Tuesday, 28 May 2013

The Best Laid Schemes of Mice and Moffat

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River Song, a character defined by The Doctor and whose
voice consists of teasing one-liners and declarations of love.
Contains criticism of Moffat's era. I probably don't know what I'm talking about. Written 26/5/13

The Moffat Arc over the past three seasons has, as many have pointed out, featured some distinctly problematic elements at its core. As well as an overall change of pace, the series' attitudes towards certain groups of people have gone in a rather negative direction. In this article, my 700th post, I aim to talk about how the show has developed since the 2010 changeover from RTD - for the better and for the worse. Obviously this article is gonna be full of opinionatedness, but I think that on this blog you're used to that by now.
     First, the companions. RTD made a clear effort to pick the vast majority of his companions from a clearly outlined domestic space, and the three principle companions, Rose, Martha and Donna, all had distinct characterisations (despite my problems with a few of them.) It can be argued that every companion has a certain something about them that makes them worthy of travelling in the TARDIS, which for my purposes I'm gonna call their unique selling point - USP. RTD's companions all had USPs which related to their character traits - Rose's determination (or stubbornness), Martha's courage in the face of piling adversity and Donna's incredible compassion and intuition despite her lack of self-confidence.
     Moffat's companions don't seem to have the same level of complexity. For one thing, all four (I'm including River, don't give me hell) of his companions are people whom he has influenced since childhood, be that deliberately or otherwise. Their USPs relate to great cosmic significances - Amy grew up next to a crack. Rory is the Auton who waited. River is a timey-wimey super assassin. Clara is the girl twice dead who splits herself across time. There's nothing deeply intuned as to who they are, rather who they are is determined by that cosmic significance. Furthermore, all of these cosmic significances are directly related to The Doctor's interference, and all of their lives revolve around him. Amy (and by extension her henpecked childhood sweetheart Rory) is psychologically scarred by his interference into her life, taking him on as an imaginary friend. River is kidnapped by the Silence for the sole purpose of becoming an assassin against The Doctor, Clara splits herself across time to save The Doctor... yada yada yada.
     There was a great deal of criticism in the RTD era about his obsession with the Lonely God archetype, setting The Doctor up as this incredible messianic figure who walks through eternity smiting planets as he goes. That's not who The Doc is really supposed to be - he's a wandering traveller, popping in here and there and going on adventures. He's not the saviour awaited by millions as a get-out clause every time something goes wrong. While at first it appeared that Moffat was turning against this,  with the effort made by The Doctor to remove himself from this universal fame, it's instead become something more subliminal. Whether The Doctor lives or dies has become a matter of great universal consequence, and he seems to warp the lives of everyone around him to surround his business.
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Moffat proves how strong Amy is as a character... by
presenting her as a male sex fantasy psychologically obsessed
with our protagonist.
      Speaking of death. RTD's era got a lot of flack for that Stolen Earth death-fake-out cliffhanger - the death of companions in the Classic Series was always viewed with a great deal of seriousness, to the extent that Adric's death saw silent credits. Through a soapy obsession with fake deaths, Moffat has trivialised the nature of that concept within the show. Every main character in the Moffat era has had a fake (or real, it doesn't matter) death with few consequences afterwards, with Rory taking the cake. By the time that Amy and Rory came to their very badly-written and plot-hole filled end, I had lost the ability to care, and it was for the simple reason that hey, they've died before, what's to stop them from coming back again?
    Moffat's writing of not just his companions but of minority groups is also troubling, with women often coming in for the most abuse. I'll begin, though, by talking about other groups. Moffat's treatment of the LGBTQ community, as opposed to his predecessor, is a matter of tokenism and comic relief. The "Fat gay Anglicans", Vastra and Jenny's relationship, Canton's disagreement with Nixon - all are played for laughs. River is supposedly bisexual but is only ever seen lusting after men, contributing to bisexual erasure. Dalek!Clara's homosexual experiences are used for a joke in that story. Vastra and Jenny's relationship has become more explicit and developed, which may save it a little bit, but its original purpose as the avenue for a god-damn cunnilingus joke is just horrible.
     Major female characters are problematic in Moffat's works. In Girl in the Fireplace, Reinette's skills are often told of, but in the actual episode itself she spends the entire time waiting for The Doctor and entertaining the King of France. Amy and River become vessels for Moffat's sexual fantasies, starting with the kissogram-turned-model whose actress was only hired because he liked her legs, the girl who The Doctor indirectly indoctrinates as a child and who later runs away from her wedding in order to shack up with him. In Let's Kill Hitler, we run the full gamut with River, as deliberate parallels are made to Mrs. Robinson and there are gratuitous cleavage shots left and right.
     Then Series Seven comes along and by George there's a lot here. Beginning with Moffat's disgusting assertion that a woman's strength only comes with her ability to mother a child in the 2011 Christmas Special, we then see The Doctor besotted with Clara, and he spends the second half of the series acting rather creepily. Following the 2011 Christmas Special's example of "stalking=love", The Doctor watches Clara as she sleeps, goes back in time to stalk her as a child and later for some reason has fantasies about the tightness of her skirt. Add that to the lecherous and slightly rapey behaviour he exhibited towards Jenny in The Crimson Horror, and you create a protagonist with a deeply uncomfortable set of undertones that are totally at odds with who he's supposed to be.
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The Doctor sees fit to tuck in and "guard" a sleeping Clara.
     Finally, an overall plot problem. Moffat has taken the onus away from individual stories with contained plots and instead brought connected arcs to the show in full force. No longer are our characterisations important or their development essential - it is instead about the mystery. What are the cracks? How will The Doctor survive at Lake Silencio? What is Clara's deal? By itself, the attitude towards storytelling would be perhaps salvageable, but Moffat combines this with an atrocious continuity that leaves a dozen plot threads hanging as his extravagant story winds on.
     Now of course, I can't sit here and say that the man himself is responsible for everything written by his little posse of writers. And I'm not saying I hate the era entirely - there are some stories I really enjoy, and I found most of 2013's half-season quite enjoyable sans the elements I mentioned above. But Moffat is the man in charge, and it is his job to oversee everything that gets put to screen, and it would be wrong of me not to acknowledge the problematic nature of a lot of the elements of his works. I don't like the fact that the show is being written by someone with such demonstrably warped views, and at this moment in time I am deeply worried about the 50th Anniversary story and just how badly he can cock it up.

Thanks.

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