3 years, 2 months ago
Personally, as I've said, I quite like the Moffat era. I dare say I love it. But I recognize that this is a controversial opinion, and it seems fair, before we go in, to give the opposition a chance to state the case against. So here's Jack Graham doing what he does best: being loud, angry, and leftist about Doctor Who. We'll be back on Monday with a Pop Between Realities to kick off the Moffat era, and then The Eleventh Hour on Wednesday. Also, to clarify, the illustration on this one was my pick, meant as a cheekily representative example of anti-Moffat criticism, and not Jack's at all.
I’m here to up the anti, so to speak. As such, I’m a sacrificial lamb. Firstly, I’m going to annoy you all by delaying the arrival of the proper posts about the Moffat/Smith era. And Phil specifically asked me for a polemic, so what follows will be an angry screed. There really isn’t space here to do more than gesticulate irritably at the issues (since I’ve tried to have some mercy on you regarding word count). I’ve had to leave out lots of points, cut loads of stuff about the wider political context (I promise you - it was all in the first draft, and it was brilliant) and, of necessity, simplify. So this post is going to sit here seething, vulnerable and alone, a hostage to fortune, as Phil winds up his phenomenal Eruditorum project with a series of (doubtless) nuanced and subtle redemptive readings of the era I’m about to intemperately trash. At least nobody can say I balked at making myself a sitting target.
(I must acknowledge Phil’s own ‘Definitive Moffat and Feminism Post’, which I used as a springboard, and the generous assistance of Richard Pilbeam and Jonathan Barlow, from whom I have cribbed shamelessly. All errors are, of course, mine alone.)
Phil’s recent, devastating piece on ‘The End of Time - Part 2’ describes what I find most worrying about the late RTD era. But for Phil, ‘The Eleventh Hour’ was probably like the cavalry turning up. For me, ‘The Eleventh Hour’ was like the cavalry turning up and immediately opening fire on me.
It’s interesting to note that whereas RTD usually drafted in celebrities – Chris Morris style - to satirise themselves without knowing it (which they always fell for), Moffat drafts Patrick Moore in to be flattered. RTD got Sharon Osbourne and Anne Widdecombe to endorse Harold Saxon (i.e. the Anti-Christ). Moffat gets Sir Patrick to play himself as a charming, twinkly-eyed expert. Aside from lauding a well-known reactionary and sexist, Moore’s guest appearance is emblematic of a wider complacency. Amy’s village is a retreat from anything like the Powell Estate. This is maundering ‘long shadows on village greens’ territory. The episode celebrates cutesy, ostensibly lovable, eccentric Britishness.
There’s a near-immediate attempt to problematize such things in ‘The Beast Below’… but the actual result is instructive. Starship UK is all of Britain, divided into counties that are now housed within tower blocks. There seem to be no social divisions preventing some residents from fitting easily into a tower block with others. Starship UK is a great communal space in which everyone fits happily into the same shopping mall. This isn’t a problem. Indeed, it is specifically portrayed as wonderful until the Doctor deduces that Starship UK is also police state… not that there’s much evidence of this, or of any need for it, beyond the arbitrary decision on the part of the authorities to feed children to a monster that refuses to eat them. There are problems, of course, but social or economic hierarchy isn’t one of them because it doesn’t exist. There are no poor or homeless people. There’s a Queen, but she seems to be the only protestor in existence (usurping an entire subculture of activists and transferring their bravery and commitment to the monarchy). There are sinister government types, but they regularly admit their secrets openly to the entire population… just like our own elites don’t. The exploitation of the Space Whale becomes the collective fault of the entire population, all kept fully informed by their extraordinarily forthcoming government. The people all choose – from a position of total freedom – to voluntarily embrace hypocrisy and complacency. Moffat is groping towards a critique of complicity. And there’s a germ of a point here because it’s true, to an extent, that many of us know that our society is monstrously unfair yet often choose to do nothing about it. But Moffat has the government openly admitting its crimes (which misrepresents the reality of government secrecy and media propaganda) to a population who are all equally free and empowered (which misrepresents the reality of people struggling under huge disadvantages, preoccupations and economic blackmail), and who all equally choose to co-operate in exploitation (which… you get the gist). The exploitation is carried out by the population as a whole. But who are they exploiting? The Whale isn’t akin to the working class because they’re not there anymore (in accordance with bourgeois wisdom). Is the Whale meant to represent the victims of economic or military imperialism? Precious little sign of it. This attempt at a spiky, satirical episode resolves into a standard, victim-blaming, liberal whinge about how ‘we’re all middle class now, we get the government we deserve, we’re all complicit, even the activists and protestors’. This kind of ‘critique’ leads nowhere except to more of the ‘apathy’ that it supposedly attacks. Economic inequality, economic coercion, layers of social management, the suffocating obfuscation of the media, the manufacture of consent, even capitalism itself… none of these things are anywhere to be seen. The dark secrets come from nowhere, except maybe the dark side of mankind or something. And, in the end, the oppressed creature is held to a higher standard of morality than the oppressors, as is usual in these bourgeois morality plays.
Even Moffat’s best attempt at an angrily political story, ‘The Bells of Saint John’, is compromised by the kind of bourgeois reductionism that writes off the London riots - an explosion of rage at austerity and police bullying - as a glitch in the software. His underlying metaphysics support the baddies’ claims about how the human brain works, and thus cuts agency away from anyone who might try to protest. The idea of social rebellion is incomprehensible in this neoliberal vista, except as a moment when the top-down control briefly malfunctions. Even if it turns nasty, the liberal capitalist millennium is escape-proof.
Instead, you have to fit into it. Madame Vastra is a Silurian who, thanks to her own comfortable position in bourgeois society, has made her peace with the world. The Silurians were always the Palestinians of the Who universe. Displaced, kept down, promised recompense by the Doctor – the great, well-meaning liberal compromiser - and then betrayed so that the status quo can be reset. In Moffat’s version, one of our heroes is a Silurian who has been separated from her defeated people, bought off and reconciled to the conquerors. (But then, on Moffat’s watch, all nuance was dropped from the Silurians, with their return story featuring a metaphor about how sometimes good people just have to torture terrorists to protect the innocent.) Meanwhile, Strax is Vastra’s comedy sidekick. The Sontarans no longer have anything to say about militarism. This dimension cannot be explored in Moffat’s version of the show. It wouldn’t be recognisable to modern TV as a palatable part of a profitable franchise. The only thing you can do with a metaphor about militarism is laugh at it.
Jenny, Vastra and Strax are a perfect illustration of how Steven Moffat waters down any of the satirical or polemical acid in the show’s signifiers, of how he neutralises and sanitises the show’s inbuilt tendency to engage in (admittedly imperfect) political critique. He excises anything potentially worrying to the mainstream. He is semiotic paint stripper. He makes Doctor Who safe for neoliberalism.
Related to this are the repeated and jarring ethical failures. There’s the Doctor becoming a neoconservative of other people’s souls, rearranging their innards until they become more to his liking. In ‘A Christmas Carol’, the Doctor rewrites a man’s life – while he protests. I realise Kazran is a horrible man, and full marks to Moffat for relating his callousness to his commodification of people as collateral. That has some potential bite. But Moffat doesn’t see Kazran as representing a system as opposed to individual villainy (even RTD’s capitalists are more systemic than Kazran). He doesn’t adapt the parts of Dickens’ fable where Scrooge is persuaded through arguments about social justice. He leaves out the levelling parties from Scrooge’s youth and replaces them with celeb bashes where Kazran and the Doctor exploit women. Abigail is a literal ‘woman in a refrigerator’… except that she makes the hero and the villain like each other! Abigail is literally put in and out of the freezer according to the whims of the boys. This is only one signal of a wider malaise, as we get to the end of the episode without the Doctor even asking about any of the other frozen people. We may assume that the Doctor’s newly created version of Kazran will free them (unfair economic systems happen because one or two guys are old meanies, natch) but it isn’t like the Doctor to not even check. He says he’s “never met an unimportant person” but his actions say otherwise. How Abigail feels about the fact that she’s been a slave for years, and is now about to die, fails to be a blip on anyone’s radar. If the Doctor’s going to alter the past, why permit the system that puts Abigail in the fridge to start with? Why is Kazran the priority here? Because, once again, the system is inescapable. Moffat and the Doctor have made peace with it.
The most egregious failure of moral priorities – again linked to a distinctly neoliberal kind of political context-removal – is in ‘The Day of the Moon’, in which the Doctor defeats the Silence by brainwashing the entire human race to become mindless, genocidal killers. Moffat thinks everybody on Earth has seen the Moon landing on TV, apparently discounting the humanity of anyone too poor or non-Western to not get televised updates on American triumphalism. It is never explained how or why the Silence are any worse than Nixon, with whom the Doctor gets comfortably pally, given that he dropped more tonnage of bombs than were dropped during WWII on small peasant countries in South East Asia. Indeed, the Doctor seems to think that Nixon is the leader of a slave rebellion. In effect, Steven Moffat has compared Richard Nixon to Spartacus or Toussaint L’Ouverture. But then, the Doctor would be a hypocrite if he waxed superior to Nixon in this story, given his own – apparently heroic, amusing and sexy - engineering of ethnic cleansing. He’s hypocritical enough for waxing superior to the Silence, who are never actually shown doing anything much wrong (aside from one murder that seems to have been put in solely to justify calling them the baddies). Remember what I was saying last time about villains sometimes having an objectively superior moral position?
Moffat’s at it again with the snuggling up to powerful leaders in ‘The Day of the Doctor’. Moffat has the Tenth Doctor conducting a romance with Elizabeth I, during which she jokes about how routine it is for her to have people killed - and he doesn’t bat an eyelid. How this makes her any better than a Zygon is never explored. I’ve read irritated posts on tumblr about how Moffat reduces Elizabeth I to a simpering, infantile, love-struck girlfriend. And yeah, I can see the sexism there… but I’m equally worried by the idea of the Doctor being friendly with her at all, given that she was a ruthless, blood-splattered autocrat. Just like all feudal monarchs And like Richard Nixon. And like several other people the Doctor has gotten matey with during the Moffat era. Moffat’s repeated tendency to have him cosy up to rulers, presidents, kings and queens, bosses, presidents, etc, is quite revolting. Okay, the classic Doctors used to occasionally talk about being pally with Napoleon or Mao or Nelson or Marie Antoinette… but you could usually rely on them to distrust or dislike the ruling classes they actually met. RTD’s depiction of Queen Victoria was far too sympathetic (in reality she was a horrible person who lived in obscene luxury at the apex of a brutal empire) but she didn’t exactly end up as the Doctor’s best friend.
On the subject of sexism… I have a quite simplistic view of this. I think the reason that lots of people think Steven Moffat’s version of Doctor Who is sexist is because it repeatedly acts and sounds sexist. It may be that Moffat consciously tries to craft his Who as feminist or pro-feminist. If so, I don’t think there’s any better illustration of the crucial point that, in a sexist society, however much of an ‘ally’ you may be, if you’re a man then you still enjoy male privilege, and probably don’t realise it half the time.
The Doctor describes Clara as “a mystery wrapped in an enigma squeezed into a skirt that’s just a little bit too tight”. The Doctor describes Marilyn Monroe as though she really was nothing more than the stereotypical ‘man crazy’ ditz she played in some of her movies. Rory likens being married to Amy to being trapped inside a giant robot duplicate of her. We get dialogue like “Why did she try to kill you and then want to marry you?” “Because she’s a woman”. Osgood, a scientist, is shown to be secretly obsessed with jealousy towards her prettier sister. A Dalek develops a female alter-ego, and she spends her time cooking.
Moffat’s show is crammed with tropetastic Manic Pixie Dreamgirls who tease and tantalise our hero. Like all MPDs, they each play the role of muse to our broken hero. The jokey put-downs are part and parcel of the MPD by the way – she always admonishes the hero out of his slough. The put-downs are not a sign of independence or a genuinely critical attitude; they’re part of the MPD’s job. The hero is slumped in melancholy - really, was there ever a Doctor as petulantly self-pitying as the Eleventh? Ten isn’t even in the running – and along comes the MPD, all quippy and perky and happy and impossible – to heal, inspire and reawaken him. Even as the MPDs have such an excess of personality, every last one of them revolves eternally around the hero. The Doctor is, of course, the lead character… but he doesn’t need to be the flame around which all these fluttering butterfly girls dance.
(This, by the way, is a manifestation of Moffat’s unhealthy and point-missing insistence on the Doctor being what the show is about, rather than a way of unifying the polemics and allegories and metaphors and satires and pastiches inside one meta-text. That isn’t me calling for the Doctor to be characterless. Indeed, the trouble now is that he’s more characterless than ever before. The more Moffat concentrates on him, the more characterless he becomes, because he becomes more and more a narcissistic navel-gazer, rather than an actor in social events outside himself. Once again, the true neoliberal attitude: the atomised individual is what matters, not the social act.)
In Moffat’s show, women are overwhelmingly defined by their traditional gender roles or bodily functions. It doesn’t matter that their excellence in these gender roles is praised by show and lead character. It doesn’t matter that we’re supposed to be impressed by the virtuosity with which River tricks people using her feminine wiles. It doesn’t change anything that the Doctor goes into rhapsodies about the wonders of motherhood. That isn’t liberating; it’s still the mapping of male, patriarchal conceptions of female value onto female characters.
River exists entirely because of the Doctor. Who the hell is River? She is an assemblage of gender essentialist tropes and wisecracks. When does she ever – beyond, arguably, her first appearance – behave like an academic or a scientist? When does she ever display anything resembling erudition or intellectual curiosity? When does she ever do or say anything to show or engender love? Admittedly, the Doctor seems to be sexually aroused by the way she shoots people… which is just charming. In ‘Let’s Kill Hitler’, she is incarnated as Mels, a character we’ve never seen or heard of before, and plonked unceremoniously into the story out of sheer, brazen convenience. She stalks Amy and Rory (her unwitting mother and father) for years, pretending to be their friend, all because of her pre-programmed monomaniacal desire to get to the Doctor. She regenerates while “concentrating on a dress size”. She spends the rest of the episode obsessing over her hair, clothes, shoes and weight. River’s instability is finally conquered by the love of a good man. This seems intensely hostile and patronising. If that isn’t what was aimed at, then somebody is a very bad shot.
It doesn’t matter that River is ‘powerful’. Fetishizing ‘power’ in women characters – having them kicking ass and always being ready with a putdown - isn’t the same as writing them as human beings. Moffat’s Who may not be quite as blatant an iteration of this misprision as, say, Zack Snyder’s Sucker Punch, but, strangely, it might even be worse precisely because it seems superficially better. Snyder’s film might, on a first viewing, be mistaken for something which knowingly panders to adolescent male fantasies only to ruthlessly pull the rug out from under the leering male viewer… Snyder does, after all, pepper his sexploitation sequences with grim representations of real sexual exploitation. Moffat doesn’t, for instance, put River into suspenders and pigtails (though he gets close to this sort of thing a few times with Amy) but then neither does he bother to really address the consequences of gendered violations like forced pregnancy. Moffat can get away with as much, if not more, than Snyder (or, for that matter, Uncle Tewwance) precisely because he seems to be ‘on side’. There’s neoliberal feminism for you in a nutshell: the absorption and assimilation of protest by the dominant hegemonic culture.
The show repeatedly reduces Amy to the roles by which patriarchy constructs femininity: girlfriend, fiancée, wife, mother, ex… There’s even a ‘comedy’ episode in which Amy is said to have used her sexuality to pass her driving test (tsch, these women drivers!), is split into two people and literally fancies herself, thus providing lesbian fantasy fodder for the men around her. Remember that episode of Red Dwarf where Rimmer and Lister meet their female counterparts in a parallel universe? At one point, Rimmer is aghast because his female opposite has, in an effort to pull him, “gone to get some sexy videos” because “she seems to imagine that seeing two men together will turn me on”. Moffat may be writing Doctor Who-as-sitcom, but a line in a real SF sitcom skewers the absurdity of the male idea that all women secretly want to engage in lesbian sex for male titillation. The rest of the ostensible laughs come from Rory staring up Amy’s skirt… because it’s hilarious to violate her privacy without consent! But, of course, Rory and Any are married by this point, so that effectively makes Amy into Rory’s property (remember how, once they’re married, the Doctor has to ask Rory’s permission to hug her?). Rory’s half-hearted acceptance of this new arrangement is all part of the joke of Rory. He is, of course, a slave to Amy. He can’t stop himself staring up her skirt because she’s just too pretty (putting it all on her) and has to accept that he’s now ‘Mr Pond’… but its all part of the trade-off that the Nice Guy makes.
Rory is an emblem of Nice Guy Syndrome. He’s the bloke who thinks he’s entitled to the girl because he helped her move house that time. In Rory’s case, he was her playmate during all the childhood years when she wanted to play Raggedy Man (again, the Doctor-fixation). He hung around throughout school and college, waiting for his time to come. As with so much of Moffat’s work, this is a recycling of stuff that was big in the 90s. Rory is a reiteration of the Nice Guys Who Waited in 90s sitcoms – Niles in Frasier, Ross in Friends. Like them, he’s a self-pitying, yet idealised, nerd Mary Sue (contrary to sexist myth, Mary Sues are not just the province of female fan-fic writers). He hangs around pining, being loyal (for thousands of years in Rory’s case), and thus earns the girl. He accrues his entitlement to her via years in the ‘friend zone’. Initially, she barely notices his maleness because it is obscured by his niceness (girls like jerks) and his allegedly less-than-stunning looks (girls like hunks, the selfish…) while he, of course, desires her for… well, without any self-awareness, he desires her for her stunning looks. “You’re so beautiful,” moans Rory on one of the occasions when he dies. It is only later, after she has been educated in her role as wife and mother, that he gives any indication of liking anything about her personality. Rory is an illustration of all this, written as lovable, swathed in the alibi of irony. Later Rory gets his forceful and decisive moments. But even here, it’s hard to not see these as a reassertion of proper male authority. In the meantime, he gets repeatedly slaughtered in order to hammer home the point that Amy is, for all her supposed independence, slavishly dependent upon him. They may not fancy the nice guys, but they need them!
There’s a feminist reading that claims Moffat’s female characters as role models. Post-Demon’s Run Amy, for instance, can be seen as a rape survivor who refuses to allow the experience to define the rest of her life. However, the trouble here – aside from the trotting out, yet again, of the Mystical Pregnancy trope by a male writer who feels entitled to reduce his female characters to uncanny uteruses - is the sheer blithe glibness of the representation in question. Yes, it might be an admirable thing to show a woman who, having been violated with an unwanted pregnancy and birth, only to have her baby stolen from her, were shown as living past such trauma and refusing to allow it to define her… if we were ever given any real sense that the experience had been traumatic for her. It might be objected that this complaint amounts to asking for more concentration on the rape and the trauma. But I didn’t want to see SF rape on Doctor Who again at all! Even so, given that Steven Moffat made the unforced artistic/business choice to put SF rape in there, I’d have much preferred to see some indication that the victim found it more than slightly and briefly unpleasant. After all, violence against women – sexual and otherwise – is currently at epidemic levels globally, and getting worse (one of the social by-products of neoliberal crisis and austerity).
We’re all supposed to think modern Who is so much better than old Who because it’s ‘emotional’… well, you can’t just turn that off when it suits you and not expect anyone to cry shenanigans. And I can’t help noticing that the moment when the supposed emotional maturity of modern Who fails most catastrophically is also the moment when it forces itself into the corner of dealing with the sexual violation of a young woman.
Tell you what: why don’t we get some women writers back onto the show, and they can decide if they want to write about rape or pregnancy in SF terms, and, if so, how they think it should be done. It’s a thought.
Relatedly, there’s the issue of heteronormativity. This is the first era to have a married couple aboard the TARDIS as regulars, the first era to have the Doctor married off, or even to have him straightforwardly and explicitly straight (unless you want to argue about Susan). This is the first era that repeatedly focuses on heterosexual couples, the first era that repeatedly has alien menaces defeated by the aggressive assertion of heteronormative gender relations. It happens again and again, be it through the declaration of heterosexual love (‘The Lodger’), the power of heterosexual fatherhood (‘Black Spot’, ‘Night Terrors’), the emotions of the heterosexual nuclear family (‘The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe’, ‘The Snowmen’), the restatement of heterosexual parenthood as an implicit good (‘Closing Time’), etc.
Yes, there are positively drawn gay characters here and there - Canton in ‘Day of the Moon’, for instance. But anyone who thinks that a relationship between a humanoid reptile and a subservient housemaid/ninja (in which they solve crimes in Victorian London) qualifies as normative…. In the midst of a sea of heteronormativity, it’s hardly a workable defence to point to one homosexual relationship which is sketched in the most outlandishly Fantasy terms, and features no characters of any consistency. Jenny, for instance, becomes a ninja – out of the blue - whenever required. It is a mark of how little genuine respect is shown these characters that her unveiling as a ninja in ‘The Crimson Horror’ is just that: an unveiling, with the camera panning up her legs, clad in tight leather for the benefit of the male gaze. Oh look, we’re back at the sexism.
‘The Crimson Horror’ is Gatiss’ best script yet for the TV series, featuring lots of quite well-drawn female characters… so it’s tragic, and illustrative of the lack of care which undermines this era, that the episode also features two lapses into breathtaking male privilege: the Doctor’s offhand description of Tegan as “a gobby Australian” and the truly jaw-dropping moment when the Doctor forcibly snogs – i.e. sexually harasses – a young woman whom he knows to be in a committed same-sex relationship. This moment is, needless to say, brushed off immediately and treated as another bit of fun.
We get something similar (though arguably not quite as bad) in ‘Time of the Doctor’ when the Doctor slaps Clara’s backside to prove that she’s his property… I mean, girlfriend. I realise, by the way, that this is supposed to be a sign of the Doctor’s unworldly, immature, crass misunderstanding of human relationships. But that’s an unconvincing alibi. Firstly, ‘it’s just a joke’ has long been discredited as an excuse for sexism… or should’ve been. Secondly, this is the same character who is supposed to be emotionally mature enough to sustain a romantic relationship with River which we are meant to find noble and moving. You can’t just move the character’s maturity dials up and down from episode to episode depending on… oh, hang about.
On the subject of Clara… she’s really the ultimate example of the Moffatian variant of the MPD: the woman-as-puzzle. She also emblematic of the Moffatian habit of simply altering the female character to fit each episode as it comes along. With Clara, he literally makes her a succession of different people.
There is something about the spurious way that all the multiple Claras are declared - by fiat - to be part of one whole, that strangely mirrors Moffat’s obsession with forcing all the previous Doctors into line with his. Here Moffat shows the a truly fannish impulse towards syncresis. He crams all the old Doctors into his ‘of the Doctor’ tetralogy, just as he’s been crowbarring clips of them in at every opportunity since ‘The Eleventh Hour’. The aim is to bring the past into his orbit, the better to overwrite it. The truth is, Steven Moffat has become the Great Intelligence. The threat posed by the Intelligence in ‘Name of the Doctor’ is that he/it will take over the Doctor’s entire life and rewrite it to suit himself. This in the same episode in which Moffat literally inserts his own character, Clara, into every moment of the Doctor’s life, having her meet every single one of his incarnations, putting her at the very moment when the Doctor first leaves Gallifrey, telling him which TARDIS to steal. This in the same episode in which he introduces an entirely new, never-before-seen incarnation of the Doctor. Whatever else you can say about him, Moffat isn’t a writer who allows himself to be troubled by an excess of self-awareness. Of course, all Who is a palimpsest. But Steven Moffat seems to be the only writer to work on the show who is absolutely determined to overwrite his own personality on top of the whole damned thing.
Part and parcel of this seems to be his fixation upon the Doctor himself. Admittedly, this is a recurring problem of new-Who going back almost to the start in 2005. But again, Moffat seems to have taken it to a new level. And, y’know… this show isn’t fundamentally about the Doctor. He’s a narrative device for moving us from satire to polemic to allegory to metaphor to pastiche to whatever. That doesn’t, of course, mean that he has to be written as a cipher without interiority. On the contrary, I love it when he is written as having interiority. But the thing is… well, there are several things. Firstly, as mentioned, the kind of interiority he has now is of the self-involved, atomised individual of neoliberalism, not the social actor he should be. Secondly, there’s no necessary connection between giving the Doctor interiority and making the show about him. Thirdly, even if we accept that the show must be intensely emotional and focused upon the feelings of the lead character, wouldn’t it be better if it actually… umm… did that?
The reason I feel ill when the Doctor snogs River’s ghost at the end of ‘Name of the Doctor’ is not that I hate emotion in Who, or that I want – because I’m a sexually and emotionally repressed nerd or something – Doctor Who to be emotionless. Rather, the opposite of this is the truth. The reason I feel ill at moments like that is rather that I hate fake emotion, cheap emotion, unearned emotion. Commodified emotion. Packaged, marketed, profitable, sugary, junk emotion. Sentimentality, in other words.
Sentimentality is disgusting because it’s not fundamentally about other people, or relationships. It’s about oneself. It’s self-regarding, self-comforting, self-pleasing. It isn’t social. It’s narcissistic. This is precisely what is so horribly wrong with all those Moffatian emotional tornadoes. How can they be touching when the characters and relationships are so shallow? When we’re watching narcissists adoring their own reflections in their partner’s eyes?
This post has gone on too long, but there’s so much still to say about these last few years. There’s the hubris of having the Doctor frighten away enemies by touting his reputation. There’s the moralistic preaching and speechifying. There’s the sheer boredom of the story arc mysteries, impossible to care about because they’re always waved away with some bit of nonsense made-up-on-the-fly. There’s the constant undermining and reversal of death. There’s the banalization of the Time War into a Lucasfilm space battle. There’s Matt Smith (luckily, my politics means I’m used to being in a tiny minority). There’s ‘Victory of the Daleks’. There’s the relentless middle class-ness of almost everyone and everything. There’s the way the Doctor’s behaviour never changes, no matter how many times he learns his lesson. There’s “the tears of a whole family on Christmas Eve…” There’s the inconsistency of claiming that the Doctor’s moral status has beend challenged by comparing him to a warrior when the show is chock-full of unambiguously noble warriors. There’s the stigmatising of loners. There’s the use of slightly surreal environments which then get fully explained, just in case anything off-the-wall makes the viewers uncomfortable. There’s the reliance on tropes that were big in the 90s… I’ve mentioned Nice Guys from US sitcoms, but how about Greys and Area 51? There’s the stalking-as-romance trope. There’s the sheer privilege-blindness involved in making the first all black guest cast in Doctor Who play a bunch of fools who need to be captured and threatened into moral behaviour by the Doctor, or in giving a greedy trader the name ‘Solomon’. There’s the Doctor relating to his vehicle by fancying it. There’s the way ‘Night Terrors’ lectures the working class on how to be better parents. There’s the way every resolution seems to involve solving the monsters to death (usually with love), thus defeating the rump gothic with the power of comforting banalities. There’s James Corden. There’s… oh, that’ll do. I’ve had enough. I don’t like having to hate this show. I want to love it.
I’ll say one more thing. It may be true that previous production teams have, at one time or another, been guilty of things similar to everything I’ve just been talking about. But I think that’s a red herring. What does it matter? What does it change? Besides, even if it’s true that Moffat gets a lot of extra stick because expectations have been raised… well, that isn’t unfair. Even if he’s the one who raised them (which I don’t buy), it still isn’t unfair. It’s part of how things get better. The people in power, the privileged, deliver something, and instead of saying “thanks boss”, you say “not enough – do better.” Moffat has a harder time pleasing everybody because more people are politicised and vocal about stuff like sexism. The neoliberal feminism of a privileged ‘ally’ isn’t good enough for them. And that’s as it should be. Be reasonable, I say. Demand the impossible.
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