be an incredibly important visual for children. It would also free up the companion spot to be played by a man and just loosen up these strict 1-to-1 scenarios. But you might be thinking here, what about the guys who have played a large role in Doctor Who? Captain Jack, Mickey, or Rory?
“All the bloke companions, with the exception of Jamie, are sort of friends-in-law, like Rory,” he said. “The Doctor likes Rory very much, but he wouldn’t really know what to say to Rory unless Amy was in the room. And Rory wouldn’t know what to say to the Doctor unless Amy was in the room. And the only way they could communicate with each other was if they talked about Amy.”
Frankly, I find that to be a silly notion. That the only thing the Doctor and Rory had to discuss was the mutual woman in their lives, but also, there’s no reason you can’t have more than one fully developed companion on the show. I believe thinking outside the Doctor/companion box is a very good idea that should be explored moving forward. You can have two men share the screen and feature powerful women in other roles, or cast someone who’s transgender, gender non-conforming, or genderqueer in one of the two lead roles. Or, as so many fans would hope, you could have the Doctor regenerate as a woman, and *gasp* have two women lead the show.