Have you ever expressed an opinion and then been asked to explain your reasoning. Someone is curious why you think, I you want to tell them, but then you get tongue tied. That happened last night when I was having a nerdy conversation about Firefly, Supernatural, and Doctor Who. I expressed my dislike of Moffat as show runner and writer, and was asked to explain why.
Now I like to be articulate, and often I am. But last night I wasn’t. Part of that might be that most of my Who watching was done 6 years ago. I’ve gone back and re-watched some episodes, but there are many that I barely remember. But I came home frustrated that I hadn’t convincingly communicated the faults I saw in Moffat’s writing style and characterizations. As many English majors before me, I’m actually a better communicator in writing than I am in person, so let’s give this a try.
1. No respect for the cannon
The entire re-boot of the Doctor Who series is predicated on the existence of the fact that the Doctor is the last of the time lords. That he destroyed all of his kind to save the universe from the Daleks. Doctors 9,10,and 11 all have to grapple with that fact in their own way. There is something both selfish and self-less in the decision that he made. There will always be a dark side of the Doctor because of that choice. The entire re-boot of the doctor is defined by this piece of the cannon, but then Moffat decides to re-write that part of the story and have Galifrey just be hidden. Which leads me to number 2…
2. There are no real consequences
Moffat hates consequences. He hates that hard choices mean that there isn’t always a pretty answer. My absolute favorite companion and story arch is Donna Noble. I love her. I love her development. I love her relationship with the Doctor. I love the tragedy of her memory loss. Davies knew the beauty of joy and tragedy. But I don’t think Moffat would or could ever write a character like that. He couldn’t do it to them. He would always find a way (with a giant plot hole) to get around the memory loss, or the time paradox.
He does this with bringing characters back from the dead too. For instance, Rory NEVER dies. Now I really like Rory. I felt like the whole 5th season was bleh until Rory and Amy official got together and we didn’t have to worry about the Doctor and Amy having weird tension. But, the fact that Rory as a character dies multiple times, only to be brought back… And Sherlock, and Irene Adler, and Moriarty, if you don’t mind me extending into Moffat’s other work. Even River gets another episode as a ghost. Nothing stops Moffat when he’s writing. He will bend the rules of space and time to bring you back if he likes. But only if he likes of course. He has all power, and translates that onto the Doctor.
3. He thinks the Doctor is God
This is especially apparent with Matt Smith’s first episode where he literally walks up to the invading space ship and says, “I’m the Doctor, I have so much power, you should run from me.” Over and over in Moffat’s writing I see this indestructible, all-powerful, all-knowing quality of the Doctor. While the doctor is more experienced and has been around for 2,000 years now, I feel like in the first few seasons of the re-boot he saw himself as a piece of the galactic puzzle, not as the center of it.
The Doctor in a very literal sense becomes the Christ figure in each episode. He did not give his own life to humanity, he gave his entire species’ life, which in some ways could be seen as a bigger. sacrifice The sacrifice of roaming the universe alone, of walking around with that guilt. The companions only exist so that the Doctor can save them again and again in each episode. That is one of the most defining moments of the newest episode “Deep Breath” that although Clara isn’t sure where she stands with the new Doctor, she trusts that he will come in the nick of time and save the day.
Where do I even start with this? I’ll just come out and say it, Moffat over-sexualizes all of his female characters. I realize that romance is something that was introduced in the 90’s movie and embraced whole heartedly from 9 on, but even with Rose, the Doctor and Rose shared something much deeper than just attraction. They were partners and acted like partners. They needed each other and made each other better. The Doctor realized that and expressed it.
You can tell that Moffat is trying to capture that same idea with Amy, River, and Clara–the loves of Moffat’s Doctors– but there is always something shallow about their interactions.
In Amy’s first episode she’s a kiss-o-gram, and then later the Doctor gets into trouble when he tells Rory that Amy is a great kisser. In general, their relationship is always a little weirdly close for her having a husband around. And yet, he lies and takes advantage of her. He knows, or at least suspects, she’s pregnant and never tells her! (There’s a lot of dishonesty going around, but it’s difficult to remember because none of this plot arch really makes much sense.)
River and the Doctor have great chemistry, and in so many ways she understands his world better most of the companions, but I still don’t see him as treating her as equal. He just flirts with her, and is confused by her, and enjoys his time with her, but he doesn’t really make any sacrifices to make her life better or to make their relationship work.
And Clara, I actually stopped watching the show around the time she came around because her character was so flat and I couldn’t stand it, but from what I heard the Doctor is always flirting with her, and also manages to kiss everything and everyone else too. Let’s not even get started with the fact that he kisses Jenny who is openly gay without her permission. Just because Moffat writes her indignant response doesn’t make the Doctor’s behavior any more palatable.
When the women do help, it’s often through highly feminized behavior. In the Christmas Special, Clara saves the Doctor’s life by crying for instance. Even when he writes more kick-butt female characters, like River, it’s to heighten their sexual appeal (the Doctor makes multiple comments about being attracted to River’s violence) and get the feminists on board with the show.
With one character, I could understand. It’s hard to write round characters and deep, meaningful relationships. But because this is a recurring theme among his female characters, I can’t help but assume that this is how Moffat views women in general. Always sexual beings, supportive and important to an all-powerful man, but never fully respected, equal partners.
I could go on, but I’ll end there.
5. Issues of race
And lastly race. I saw a post recently that sums this up here. Moffat’s shows have so many white people. And Britain is extremely diverse, so it’s not to reflect the local demographic. To add to his offenses, when he does include people of color to his cast, their characters are often belittled. The most disturbing example of this is in the very first episode of Sherlock when the very first time the audience meets Sargent Donovan, Sherlock immediately embarrasses and sexualizes her by shaming her for sleeping with Anderson. Moffat preaches equality and acceptance with characters like Madame Vastra, but then he does not seem to know how to really write what that reality looks like.
In addition to those top five things, I could add huge plot holes and homophobia, among others, but I think that this was good enough for the moment. While Moffat had amazing potential, writing Blink, my all time favorite episode of Doctor Who, he has fallen in my esteem since he became show-runner.