Ideas may be bulletproof, but nobody’s tried plasma rifles

Skip to content

Elizabeth Sandifer

Elizabeth Sandifer created Eruditorum Press. She’s not really sure why she did that, and she apologizes for the inconvenience. She currently writes Last War in Albion, a history of the magical war between Alan Moore and Grant Morrison. She used to write TARDIS Eruditorum, a history of Britain told through the lens of a ropey sci-fi series. She also wrote Neoreaction a Basilisk, writes comics these days, and has ADHD so will probably just randomly write some other shit sooner or later. Support Elizabeth on Patreon.


  1. Dan Abel
    September 9, 2014 @ 1:31 am

    I'm reading through the article, thanks for taking the time to write it.

    Rather distracting is the ad around the article. I understand the need to have ads, I'm cool with that, but I was wondering if it was ok, and possible to filter this out out? – here's a link to a screenshot.

    I'm hopefully have something more constructive to say later


  2. Scurra
    September 9, 2014 @ 2:40 am

    It's genuinely fascinating to read this in the context of the incidents surrounding video game culture (including, but not limited to, the Anita Sarkeesian controversy.) Thank you.

    But on the whole you reinforce my belief that everything in the end boils down to definitional arguments. Until all participants in a debate understand properly what everyone else understands by particular terms when they are used (and I mean "properly", not "superficially"), then the argument is doomed to failure, and will probably lead to significant upset and bad feeling.
    And because the internet is the worst place in the world to even begin to understand what someone else means when they use a particular word, because it's shorn of all context, even when they spend ten thousand words explaining it, then flame wars are as inevitable as the sun rising in the morning.
    One of the most wonderful things about English is that we have access to one of the largest vocabularies of words of any language. One of the most unfortunate things about English is that almost all of our "common" words have multiple different meanings, not all of which are even dependent upon context. Recognising when someone is wilfully abusing a word in order to deceive people is something that even practised observers find difficult. And when someone misuses a word because they themselves do not understand it, that's when the fireworks really start…


  3. im903yearsold
    September 9, 2014 @ 2:56 am

    This comment has been removed by the author.


  4. im903yearsold
    September 9, 2014 @ 2:58 am

    I don't think Steven Moffat is a misogynist – of course he isn't – I just think his strength as a writer lies more in story than it does characterisation. On the other hand I think Russel T Davies was good at characterisation and less so at story.


  5. arcbeatle
    September 9, 2014 @ 3:21 am

    Thank you for writing this.

    The viciousness of many anti-Moffat people has really made me pull back from the Doctor Who fandom outside of only a few places. After seeing rape survivors get harassed, victim-blamed, and slut shamed for having Amy's story resonate with them… Its hard for me to not shudder at the cruelty of a lot of the vitriol.

    I don't really have much to offer here in terms of a real argument, but anytime someone is willing to take away a tool of recovery from someone in order to prove that the television they like is wrong it signals that there is something hugely amiss in that line of criticism.


  6. arcbeatle
    September 9, 2014 @ 3:26 am

    I think you hit the nail on the head right there.


  7. Jarl
    September 9, 2014 @ 6:17 am

    Oh sweet baby jesus, childlike personification of all shock and ironic ad placement.


  8. Jarl
    September 9, 2014 @ 6:29 am

    And now in a single response I will totally bring down your so-called persuasive essay with utter finality:
    I'm reasonably sure, given the high number of female patients and the vacillating-but-considerable percentage of the cast which is female, that House must pass with pretty consistent regularity. That said, I don't have the time or patients (ah ha, do you see… what… nevermind) to watch all of House all the way through again, I'll just leave that hanging as a hypothesis to be tested by someone else.

    Say, there's an idea, a review blog where part of the standard production detail review (season, episode, length) is whether or not it passes the Bechdel test… hmmmm.

    I was going to raise a similar objection about NCIS due to how many women are in the main and secondary cast, but then I realized most of them only really interact with Gibbs, DiNozzo, or McGee. I'm struggling to think of a scene that Ziva and Abby share together… I'd say that's pretty telling.

    There's a school of thought that's extremely popular on Tumblr that's best expressed by Malcolm X:
    If you stick a knife nine inches into my back and pull it out three inches, that is not progress. Even if you pull it all the way out, that is not progress. Progress is healing the wound, and America hasn't even begun to pull out the knife.

    I definitely agree with it, though I'm not always sure where the knife comes out and where the healing begins. I suspect a lot of keyboards have been worn out over people disagreeing where the divide is.


  9. Chris Andersen
    September 9, 2014 @ 6:43 am

    I try not to get defensive when someone criticizes something I love, especially if the criticism at least attempts to be well reasoned.

    What gets my hackles up though are criticisms that are presented as so patently, obviously true that it is not necessary to prove them true (with the added comment that everyone has already come to accept them to be true and what is wrong with you?)

    Thanks for posting this. I think your strongest point is about the critics of Moffat who so rarely address the fact that many strongly feminist women enjoy his work (unless it is to snidely suggest that they aren't really feminist).


  10. Andrew Bowman
    September 9, 2014 @ 8:21 am

    Without wishing to raise any hackles (and I fully realise that hackles may very well be raised by that very disclaimer), there appears to be a notable discrepency between "equality" and "respect". Respect is something which is earned, it is not a given right, whereas equality is, or at the least should, be a given right for everybody. Now, so far so obvious: however, the real crux of the matter is that equality can never be achieved so long as it is equated with respect. The only way true equality can ever be achieved is through a healthy disrespect; nothing derogatory as such, but a good-natured mickey-taking. The reason? No individual has exactly the same notion of what being well-treated would entail; no two ideals are the same, in other words. However, we can probably all agree on the same notion of poor treatment. So, if we took the latter notion, and agreed to not push beyond that boundary, we could, in theory, disrepect each other equally without causing offence or upset.

    On the other hand, I could just be a raving lunatic who shouldn't be allowed near a computer unsupervised, but I'll leave that up to you to decide.

    For the record, I'm not especially a feminist, nor a misogynist: I'm a humanist – I treat everybody the same, regardless of gender, religion, nationality or whatever.


  11. Nyq Only
    September 9, 2014 @ 10:44 am

    Some points:
    1. The focus of Coupling was a modern take on what would have been called "the battle of the sexes" in a previous era i.e. the differences in priorities between men and women when it comes to forming heterosexual relationships. Inherent in that is a. a degree of reflection of the inherent biases in society and reinforces some norms of society b. comedy that attempts to draw on generalities that members of the audience will identify with in their own relationships but exaggerated for comic effect. So in so far as Coupling repeated (but updated) some of the conventions of that genre it was inherently misogynistic and anti-feminist. In so far as Moffat pulled apart some of those conventions and also used women characters to critique the attitudes of male characters the series had anti-misogynistic and pro-feminist. Also my wife liked it 🙂
    2. What matters with Doctor Who is the overall impact rather than the details. It is a somewhat 19th century liberal notion to expect art to be edifying to people (and particularly children) – Matthew Arnold's "sweetness and light" – but on the left we find a similar notion at play. Art should in general either help project the values of a better society or at least not bolster the entrenched values of the current one. I believe Doctor Who does inspire positive values. It always has done to some extent but overall I'm glad my kids love Doctor Who and I'm glad my daughter gets to see interesting, dynamic, clever women on screen having wild fantastic adventures – whilst being brave, compassionate and standing up against cruelty. When Doctor Who fails in this regard it stands out in a way that undermines the enjoyment of the series. It is not only a moral failing but also a narrative failing. Overall Moffat has done well in this regard but still falls down on occasion.
    3. Essentialism. It bugs me when Doctor Who strays from its pro-scientific-rationalist-reason-loving-ethos. Some of these faults are in eye-of-the-beholder because the show is fantasy and the science is literally fictional. However the notion that you can think you way out of a problem is, I believe, at its core a central ethical message of the show and one that is inherently anti-misogynistic and pro-feminist. So, in particular, I hate it when the show uses notions that push an idea that a set of beings, creatures etc are have a fixed personality that is part of their very essence. I'll give a pass to the notion of Dalek's as being unreformable in so far as this is a way of underscoring how truly horrible Davros's actions where BUT anytime the show works against this is a wonderful thing. Why? We know not just from a moral stance but from a child development stance that this notion that being brave or clever or good etc as something inherent and unmutable is a disastrous one and a pernicious one. Misogyny rests on the notion that women are somehow imbued with a feminine essence and are pre-determined to be woman-like (where woman-like is whatever social stereotype holds sway at the time) and likewise men (i.e. boys will be boys etc).
    Essentialism is an easy trap for a science fiction series to fall into even with beloved characters ( looking at you Spock) but it really is a horrible notion unless used wioth great caution. Daleks of Manhattan? Ugh in several places. Into the Dalek? Much better precisely because it does treat essentialism as a background assumption and allows us to even see it as a prejudice on the heroes part. Great!
    OK wandered off point – my point is that being anti-misogynistic and being a feminist can occur even when the focus is on monsters without obvious genders or sexualities.

    I never know how to finish a long post…


  12. John
    September 9, 2014 @ 12:17 pm

    Where’s the massively popular action-adventure show where the female lead isn’t sexy?

    Doctor Who Series 4? Or, I mean, I'd not say Catherine Tate is definitively not sexy, but she's obviously not your standard "pretty young starlet" in the way that all the other new series companions have basically been.


  13. SK
    September 9, 2014 @ 12:41 pm

    But on the whole you reinforce my belief that everything in the end boils down to definitional arguments.

    Indeed, I always thought a misogynist was '[a] person who hates, dislikes, or is prejudiced against women'.

    But what do I (and the OED) know about the Queen's English? Clearly less than some Yank.


  14. encyclops
    September 9, 2014 @ 12:45 pm

    We know that BBC policy is that Doctor Who can only be written by people with pretty extensive television experience, to the point that Davies had to lobby a bit to get Rob Shearman in on the first season.

    This is such a bummer. I mean, I can understand why that might be, but it strikes me that given the amount of rewriting implied by The Writer's Tale and Moffat's co-credits, it's not inconceivable to me that a writer with less experience could have a solid idea rewritten to winning effect. Per IMDB, Christopher Bailey had two TV scripts under his belt before "Kinda" was aired. Was Andrew Cartmel that much more experienced? You have to start somewhere. I'm at least excited to see some new names this season, even if they are male.

    But more importantly, there are things that aren’t being widely embraced as feminist that millions of people uncritically watch and embrace, and that are just as misogynistic if not moreso than the Moffat era.

    A few possible explanations for why this might be happening to Doctor Who rather than the shows you're alluding to:

    1. If a show is obviously, thoroughly misogynist, chances are its feminist critics aren't watching it extensively enough to criticize it. It's a substantial time investment for anyone but the most dedicated critic to make, closely reading something totally loathsome, especially if it's plainly reprobate on the face of it. Why waste e-ink analyzing what everyone can see? Rather, you criticize the stuff you already love, or want to love, because it's what you're seeing, and you have an investment in it being better.

    2. If a show is displaying an aspiration to be feminist, you have some hope that its runners might be willing to listen to critique. Whereas those plainly misogynist shows are presumably uninterested in listening to feminists, and there is no hope of improvement there.

    I think points 1 and 2 are also partly why there's so much infighting in the social justice crowd — why someone who professes to be an ally will often come in for so much flak, because (1) they're the ones who are actually hanging around, and (2) they're susceptible to shame.

    3. I can't offhand think of any of the shows you might mean. Not that I don't think they exist, but I don't think I actually watch them. Which brings us back to point 1.

    These are, of course, explanations, not excuses.


  15. John Seavey
    September 9, 2014 @ 1:15 pm

    I think that my primary disagreement with this article is that it makes a claim that since Moffat is not a misogynist, he must therefore be a feminist. Whereas I would claim that he is in no way a misogynist, but he is arguably prone to displaying traits of sexism and occasionally chauvinism. He doesn't hate women, but I'd say it's a reasonable reading of his work to suggest that he does believe that there is a set of essential traits that make up "woman", the gender construct, and same with "men", I think that there's a bit of sleight-of-hand involved in suggesting that since you can show he doesn't hate women (and I agree that calling him a misogynist is incorrect, and blasting him for it with great vitriol is wrong) he must be a feminist.


  16. encyclops
    September 9, 2014 @ 1:29 pm

    I probably shouldn't be the one responding, but I'm curious whether I got this right and what, if any, your response would be. I read the argument as follows:

    1. Moffat is not a misogynist.

    2. Rather, he is actively trying to be a feminist by critiquing the behavior of men with respect to women and questioning the value of the essential traits we assign to men.

    3. No feminist can be a "perfect" feminist; that is, we are all enmired in the pervasive misogyny/sexism/chauvinism of our society, and the best any of us, male or female, can do is to strive mightily against it and frequently gain ground.

    4. That is, if you are sanely and sincerely trying to be a feminist, you deserve to be called a feminist.

    I'm not saying I agree with that argument (I try my best never to put myself in a position to make claims about who or what is or isn't feminist — I don't feel as qualified to do so as our host does) but that's how I read it.


  17. John
    September 9, 2014 @ 1:31 pm

    Can't Moffat both be frequently sexist and also be a feminist? It seems to me that both are true.


  18. Pen Name Pending
    September 9, 2014 @ 2:07 pm

    Well that's a cheekily provocative title.

    What I find the most off-putting about the debate is when the persecution appears to suggest that Moffat is imposing some sort of sexist agenda on the world throughout his writing. At the very least it's an insult to the women he's worked with. It also disregards any other possible readings in favor for the knee-jerk "well this must be sexist!" one.

    Some lines here and there are problematic, sure, and there are points where it seems like Moffat is trying too hard to appease the feminists and it comes off strangely, but I begin to wonder if pointing out the little things really undermines the whole. Other criticisms are a result of different interpretation. I can understand why some may have felt River "devolved" even if they watched it in her order, but for me her story is about realizing, as one does when growing older (I believe, at least), that there isn't always a happy ending and you don't always end up where you wanted to be. And I actually found that inspiring. It's for these reasons that I'll always support the Doctor Who I loved, because I don't see any way that my initial impressions were internalized misogyny, and I want to be able to recommend it to others without being terrified of what they think. I want to show my kids the Doctor Who I grew up with and how bad the effects must look in the future.

    There's also the case to be made that a solely feminist review is a very narrow scope of assessing quality and how it makes female members of the audience feel. (See: the Bechdel Test.)

    Actually what I find the most off-putting is the silencing of women who enjoy it and don't feel demeaned by it. I sure don't. Then again, maybe because my relationship with Doctor Who for a period of time was like that between Amy and the Doctor (safe, protecting), I'm probably not a very good "feminist" because I wanted that safety from a male parental figure in the backdrop of a lovely, enchanting story.

    That's what I think the failure of feminist critique is: some females out there who are very obsessive about how they appear from the outside (raises hand) is going to look at all the criticism (of anything, not just Doctor Who) and think, "Oh no, what's making me happy isn't actually good enough. I can't be second-best in a competition or ask for help or wear skirts, because that's what is expected and I'm not breaking new ground." [Arbitrary examples that do not all relate to me. This is also something I've been thinking about writing all day and may have found a place to shoehorn it. Apologies.]

    I mean, if at the very least you've got a little girl who's running around being cheery and awesome like Clara in last week's episode (which was very much not cowarding like a damsel waiting for someone to save her), you're accomplishing something (I admittedly made this up as an example). If you've got someone else who was disappointed that this was the first episode of Series 8 to not expand on Clara's character, whom she could relate to because of the control-freak tendencies (I'm paraphrasing a blog post by someone else and didn't make this up), it's even better.


  19. SK
    September 9, 2014 @ 2:22 pm

    He doesn't hate women, but I'd say it's a reasonable reading of his work to suggest that he does believe that there is a set of essential traits that make up "woman", the gender construct, and same with "men", I think that there's a bit of sleight-of-hand involved in suggesting that since you can show he doesn't hate women (and I agree that calling him a misogynist is incorrect, and blasting him for it with great vitriol is wrong) he must be a feminist.

    Slightly serious question.

    I would like to say I am a feminist, because I think I women and men should be treated the same. I am against double standards and definitely think women and men should be held to the same standards of behaviour.

    However, I absolutely do not agree with hardcore social constructivism of the Judith Butler type, and my reading of the internet suggests that acceptance of that philosophy as a basic premise is required in order to call oneself a feminist (at least nowadays).

    So I have been assuming that I cannot be a feminist, even though I would like to be. Is this correct?


  20. encyclops
    September 9, 2014 @ 2:36 pm

    Can't Moffat both be frequently sexist and also be a feminist? It seems to me that both are true.

    That's what I was trying to suggest with #3, but I could be wrong, both about the validity of the point and that it's a paraphrase Phil would agree with.


  21. John Seavey
    September 9, 2014 @ 2:58 pm

    I think my answer to these questions is the same as my response to Phil's article: Feminism is not a binary state, and simply wanting to be a feminist doesn't necessarily make you one. There are lots of people out there who call themselves feminists who nonetheless act in a way that is very sexist; there are lots of people who don't like the label of "feminist" who nonetheless subscribe to the ideology that men and women shouldn't be treated differently.

    I think that Moffat has done some good work that advances the ideology of feminism. I think, for example, that Amy is a character who is portrayed as having an active sex drive without any suggestion, implicitly or explicitly, that this is a thing to be ashamed of. That's something to be proud of.

    On the other hand, four seasons and no women writing for the series. That's something to be ashamed of, and I frankly think that Phil is passing it off with a handwave of, "Oh, well, y'know, it's hard work being a showrunner," which would be more justifiable if the previous showrunner hadn't had a woman writing in the last two seasons preceding this. (And anyone who wants to argue that Helen Raynor wasn't sufficiently talented to be asked back should note that Stephen Thompson was asked back not once but twice after "Curse of the Black Spot".)

    So my basic response to this isn't so much, "Moffat isn't a feminist," as it is to say, "Look, just because you've managed to avoid being a misogynist doesn't mean your actions are above criticism. And titling a post, 'Steven Moffat is a Feminist and You Are Wrong if You Disagree' certainly sounds like it's cutting off all criticism or disagreement. And while I don't think Moffat's that bad, I certainly don't think he's that good either."


  22. storiteller
    September 9, 2014 @ 3:48 pm

    I think there is a place in the world for critiques from a feminist perspective of "feminist" shows, in the "yes, this is pretty good, but we could do even better" realm. One of my favorite bloggers, who unfortunately is the victim of a bullying campaign herself, did a series of feminist critiques of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. But I think what she was doing is vastly different – and more preferable – than what the STFU Moffatt folks are doing and is a good model for anyone who would want to engage in a similar project.
    1) Buffy is universally held up as a "feminist" show despite the fact that it falls into some nasty societal tropes and as far as I know, there's very little critique of it from that perspective. (There's a lot written about it, but I think it's mostly positive or how it was influential.) This is a place that a good critique of Moffatt's Who could potentially be valuable.
    2) She was very thoughtful about it and put a lot of time into it. She went through the show episode by episode and looked at trends across them rather than depending on quotes out of context or snarky quips.
    3) She talked about how the critiques reflected larger societal issues and what that says about our culture, rather than placing the blame on the feet of the show runner alone. The fact that any one individual can kind of be sexist some of the time honestly doesn't help the bigger feminist movement, as that could be said of loads of people.
    And most important to me…
    4) She never shamed anyone for liking the things she critiqued, even Twilight. In fact, she repeatedly said, "Everything is problematic in some way and there's no shame in liking something problematic. It's just helpful to understand why it is problematic and why that's a bigger issue than just this piece of culture."

    So while I disagree with Phil's assertion that this type of critique doesn't serve a purpose, I also really disagree with how the STFU Moffatt folks are going about it and think it's probably causing more damage than the good it is doing. If your feminism looks like the movie Mean Girls, you're doing it wrong.


  23. Unlikely Lass
    September 9, 2014 @ 4:01 pm


    Let's see if I can remember half the things I put in the comment that just got eaten?

    As someone who has painted Moffat with the brush of misogynist in the past, I am happy to concede that it's probably the wrong term.

    I am far less familiar with the entire body of his work than Phil is, and there is absolutely no way I'm going to be able to generate an essay with even a fraction of the sourcing that this one has.


    Moffat's work, both on Sherlock and Doctor Who, frequently leaves me with sour notes. Not that he isn't clearly trying to do interesting things and to write complex women, but that his complex strong women never quite feel like they're properly at the center of things.

    There is always a return to a man's point of view, or a man's process. The women's process always feels, to me, to be secondary, or incomplete in some way. There is an orbit, an arc, a narrative quirk, which it feels like Moffat never quite escapes from.

    I think at least some of the reason Doctor Who is like this because we now have 50 years of context where the constant note is a Man in a Box.

    You can do pretty much anything with Doctor Who, but it's always going to fall from it's potential as long as it is always tied to a Man with a Box — especially when that Man is in every case portrayed by a white man. I think this is at least part of why the idea of a person of color, or a woman, playing the Doctor is so appealing. It helps to 'unhamstring' the writing staff. The constant is no longer a Man with a Box, it's a Person. And a Person who isn't the dominant paradigm, the overwhelmingly dominant narrative of what a Person is or can be.

    It's precisely the different message of subversion of the dominant narrative that, I think, drew me to the Doctor in the first place, personally.


    I want to underscore that what I'm talking about here is just my opinion. It's a gut feeling I get repeatedly upon seeing Moffat's work. There's a sense that his view of what a complex woman is lacks something important, real, and diverse. That too often how he specifically relates to femininity and masculinity overwhelms the narrative he's trying to build. That too often, for my taste, something is held up as a signifier of strength or complexity or power which has real problems with it.

    And it's jarring. At least to me, it jars me out of what I'm watching. And it makes me wish Moffat was just that much better.

    Maybe it's not Moffat's problem. Maybe this gut feeling means I'm a bad feminist (because I absolutely describe myself that way, too). Maybe it's a legitimate problem with Moffat and his work, but it should be called something other than misogyny.

    I don't know, but it always pokes me when I read an essay like this, and it more often than not pokes me when I watch Moffat's work.

    I'm hardly the end-all, be-all expert on what constitutes feminism, either. I'm not a man, but I am a transwoman, which at the very least means my experience of our shared culture and its gender politics is different than those of many other women. I can't tell if what I'm seeing in Moffat is really there, is something I'm projecting out of my own experiences, or is something I'm just wrong about.

    But I'm clearly not the only one picking up on something, and I think it behooves us to ask 'what exactly are those of us troubled by Moffat reacting to?' Painting us all with the same brush — that we're pudding headed or demonstrably wrong — only polarizes things.

    I'd much rather reverse the polarity… 😛

    (Well, despite the pun here, this one is much less well composed than the previous, lost, comment. Ah well.)


  24. ferret
    September 9, 2014 @ 5:16 pm

    This is a bit fringe to the issues, but thank goodness for imperfect characters. There's been some criticism for Clara hugging the Doctor without permission at the end of "Deep Breath", then slapping him near the end of "Into the Dalek".

    Fair enough, arguably she shouldn't have done either of those things (although the slap may have helped save everyones lives) but maybe that's because Clara is NOT perfect. How dull would TV be if everyone was perfect? Now granted, there is a good defence in that role-model kids TV characters should be more perfect than not – and while that certainly should apply to, say, The Sarah Jane Adventures – Doctor Who is not kids TV.

    It's family TV, and family TV is an opportunity for imperfect characters doing imperfect things, so Mum or Dad or Gran or whoever – best yet, one of the kids – can point out the slap or the hug and say "she really shouldn't have done that" and cue useful productive short discussion where the kids actually learn something, and grow and develop just that little bit more.

    Perfect characters doing perfect things won't do that, and you'd never get to learn "why not ask Rory instead of Amy for permission to hug" if it doesn't occur. True it requires active parenting, and if that's too much to ask – well, that's a debate I won't try to pre-empt.


  25. Jesse Smith
    September 9, 2014 @ 7:19 pm

    I think this comment really hits home for me, and I wish I could have read the original version!

    I don't think Moffat is a misogynist or sexist in any kind of intentional way. In fact I think he is someone who tries to be aware of these issues and do the right thing. I think he has written some very feminist characters in the past – Sally Sparrow and Joan Redfern come immediately to mind. But I think all too often his efforts fail in a very clumsy and awkward way. There are plenty of examples of scenes and dialog that objectify women in a way that would never be done to male characters. Whether it's Rory crashing the TARDIS because he looked up his wife's skirt through the glass walkway, the Amy-Rory-Amy threesome fantasy from later in that same "minisode", the Doctor leering at his companions (e.g., Nightmare in Silver), or the most recent episode where Maid Marion is a characterless object, delivered at the end as a "gift" to Robin Hood by the Doctor. (Yes, Gatiss wrote the last example, but Moffat could have asked for it to be changed in the editing.)

    Sometimes it seems like Moffat is trying too hard to be a progressive feminist. Vastra and Jenny go out of their way to repeatedly remind us that they are an interspecies lesbian married couple, but all too frequently it seems to cross a line into titillation and pandering. The gratuitous lesbian "kiss" in Deep Breath, the fetishization of Jenny's leather ninja suit (and the Doctor's sonic screwdriver erection joke), etc. The frequent slapping of male characters by female characters. It's supposed to make the female characters appear "strong", I suppose, but isn't it really just implying that they aren't able to express themselves except through violence? And it's another thing that would certainly not be acceptable if the genders were reversed.

    Like Unlikely Lass said, too much of his writing always returns to the male viewpoint. Women are often a part of the story only so much as their presence influences or impacts on the male characters. I guess I agree with the criticism that some of that is innate in a series that is always about a man in a box. I'm content to let Doctor Who be what it is, in general – it doesn't have to be everything. I wouldn't mind a female Doctor, but I think as long as the entire writing staff is male it would always seem like a gimmick and a cheap laugh rather than truly transcending the limitations of the male perspective.

    Again, I would not say that Moffat is actively sexist or misogynist. But he is writing from within a world of male privilege, and with no female writers on the program and very few female directors, I think it's quite easy for the show these days to slip into a "boys' club" mode.


  26. Jesse Smith
    September 9, 2014 @ 7:21 pm

    Oh, Joan Redfern was written by Paul Cornell, not Steven Moffat. Never mind that example! Maybe the Silence in the Library version of River Song is another good second example, before her character became completely subsumed by the Season 6 arc.


  27. Jesse
    September 9, 2014 @ 7:30 pm

    The use of "misogyny" as a synonym for "sexist" grates on me too. They are separate (albeit overlapping) concepts, and it does one's analysis no good to conflate them.


  28. Ozy Jones
    September 9, 2014 @ 7:30 pm

    Fringe to the issues it may be. But my wife walked out on 'Into the Dalek' after the slap, muttering. And hasn't returned to the show. This after loving the whole Moffat run much better than RTD. And me taking years to get her into it.

    Some context, she recently has an series of ads for a tattoo removal clinic taken off local radio stations in our city and public apologies issued for their content. The ads depicted hopelessly in love, but typically male-incompetent boyfriends getting their girlfriends name spelt wrong in a tattoo, followed by a slap and the girlfriend walking out of the relationship…. tattoo regret? call….

    Further context, she is the survivor of a particularly physically and mentally abusive relationship for more than 10 years, including being hospitalised while six months pregnant.

    She expected better of Doctor Who, in her words; there is no situation which would or should justify a slap be be administered, by a male or female lead character in the show!


  29. encyclops
    September 9, 2014 @ 8:54 pm

    I do think we've come to accept women slapping men a bit more casually than we ought to. It's a kind of shorthand in drama, but rather more serious a thing when you imagine anyone doing it to anyone in real life.


  30. Lo-Fi Explosion
    September 9, 2014 @ 9:06 pm

    I think I would very much enjoy this blog. What is it called?


  31. Alan
    September 9, 2014 @ 9:17 pm

    Interesting that you mentioned Buffy, a show that started off very feminist, IMO, and became less so over the years in direct proportion to the extent to which Marti Noxon's influence on the show increased. I always found it strange that a man named Joss Whedon would be so focused on having strong female characters while a woman named Marti Noxon would instead focus on weepy female characters who seem drawn to self-destructive relationships with emotionally abusive men.


  32. Scott
    September 9, 2014 @ 10:05 pm

    I think part of the problem is that the words 'misogynist' and 'misogyny' seem to be becoming, if not over-used, then certainly a bit lazily used. I mean, going by his work and most of his personal statements I think the suggestion that Moffat hates women is, frankly, utterly absurd. But I think the suggestion that he has some sexist and outdated attitudes towards women is a fair one, but describing that as misogynistic seems, to me at least, to be hyperbolic and overly condemning.

    It's a bit like Orwell's critique of people using 'fascist' to basically describe 'something I don't like'. The comparison risks over-harshly condemning the thing being criticised and watering down the original concept in possibly dangerous ways (after all, if it's used to describe things that aren't fascist / misogynistic, then why should we take it seriously when it's used it to describe something that is fascist / misogynistic?).

    (I'd also suggest that describing Moffat as a feminist writer is perhaps going too far the other way in light of this, however.)


  33. Scott
    September 9, 2014 @ 10:07 pm

    Another problem is that, frankly, it seems like everyone has their own slightly different feminism that they're working from, with the differences just large enough to make agreement impossible.


  34. Elizabeth Sandifer
    September 9, 2014 @ 10:39 pm

    "I think that my primary disagreement with this article is that it makes a claim that since Moffat is not a misogynist, he must therefore be a feminist."

    No it doesn't. The claim that he is a feminist is specifically supported on its own merits at several points, to say nothing of the broader context of my readings of the Moffat era linked at the outset. I admittedly did not rehearse my entire "averted rape-revenge plot that segues into a demonstration of the necessity for female spaces" argument here, but I certainly made reference to the highlights.

    To pick just one section that flatly refutes the suggestion that I don't provide any argument that Moffat is affirmatively a feminist:

    "Which was, of course, the exact moment that reminded me of her. A scene in which a character is allowed to be scared of death and is still able to be totally effective, because strength and frailty aren’t opposites for women or for anyone else. I mean, you want characters who are flawed? How about a self-professed bossy control freak who goes to pieces when she’s on the back foot but who is still awesome and smart and capable? Because that’s a character I’d be proud to have any child of mine, whatever gender, look up to and enjoy." (Indeed, basically everything I say in that section is argument for the affirmative claim that Moffat is a feminist.)


  35. Elizabeth Sandifer
    September 9, 2014 @ 10:40 pm

    Come to read further comments, I also think characterizing my response to the issue of female writers as "oh, well, y'know, it's hard work being a showrunner" is strangely unrelated to anything I said.


  36. SK
    September 10, 2014 @ 12:41 am

    For one thing, if you call every sexist a misogynist, then you leave yourself languageless when you encounter a real misogynist.


  37. SK
    September 10, 2014 @ 12:42 am

    You know that the advertisements shown are based on the viewer's IP address's browsing history, right?

    What sort of things have you been looking at?


  38. Aylwin
    September 10, 2014 @ 1:18 am

    Agreed about the terminology. There does seem to be a widespread ellision of sexism with misogyny going on, which among other ill-effects seriously obfuscates discussion. For many people, displaying their radical credentials by the use of harsher terms seems to outweigh linguistic clarity or practical impact.

    Not being conversant with the literature I am probably going to get taken off at the knees here, but patriarchy seems to me to owe an awful lot to condescension, which is a very different thing from hate. Loving someone is perfectly compatible with refusing to regard them as a fully capable autonomous person entitled to self-determination and equal access to power. How else to account for the usual social relations between adults and children? The traditional patriarchal set-up involves regarding and treating women as permanently immature, and hence, like children, as in need of protection, guidance and discipline from those more fully competent, well-balanced and self-sufficient than themselves. Sure, hate, and fear, is in the mix as well (and may be more resilient than condescension, being less susceptible to refutation), but twisting the language to make it into the whole of the thing seems wildly misleading.

    And as you say, the misuse of language is damaging in practical terms. Criticism of a man whose sexist attitude is one of affectionate, amused, self-serving or unconscious disrespect is liable to be shrugged off if voiced in terms of misogyny, because he knows, and others can probably see, that he doesn't hate women – and any subsequent denunciations from the same source or of a similar sort are less likely to be given a hearing as a result.

    There's a related sort of misdirection in the language of "misandry" and "man-hating feminists", not because male-disparaging sexism does not exist or does not matter but because it tends to have less to do with hate than with condescension – that same tendency to regard one sex as essentially immature, lacking full mental and emotional competence and dependent on a kind of parenting from the opposite sex. An attitude which is often internalised, and of course hardly alien to Moffat's work, particularly Coupling.


  39. storiteller
    September 10, 2014 @ 2:37 am

    It's Ana Mardoll and you can find the Buffy deconstructions by Googling her name and "Buffy." I don't want to direct link because of the bullying issue.


  40. AndyRobot800
    September 10, 2014 @ 6:37 am

    I'd also add that Doctor Who fandom has a looooong tradition of criticism. There's always been something about the show that inspired participation – whether it was the special effects you could probably make at home, or the vast universe that made any story possible. Or, to put it another way: Star Trek inspired thousands of kids to become scientists. Doctor Who inspired thousands of kids to make Doctor Who.

    So – I mean – it's no surprise that cultural studies students flock to "our show." It's a multi-layered beast with a rich history of criticism. My only issue is when they either don't play fair, or seem like they really aren't paying attention – and I think Phillip would agree.

    I mean, that gag in "The Bells Of St. John" where the phone rings, and the monk asks if it's a demon, and the Doctor says "It's a woman," and the monk crosses himself…. seems like it was blatantly a dig at the patriarchal structures of the Catholic church, and how it breeds a culture that regards women as the enemy. My mother is a feminist Catholic theologian by trade, and she thought the same thing. That's how the scene is played by the actors, that's how the scene is directed, and… I don't know for certain if that's how Moffat intended it, but I don't know for certain that he didn't either.

    But, of course, stfu-moffat decided that it was "yet another example of OMG misogynist moffat!" because… you know… he said a thing once or gave an interview or I don't know BUT WE'RE RIGHT so there. And that's the kind of thing that bothers me too.


  41. elvwood
    September 10, 2014 @ 6:55 am

    This is a bit trivial for a discussion of a such a deeply thought through post, but the idea of a culture in which liking soccer marks you out as "not one of the boys" instead of the reverse being true really struck me, and pointed out once again how parochial my assumptions are. I mean, it's obvious when I think about it, but I just never did think about it. Here, strangers can open casual conversation with "who do you support?", and everyone knows not only that they are talking about sport rather than, say, politics, but that they are talking about soccer. Sometimes they won't accept "I'm not interested in football" as an answer at all. This has happened to me at least twice in the last year.


  42. storiteller
    September 10, 2014 @ 7:00 am

    I think the best example of failing in an awkward and clumsy way is the Doctor, the Widow, and the Wardrobe. It was very clear that he was trying to be pro-female (not necessarily feminist) and somehow tried so hard that he ended up way on the other side of the sexist fence. Women derive their power from being – or even just the potential to be – mothers? Ugh. I'm a mom and I find that offensive.


  43. John Seavey
    September 10, 2014 @ 8:44 am

    OK, I will be more specific: "Neither of us know who the almost-rans were for writing slots. We do not know who was considered. We don’t know what efforts to hire female writers may have taken place or what happened to them. Which is to say, it’s a good question, but it’s not one that can easily be answered.

    Some speculation is possible, certainly. We know that BBC policy is that Doctor Who can only be written by people with pretty extensive television experience, to the point that Davies had to lobby a bit to get Rob Shearman in on the first season. So the larger institutional bias of television works doubly against Doctor Who here – the pool of female writers that Moffat can actually ask is too small. We also can note that the BBC pays much, much less than American television, which makes many of the names thrown out like Jane Espenson tricky, simply because they'd have to take a pretty massive pay cut from their already full-time writing careers.

    But there's a lot more that we don't know than that we do, and speculation here is a mug's game."

    The implication of this statement is that there must be a good reason, because Moffat is a feminist who would no doubt hire qualified female writers if there were any that fit the selection criteria. (Note that this is in essence the same argument used whenever a female writer/performer/director/producer isn't used–that there must simply not be one available who's sufficiently qualified, or otherwise they would have been selected. The onus is therefore put onto women to become more talented, rather than the existing selectors to pay attention to the talented women already out there.) And yes, I'm aware you didn't actively say, "There just aren't any talented women out there," but by saying, "You don't know why he didn't select women writers either," you are implicitly putting the argument of "None available" on an equal footing to "Doesn't want to". (And by suggesting that it's due to a small pool of writers and a need to lobby for a female writer, as a defense of it not being done, you are suggesting that it would be more work for Moffat to get a woman writing for the series either than he is currently willing to do, or than he is currently capable of. Hence the "oh, well, y'know, it's hard work being a showrunner" line.)

    Which again, would be more acceptable if there really were none available. As it is, we know that Helen Raynor has already completed two two-parters (which, as you yourself have noted, are brutally hard) to a professional standard. Now it could be that Ms Raynor has had e-FUCKING-nough of Doctor Who, given her treatment at the hands of those fans, and that there simply aren't enough women out there aside from her…however, I'll be blunt here. Moffat's been getting stick about this for years now. There are women at the BBC who can write. The BBC has to also be aware of this issue. For this to still not be happening, given that both Moffat and the BBC are aware of it being a problem from an optics standpoint if nothing else, means that Moffat is probably not making it a priority.

    tl;dr: You say we don't know why, but there are only two options. Either Moffat doesn't care or there aren't enough good women writers who fit the bill. Punting the question unfairly gives weight to the latter opinion.


  44. Nyq Only
    September 10, 2014 @ 9:50 am

    "Sometimes they won't accept "I'm not interested in football" as an answer at all. This has happened to me at least twice in the last year."

    Only twice – well done! 🙂
    Worst case is taxi drivers in countries in some South East Asian countries. When they work out you are British and start interrogating you about football. "I have no idea what you are talking about" can't help but feel like a rude answer 🙁
    'What city are you from?' hmm I'm from Wigan but I can't say that, and can't go larger scale and say Liverpool and definitely not Manchester – play it safe and say "London" as that means I can still be vague about specific football teams in the inevitable monologue that follows.


  45. Jesse
    September 10, 2014 @ 9:57 am

    This is a bit trivial for a discussion of a such a deeply thought through post, but the idea of a culture in which liking soccer marks you out as "not one of the boys" instead of the reverse being true really struck me, and pointed out once again how parochial my assumptions are.

    It's basically the one major team sport that it's socially acceptable for an American man not to give a shit about. (In the sunnier sections of the country, you're also free to ignore hockey. But soccer is different: A lot of American jock culture openly disparages it.)


  46. Seeing_I
    September 10, 2014 @ 10:49 am

    The slap really bothered me, too. It seemed over the top and very out of nowhere, and for a show that is supposed to be at least somewhat pedantic for the sake of the kids, it sets a really bad example (and not one that's ever refuted in the text, either).


  47. Seeing_I
    September 10, 2014 @ 11:00 am

    I think that Moffat is, indeed, a feminist writer by intention, and Doctor Who is all the better for it. However, I do think he often trips himself up on his own assumptions. He's very into essentialism, and so he writes dialog with these these broad "men are like this" "women are like this" "marriage is like that" types of statements. He also seems to confuse a sexual and personal preference for strong, dominant women with actually writing characters with nuance and self-determination. He's very much a "tell, don't show" kind of writer – Clara's "bossy control freak" comment came out of nowhere, really.

    OK my other comment is that what bothered me is, again, the utter essentialism in Moffat's comment "I would like to go on record and say that the queen should be played by a man" is that it mistakes a real personage with a fictional one, and a fictional one who's already been established in-universe as being gender fluid. Further, it irks me because the Queen has already been played by a man, namely Quentin Crisp in the fabulous "Orlando."

    Lastly, there's this:


  48. encyclops
    September 10, 2014 @ 12:31 pm

    Clara's "bossy control freak" comment came out of nowhere, really.

    Yeah, and honestly, I still don't see it. She just seems like a reasonably assertive woman to me. Now, if that description were applied to the Twelfth Doctor…

    it irks me because the Queen has already been played by a man, namely Quentin Crisp in the fabulous "Orlando."

    That's what I thought of, too. I love that movie to death.

    Lastly, that's brilliant.


  49. Doctor Memory
    September 10, 2014 @ 12:52 pm

    This is, I think worth underlining. A lot.

    The thing about feminism is that it's not Marxism and not Christianity. For starters: no Marx, no Christ. And as a result: no Manifesto, no Kapital, no Gospels. No ur-text(s) that, whatever set of problems they might have in terms of provenance and self-consistency can at least be used as your initial legend on the map: this is what Marx believed, this is what Marx asserted, this is what Christ prophesied.

    Instead you have this much more amorphous thing: the label "feminist" has been self-applied by a rather diverse group of people over a long bit of time, ranging (on just one axis! of many!) from Andrea Dworkin to Susie Bright to Stoya.

    As someone above said, most arguments are definitional ones, and that's doubly true for feminism. If you're going to make a claim that someone or some thing is or is not feminist (or is, shakier claim yet, anti-feminist) you'd better damn well make crystal clear to your audience which feminism you're talking about.


  50. John Seavey
    September 10, 2014 @ 1:26 pm

    This comment breaks my heart every time I read it. I know Phil pretty well, and I think I'm probably on safe ground when I say he'd much rather you disagree with him than that you believe you're a bad feminist for refusing to accept things that your gut is telling you are sexist. Nobody should ever make you feel ashamed for trusting those gut instincts, and I can't imagine that was Phil's intention here.


  51. SK
    September 10, 2014 @ 3:17 pm

    we know that Helen Raynor has already completed two two-parters […] to a professional standard

    Actually, given Davies's attitude towards redrafting (on occasion throwing away entire scripts and starting from scratch), all we really know is that she was involved to some extent in the writing of four episodes that ended up substantially below the standard that any self-respecting professional should accept of themselves.


  52. ferret
    September 10, 2014 @ 3:22 pm

    Cate Blanchett played Bob Dylan well enough in "I'm not there" too. Why not a female actor playing a male Doctor, even?


  53. Ombund
    September 11, 2014 @ 6:29 am

    But the thing is, as said in the blogpost, we really don’t know how the system works. Does Moffat directly choose just enough people to fill the 8/9 slots in a series he doesn’t write himself or does he choose 15 people and then select the pitches that are the best/fit into the series shape/work within the practicalities of production? There’s too many unknowns, and so that makes all debate on whether or not the process is actively sexist impossible to argue. If we assume that Moffat does invite 15 or so people to pitch then yes, it’s absolutely fair to demand that some of those people should be women. But who’s to say that hasn’t been the case? And when it gets to the stage of whittling those pitches down to the scripts that actually get written and then made, it’s not really fair to say that that choice can be dictated by gender. It simply has to be based on what scripts are the best for the show. If that doesn’t include any women then that’s upsetting but what are they meant to do instead? Choose a worse idea? Bust the budget by making a great but too-expensive script? Take time to go through and redraft a workable script but then cause other production issues down the line because of all the extra time that took? Of course combatting sexism is more important than inconvenience, but ultimately the production team have to get a show on the air or they’re going to lose their jobs (including the many women working in that production team, the women directors etc., etc.). We really can’t look at this problem as a simple black and white issue that exists in a vacuum, not effected by production concerns. (cont…)


  54. Ombund
    September 11, 2014 @ 6:34 am

    (cont…) The other problem is that when people say they want more women writers they rarely specify who, or if they do they tend to go for wildly impractical and usually American choices. As mentioned in the post, someone like Jane Espenson would have to take a paycut she may not be willing to take. Plus there’s the fact that having any US-based writer on the show would be even more unusual than hiring a woman. Of the British names that do crop up, the only common ones with any actual screenwriting experience (and I mean any experience at all, most people just seem to list women authors because hey, that’s writing too!) are Sally Wainwright and Abi Morgan. Both of whom would be great choices but neither have any background in sci-fi or fantasy programming – not that that should be any kind of barrier but it may indicate that they simply have no interest in writing that kind of material, not because they’re women but because that’s just not what they like to write about. They’re also both incredibly busy people; Wainwright writes (and now directs) multiple UK series, Morgan has a career writing scripts for Hollywood films. For all we know, they may well have been asked to write Doctor Who but turned it down because it isn’t something they want to do or can fit into their schedules right now –as before, we just don’t know!

    I can think of one woman writer who seems ideal for Doctor Who, and that’s Debbie Moon of CBBC’s Wolfblood. But it’s alarming that that’s the only person I can think of. Maybe some of the writers of the other “biggest show on TV” Call the Midwife, have the right experience? But as with Morgan and Wainwright, who’s to say that Doctor Who’s something they’d want to write for or if they did whether they could fit it around making their own even bigger hit show.

    The lack of sensible suggestions even by people who do actively care about feminist issues points to the real problem here. There simply aren’t enough women writers in the industry in general, even less working in the sci-fi/fantasy/action-adventure genre, and even less than that at the level necessary for them to get considered for a job on Doctor Who. It’s an industrywide problem that needs to be fought and yes, I’d love Doctor Who to be at forefront of fighting it, but let’s not pretend that this is a problem that originates with Steven Moffat. As has been said, purely from an optics point of view, the lack of women writers looks bad. Even if we assume that Moffat is a great big sexist, he and the BBC would still be desperate for a woman writer to join the team, simply as a means of shutting down that line of criticism. I would counter that rather than showing that it’s not a priority, the lack of a single woman writer (especially after 5 years of it being raised as an issue), is an indication of just how big a problem it is. It also possibly points to the fact that maybe Doctor Who, as one of the biggest dramas on TV with an absolutely punishing production schedule and acting as the pinnacle of many people’s writing careers, just isn’t the best placed TV programme to be the source of change here.


  55. John Seavey
    September 11, 2014 @ 8:22 am

    @SK: As I pointed out, after re-commissioning the writer of "Curse of the Black Spot" not once but twice, Moffat has absolutely no business invoking "professional standards" in his defense of who he picks to write a script. 🙂

    @Ombund: Again, though, that's the "binders full of women" defense. It's a more elaborate and verbose version, but it still relies, at its heart, on the fundamental assumption that Moffat would have to sacrifice quality in order to get a woman on the writing team. It makes the a priori assumption ("what are they meant to do instead? Choose a worse idea?") that female writers are not as good as male writers, and that Moffat is making this decision for the good of the show. And that is a sexist assumption. That is the definition of a sexist assumption. That is a textbook sexist assumption. And to use it in a defense of Moffat as a feminist is, quite honestly, a mistake.


  56. Ombund
    September 11, 2014 @ 8:43 am

    What I was trying to say is that there can be several reasons for why one script is chosen over another, which one is “better” or “worse” is only one of the many reasons that can influence that decision. I definitely wasn’t trying to imply that the scripts/ideas by women keep on coming out worse. As I said there could be an amazing idea that ends up being prohibitively expensive to bring to screen. Without any insight into the production process beyond conjecture it’s impossible to classify it as sexism beyond the (to borrow a phrase from the previous 'Definitive' post) background level of sexism that comes from living in a patriarchy. We can castigate Doctor Who and Moffat for not rising above that background level but nor is Doctor Who an outlier.


  57. david_505
    September 11, 2014 @ 10:24 am

    and just WHERE is your feminist reading of Chalk??? We need full Moffat coverage!


  58. John Seavey
    September 11, 2014 @ 10:33 am

    @Ombund: But my point is that there are only two options: Either women are not delivering satisfactory scripts (and "budget-breaking" is really just another form of "unsatisfactory", because Moffat is willing to work with writers Neil Gaiman to get his script into a form that can meet the budget, so the implication of "budget-breaking" is "and they're too lousy/too much of a prima donna to fix it") or Moffat doesn't care enough to make an effort. You're right, we don't know which it is. But by saying we cannot criticize him for this because we don't know, you are holding up the former as an equal possibility to the latter, despite the entire history of television including the two preceding seasons of this series acting as a counter-example. Phrase it however you want, it is saying, "We should give Moffat the benefit of the doubt because maybe this is an instance where men really are better at writing 'Doctor Who' than women! We just can't know!"

    Which is, again, textbook sexism.


  59. Nyq Only
    September 11, 2014 @ 10:35 am

    "We're messing with stuff we don't understand…"


  60. Elizabeth Sandifer
    September 11, 2014 @ 11:11 am

    I quibble slightly with John's focus on the gut, since I often am inclined to tell people to interrogate their gut reactions and consider other perspectives.

    But I absolutely don't think one is a bad feminist for not liking Moffat's stuff. I take serious issue with the particular approaches to criticizing Moffat that some folks take. But equally, while I think Moffat's work is a tremendously useful tool for feminism, it's not a one-size-fits-all tool, and I can easily see how it would fall flat for people as well, and even fall flat in a way that makes it unappealing, given the ways in which gender and feminism are explicit topics in it.


  61. Elizabeth Sandifer
    September 11, 2014 @ 11:14 am

    I think there is a bit of intellectual dishonesty in looking into a black box such as the Doctor Who production office and concluding that there are precisely two things that could possibly be going on in there.

    I have no problem simultaneously believing that Doctor Who (and basically all television shows) should hire more female writers and believing that it's inappropriate for people who don't know the inner workings of the production office to assign individual blame for the failure to do so. "Steven Moffat" is not a synonym for "the entirety of Doctor Who's production since 2010."


  62. Ombund
    September 11, 2014 @ 11:57 am

    This, from someone who works in modern TV production, seems pretty spot on and manages to say what I was trying to say in a lot less words:


  63. encyclops
    September 11, 2014 @ 12:38 pm

    This was linked in there:

    Doctor Who isn't a sitcom, of course, but it's food for thought. Is "our" show really that much harder to write for than anything else?


  64. John Seavey
    September 11, 2014 @ 12:50 pm

    @Phil: Except, again, Rob Shearman and Helen Raynor. We know that the showrunner has been able to get the BBC to make exceptions to their policies (whatever they may be) regarding "untested" writers at least once. We know that they've got at least one woman who has been on their list of "approved" writers in the past. These are windows into the black box. Given this, it is not inappropriate to state that Moffat must have some role to play in selecting writers that include women, and that he is not doing as good a job of it as his predecessor. And if he isn't, it's not unreasonable to ask why.

    And that's another thing–if there's a reason, why not give it? This isn't "fan entitlement" speaking, here. This is a production office that seems to be acting in a discriminatory fashion. If they have a good reason why they're not selecting female writers that isn't discrimination, why can't they just say so? This isn't a matter of national security or something. Saying, "It's The Black Box of Television Production," like it was some sort of Lovecraftian unknowable secret, is essentially giving up on trying to get some sort of progressive social change. And if that's what you're doing, that's fine, but it doesn't belong in the same place as the words "Steven Moffat Is a Feminist and You Are Wrong".


  65. jonathan inge
    September 11, 2014 @ 3:02 pm

    This comment has been removed by the author.


  66. jonathan inge
    September 11, 2014 @ 3:10 pm

    This comment has been removed by the author.


  67. jonathan inge
    September 11, 2014 @ 3:45 pm

    This comment has been removed by the author.


  68. storiteller
    September 11, 2014 @ 4:04 pm

    The thing about Jane Espenson is that she did write in the Doctor Who universe – she wrote for Miracle Day. Which as we all know, was not very good. Perhaps more importantly for the BBC, it was supposed to be their big break-through into the U.S. for Torchwood and failed. So hiring a writer who wrote for a failed Doctor Who spinoff doesn't really sound like a great idea. Also, she already has a job writing for Once Upon a Time.

    That's not to say there aren't other female writers who would qualify. She's busy now with Scandal, but I definitely see Shonda Rhimes writing for Doctor Who in the future. She has stated she is a huge fan, she has show running experience, and writes/produces shows that are heavily character-based. She perfectly fits what Moffatt says he wants: ""I'm looking for showrunner level writers who’d give their right arms to write a Doctor Who story…" But she's not on any of those lists because she's not known as a SF writer.


  69. jonathan inge
    September 11, 2014 @ 4:38 pm

    This comment has been removed by the author.


  70. jonathan inge
    September 11, 2014 @ 4:42 pm

    This comment has been removed by the author.


  71. jonathan inge
    September 11, 2014 @ 4:57 pm

    This comment has been removed by the author.


  72. storiteller
    September 11, 2014 @ 6:17 pm

    I meant any of the lists mentioned above, where people were listing possible female Doctor Who writers. I was actually using it as proof that Moffatt doesn't really care about the SF credentials so much as he cares about general TV experience, especially with character-driven shows.


  73. Anton B
    September 11, 2014 @ 9:38 pm

    My hand is up. Football hating man right here. I would like to point out though that, these days, the "Who do you support?" question is as likely to come from a female as a male. So there's gender equality in action right there. I've always found "I hate football. Do you like Doctor Who?" to be the best and most honest response to either gender.


  74. nimonus
    September 12, 2014 @ 3:28 pm

    "For the record, I'm not especially a feminist, nor a misogynist: I'm a humanist – I treat everybody the same, regardless of gender, religion, nationality or whatever"

    I'm sure this isn't how you meant it, but this sort of statement makes me deeply uncomfortable. It sounds like a denial of the reality that we exist in a world defined by entrenched systems of oppression.

    Truly being a humanist in a misogynistic world requires being a feminist, just as having even a modicum of respect for people of every race in a profoundly racist society requires being proactively anti-racist.

    All of us contribute to the perpetuation of the norms of our given society in hundreds of ways, every minute of every day, in every economic transaction we make and in every interaction we have, whether we realize it or not. When that society is inherently and profoundly oppressive, that means we are participants in that oppression.

    Hence we must also actively seek to undermine, question, and dismantle those systems of oppression, or we simply become part of the problem.


  75. jonathan inge
    September 12, 2014 @ 5:18 pm

    This comment has been removed by the author.


  76. Martin Fowler
    September 13, 2014 @ 8:58 am

    I wonder if part of the anti-Moffat feminist reading is due to trans-atlantic differences in humor. As a Brit living in the US for two decades, it’s still striking. Two aspects stand out. One is that Brits will joke about things that most Americans will consider off-limits. Another is that Brits love to joke about things in such a way that you can never be sure if we are making a joke.

    For more on this, and other aspects of damp island culture, I strongly recommend Watching The English by Kate Fox . It’s probably significant that when my (American) wife read it, she enjoyed it and found it interesting, but couldn’t see why I also found it hilarious.


  77. TheOncomingHurricane
    September 13, 2014 @ 6:06 pm

    This comment has been removed by the author.


  78. Cassandra
    September 14, 2014 @ 4:49 pm

    It's a bit ironic to me that you characterized feminist critiques of Moffat's writing as "sloppy, bad literary analysis" when I found that this article is the self-same thing you were calling out. Your arguments are ill-formed, ill-explained, and in some cases completely absurd; the fact that I would have to have seen The Complete Moffat, as it were, in order to discuss and identify problematic ideas, themes, and tropes in an episode of Doctor Who is ludicrous. Of course, you're entitled to your opinion, but honestly, to long-windedly "explain" how Moffat is indeed a writer with a feminist agenda and then compare someone refuting said claims to someone refuting the existence of global warming errs on the side of arrogance I haven't encountered in quite some time. Ultimately, I find this article uselessly long, pointless, meandering, and incredibly patronizing.


  79. Elizabeth Sandifer
    September 14, 2014 @ 4:53 pm

    "Your arguments are ill-formed, ill-explained, and in some cases completely absurd"

    I would be much more interested in hearing your explanation of and evidence for this claim than in the fairly banal swipes involved in calling it "uselessly long, pointless, meandering, and incredibly patronizing."


  80. ferret
    September 16, 2014 @ 2:30 pm

    Just noting, it's happened again in 'Listen': both the protested hugging at the end and the tap to the back of the head when the Doctor is scaring young Rupert instead of comforting him.

    It's becoming a bit of a theme, the hug very much a heavily signposted one. I predict by series end (probably at series end) the Doctor will initiate a hug to Clara. Not that it will make anything better (i.e. you could read into it as Clara having abusively 'worn him down' against his will) but it just seems an obvious moment to have now.


  81. BerserkRL
    September 18, 2014 @ 9:41 pm

    Until all participants in a debate understand properly what everyone else understands by particular terms when they are used (and I mean "properly", not "superficially"), then the argument is doomed to failure

    This is a widespread view, but I think it's completely wrong. Agreement on definitions is the endpoint of discussion, not the starting point. And that's because if there's anything that philosophy of language has established over the past 60 years or so, it's that meaning and reference are determined by networks of social practice, not by definitions.


  82. BerserkRL
    September 18, 2014 @ 9:47 pm

    As I've written elsewhere: "I enjoyed Moffat’s satire on gender roles in his earlier series Coupling; but he clearly takes those roles to be largely innate whereas I take them to be largely constructed, so I actually enjoyed the humor in a somewhat different manner from what Moffat intended. It’s like the different ways one would enjoy Yes, Minister depending on whether one thought that a viable alternative to bureaucratic government was possible – laughing at foibles that one takes to be inevitable features of the human condition versus laughing at foibles in a way that can lead to discrediting and combating them."


  83. tiftif56
    October 12, 2014 @ 4:48 pm

    Not sure what happened to my long comment. I'll sum it up quickly : I usually love your blog but the mansplaining of this article is absolutely disgusting and so are the sorry attempts at justifying it (like "I know women who agree with my shit so I must be right somehow" even if the said women are feminists that still wouldn't work as an argument). Not to mention the "reasonable white man" tone that made the whole thing even more of a hard read. Also "I'm a feminist cause I love many women and want them safe" ? Easily makes the top 10 of the worst reasons for a cis man to be a feminist. Would patriarchy be acceptable if you didn't love any women ? Would racism be completely ok if you didn't love any PoC ?
    Hell I hate that kind of reasons for being a SJW and yet it seems all the most common especially with highly priviledged people like yourself.

    At least I hope you realise your only "real" argument for establishing as a feminist (something that -in itself- is hella problematic coming from a cishet prolly middle-class white man) is to say that when he doesn't do worse than average when he's being sexist (which isn't even true even when comparing with some of the very early DW) and does "feminist enough" stuff to your appreciation; one of those stuff being establishing as Clara being a feminist character which frankly is hilarious (I mean at least River and Amy can superficially seem so but Clara is such an obvious bunch of walking sexist stereotypes fitting a very sexist narrative (particularly with Matt Smith). Like even if that "not below average" thing was true, it would be very, very far from being enough of an argument for establishing a rich cishet white man like Moffat as a feminist.

    Basically as a cishet white man you might wanna think twice before patronisingly opposing a general consensus among feminists on a sexist issue. Or less politely said : Stop. Fucking. Mansplaining.

    P.S : Quick reminder that you basically establish the man who made Sherlock as a feminist. You know, Sherlock, that show in which the only time they build a significant female character is to humiliate her and make her fall in love with the main character* in the only episode she appears in (which is also lesbophobic seeing the episode clearly establishes her as a lesbian).

    P.S 2 : Also I read somewhere you considered Davies failed to write PoC characters. Like really, you gonna give Moffat the "not below average" excuse and refuse it to Davies when he deserves it like 10000000 times more? If you gonna blame an era for its racism, Moffat's is a much better candidate (yes there are also a lot of racial issues in his era some of which are even quite triggering for me as a PoC).

    *Character who happens to be the same supposedly subversive cynical cis white man who is really just perpetuating common bigotry and being and absolute dick and that has been seen in like millions of other shows. So damn subversive.


  84. Mewiet
    October 13, 2014 @ 2:43 pm

    "I can think of one woman writer who seems ideal for Doctor Who, and that’s Debbie Moon of CBBC’s Wolfblood. But it’s alarming that that’s the only person I can think of. Maybe some of the writers of the other 'biggest show on TV' Call the Midwife, have the right experience? But as with Morgan and Wainwright, who’s to say that Doctor Who’s something they’d want to write for or if they did whether they could fit it around making their own even bigger hit show."

    I'm a staunch supporter of Moffat's writing, but that does not excuse the lack of female writers (or lack of female directors) since he's become showrunner.

    Debbie Moon has said she wants to write for Doctor Who as far back as September 9, 2013:

    She reiterated this desire in February 2014 and as of August 1 she stated her agent has contacted those in charge about writing for the show, but gives the distinct impression that she has not heard from them:

    And when James Moran said he thought Debbie Moon should write for season nine on August 18, she replied, "Would be nice, wouldn't it?" which continues to imply she has not been contacted:

    Emilia de Girolamo has said she would want to write for the show as of July 16, 2011:

    And what about Catherine Tregenna, who wrote four episodes of Torchwood, including one that was Hugo nominated? Chris Chibnall and Phil Ford who transferred over to the mother show from the TW and SJA spinoffs were asked back as late as seasons seven and eight, yet none of the women who worked on Torchwood have transferred over except Helen Raynor who hasn't written for the show since 2008.

    The lack of female voices in terms of the scriptwriting for Moffat's Era (none) and of NuWho as a whole (none until three seasons in and exactly one in nearly a decade) is completely unacceptable, especially when there are female scriptwriters who want to write for the show and a female showrunner with as much success as Debbie Moon who has already taken the initiative to ask them first.


  85. Mewiet
    October 13, 2014 @ 4:34 pm

    He's very much a "tell, don't show" kind of writer – Clara's "bossy control freak" comment came out of nowhere, really.

    Considering multiple episodes prove this wrong – so much so that I have to make this reply into two separate posts – your comment comes out of nowhere, really.

    Clara: Gimme! (She takes the laptop from him and they fight over it.)
    The Doctor: Sorry. What?
    Clara: You need to know where they physically are. Their exact location.
    The Doctor: Yes.
    Clara: I can do it.
    The Doctor: Oi, hang on. I need that.
    Clara: You've hacked the lower operating system, yeah? I'll have their physical location in under five minutes. Pop off and get us a coffee.
    The Doctor: If I can't find them, you definitely can't.
    Clara: They uploaded me, remember? I've got computing stuff in my head.
    The Doctor: So do I.
    Clara: I have insane hacking skills.
    The Doctor: I'm from space and the future with two hearts and twenty seven brains.
    Clara: And I can find them in under five minutes plus photographs. Twenty seven?
    The Doctor: Okay, slight exaggeration.
    Clara: Coffee, go get.
    ~ "The Bells of Saint John"

    Taking another person's property and demanding they go get you coffee while you use it? If that's not bossy and controlling, I don't know what is.

    Clara: Come back tomorrow. Ask me again.
    The Doctor: Why?
    Clara: Because tomorrow, I might say yes. Sometime after seven okay for you?
    The Doctor: It's a time machine. Any time's okay.
    Clara: See you then.
    ~ "The Bells of Saint John"

    She not only refuses to go with him, she tells him to come back and after her the next day to see if maybe she'll say yes. Then she even tells him what time she wants him to come over. Yes, she wants to be the one calling the shots and she does.

    During The Doctor and Zhukov's argument about who will talk to Skaldak:

    Clara: Ahem. Well, there really is only one choice, isn't there. I don't smell of anything, to my knowledge.
    The Doctor: You? No! No! No way. You're not going in there alone, Clara. Absolutely not. No, no. Never.
    ~ "Cold War"

    Clara wins that round too.

    Emma: Urgh. I'd rather have a nice cup of tea.
    Clara: Me too. Whisky is the eleventh most disgusting thing ever invented.
    ~ "Hide"

    The eleventh most disgusting thing ever invented? And she says this off the top of her head? It's not even an exaggeration, it's a flat out weirdly specific answer that she just says, implying she's actually thought about this enough to have itemized ten other things before whiskey. The list making and the fact that she's got it memorized emphasizes her need for order.



  86. Mewiet
    October 13, 2014 @ 4:40 pm

    Emma: I'm not strong enough!
    Clara: Just a few more seconds.
    Clara: Wake up! Wake up! Open the thing!
    Emma: I'm sorry.
    Palmer: Don't be sorry. Don't be. What you did –
    Clara: Wasn't enough! She needs to do it again!
    Palmer: She can't! Look at her.
    Clara: She has to! We can't leave him.
    ~ "Hide"

    As friendly as Clara usually is, her façade totally breaks down when faced with potentially losing someone else she's grown to care about and she's very harsh and demanding with Emma here. She then runs off and calls the TARDIS a "grumpy old cow" because she's panicking about losing control over the situation. Not surprising, really, since her entire life has been about losing things: she lost her best pencil, her school bag, her gran, and her mojo as a kid according to "The Bells of Saint John: A Prequel." She got lost on a Blackpool beach on a Bank Holiday and it was her worst fear come to life, revealed in "The Rings of Akhaten." Then she loses her mother for good. It would be strange if she didn't have control issues.

    Clara: Good night. See you next Wednesday.
    ~ "Nightmare in Silver"

    She's assigned The Doctor a day out of her week for adventures. One more example of order and control.

    Angie: Oh, no. You're going to try and make a soufflé again, aren't you?
    Clara: My mum's soufflé, yeah. Although this time I'll get it right. This time I will be Soufflé Girl.
    ~ "The Name of The Doctor"

    She's being a perfectionist here, which is yet another form of trying to control something that she knows she's not good at.

    Clara: Emergency: you're my boyfriend!
    The Doctor: Ding dong. Okay, brilliant. I may be a bit rusty in some areas, but I will glance at a manual.
    Clara: No, no, you're not actually my boyfriend.
    The Doctor: Oh, that was quick. It's a roller coaster this phone call.
    Clara: But I need a boyfriend really quickly.
    The Doctor: Well, I hope you're nicer to the next one.
    Clara: No, shut up. Christmas dinner. Me cooking.
    The Doctor: So?
    Clara: So, I may have accidentally invented a boyfriend.
    The Doctor: Yeah, I did that once and there's no easy way to get rid of an android.
    Clara: No, not an android. A pretend one, an imaginary one. And I said he'd be coming to Christmas dinner.
    The Doctor: Yeah.
    Clara: I just need you to come for Christmas dinner. Just do that for me. Come to Christmas dinner and be my Christmas date.
    ~ "The Time of The Doctor"

    No, "hey, I'm in a pickle, I need you to be my fake boyfriend," no "pretty please with cherries on top," just a flat out, "this is what you're going to do because I've screwed up and now you have to help me save face."

    The Doctor: You can't keep using the TARDIS like this.
    Clara: Like what?
    The Doctor: Missed birthdays, restaurant bookings. And please, just learn how to use iPlayer.
    ~ "The Time of The Doctor"

    And these are the ridiculous things she's managed to make him use the TARDIS for.

    Clara has been consistently bossy and controlling with Eleven since well before her admission of it in the Truth Field in TTOTD. Since well before TTOTD entirely. I scratch my head at how such blatant behavior could have been missed.



  87. Ombund
    October 14, 2014 @ 1:17 am

    Further to this discussion, Neil Gaiman recently made an interesting comment on the lack of women writers: I'm assuming at least one of the women referred to is the much-rumoured Jane Goldman.

    Also, while not explicitly talking about women writers, in a Reddit AMA Jamie Mathieson did give a bit of an insight into the process of getting a writing commission for Doctor Who:


  88. unnoun
    October 27, 2014 @ 9:45 am

    I mean. I'd be lying if I said that I wasn't more than slightly concerned and frustrated by the mansplaining of Phil doing this. But, it is kinda true that if he's wrong, it has to be for some reason other than his gender and race.

    '"I know women who agree with my shit so I must be right somehow" even if the said women are feminists that still wouldn't work as an argument'

    I'm one of the feminist women who agrees with him. Or, to be more precise, he's one of the feminist men that agrees with me.

    …And he did point out that a lot of the women he's talked to about this are feminists. So that's strike one on whether you've actually read this.

    'At least I hope you realise your only "real" argument for establishing as a feminist (something that -in itself- is hella problematic coming from a cishet prolly middle-class white man) is to say that when he doesn't do worse than average when he's being sexist'

    I mean, that's far from being the only argument presented here for that. There's also the analyzing of the quotes. And presentation of alternative quotes, one of which is Moffat saying that he thinks it's important that there be feminist critique of television.

    '(which isn't even true even when comparing with some of the very early DW)'

    I mean, this is a blog that has gone through fifty years of Doctor Who and looked at a lot of it through a social justice lens. And, I love Doctor Who, I feel like it's been a generally positive influence on my life. But it has, throughout its run, continually made mistakes with regards to gender, and sexuality, and race, and class. For every Barbara Wright or Ace McShane there was a Dodo, and for every Remembrance Of The Daleks there was a Talons Of Weng-Chiang.

    'establishing as Clara being a feminist character which frankly is hilarious (I mean at least River and Amy can superficially seem so but Clara is such an obvious bunch of walking sexist stereotypes fitting a very sexist narrative (particularly with Matt Smith)'

    …I can't even tell what you're saying here. I really don't think anything said about Clara is accurate.


  89. unnoun
    October 27, 2014 @ 9:45 am

    'a general consensus among feminists'

    I mean, for a long time it was a general consensus among second-wave feminists that trans women weren't real women. That didn't make it, y'know, right, or not transmisogynistic.

    And there are plenty of feminist women that disagree with the supposed "consensus" view of the Moffat era.

    'Quick reminder that you basically establish the man who made Sherlock as a feminist.'

    Yes. He does.

    'Also I read somewhere you considered Davies failed to write PoC characters.'


    Like really, you gonna give Moffat the "not below average" excuse and refuse it to Davies when he deserves it like 10000000 times more? If you gonna blame an era for its racism, Moffat's is a much better candidate

    I mean, there were multiple times in the Davies era where the Doctor called a man of colour an "idiot" and ignored and dismissed the points raised by a woman of colour. Including one instance I, as a woman of colour, found rather triggering, namely when he referred to Martha's objections to how she was addressed as "political correctness gone mad" unquote. I can't begin to describe how often I've heard that sentiment expressed.

    And there's the part where in Turn Left the caravan planet where the mystics were was coded in all sorts of "Yellow Peril" stereotypes which I also found kinda triggering.

    Although, I mean. Moffat is partly responsible for an episode of Sherlock with similarly awful stereotypes. The sad fact is that Davies, Moffat and Gatiss are and were Classic Who fans, and have all expressed that the only thing wrong with an episode actually called "The Talons Of Weng-Chiang" is a somewhat unrealistic rat.


  90. Aquanafrahudy
    August 5, 2023 @ 4:41 am

    “In specific terms, fascination with guns and with committing real-world violence absolutely horrifies me to the point where I have trouble being friends with people who own guns.”
    Umm… Isn’t that universal?


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.