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A must read essay on Feminism and Steven Moffat's Doctor Who

To some people, Doctor Who has a big problem with women. There aren't enough female writers and directors (definitely true), there aren't enough well-written female characters, but most of all, it is under the guidance of a showrunner deemed sexist and misogynistic. But is that really the whole picture?

Philip Sandifer, who has been running the excellent critical analysis series TARDIS Eruditorum on his personal blog since 2011, recently turned his eye to the allegations held against Moffat by feminists - and found that whilst Doctor Who's past is littered with many mistakes when it comes to the portrayal of women on screen, Moffat's era of Doctor Who might just be one of the most feminist-positive periods on the show full stop:

To some extent, the answer seems to be that Moffat has created a Doctor Who that’s feminist enough to get criticized. The truism that Moffat broke Doctor Who out in America requires some elucidation; by all appearances, he broke it out among female geek fandom. That is, he did what Davies’s Doctor Who couldn’t - sell Doctor Who to the post-Buffy audience.

It may be worth remembering the sheer hatred that Joss Whedon was the target of at the end of Season Six of Buffy. And rightly so, given his use of Tara as a sacrificial lamb and the way in which it pushed Willow into a painfully stereotypical plot of being the crazy lesbian. (Ironically, the hatred there seems to have been what made Amber Benson balk at reprising Tara in Season Seven, denying Whedon the resolution he wanted, which was to bring Tara back and give her and Willow a happy ending. But that’s another story.) Nevertheless, it’s worth remembering that this is a part of feminist fandom - it is unapologetically savage in naming and shaming misogyny in the media it loves.

But we should also note that the reason feminist fandom is even targeting Moffat is that Moffat finally made a version of Doctor Who that speaks meaningfully to feminist fandom at large. If you’ve been to American cons over the course of the new series you know exactly what I mean. I did Dragon*Con in 2009, 2011, and 2012. I can say emphatically that the amount of Doctor Who cosplay skyrocketed from 2009 to 2011. River and Amy were characters people latched onto in a way they never did Martha or Donna or Rose. More stunning, though, is the amount of genderswapped cosplay Doctor Who generated - a raft of genderswapped Doctors, several genderswapped Jacks. And not just genderswapped Elevens and Tens, but Sevens and Twos and Fours...

And no wonder. Because for all of its faults, Moffat’s Doctor Who is doing things no other series is in terms of geek feminism.


Neither Steven Moffat nor Doctor Who at large come out of the piece unscathed - and rightly so, making the argument that both Moffat and the series can do so much more than they currently do - but on the whole it reflects a surprisingly positive image of feminist undertones in the latest form of the show. It's a weighty piece, but I thoroughly recommended having a read through the whole thing, no matter your personal stance on the issue.

[Philip Sandifer]

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