|An excellent Doctor in need of a decent producer.|
The Death of Doctor Who
(As Engineered by Steven Moffat)
After viewing Doctor Who’s final episode of the season, Death in Heaven, my husband said he could write a review of it in two words: Train wreck. I told him I could use only one:
Okay, okay I’ll explain myself: After eight months of anticipation brewing, we, the venerable sci-fi/fantasy show’s fans, eagerly looked forward to spectacularly talented actor Peter Capaldi gracing our television screens in the title role. Alas, many of us found ourselves rather disappointed in the twelfth Doctor’s rather weak presentation to the world in his debut episode (read my I Got the Doctor Who Let Down Blues). We didn’t lay the blame for its failure to inspire on the great actor or our beloved series’ basic premise, however. It was all too obvious the weak script poor Peter and company had been given to work with was to blame. I felt that the actors and craftspersons involved honestly did the best they could do with the material, but you could sense they were struggling at times.
|One of the better episodes not written by Moffat.|
Holding our breath (some might say our noses), we, the long-suffering fans, continued watching the remaining episodes of the season hoping the quality of scripts would improve. After a few rare glorious moments, many fans felt we had caught glimpses of the magic from the earlier Doctor Who era—particularly in strongly-written episodes such as Mummy on the Orient Express, Flatline, and In the Forest of the Night. Huzzah! So, you could well imagine the crushing feeling fans like my husband and I experienced when we turned on the series’ two part finale… ugh. Not only had the beauty and strengths of the original source material and cherished characters been denigrated, but our hopes for a long run of the revived Doctor Who series have flagged.
Once again, my husband is right in saying our disappointment can be summed up in only two words: Steven Moffat.
Mr. Moffat is the show’s producer, to put it in American terms, or “show runner” to use the Beeb’s vernacular, and that makes him the person responsible for making editorial decisions. As a published author and editor myself, I know that responsibility for the success or failure of a creative venture rests with the person in charge of its editorial content. It’s up to the editor/producer to put his or her foot down sometimes and say, “We’re not going there.” Intelligently choosing scripts and hiring good scriptwriters to produce story lines is a big part of the job, in other words. It’s not a task to take lightly, especially when producing the fifty-plus year television milestone which is Doctor Who.
|Alternate title: Mary Poppins Flies Again!|
I’m not really the type of fan who has either the time or inclination to go around the Internet griping about the producers of Doctor Who (I’ve encountered fans who do), but I have to agree with quite a few of my fellow Whovians this year. We’ve been let down by Mr. Moffat. There’s not much positive one can say about the situation. There aren’t words enough to express how sad one feels watching what was promised to be a revival of the series’ special something, that je ne sais quoi, being flushed down the drain. And yes, it’s emboldened me to speak out before it’s too late.
For there is one other word that springs to mind apart from ugh to describe my reaction to Moffat’s Death in Heaven:
There’s a niggling sense of fan disrespectfulness in many Moffat-written or co-written episodes of Doctor Who, but perhaps they’re not all fully realized until this season’s finale. The fans’ sensibilities are once again taken for granted as the Cybermen’s genesis and motivations are co-opted in order to do a remake of Marvel’s Iron Man. Throw some very poor science into the science fiction—the part human/part cyborgs can now “grow” out of “pollen” that is “planted” into dead bodies—and one gets the feeling that Mr. Moffat doesn’t take the genre seriously at all. Zombies are all the rage now? Throw them into the mish-mash along with Iron Man!
|“Look they can fly like Tony Stark can!”|
You can almost hear Mr. Moffat laughing in the background… “Research? Bah humbug! Those silly Doctor Who fans don’t care about well-crafted sci-fi/fantasy. I mean, if they’ll believe a newborn space dragon can lay an egg the size of the moon a few minutes after it hatches (the premise of Kill the Moon) then they’ll believe anything. They’re all thick! They’re adults watching a kid’s show! We can do whatever we want and they’ll buy it.”
It’s a disrespectful attitude and insulting. Yes, another one word review: Insulting.
Whatever the failings of classic era producers and scriptwriters at least fans didn’t feel as if they were being talked down to, belittled or openly scorned for loving a family-friendly, sci-fi/fantasy television show. Yet Death in Heaven goes on to new heights of insulting fan sensibilities by turning the Doctor’s archenemy the Master into childhood icon Mary Poppins complete with the big hat and flying umbrella—because somehow ripping off recent zombie hits and Iron Man wasn’t enough. For the record, I’m not against the Master changing genders at all, but I am against a non-original and sexist interpretation of the beloved villain from the classic series. Which leads me to another one word charge that many, many female fans have leveled at Mr. Moffat:
|"Love me--please?" (Or co-dependency is cool.)|
There’s a great scholarly article on Sexism in Doctor Who (http://rebeccaamoore.com/2014/05/29/university-study-on-sexism-in-bbcs-doctor-who-infographic/) that I won’t reiterate here, but the author makes a very strong argument that many of the Moffat-written scripts fail the Bechdel Test—and fail it miserably. For the most part women in the classic series (1963 – 1989) were presented as strong, intelligent, reasoning individuals with distinct personalities, equal in ego-integrity to the Doctor. In other words, worthy companions. Sure, some female companions screamed at a monster now and then, but so did quite a few of the Doctor’s male companions. Nasty things jumping out from the shadows or dark alleyways can do that to a person of either gender.
Rest assured, the Moffat era of Doctor Who has put women in sci-fi firmly in their place—right where they belong beneath the men! Young, good-looking females are depicted as simply “girlfriends” who suffer from hormonal fluctuations of emotions which make them constantly fret about whether the Doctor is still their boyfriend or not (if he ever was) and occasionally even slap him. Careers? For women? Get real! It’s not deemed important to show the current crop of female companions as successful career women. The female companion’s career takes a backseat to all the worrying and fretting about the Doctor and her human lovers she is forced to do because of her inferior biology, just like it does for most twenty-first century women, right?
Angst-riddled dialogue and silly arguments abound among the romantic couples in Moffat’s Doctor Who, bringing back memories of the good ol’ days of seventh grade crushes and break-ups in the junior high cafeteria. Female companions need never mature to an emotional age of beyond twelve or thirteen it seems in Moffat’s fictional world. Ditto for their male lovers. The new era of Doctor Who has become an adolescent packed space opera—or is it simply a soap opera? Original Doctor Who producer Verity Lambert had it all wrong! (She was only a woman, you know.) Who needs intelligent characters working on solving problems intelligently using the scientific method?
|A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down...and down...|
This is particularly true if you’re a brilliant male scientist and you find yourself regenerated into the body of a woman. The Master, formerly depicted on screen as a capable, dedicated and determined evil genius, once converted over to the female gender gives himself a girlie nickname like “Missy” and dresses up like every little girl’s favorite Edwardian nanny, Mary Poppins. He/she still wants to take over the world, but now she does it while wearing bright red lipstick and trying to stick her tongue down the back of the Doctor’s throat. How grown up!
Moffat seems to be giving a wink and a nudge to all the sexist male fans, intimating that once a mad scientist has lost his masculinity he certainly wouldn’t want to impress people that he was still an evil genius by acting like…well, like an actual genius. A person with a brain and intelligence and a plan...but hey! Once you’re wearing a dress and lipstick you can’t act any smarter than a seventh grader, right? Must be those girlie hormones!
No wonder fans of the classic series of Doctor Who despair. Where are ace scientist Liz Shaw, investigative journalist Sarah Jane Smith, and master teacher Barbara Wright when you need them? Thank heavens for those of us who can receive the Retro-TV channel in the U.S. Episodes of the classic series are broadcast five nights a week, and you can see these strong feminist role models there, a breath of fresh air compared to the twelve year old antics of Moffat’s female companions.
Thank heaven indeed—which leads me to another word that describes Death in Heaven: Tacky.
Perhaps tasteless would work as well as tacky. At one point in the story, the Doctor tells the U.N.I.T. team that they don’t want Americans involved with dealing with the Cybermen crisis because all Americans do is “drop bombs and pray.” Asking for Divine Guidance is a big no-no apparently since only stupid people (women?) would ever think it was a good idea. And perhaps attracting and maintaining American viewers isn’t at the top of the BBC America’s list of profitable things to do, either?
Tacky jokes cracked about the vast majority of TV viewers’ faith in a Supreme Being shows rather poor judgement on Moffat’s part. Sure, he can be atheist and anti-American, but he doesn’t have to be mean-spirited about it, does he? Didn’t political rhetoric, which insulted the conservative-minded BBC chairman, get the original series cancelled back in the 1980s?
My husband found the idea of “resurrecting” the late Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart in the graveyard to be in extremely poor taste. Even if you don’t believe in an afterlife or heaven, why would you condemn a righteous and moral character such as the Brigadier to become a mindless cyborgs puppet for all eternity? There’s that ugh factor creeping in… Tasteless and tacky shouldn’t be words associated with a family-friendly show, but in this day and age of nasty trolling and snarky musings, I guess it was bound to happen to Doctor Who, too. So sad that Mr. Moffat couldn’t rise above it for the good of the series.
Because, in the end, it appears that Mr. Moffat wants out of Doctor Who. Why else would he risk insulting folks with tacky and tasteless quips, repeatedly show female characters in a stereotypically sexist light, and show outright contempt of the classic series and disrespect for the intelligence of the sci-fi fan base as a whole? Why would he do any of these rash and insipid things unless deep-down he wants the program to be canceled? Moffat’s production of Sherlock has done well in the ratings, and perhaps that’s where his heart lies. Certainly writing for a character such as his version of Sherlock Holmes, an autistic, emotionally-stunted savant, seems to fit better with Moffat’s outlook on life. He can express himself creatively there.
Disrespectful, insulting, sexist, tacky… ugh. I won’t even bother to point out plot holes, heavily-telegraphed plot points, and others inconsistencies in Death in Heaven. Nick Frost as Santa Claus—or should I say Father Christmas?--will probably fill them all in in the holiday special and tie things up with a nice big bow in a neat little package, right? For an atheist like Mr. Moffat to put so much faith in a saint (St. Nicholas) to perform such a miracle of scriptwriting during the one the holiest seasons of the Christian calendar is too bizarre to contemplate.
|Time to move along, Steven.|
Steven Moffat should depart Doctor Who and move on to pastures green, and he should do so now before the show loses any more support from the fans. Peter Capaldi’s portrayal of the Doctor deserves a chance to shine away from the dross of the Moffat era. Doctor Who deserves fresh air, fresh ideas, and maybe even some female writers and producers this next time out?
Are you listening, BBC?