Home > Doctor Who, only slightly ranty > On Doctor Who, Storytelling, and Women

On Doctor Who, Storytelling, and Women

“I like that Helen Mirren has been saying the next doctor should be a woman. I would like to go on record and say that the Queen should be played by a man.”

Steven Moffat (Youtube video here, roughly at 3:40).

First off, congrats to Peter Capaldi on his role as the 12th Doctor. By all accounts, he will do a fabulous job as Doctor Who, and he’s been in a lot of fabulous things (tv and movies) that I’ve loved. This post isn’t about Capaldi.

No, my issue is with Moffat, specifically his glib attitude toward gender roles/women. As he so aptly pointed out in that video, it has been established that the Doctor can regenerate as either sex. It is possible. It hasn’t HAPPENED, mind you. But there’s not Time Lord rule that states he must be a white male.

So, I have to take grievous issue with his quip that he’d like the Queen to be played by a man. Why? These are different situations. The Queen is based on a real live person. She isn’t a fiction. She’s very much alive and well. She is not a character that’s been made up by someone, where one could take creative license and change things around. That’s the difference between a biopic and, say, SCIENCE FICTION.

*ahem* I’m going to try not to shout, but it’s rather difficult. I think that Moffat’s rather pointed dismissal and redirection is rather infantile. The tone, and his words, are rude, bordering on abrasive. He is, presumably, aware that women not only leave the HOUSE now, but we also wear PANTS. And are, generally, awesome.

Truly, snark aside, I think that having the Doctor, eventually, regenerate as a woman is not only interesting, but it’s uncharted territory. It’s NEW. Speaking from a storytelling stance, you could do SO much. It’s a whole new palate. I’d be curious to see how the companion (or companions) is thus treated, and if they are a) male and b) as alarmingly hapless as the female companions have been on occasion (more than on occasion, truly).

I’ll be honest with you: I’m relatively new to the Doctor Who world. I’ve been slowly catching up, starting in reverse. I love the series. I want a TARDIS. I adore Matt Smith, and I am sad to see him go. (He did a lovely job of making bowties cool, damn it.) But here’s the thing: I don’t have a favorite Doctor. I have an absolute adoration for each incarnation that I’ve watched, because they’re all so…different. They’re all uniquely drawn and interestingly portrayed. I like that.

Sometimes, personally speaking, I am a traditionalist. For me, it often depends on genre. But even I have a plethora of quirks I feel like I should confess. I do not want to see a woman playing James Bond, because the James Bond character was written (books and movies) as he is. That’s not sci-fi. I cannot see a reason to change his gender/sex, especially since (let’s face it) so much of Bond resides in his capacity as it does in his masculinity/misogyny. That is to say, his penis and a martini. And I’m okay with that. I can appreciate that character for what he is. I love the movies for their fun and their explosions. The dialogue is generally amusing, and Casino Royale was damn near perfect. And Bond’s more than welcome to make me a martini anytime. *ahem*

Conversely, though, I had no trouble adoring Michael Clark Duncan as the Kingpin. He was perfect in the role, and he totally owned the hell out of the part. I don’t care that the Kingpin wasn’t initially envisioned, or drawn as being, as a black character. Duncan was simply spot-n. Reaching back even further, and into another medium, I adored Mary Martin as Peter Pan. I remember, as a kid, being momentarily confused as to why Peter Pan was a woman (I was 6), but after the initial wait, what’s going on quandary, it didn’t bother me in the least. The thing about Mary Martin playing Peter, of course, was that she wasn’t playing him as female. Peter still was seen as a male character. The practice, I suppose, is parallel to men having playing women for alllll those years in the theater. I’m not, of course, suggesting that the role of the Doctor by played by a woman, portraying a male Doctor. That would probably yield a level of farce that’s not quite right for Doctor Who, unless the role of Doctor Who is now being playing by Falstaff.

But it does beg the question of why not, in regard to the Doctor being a woman. He’s not human. He’s got two hearts. He could regenerate as anything, really. An elderly person. A teenager. A child. (Although, the implications of that would be curious. Can that even happen? I would imagine that would present all sorts of storytelling problems. The companion might end up more babysitter than equal. Although whether or not any companion has truly been allowed to be the Doctor’s equal, that’s up for debate. The only one, in my opinion, who has come close (with regard to the past three Doctors) is Rose Tyler. And yet, for all her troubles, she ends up trapped in a parallel universe, heartbroken. I did like/loathe that bit of plot evolution. The separate was well done. It gave me ALL THE FEELS. And yes, I cried buckets. Unlike, say, when the whole Amy/Rory Weeping Angels plotline devolved into a pile of goo and made me full of non-blinking fury. I really did like Clara, the Impossible Girl. I loved how her existence seemed to puzzle and rattle the Doctor, especially this scene. Except, if you think about it, she was only made “smart” by accident (The Bells of St. John) – and her entire purpose seems to have been (thus far) to save the Doctor. Literally. In a way, the last bit is positive; it seems progressive, because you’d think that saving equals being a heroine, and yet…if an entire character’s purpose is meant to rescue another, it rather seems to undermine the value of that character. As much as I adore the cheeky wit of Clara (“run, you clever boy…”), who is she? What does she want out of life? Rose, at least, was a bit lost and a bit wandering. She had a mum and people in her life. Clara has…two children she nannys for. And…what else? I have absolutely no idea.

But, really, back to the quote I mentioned in the beginning. That kind of dismissal displays a callousness that I find off-putting. I find it frustrating. While the principal is slightly different, I think that another example is warranted. Up until Star Trek: Voyager, I’m sure that there were people who scoffed at the idea of a female captain. But Captain Janeway was an excellent character. The point is – my point is – things do not change, until they do. This isn’t asking to change the framework of the show or reinvent the wheel using cheese and screwdriver. Working within the framework, a female Doctor could work. And she could be awesome. But to attempt to undermine the idea of a female Doctor by presenting a supposed counterpoint – one that isn’t really a counterpoint at all – it makes me wonder if, perhaps, Moffat isn’t simply making the Doctor Who he is capable of making. (Which I enjoy, despite the desire to sometimes chuck things at the screen. All shows have their problems. All stories. All things.) Perhaps a female Doctor will happen without Moffat at the helm. Perhaps someone else will need to handle the reins. Perhaps Moffat’s story doesn’t have room for a woman as the Doctor. Maybe that’s okay. (I’ll never say that his ATTITUDE toward the idea is okay. Never. Ever. Because NO.)

I will say this: it won’t be easy, for the woman who is cast. It won’t be easy, because it will be so different. All new ground is terrifying in that there’s no net. But really, stepping into a role like Doctor Who is always, I imagine, without a net. It’s an iconic show. It’s beloved by many, daleks notwithstanding. It’d be an odd thing, to have and not have precursors. There’s a certain level of anxiety of influence. To have a canon full of Doctor and turn it on its head. But if there’s one thing I know, it’s that the show is full of twists and turns, and it’s wibbly wobbly timey wimey. Nothing is ever quite what it seems. The TARDIS is a woman. An angel statue can be a monster. (Don’t blink.) And a giant flap of vapid skin can be rather hilarious/terrifying. I’ll be hearing the screech of, “MOISTURIZE ME” in my nightmares for the rest of TIME.

But before a man plays the Queen, I’ll bet that we’ll see a female Doctor. I do hope she wears a fez.

  1. August 5, 2013 at 6:26 pm

    Confession time: I’ve never watched Doctor Who. PLEASE DON’T TAKE MY NERD CARD. I NEED IT.

    Even still, Moffat’s quote makes my blood boil. Your post was wonderfully put. *FIST BUMP* I’m really getting tired of this “shit all over women” thing that has been going on lately. Especially in the nerd world. GET IT TOGETHER, PEOPLE.

  2. August 5, 2013 at 10:22 pm

    I’ve actually read something about switching the gender of actors to play important bio pic roles. But of course it would be more like the Peter Pan casting, a woman is cast to play a man and plays the role as a man, and vice versa. It was actually an interesting discussion I saw somewhere else related to the Doctor Who role. So based on that idea sure a man could play the queen in a bio pic and a woman could play Winston Churchill. I didn’t appreciate the joke at all, and I think Moffat could have just as easily used what he said about “the right time for the right actor.” He could of just said it’s not the right time.

  3. August 6, 2013 at 1:44 pm

    In fairness I think Helen Mirrens remarks were meant to be tongue in cheek as was the reply from Steven Moffat. It was just that some sections of the British media jumped on the comments and made it seem like there were the beginnings of some sort of feud between the two. Moffat actually clarifies his comments on a female Doctor here: http://www.digitalspy.ie/tv/s7/doctor-who/news/a503989/steven-moffat-on-female-doctor-who-rumours-it-didnt-feel-right.html

    I don’t think there is anything in the rules of the series saying a Time Lord can’t change gender but they should have the right reasons for doing it. Keep in mind this is still a very British show and the BBC will be cautious about experimenting too much when it’s their flagship property at the moment. Personally I would prefer an original strong female character be introduced, someone like Donna or a female Time Lady (like they had with Romana during the Fourth Doctor era). Someone who isn’t always looking up to the Doctor like the younger companions do but gives him a metaphorical kick in the ass every so often.

  4. August 22, 2013 at 9:24 am

    Here is my take on it. I wouldn’t say no woman ever for Doctor Who, but I will say that this was not the time. The Doctor doesn’t fall for his companions, and when they start to fall for him he tries to discourage it. The exception is Rose. He fell for her, and changed with her in mind. His new look fit her, and fit their journey together. At this point in time, he doesn’t want to go down that road again. Clara is making it clear that she sees a romantic future for them. He has been slowly morphing into an old man on the inside this season. It was time for the outside to match the inside. If he had become a woman at this point it would have distracted from the show making it all about how the relationship between the Doctor and Clara would evolve. Sometimes we in the US forget that this is a family show. They can’t spend every week going over sex changes and lesbian tension because those are not things most parents want to explore with their children through sci-fi. I can conceive of a plot line where the Doctor is so damaged by yet another romantic disaster that he decides to try things from the female side of things, but I don’t see that going well for him.
    As for Moffat, he can write for strong female leads, but I don’t always like them when he does. Take Sherlock for example. I adore that show, but Molly makes me sad and Irene was far too sexualized for my taste.It makes me question Moffat’s views on woman as a whole. I much prefer Joss Wheadon’s female characters.

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