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Is Doctor Who Sexist?
May 29, 2014 5:29 PM   Subscribe

University Study on Sexism In BBC’s Doctor Who (Infographic). It examines and compares episodes from the first seven seasons of the revival through the departure of the Ponds. The major metrics are the Bechdel Test and companion speaking time.

As one might expect, Steven Moffat comes off worse than RTD. However, the author of the study and post acknowledges the subjectivity of the measures, but it's an interesting perspective on the series nonetheless.
posted by ZeusHumms (92 comments total) 19 users marked this as a favorite

 
Everyone already knew that Donna was the best companion, right?
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 5:32 PM on May 29 [73 favorites]


I'm confused about how someone can pass the Bechdel test "on their own"? Does that mean the conversation is one on one between two women without a man in the room?
posted by Sara C. at 5:35 PM on May 29 [1 favorite]


It's not terribly surprising to me the Moffat comes off worse here. Coupling is very funny but also completely obsessed with differences between men and women.
posted by macrael at 5:37 PM on May 29 [4 favorites]


Not bovvered.
posted by polymodus at 5:38 PM on May 29 [5 favorites]


Scientific proof that Donna was best.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:42 PM on May 29 [21 favorites]


I had to stop watching the last season of Doctor Who, in no small part because Clara is the anti-Donna - a frenetic nose-wriggling hamster plot contrivance.

Moffat has destroyed (for me) a show that I have loved since Tom Baker. I'm surprised by how boring I find the show now, considering I loved the Blink and Library stories. I have no tolerance for his Sherlock either. I'm pretty forgiving when it comes to entertainment, but the sexual politics and narrative laziness of both shows makes me see red.

Seriously - I want my show back. My murder husbands are gone for the year, and I need entertaining.
posted by bibliowench at 5:42 PM on May 29 [25 favorites]


I'm confused about how someone can pass the Bechdel test "on their own"?

I believe they mean that a particular character is in on the relevant conversation -- e.g. two women have a Bechdel-passing conversation but Woman C isn't in that conversation, then the episode passes, but Woman C doesn't get "credit" for it.
posted by Etrigan at 5:43 PM on May 29 [3 favorites]


I'm starting to think that the Bechdel test has jumped the shark. Every article or study that employs it points out (correctly) that it's actually a pretty clumsy instrument. Maybe we should come up with a better one.

If we're going for something that can be easily communicated and understood by average non-technical schlubs (e.g., me), then the Mako Mori test strikes me as a significant improvement—although it's admittedly more subjective.

(I don't fault Alison Bechdel in the slightest—she was writing a comic strip, not a research paper—and despite the limitations of the test, it's still telling to observe how many movies fail it.)
posted by escape from the potato planet at 5:44 PM on May 29 [2 favorites]


I don't think the Bechdel test was ever meant to be a litmus test for a movie to be feminist, it was just a clever way of illustrating how the vast majority of movies are centered on men due to the general sexism of the media industry in general. More about the sum of culture than a single piece.
posted by smasuch at 5:53 PM on May 29 [51 favorites]


i like the mako mori test, but i think the bechdel test is still useful. women make up 1/2 the population - you think it wouldn't be so hard to get 2 to talk to each other.
posted by nadawi at 5:55 PM on May 29 [11 favorites]


I don't think the Bechdel test was ever meant to be a litmus test for a movie to be feminist

It's used that way all the time, though. Such as in this piece.
posted by escape from the potato planet at 5:57 PM on May 29 [1 favorite]


I'm sure modern Doctor Who fares much better than classic Doctor Who. Progress is progress.
posted by Roger Dodger at 5:58 PM on May 29


nadawi: Totally agreed, and in a more egalitarian culture we'd see a lot more movies that pass Bechdel. But we'd also see—as we do today—movies that don't pass Bechdel but aren't actually all that problematic, and movies that do pass it, often on a technicality, and still manage to botch everything else horribly.
posted by escape from the potato planet at 6:02 PM on May 29 [2 favorites]


I'm sure modern Doctor Who fares much better than classic Doctor Who. Progress is progress.

And regress is regress.
posted by Etrigan at 6:02 PM on May 29 [8 favorites]


It's used that way all the time, though. Such as in this piece.

Not really. They're not saying, in this piece, "if this episode passed the Bechdel Test then it is a feminist episode, and if it failed, then it is a sexist one." That's the crude and utterly pointless use of the test. They're saying "if writer/director/showrunner A's shows largely pass the Bechdel test and writer/director/showrunner B's largely don't, we can draw some useful inferences about A and B, so long as the sample is sufficiently large." And that strikes me as a plausible use of the Bechdel test.

It's certainly not cast iron, but with a reasonably large corpus to work on, it's suggestive.
posted by yoink at 6:05 PM on May 29 [33 favorites]


nearly everyone who discusses the bedchel seems to understand that it's not a rigorous test but rather a measuring stick. some don't pass and are great, some do and are terrible - the fact that so few pass is the important part. relating to this topic, the fact that you can pretty easily chart how one showrunner vs another does on the test, it seems a useful distinction.
posted by nadawi at 6:06 PM on May 29 [8 favorites]


oooor what yoink said better as i was typing
posted by nadawi at 6:07 PM on May 29 [1 favorite]


The Doctor is always male, The (primary) Companion is always female.

Seems like a better framing would be: Is Doctor Who ever able to transcend its fundamentally patriarchal premise? (answer: sometimes)
posted by b1tr0t at 6:07 PM on May 29 [10 favorites]


The Bechdel test is indeed a clumsy instrument. An incredibly basic, easy, clumsy physics-for-poets test. It should be trivial to pass. Stupidly easy. No, no nuance in that test whatsoever.

And that is exactly why it is so powerful.
posted by Dashy at 6:08 PM on May 29 [44 favorites]


the Mako Mori test strikes me as a significant improvement

Mako Mori is a great character. Why was she the only great female character in that movie?

Black Widow was the breakout star of Avengers. Where was Captain Marvel?

The Bechdel test tracks an important truth: if a movie can have a great female character in it, why not two? Seriously, why not?
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 6:09 PM on May 29 [28 favorites]


The Doctor is always male, The (primary) Companion is always female.

I remember seeing a rumor a while ago (probably here) that Dame Judi Dench was being considered as the next Doctor. I so wanted that to be true, and was so disappointed when it wasn't. (And I'm not even a Doctor Who fan.)
posted by escape from the potato planet at 6:10 PM on May 29 [2 favorites]


As someone who has never seen Dr Who, and only knows about it through MeFi, I would like to concur with escape from the potato planet.

Why not make the Dr a chick?
posted by notyou at 6:17 PM on May 29


Or "Dame," if you prefer.
posted by notyou at 6:19 PM on May 29


The Doctor is always male, The (primary) Companion is always female.


In New Who, yes, but not old Who... Jamie, Adric and Turlough, off the top of my head were all primary companions.

That sounds a bit Adventures in Time and Polyamory, doesn't it?
posted by running order squabble fest at 6:19 PM on May 29 [3 favorites]


Diane Morgan for the next Doctor!
posted by George_Spiggott at 6:24 PM on May 29 [3 favorites]


I'll add my name to the list of fans who fell in love with the show for Tom Baker, and stopped watching because of Amy Pond. Perhaps this sheds some light on why.
posted by trackofalljades at 6:27 PM on May 29 [11 favorites]


Clara is the anti-Donna

God, this is so true! Donna challenged the Doctor and made him recognize that other people matter and they weren't attracted to each other and Clara exists ONLY to believe that the Doctor is better and more important than other people, especially herself. I think Catherine Tate is super attractive but less conventionally so while Clara is very trim and basically just a manic pixie dream girl. Donna's relationship to the Doctor was fascinating and kept him a bit more grounded while Clara literally sacrificed herself because he was Just So Important.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 6:28 PM on May 29 [35 favorites]


What is the difference between Moffat and Davies in total speaking time each episode? Is there a noticeable difference? Less speaking time would give each woman fewer lines and less chance to Bechdelate.
posted by Thing at 6:31 PM on May 29


I want to know how the Sontaran wetnurse figures into all of this.
posted by angerbot at 6:34 PM on May 29 [3 favorites]


Her theory on River Song is really interesting. I mean, I adore, River Song, and I can still admit that her entire identity revolves around The Doctor. That's why I'd have loved a spin-off involving her. I mean, does she go on any amazing time adventures outside of those that involve The Doctor? One would assume that to be the case, given her knowledge and contacts but we barely get a glimpse of that.
posted by liquorice at 6:38 PM on May 29 [1 favorite]


Honestly, if you can watch Moffat's work and not immediately think "My God, that man really does not care for or comprehend women," maybe published research with infographics and such might illuminate the issue, but I don't need an official scholarly treatise to tell me how much of a fucking sexist misogynist flaming shitbag Moffat is.
posted by tzikeh at 6:41 PM on May 29 [28 favorites]


What is the difference between Moffat and Davies in total speaking time each episode?

Yes, that struck me as an important question, too. It would be interesting to have the figures not of total speaking time for the companions but of percentage of total dialogue in the episode. Some part of what we're seeing here could, in theory, be simply that one writer writes wordier, more dialogue-heavy scripts than the other.
posted by yoink at 6:43 PM on May 29


does she go on any amazing time adventures outside of those that involve The Doctor?

For the first several times we meet her we come in on her on the edge of some "amazing time adventures outside of those that involve The Doctor." I mean, the show is Doctor Who so it's inevitable that the only extended River Song adventures we see will be ones that involve the Doctor--but it's well established in the show that those aren't her only adventures.
posted by yoink at 6:45 PM on May 29


In New Who, yes, but not old Who... Jamie, Adric and Turlough, off the top of my head were all primary companions.

Ian, Ben, Harry, also come to mind.

Very few of the men had any brains at all in the new Who. The majority of the female companions did much better in this regard.

The new Who is a horribly written overly melodramatic disaster so I'm not surprised to see the Doctor getting busy in some ridiculously childish sense, thus focusing on the timeless technique of romantic tension (though not always of course), sort of like an American sitcom where guy x really likes girl y and girl y really likes guy x and they spend time dancing around it forever. It is, in effect, a standard American network television sci-fi sitcom produced in Wales with all the logic of the a daytime soap.

The characters are for the most part awful, male or female, and the Doctor himself a zany caricature. It's fiction, so I'm willing, as always, to see the characters not as realistic and more metaphors and symbols but it's awful for that too.
posted by juiceCake at 6:48 PM on May 29 [7 favorites]


I do kinda wish Clara had been included in this, but her ratings would be worse than even River's, I suspect.
posted by jenfullmoon at 7:00 PM on May 29 [1 favorite]


I'm very excited for the day we get a woman Doctor, but I really don't want it to happen under Moffat's watch. It's like the Wonder Woman dilemma. I really want a Wonder Woman movie, but I know DC as it is now would ruin it completely.
posted by lovecrafty at 7:18 PM on May 29 [6 favorites]


I'm way behind on the Moffatt episodes, but I remember some really clumsily written female characters, basically caricatures, in Russell T Davies-written episodes (eg Mercy Hartigan in the Christmas special set in Victorian England). And for all the good Donna moments, remember that Catherine Tate describes her character as beginning as a "shouting fishwife."

And Martha, what a wasted opportunity she represents as a character.

Anyway, I'm not looking forward to a bunch of episodes worse than that, is what I'm saying.
posted by knuckle tattoos at 7:22 PM on May 29 [1 favorite]


I kind of think that RTD and Moffat had kind of a Lennon/McCartney thing going on, where they could keep each other's worst tendencies in check (or at least tried to). Don't forget that Moffat wrote Blink and that RTD wrote Midnight while both were involved with the show.

And for all the good Donna moments, remember that Catherine Tate describes her character as beginning as a "shouting fishwife."

...I'm not clear as to your point with this observation?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:29 PM on May 29


Donna was some of the best character development ever. I started out not liking her because, well, she didn't look like someone I wanted to be so I couldn't pretend I was the companion. And she didn't act like someone I wanted to be.

But then she grew on me because hot damn she didn't take any shit and she did what she had to in order to save us all.

In the end, she ended up being the companion I've related to the most (I'm only a new who-er).
posted by sio42 at 7:33 PM on May 29 [9 favorites]


I want to see a female Dr Who, Dracula, Bond, and US president. That is all.
posted by Brocktoon at 7:39 PM on May 29 [6 favorites]


It's weird that Donna does best, since she's obviously the worst.
posted by blue_beetle at 7:42 PM on May 29 [3 favorites]


Very few of the men had any brains at all in the new Who. The majority of the female companions did much better in this regard.

It's a running gag at our house that Rory and Mickey both had better arcs than any of the female companions in Nu Who. Look at where they start and where they end up by the time they leave the show, and both of them have more growth than the women companions (except maybe Donna who gets it all short-circuited.)

I like the kinds of stories Moffat tells, with the callouts to Three and Four, but I have thought and will continue to believe that the structure of the current show doesn't support what Moffat wants to do with the writing of seasonal arcs. Character development, particularly of short-term characters, is stunted by the one-hour arc. The evidence here shows that that extends to the companions as well.

Also, S3 of Sherlock was the point where the waterskis were really over the shark. I'm hoping Moffat gets Capaldi settled as Twelve and moves on from Doctor Who because he's now doing a shoddy job with both shows (S7b of Nu Who also had a lot of flaws and Clara's lack of characterization is one of them) and is repeating himself way too much and too obviously. That's burnout and it's not good for either show.
posted by immlass at 7:47 PM on May 29 [5 favorites]


...I'm not clear as to your point with this observation?

I should have been clearer. Donna's loud shoutiness made her a horrible caricature and the butt of jokes in her first episode, and it made a bad first impression on me that didn't help me appreciate the direction her character grew in (I watched those episodes too close together, I think). It's one thing to portray a confident woman standing up to the Doctor - that would be great. But often in the RTD-written episodes, when Donna was the Doctor's conscience, I felt like she was being presented less as an equal and more as an obstacle. Contrast with the more filler-y episodes like the Agatha Christie one, where their interplay was quick and clever, but there was less conflict between them.

It's the same sense I got watching a few Star Trek TNG episodes in which Riker is inexplicably heralded as this gifted officer for prizing his own viewpoint over the sensible warnings of Worf and Troi. Like, it's not enough for the show to just tell you that a character is right for standing up for themselves. You have to believe they have just as good a reason as the other person for having their particular viewpoint. And in the case where the other person is a semi-immortal alien genius like the Doctor, that's a tough case to present, and I'm not at all convinced RTD did it well.
posted by knuckle tattoos at 7:51 PM on May 29


It's weird that Donna does best, since she's obviously the worst.

Pistols at dawn, sirrah.

My kiddo (8) asked to watch Who, so we are on the 9th Doctor right now. Yes, they are goofy, but they also get in a little philosophical goodness now and then, and I just like Eccleston a lot. I can make it through 10 all right, I didn't like Tennant but he won me over, but when we get to 11 it's going to get tough; that's where I dropped out last time. I will never like either Smith or Rory, you cannot make me, I'm sorry.

The sucky thing about the series is that it is held up by so much love on the part of the viewers and yet the writers seem to have less and less idea why as the series go on, and so the good gets drowned out by the regrettable and the brilliant becomes entirely accidental and ever-more-rare.
posted by emjaybee at 7:51 PM on May 29 [2 favorites]


Moffat tells a good story, but his knack for character is not really there. Especially female characters. River Song was a really good concept that he absolutely tanked by fleshing her out into a person with a (very bad) arc. Much ink has already been spilled on Clara and Amy, but at worst they're generic companions; River is an epic waste of potential.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 7:55 PM on May 29 [8 favorites]


It's weird that Donna does best, since she's obviously the worst.

Wow, what's it like being the wrongest wrong in Wrongtown?
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 7:57 PM on May 29 [29 favorites]


Donna Noble ruined me for all other companions. She's so completely human and her chemistry with David Tennant was remarkable. They brought out the best in each other as both characters and actors.

Tim Stanley of The Guardian:
The best companion has got to be Katy Manning playing Jo Grant. Why? Partly because she was just gorgeous. She was what we in the 70's called a sexpot. That's illegal nowadays you can't use that language anymore. Sorry about that. But also she was really, really posh. And I like that in a companion. Good looking, really well spoken, she's basically there to say to The Doctor "What's going on? I'm confused."
So, basically, Dr. Who may or may not be sexist (I lean to "may") but Tim Stanley absolutely is.

EDIT: I forgot to link the video.
posted by Joey Michaels at 7:57 PM on May 29 [6 favorites]


If they're going to insist the Doctor be a man then I expect to see proof. Doc Cock or GTFO
posted by srboisvert at 8:11 PM on May 29 [3 favorites]


> And for all the good Donna moments, remember that Catherine Tate describes her character as beginning as a "shouting fishwife."

...I'm not clear as to your point with this observation?

Clearly the fishwife archetype is an inherently sexist character since the term itself is exclusively defined relative to the fish she's married to, as with the entwife.
posted by XMLicious at 8:15 PM on May 29 [6 favorites]


Very few of the men had any brains at all in the new Who. The majority of the female companions did much better in this regard.

It's a running gag at our house that Rory and Mickey both had better arcs than any of the female companions in Nu Who. Look at where they start and where they end up by the time they leave the show, and both of them have more growth than the women companions (except maybe Donna who gets it all short-circuited.)


I have an error in what I input. I actually meant the old Who at that point in the post. Mickey becoming a "badass" is not what I consider character development and Rory remained a human squirrel to me, constantly fidgeting about. Some change, but not growth. His being some sort of grand guardian that stood behind his woman for centuries on end was just something more or less said about him, but the show is full of these grandiose proclamations that are seldom explored. Being a life long fan I found it difficult to stop watching (not to mention it's a focus of family conversation), but even the family have given up on it (and Sherlock). We'll look it again if Moffat fucks off.
posted by juiceCake at 8:26 PM on May 29 [1 favorite]


If they're going to insist the Doctor be a man then I expect to see proof. Doc Cock or GTFO


Here you go. (NSFW)
posted by bibliowench at 8:28 PM on May 29


I recently watched one of the later episodes featuring Clara, and the Doctor repeatedly refers to her as "my Impossible Girl", which I found really screwy. The MPDG who literally *belongs* to the Doctor.
posted by brundlefly at 8:42 PM on May 29


And, yes. Donna was clearly the best.
posted by brundlefly at 8:51 PM on May 29 [1 favorite]


Donna was not the best.

Martha written by someone else was the best.
posted by Celsius1414 at 8:55 PM on May 29 [13 favorites]


Clara is the anti-Donna - a frenetic nose-wriggling hamster plot contrivance.

Best description ever.

And yes, Donna was the best - and all the more awesome because when Catherine Tate was announced I was horrified and thought she'd be awful. I was so, so wrong.
posted by andraste at 8:58 PM on May 29 [3 favorites]


I love Donna because there is nothing "impossible" or mysterious about her. She's not (usually) part of a universal prophecy, she's not an enigma, and she's not in love with the Doctor. She's written as a human counterpart to the Doctor, and while she loves her adventures, she isn't afraid to call him out for some of his actions. And even though she loses all her memories of traveling with him, she's fine. She's a Bridget-Jones-like mess when we first see her, but ultimately, she doesn't need the Doctor to have a fulfilling life.

In season three's "School Reunion," Sarah Jane Smith describes how hard it was for her to stop being a companion and to grow old while the Doctor was immortal. I love Sarah Jane (sniff), but I also love how Donna doesn't follow the standard paternalistic plot of "wise older man teaches inexperienced young woman how to realize their potential," which I have grown very, very tired of.

Now of course, we don't get the story of how she turned her life around from "The Runway Bride," but her characters was strong enough that we don't question that she could do it.

Anyone missing the Tennant/Tate chemistry should watch their 2011 Much Ado About Nothing. There's a lot of Doctor/Donna subtextual fanwanking going on, but some might see that as a bonus.
posted by bibliowench at 10:06 PM on May 29 [13 favorites]


Seconding Donna sucks, Martha could have been EVERYTHING and Rory was such a good husband I was able to tolerate Amy's ridiculousness, including her permanent miniskirt situation.
posted by Unicorn on the cob at 10:08 PM on May 29 [6 favorites]


My favorite thing about Martha was that someone says "doctor???" And both of them turn around and say "YES?" and then comes the side-eye.

And then somehow her awesomeness leaked onto Alt!verse Mickey, who became her hyper-competent companion.

But we all agree the Weeping Angels were the Scariest Monsters Ever*, right?

*would also accept "are you my mummy?" Gas mask kid as creepiest foe (singular)
posted by Unicorn on the cob at 10:19 PM on May 29 [6 favorites]


In season three's "School Reunion," Sarah Jane Smith describes how hard it was for her to stop being a companion and to grow old while the Doctor was immortal. I love Sarah Jane (sniff), but I also love how Donna doesn't follow the standard paternalistic plot of "wise older man teaches inexperienced young woman how to realize their potential," which I have grown very, very tired of.

This was one of the moments when I realized how much I detested RTD as showrunner. RTD wanted to make Sarah Jane into the Doctor's girlfriend whom he left behind, and she wasn't. She was his best friend, and yes it was hard, but she had her own life and adventures and fun.

School Reunion was also the moment when I realized that Nu Who was going to have a level of suck for me until it stopped focusing on romance, and not just having the romance, but whether the romance existed in the first place. Not everything between men and women (or men and men--I'm looking at you, Captain Jack) has to be about romantic or sexual love. And I've always found romance particularly problematic when it's a 900+ year-old man dragging off young (come on, 40 is young to a Time Lord) things out into time and space and then deciding he's romantically attracted to them.

I've liked all the Nu Who companions except Clara--even Rose was a lot of fun until she fell in love with Ten--but I hate the dynamic of where the romance stuff is always on the table. Have it as spice, fine, but it doesn't need to be the main dish. Maybe then we'll have some room for more women to talk to each other about something else.
posted by immlass at 10:21 PM on May 29 [7 favorites]


Mako Mori is a great character. Why was she the only great female character in that movie?

Well, for starters, there were only three characters in the film you couldn't fold up and put in your wallet and she's the only one whose character flaw (a bit of PTSD) isn't exactly her fault (as opposed to getting your brother killed with your devil may care attitude or bad case of stick-up-your-assitis.) Everyone else was comic relief or a plot device with feet. Try and imagine replacing Marshal Pentecost with a woman and people not being unhappy with their portrayal of women in authority.

The problem with any litmus tests (for anything) is that you're never going to get one that will pass a Turing test. There was a thing that showed up on my Facebook feed a while back about surprising movies that passed the Bechdel test. "Surprising" was mostly a euphemism for "cringe-worthy", which makes me wonder if we aren't seeing people game the test.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 10:32 PM on May 29 [1 favorite]


Anna Maxwell Martin for the Doctor.
posted by persona au gratin at 1:15 AM on May 30 [3 favorites]


I'm sure modern Doctor Who fares much better than classic Doctor Who.

Old Who had male companions, a female Time Lord who went off to an alternative dimension to be the Doctor of that dimension, and Leela, who killed enemies with a knife every episode. So maybe, maybe not. Doctor Who was running in the 1970s, after all, which in some ways is the peak of feminist characters.

(Of course, Leela wore a fur bikini...)
posted by alasdair at 1:16 AM on May 30 [1 favorite]


This makes me so sad, because I fell in love with Doctor Who back in the days of Nine, transitioned fairly painlessly to Ten, and hugely enjoyed both Captain Jack (what can I say? I'm a sucker for that grin) and Donna. And I like Matt Smith and Karen Gillian and Arthur Darvill and I liked the idea of many of the plots (I am also a sucker for old friends coming to your aid) and then there was a married, interspecies, time-traveling, ass-kicking Victorian lesbian couple and that is just awesome.

But no matter how much I like (or want to like) the individual pieces that make up post-Donna Who it just... doesn't work. It's the opposite of all those things that are more than the sum of their parts - it's like the parts are from all sorts of different puzzles and they just don't fit. And also the puzzles had all sorts of interesting characters and stories in them and someone (Moffat) just picked the boy pieces and only let his friends play with them in his treehouse marked "NO GRLS ALOUD" and the result is really weird? And really sad. Because when River Song was introduced I was all WHOO-HOO time-traveling space adventure professor lady in her best years! And I wanted to be her when I grew up.

Then. Well. Then writing happened and she isn't actually a space adventure professor lady - she's a little girl who fell in love with the Doctor and is now spending her life waiting for him. Her entire life. She is literally locked up in prison for years and the only significant moments she has is when she busts out to be with her not-really boyfriend...? Oh yeah and then she gave her life for his and was eternally trapped in a creepy utopia cult inside a computer so that the Doctor wouldn't feel too bad about letting her die.

Plus outside of what happens with the plot (which I often get the feeling Moffat now writes in hurried scrawls on napkins on the train to filming) and the characters the fact that Doctor Who has not had a woman write an episode for it since 2008 kind of infuriates me. There is no earthly reason why they can't make the tiniest bit of an effort to include new writers. Especially since Moffat's buds are not as good as he thinks they are - I mean, Steve Thompson ruined space pirates. Space pirates. That's some anti-talent right there.

...clearly I have been bottling up my feelings on this subject for too long. Because I want to like Doctor Who so badly. But I don't anymore. And I'd managed to forget that until this very post. Sorry guys!
posted by harujion at 1:18 AM on May 30 [14 favorites]


I'm conflicted, because OTOH, I really enjoy Sherlock. OTOH, I think I'm fanboi hand-waving away the fact that Moffat pulls moves that are complete ass.

******** SHERLOCK SPOILERS ********

How exactly did Sherlock survive the fall? We'll never know. And I don't mind making fun of fans trying to figure it out, but only if YOU ACTUALLY KNOW how Sherlock survived. If you don't (and I don't think Moffat does) then it's kind of a dick move to make fun of your fans for expecting that you're not a complete amateur who pulls ideas out of his ass and then just totally ignores them when they're not convenient to your plot any more.

(In the same regard? How the fuck did Moriarty survive a self-inflicted gunshot to the head? There is not going to be any believable way out of that, so Moffat will probably just hand-wave it away. And when he does that, then the tension goes way, way down, because clearly there's nothing that can happen to these people that have permanent consequences.)
posted by nushustu at 3:13 AM on May 30 [5 favorites]


Classic Who also had Ace. True, she had a more traditional "rebellious young woman being taught by the Doctor" setup, but none of the Nu Who companions took out a Dalek with a baseball bat.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 4:47 AM on May 30 [4 favorites]


Before Peter Capaldi took over, there was a thread here about who should be the next Doctor. Lots of calls for Idris Elba and Tilda Swinton. Both would make fantastic choices, but amongst the names someone suggested Zawe Ashton. To my mind that's the winner. A Doctor that's like her character Vod from Channel 4's Fresh Meat.

That idea has taken up residence in my mind thoughts. Now all I want is that Doctor. Zawe Ashton as the Doctor with an older white man companion would be bow ties. This companion would have a title of doctor in an academic sense. A stuffy, self-involved, eccentric buffoon. A man so wrapped up in himself that when shown the wonders of the universe he still worries about the mundane stuff in his own life and time.
So when the Doc and companion meet up with old friends, they see the Tardis and assume companion is the Doctor. He doesn't correct them either. In fact they don't really get on. The only reason, this guy is hanging out this the Doc is because he saw a map key to unlocking some ancient Gallifreyan MacGuffin that fell through an inter dimensional pothole whatever-timey-wimey-don't-think-about-it-too-much.
Now this odd couple have to hang out until he remembers the details.
So yea, whoever suggested Zawe Ashton a few months back. I agree.
posted by we are the music makers at 5:00 AM on May 30 [1 favorite]


But we all agree the Weeping Angels were the Scariest Monsters Ever*, right?

*would also accept "are you my mummy?" Gas mask kid as creepiest foe (singular)


Were? Yes. Are? Meh. Not so much anymore. Like many great creature-villains (Jaws, xenomorphs, Jason Voorhees), the less we saw them and knew about them, the scarier they were. The reason Gas Mask Kid is still scary as fuck is that we haven't seen Gas Mask Kid II: The Explanationing and Gas Mask Kid III: The Superpowering and Gask Mask Kid IV: The Bobafettening.
posted by Etrigan at 5:08 AM on May 30 [19 favorites]


But we all agree the Weeping Angels were the Scariest Monsters Ever*, right?

Until Moffat fucked them up too.

I stopped watching at Clara.

Moffat seems to come up with really great ideas, but is really horrible at executing them. It's not timey-wimey weirdness, it's lazy-wazy writing. His failure to do interesting things with male and female characters is just more evidence to that point.

I'm hoping Capaldi's inner Tucker berates the shit out of Moffat when he pulls his shenanigans and we get some good episodes again. I'm looking forward to Capaldi-as-who but don't know if I can deal with any more of Moffat' general shittiness any longer. And I'm really not ready to see a Capaldi doctor pick up a ditzi ingenue half his age only to act as the doctors biggest fan girl.
posted by [insert clever name here] at 5:16 AM on May 30 [3 favorites]


Unicorn on the cob: "But we all agree the Weeping Angels were the Scariest Monsters Ever*, right?

*would also accept "are you my mummy?" Gas mask kid as creepiest foe (singular)
"

Nope, not even close. Scariest monster I've ever seen in any TV episode was the humans in Midnight.
posted by specialagentwebb at 5:29 AM on May 30 [4 favorites]


Doctor Who was running in the 1970s, after all, which in some ways is the peak of feminist characters.

Sarah Jane even got to talk openly about "women's lib". Can't imagine that happening now for reasons that have nothing to do with the showrunners. I suspect a certain amount of the mediocrity of Nu Who (and possibly some of the romance dictates) comes from above, because now Who is a big flagship show and has to be run the big flagship way, which limits a lot of things that they can do compared to the 70s. They'd never get away with highly political episodes now the way they used to because there's too much scrutiny for any show to be about something.

Similarly, but not entirely related, the music is awful and full of bombast and I really just wish they'd hire Orbital to remake the theme but nooooooo we have to have Doctor Who stuff for Proms so it's more Murray Gold instead of something interesting.
posted by immlass at 8:45 AM on May 30 [5 favorites]


Don't forget Moffat thought up the Weeping Angels in the first place. But I do agree that he should have left them as they were in Blink and not brought them back for sequels.

none of the Nu Who companions beat a Dalek to death with a baseball bat.

On the other hand, River Song did have a Dalek begging her for mercy. And on the third hand, River's another Moffatt creation that should have been left alone in that one episode where she was introduced (the Library double-header), because it would have been way cooler.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:52 AM on May 30 [3 favorites]


They'd never get away with highly political episodes now

You may be remembering the old Who through rather rose-colored glasses there.

I mean, sure, they had their "message" episodes along the way, but if anything the contemporary Who has a higher rate of those. No one watching the New Who can have any doubt about where the Doctor and the Who universe stands on all kinds of hot-button contemporary political issues like racism, gay rights, global warming, environmental degradation generally etc. etc. And, sure, it's all pretty thin "Right Thinking People Say NO to Icky Racism!" stuff--but you really have to get into some heavy special pleading to find much more than that in even the most "political" arcs of the old show.
posted by yoink at 9:00 AM on May 30 [1 favorite]


And, sure, it's all pretty thin "Right Thinking People Say NO to Icky Racism!" stuff--but you really have to get into some heavy special pleading to find much more than that in even the most "political" arcs of the old show.

One of our ongoing projects is watching as much of the classic series as is available, so we're refreshing ourselves on the old series all the time. There's a lot of stuff in Three and Four which is less "message of the week" (though there are some of those as well) and more "these are complicated issues with things on both sides". I was hopeful that we were going to get a bit of that with the Silurians under Moffat but, really, not so much.

On the other hand, four- to six-episode arcs give you 80 to 120 minutes or a bit more to work out issues and show subtleties, which you have a lot more trouble doing in 45 that has to include your season arc. The old serials were slower, to be sure, and there was a lot of padding (thank you info text for giving us something to do) but there was also just more stuff in them.
posted by immlass at 9:22 AM on May 30


You may be remembering the old Who through rather rose-colored glasses there.

I think you've got a point about new Who having prevalent message-y stuff, but don't think they've done anything with as much bite as say Genesis of the Daleks or The Sunmakers or Vengeance on Varos (not that all of those were uniformly good, but they were more aggressively political).
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 9:25 AM on May 30


Genesis of the Daleks

I don't see how that series--to take one example--was "aggressively political." It was certainly very interested in a moral question ("have I the right") and explored it in nice ways. But New Who explores the same question over and over. It's a pretty standard time-travel/Sci-Fi area of meditation, after all (if you could go back in time and kill Hitler, would you? What if it meant killing X, Y and Z as well? etc.). I would say, in fact, that New Who is by and large more overtly pacifist, overtly cultural relativist and overtly non-interventionist (although with the usual profound contradictions on those scores that have always been true of the Whoverse) than Old Who.
posted by yoink at 9:49 AM on May 30


In my mind, what made Blink and the Weeping Angels so scary was the editing. It pushed the pacing along, made the Weeping Angels come alive, and made them menacing. That's all on the director, Hettie MacDonald. Impossible to top, though many have tried.
posted by ZeusHumms at 10:31 AM on May 30


*would also accept "are you my mummy?" Gas mask kid as creepiest foe (singular)

I'm still hard-pressed to think of any two hours of TV that come close to being as good as "The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances." That was pretty close to perfect.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 10:51 AM on May 30 [2 favorites]


"Graduation Day" (end of Buffy S3), but that requires more background knowledge, so I'll allow for TEC/TDD as at least as good.
posted by Etrigan at 10:55 AM on May 30 [1 favorite]


Genesis of the Daleks

I don't see how that series--to take one example--was "aggressively political."


Unarguable Nazi trappings to one side, I always thought it was informed by the resurgence of fascist attitudes on the right in the UK and commonwealth. It was shot less than 10 years after Enoch Powell's "Rivers of Blood" speech after all. There were disturbingly mainstream political positions at the time that weren't too far out of Davros' orbit.

And the closest New Who has gotten to the level of media criticism in Vengeance on Varos has been letting Davina McCall and Anne Robinson poke the gentlest of funs at themselves. Which was gross and complicit.

I guess what I mean is while new Who is arguably more consistently political, it's a toothless and safe politics compared to when the classic show would take up a position.
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 11:18 AM on May 30


It was shot less than 10 years after Enoch Powell's "Rivers of Blood" speech after all. There were disturbingly mainstream political positions at the time that weren't too far out of Davros' orbit.

I would say (looking at UKIP's recent successes in the European Parliament, for example) that there's probably more sympathy for right-wing, anti-immigrant political movements in Britain right now than there was in the mid 70s. In the 1974 election, the National Front got 0.1% of the vote. You'd have had to look long and hard in the mid-70s to find anyone voicing opinions on national TV supportive of Enoch Powell.

No, the Who team were not in the least confronting a rising pro-fascist sentiment in contemporary Britain when they wrote the Genesis of the Daleks arc.
posted by yoink at 11:32 AM on May 30


On the other hand, four- to six-episode arcs give you 80 to 120 minutes or a bit more to work out issues and show subtleties, which you have a lot more trouble doing in 45 that has to include your season arc. The old serials were slower, to be sure, and there was a lot of padding (thank you info text for giving us something to do) but there was also just more stuff in them.

Dear god, yes. There were several single episode stories in this last series of Who, "Hide" and "The Crimson Horror" especially, which just screamed for a multi-part adaptation. There were too many interesting story elements and intriguing character relationships which were introduced just for flavor and only touched on briefly afterwards because not only did we have the Doctor/Clara season arc shoved in every place it could go, but we also had to give time to secondary guest characters such as Vastra, Jenny and Strax (who should totally have their own standalone series where they do shit other than Help The Doctor.)

My wife hadn't watched any New Who and only some of the Third/Fourth Doctor on its PBS run in the 1980s, and it was very disheartening to introduce her to the new Who, Smith's last series, at precisely the moment it began to fell apart. Clara was the first companion I was genuinely disappointed in since Russell T. Davies completely dropped the ball on Martha. Oh, great, instead of getting a companion who's going to be an adventurous match for the Doctor we get a manic pixie dream cipher whose mystery we simply must drop everything to solve.

The real shame is that Smith's last series had some really clever moments, such as episodes which emulated archetypical stories from older Doctors ("Hide" is a Tom Baker ghosts-on-Earth story through and through; "The Cold War" had the Pertwee/UNIT era written all over it) and, again, some great story ideas which needed multi-part expansion.

I realize the powers that be require romance in New Who to keep as much of a mainstream audience as they can, but I don't have to like it, especially when the show has proven it could handle platonic male-female relationships just fine.

We've since started watching the second half of Sylvester McCoy's run. Ace has her "you silly, reckless, headstrong girl!" writing faults but she's one of the strongest female companions the show had often simply by virtue of actually, you know, confronting danger instead of shrieking and asking the Doctor what they're to do next. Granted, she had a few of those shrieky moments too, but she's the only character I know who got to beat the hell out of a Dalek with an electrified baseball bat and she made her own explosives, so there's that.

And she never crushed on the Doctor. I only wish Martha could've ended up like Ace instead of turning completely moony and piney-winey for an alien from Gallifrey.
posted by Spatch at 11:59 AM on May 30 [2 favorites]




From homunculus' link. Sylvester McCoy: " If the Doctor can change from looking like Colin Baker to looking like me and change yet again so he looks like the not-as-handsome Paul McGann, then turning into a woman doesn’t seem much stranger. It’d be interesting and they should try it.”

Emphasis mine. Oh, McCoy. I love you.
posted by Joey Michaels at 5:57 PM on May 30 [6 favorites]


Is this where I mention I love Evelyn Smythe (from the Big Finish audios?)

/sees that the study only includes the new television series

...right. Carry on, then.
posted by aroweofshale at 11:25 PM on May 30


No, the Who team were not in the least confronting a rising pro-fascist sentiment in contemporary Britain when they wrote the Genesis of the Daleks arc.

Not sure that's contemporary as such. I read once that British sci fi is always fighting the nazis while America sci fi is always fighting the communists.
posted by Summer at 7:22 AM on May 31 [2 favorites]


I read once that British sci fi is always fighting the nazis while America sci fi is always fighting the communists.

I can believe that. When I lived there in the early 80s, WWII was a lot further back in history for me as an American than it was for the British. It was like it happened last week for a lot of them, even beyond considerations that the war effort lasted a lot longer (e.g., I think rationing lasted until 1953).

I wouldn't rate Genesis of the Daleks as a political episode the likes of which you won't see again, but I do think it's a heavy moral episode with no easy answer. Those kinds of dilemmas are deprecated in Nu Who except on a personal level (e.g., Amy's Choice, Father's Day).

Wandering back to the question of sexism and women's roles specificially: I was watching the first of a two-parter Six serial (two 45 minute episodes) last night, and my $DEITY was it slow, but there was a ton of stuff with one-off characters specific to the serial going on. I'm not sure it passed the Bechdel test in the 45 minutes we watched, but there was at least one woman in each of the strands of the story and they were in a variety of positions, from weak to relatively powerful. And none of them, including the companion, were shown as any kind of romantic fodder. It's a real contrast to my expectations of the new series.
posted by immlass at 10:01 AM on May 31


The Guardian weighs in on the research, plus has a comment from the BBC.
Faith Penhale, BBC’s Head of Drama Wales says : “The BBC refute claims that Doctor Who is a sexist show under Steven Moffat, strong female lead characters are at the heart of his writing. The BBC is hugely appreciative of all of Steven’s work. ”
posted by ZeusHumms at 2:56 PM on June 1


What's Welsh for "NUH UH!"?
posted by Etrigan at 3:29 PM on June 1 [1 favorite]


The BBC refute claims that Doctor Who is a sexist show under Steven Moffat, strong female lead characters are at the heart of his writing.

Sigh.
posted by aroweofshale at 5:27 PM on June 3


strong female lead characters are at the heart of his writing

No, strong male, female, or otherwise lead or secondary characters are far from the heart of his writing.
posted by juiceCake at 7:35 PM on June 7 [1 favorite]


Before Peter Capaldi took over, there was a thread here about who should be the next Doctor. Lots of calls for Idris Elba and Tilda Swinton.

Elba's got another project coming up which sounds like it will appeal to Who fans: Idris Elba Will Play Imhotep & Brilliant Astronomer In New Adventure TV Miniseries "Ascension"
posted by homunculus at 11:30 AM on June 10




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