by Homocynical (18/07/2017)
I've been very critical of Steven Moffat's treatment of women over the course of his tenure as Doctor Who showrunner, being unimpressed with the objectification of Amy and Clara, the 11th Doctor's swaggering chauvanism and casual abuse of the women in his life without ever really being called out on it, and the 'creep' factor of all these little girls falling in love with the Doctor and building their whole lives and identities around him.
That said, I believe Moffat has tried to listen to criticism and improve, and to value his female characters as persons in their own right, even if sometimes he has stumbled along the way. Amy's perceived value was shifted from her 'attractive neediness' and obsession with the Doctor to her inner creativity and ability to make her own choices. After all the abuse and creepiness, River Song got a sort of happy ending retconned in, and when put in chronological order from her perspective a real character growth is apparent. Clara was objectified less after her first season, transitioning from 'sexy mystery girl' seen mostly through the Doctor's eyes into insightful and decisive hero in her own right, overtly becoming a 'Doctor' figure to rival the main character of the show. And finally Moffat gave us a Bill, a queer woman of colour who did not put up with any of the sort of BS we've seen from the titular Time Lord before, whose social position was explicitly addressed onscreen and whose identity and feelings gave us a truly beautiful finale that might actually be the most progressive thing the show has ever managed. She was presented as totally normal (and as an LGBT person myself that was deeply appreciated) and it was a breath of fresh air. With Bill's season on the show Moffat finally got it right, and my only criticism is that we didn't get more time with her.
But I want to acknowledge also that it is Moffat who, despite his many past failings with his female characters, has paved the way for the historic, monumental shift that has just been announced for the show's future, the announcement of Jodie Whittaker as the Thirteenth Doctor. It's been subtle at times, and blatant at other times, but Moffat has steadily laid down precedent after precedent for a female Doctor, and through one-liners and big character changes readied the audience for this big step forward. The moment has truly been prepared for. The 11th Doctor's alarm in his first moments that he might have turned into 'a girl!' (acknowledging that as a real possibility), his quips about the unseen Time Lord character the Corsair being an excitingly 'bad' man and woman, an elderly white male Time Lord regenerating into a younger, black female Time Lady onscreen and the Doctor's arch-nemesis the Master re-appearing as the Mistress (and becoming an instant fan favourite, allaying many fans' fears about what a character gender transition could be like), her jokes about transition as an 'upgrade' and the Doctor having been a little girl once, even the 12th Doctor himself expressing no discomfort at the prospect of becoming a queen someday, all have normalized the concept of Time Lord gender transition.
Additionally, Moffat has taken his predecessor's habit of showing female companions stepping up to become Doctor stand-ins and run with it - Amy at times acted in the Doctor's stead and commanded her own little gangs of companions on more than one occasion, River was repeatedly shown to rival and even surpass the Doctor in knowledge and derring-do (and even got to regenerate onscreen a couple of times as the closest thing to a Time Lady we'd seen in the revived show at that point). Madame Vastra was a sort of Doctor figure with her own companions, long-term fan favourite character Brigadier Alastair Lethbridge-Stewart was succeeded by his daughter Kate as head of UNIT, the incredibly bright and likable Osgood walked around essentially cosplaying as various incarnations of the Doctor, Ashildr became the immortal Madame Me, continually reinventing herself through the eons. And then there's hyper-competent Clara, who right from the outset appeared to have had multiple lives, who was arguably more the main character of the show during her tenure than the Doctor, even to the point of declaring herself the Doctor and getting her own opening credits in one of the best stunts Moffat's ever pulled. She was so much the Doctor's rival that their relationship threatened to utterly destabilise the universe (and the show itself). I believe Moffat was making a declarative statement with Clara, she is the Companion-as-substitute-Doctor taken to its logical extreme. Companions can't just be relegated to nominal secondary status but keep getting more and more prominent - it undermines the premise of the show, makes the character of the Doctor increasingly irrelevant. These characters (mostly women) are becoming super-human, and thus unrelatable. The show risks losing that which anchors it to the present and makes it unique and special. Far better to simply take the logical step and make the Doctor a woman at long last, and let the Companions be fully human and relatable again. Jodie Whittaker and her companions will be the salvation of the show, a return to the winning formula that has kept people coming back for more for over half a century.
So thank you, Steven Moffat, for getting on board with this change and working towards it these past few years. I haven't always agreed with what you've done but on the whole I think your heart's in the right place and you're on the side of progress and equality, and posterity will be kind to you. Thanks also to future show-runner Chris Chibnall for your part in this, I'm excited to see what you will do with the character and the show. Thanks to the BBC for allowing this at long last, and to Jodie Whittaker for giving us all renewed hope. Thank you past Doctor Who actors for expressing your overwhelming support of this casting choice. Thanks to Peter Capaldi for your part in graciously easing the audience into this transition - you are a true gentleman and have been an utterly magnificent Doctor. And finally thank you to all those women who have embodied some aspect of the Doctor these past few years - you have all made this wonderful and long awaited change possible. You've all made many, many fans like myself very, very happy.
With everlasting love and respect,