What is wrong with Doctor Who?

If Matt Smith jumped off a cliff, would you do it too? I wouldn’t. But I guess some people would.

doctor who jumping off cliff


It was this moment from ‘Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS’ where I thought…this is a bit shit, isn’t it? They created this really unnecessary high-stakes moment that has very little payoff, with the sole aim of forcing the Doctor’s assistant to put her life in his hands, again. It’s a mandatory bonding moment from which there is no possibility of escape. It made me think – who would be an assistant? Who are these women? What would have happened if she had not wanted to jump off that cliff?

That is actually a trick question- got you!! Because trusting the Doctor, not running away from danger, and not saying no are really fundamental qualities of the assistant. They don’t write them as people who would say “I’m not jumping off that cliff”, or “It looks a bit dark in there let’s stay out here”, or “Please stop stalking me through time and space.” I thought it was time to give some thought to what the Doctor-assistant relationship is, what function the assistant has on the show, how Doctor Who distributes personal qualities by gender, and why I now hate this lovely show that I used to love.

I should say that I haven’t seen a lot of old Who. I watched one series with Tom Baker and got literally nothing out of it. Nothing.

doctor who tom baker nothing


This being the internet, I am clearly leaving myself open to comments to the effect that if I had seen the 1972 series ‘Birthday Party of the Daleks’ I would see that Matt Smith’s take on the Doctor actually owes a lot to zzzzzzz. I’m ready for you, the internet.

Doctor Who is structurally sexist. It is about a male hero and his female sidekick. Moreover, the hero is an alien man with great power and knowledge who takes a younger, human woman away from her home and family and frequently puts her in situations in which she is out of her depth, upset or in danger. I don’t usually think about it that way- until the last few series I mostly just thought “Great, Doctor Who is on again!!”- but that is how power is divided between the Doctor and the assistant. It really didn’t bother me until Series 5, when Matt Smith took over as the 11th Doctor, Karen Gillen was introduced as the Doctor’s assistant, and Steven Moffat became head writer. I feel like something in Doctor Who has warped, and now the Doctor-assistant relationships makes me feel a bit queasy.

What do the five assistants featured on the show since 2005 have in common? Well…

  • All are female.
  • Four are white.
  • Four are tv-thin, and the other is a little less thin.
  • Four are in their late teens or early twenties.
  • Three have obvious romantic feelings for the Doctor.

Something else that strikes me as interesting is that only one – that’s Martha – had been pursuing a career prior to being doctored. The rest are in transitional periods or stuck in menial work they don’t enjoy. This makes sense- a woman with fulfilling relationships with friends, a job she enjoyed or a great sense or purpose would be less likely to pack everything in and get into a spaceship with a stranger. There is nothing wrong with being in a transitional period, and nothing necessarily right about pursuing a career, but the show, especially in the Russell T Davies era, really likes to emphasise how sad it is to work in a shop, watch TV and eat chips. Accordingly, the Doctor is not seen to be targeting vulnerable or unhappy women, he is seen to be saving his assistants from a life of mediocrity.

The fact that the Doctor usually runs with relatively low achievers also means that these women rarely have useful skills to contribute to the fight against intergalactic evil, aside from the highly feminised skill of listening. It has always been the assistant’s job to connect with others- almost always other women and girls- on an emotional level.

doctor who rose nancy

Rose and Nancy the plucky wartime single mother

Rose and Gwyneth talking about boys

Rose and Gwyneth talking about boys

doctor who martha chan tho utopia

Martha and Chan Tho talking about boys

doctor who donna miss evangelista

Donna and Miss Evangelista talking about how everyone thinks Miss Evangelista is stupid

doctor who amy

Amy telling this little girl she doesn’t know whether or not she wants to get married

doctor who clara alien girl

Clara comforting this scared alien girl

It is often the case that while the assistant is off emoting somewhere, the Doctor is working on the technical or practical side of solving the episode’s big problem. This creates a super gendered division of labour in which the woman listens and cares while the man acts. While this was definitely already the case under Russell T Davies, this distinction between the man’s job and the woman’s job was less rigid. Rose, Martha and Donna are resourceful, tenacious and capable of acting independently of the Doctor. The Christopher Eccleston Doctor and the David Tennant Doctor form emotional connections and leave themselves vulnerable to loss and pain at various points- for example with Lynda in ‘Bad Wolf’, with Renette in ‘The Girl in the Fireplace’. They do big displays of emotion- the dying David Tennant Doctor’s furious rant about how he is not ready to die is a favourite of mine. Moreover, both of these Doctors are in a loving, affectionate and reciprocal relationship with Rose.

I can’t imagine Matt Smith’s Doctor loving someone any more than I can imagine Steven Moffat having done something to deserve access to clean air and water*. Steven Moffat is a man who thinks that women are so terrifyingly powerful these days that it’s getting really really hard to be a man. He wrote the bizarre, unfunny, sub-Friends festival of gender stereotyping that is Coupling, and the BBC’s Sherlock, a mystery show about a man whose emotionlessness and disdain for women are a source of power.

Under Moffat’s watch the Doctor has morphed from an alien who loves humans and feels their pain and experiences love and desire and empathy to a stunted, child-like and extremely bloody irritating space-goon who flaps about like an injured moth when other people’s emotions are making him uncomfortable. And makes sexist jokes about how women are scary. And wants his married companions to sleep in bunk beds. And can save human lives but does not seem to understand human feelings. Who would travel with this man? He might be zany and charming and have nice boots, but he is fundamentally cold and unrelatable.

I also think the role of the assistant has changed since Steven Moffat started overseeing Doctor Who. Rose, Martha and Donna were chosen to travel with the Doctor because they showed in one way or another that they were smart and up to the challenge. Amy and Clara both come to the Doctor first and foremost as mysteries. Amy is the little girl who grew up with a rift in time in her bedroom wall, who doesn’t know why she doesn’t have parents. She spends many episodes being mystically both pregnant and not pregnant but doesn’t know a thing about it and all our information about it comes through the Doctor. What the fuck is that?

amy doctor who pregnant not pregnant

The “mystical pregnancy” makes women in fantasy and sci-fi suffer, exploiting their reproductive capacity as a weakness

Some version of Clara dies on screen twice before she is taken on as the assistant, and it seems like the Doctor takes up with her to find out why. In both cases, the woman is not of interest for her character or her abilities, but for some fundamental mystery in her being. The mystery isn’t even a secret she’s keeping, something over which she has control- it’s something she does not know about, that the Doctor must puzzle out in his own mind. It’s not about her- it’s about what’s wrong with her. When Steven Moffat took over Doctor Who, women became a problem. 

It’s also interesting that Amy and Clara have no family. Rose, Martha and Donna all have family members who are featured in their series as named characters, and they end up back with them when everything is over. Amy and Clara’s home lives are marked by loss and absence. This makes them more vulnerable, more rootless, and more singularly devoted to the Doctor.

I was pretty grossed out but not really surprised when Clara is damsel in distress-ed in ‘Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS’. It reminded me of ‘Flesh and Stone’ and Amy, blind and totally defenseless, groping her way through the woods. The Doctor dehumanises Clara by calling her “salvage”, and the wardrobe department took care to dress her as a little girl. I don’t recall Rose, Martha or Donna being put in such a tight spot. Furthermore, though those three clearly have less know-how than the Doctor, they are at least resourceful and smart and good at taking independent action in a crisis, rather than stroppy or “fiesty” but without any real power, like Amy and, so far, like Clara.

Guys, why don’t I like Doctor Who any more?

The great challenge of the series used to be saving the universe, and that was really fun, but in Series 6 the challenge was saving the Doctor. We’re in the middle of the quite tedious enterprise of finding out his real name. This is not something I care about. We’ve also had two episodes recently dedicated to the T.A.R.D.I.S and sure, one of them was really great, but I like it better when the T.A.R.D.I.S was instrumental to the journey, rather than the focus of a 45-minute voyage of discovery.

In recent series the Doctor has become more powerful and more important relative to the assistant and relative to every other life form he encounters, not within the universe of the show but in terms of how his stuff is privileged over other people’s stuff, his life over other lives, in the structuring of the plot. Now, not only does he have the same powers, the same knowledge, the same spaceship that he always had, but he and his origins are now supposed to be the thing the viewer is interested in above all other things. Like Steven Moffat’s SherlockDoctor Who now feels like an icky tribute to the all-powerful man whom we all love.

I wonder if children still like Doctor Who. I have trouble following it these days, and I am an adult with many years of TV experience. Moffat has gotten rid of some of the naffer, more kid-friendly aliens like the Ood (I liked the Ood!) In fact in the three most recent episodes they made a big feature of not giving you a good look at the monster. They’re slicker and scarier and less rubbery than the Ood. As the monsters get more high-concept and understanding the plot starts to require a longer memory and a lot more patience, I wonder if Doctor Who hasn’t maybe become a bit charmless.

Doctor Who should be such a great show for children. It is strongly anti-violence, it has queer characters, a generally positive attitude to difference, and a lovely, mawkish humanism. The villains are often not aliens but bad humans, villainous colonialists or capitalists.

doctor who henry van staten

This man makes a vast profit from collecting and patenting alien technology.

doctor who simon pegg the editor

This man represents a consortium of banks.

doctor who british empire torchwood

This woman oversees a colonial project which steals alien artefacts with the aim of protecting the “British empire” from alien threats.

Doesn’t that sound great? Don’t you wish it would just keep on with that instead of aiming itself at its audience of typically male long-time superfans? I would love it if Doctor Who stopped trying to outdo itself aesthetically and conceptually and had a stab at moving forward in other ways, perhaps with a female Doctor and a male assistant. There are probably people who would get upset but unlike the year 5 billion*, it would not be the end of the world.

*Joking, I am. We all deserve access to clean air and water. But not to much beloved classic TV shows.
* Do you like my nerdy joke?


Postscript: for fans of bitter ranting, I have written a short follow-up to this piece, dealing largely with how it was received. You can find it here

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79 Responses to What is wrong with Doctor Who?

  1. Zygmunt says:

    This is exactly the problem I’m having with the current series. Jenna-Louise Coleman is so good and charismatic that it seems like a real shame to have Clara as such a bland character. I’m guessing that Moffat is trying intentionally to make her bland so that at some point the “big reveal” about her identity seems even bigger, more unexpected etc., but it means that the who-is-Clara plotline drags excruciatingly slowly. Also every episode seems to involve the Doctor and Clara getting trapped somewhere and having to find a way out, which is boring. And the whole “Every Being needs love” shtick in the “Hide” episode was also cringe-worthy and the relationship between the empathic psychic (a character that plays into the gender stereotypes you descirbe) and the brilliant, tortured professor mirrored the Doctor – Clara relationship in a way that makes me think that Steven Moffat just has quite a simplistic and unimaginative understanding of men, women and relationships. Anyway thanks for this review it articulates a lot of my feeling on the new series. Ecclestone was still the best in my opinion. Matt Smith doesn’t have anywhere near the same gravitas. Really like Jenna-Louise Coleman though. I wish they’d make more of her.

  2. Rhubarbsmurf says:

    Sadly, I think you’re right. Somewhere in my subconscious I’ve been slowly losing interest in Dr Who, to the point where I missed an episode a few weeks ago and wasn’t bothered about it. I used to adore this series and it saddens me to see the assistants getting ever younger and more wide-eyed.
    Having just researched the subject of gender stereotypes for an essay I’m writing, I’m sad so say that the most recent assistants represent an achingly stereotypical slice of femininity. They are powerless in the Doctor’s world, emotional followers whose main role is to support the male lead. Oh, and to look pretty. And where has the Doctor’s emotinal intelligence gone? Take heed Steven Moffat or we’ll all be switching off.

  3. Em says:

    I really liked this. Makes one think. I miss RTD era Doctor Who as well. When I say Doctor Who is my favorite show, I mean the majority of episodes from series 1-4. It just isn’t the same anymore.

    I cannot believe more people do not see how Moffat is representing women and writing the show… I want the girls to save the world again and be more equal to The Doctor. I want the show to be about important topics, not about The Doctor’s name.

    One thing that did not feel quite right though: The Girl in the Fireplace was written by Moffat, and I therefore think it was not a good example there… It is personally my least favorite episode from seasons 1-4 since it illogically makes The Doctor act like School Reunion and the conversations he had with Rose just did not happen.. I only saw it once (I have seen most episodes from seasons 1-4 4+ times), but if I remember right that too was a mystery with a woman, and the best parts were all one liners (which are also the basis of River Song’s character.. Hello, sweetie, anyone?).

  4. Full-minata says:

    To me, I mostly agree with your opinion. Perhaps I may not understand my absolute opinions and feelings towards the show, but I mostly agree with what you wrote about.

    The show, indeed, has a mostly different feel to it and whether it be a good or bad thing, I mostly miss the “old feel”.

    The women are much different in the “New Who”. When discussing Amy Pond to my friend he noted her as “not a true companion” and that she primarily just “hangs out with the Doctor, rather than fight like a true companion”. And when I thought about it a little bit more, his words were true: the Doctor’s companions are definitely plot devices, rather than exciting, fighters of the Doctor.

    And the show is still very nice (to me), but I think the show has taken a completely different path than what its original intention was. I myself still like the show for what it is, but I preferred the earlier seasons.

  5. andres says:

    I don’t think you can really compare the Doctor and the companions gender-wise. The Doctor is not “a male”, he’s the Doctor. No companion ever could compare to the Doctor. The male companions are treated the same as the female companions. It’s not a matter of gender.

    I loved how in RTD era the companions (male and female) were really important, even poor useless Mickey ended up being a hero and helping save the world. They saved the universe, not the Doctor. A typical Classic Who plot is the companion saving the Doctor and the Doctor saving the universe, that changed with RTD, the companions were much more important to the universe well-being.

    I still love the show but sometimes I think I watch it only because I love the Doctor. And I’m sure if Matt Smith’s episodes had been my first Doctor Who episodes I wouldn’t have watched more than a couple episodes. It’s a pity because I think Matt Smith is doing a really good job and the scripts are not up to par.

    And I also miss the Ood, they were great! And the Judoon.

  6. Mary Simons says:

    You are absolutely right!! Thanks so much for writing this article. It’s exactly how I feel, and you’ve put it into words. I remember in a doctor who confidential once, Christophr Eccleston said “it always bothered me, even as a kid watching doctor who, that the men were smart and the women were very pretty” or something like that anyway, and the show, sadly, has kind of gone back to that, like you said. Doctor who has lost it’s charm. I started watching new who probably 3 months ago (starting with Eccleston) and I used to love it!! And I watched it every chance I got! And now, I just don’t really care. So far I’m in the middle of season 5 and Rory has just been separated from them, through the crack. And normally that could’ve made me cry, but I wasn’t connected to Rory, there was no character development to allow me to grow close to him, to grow with him. Anyway, thank you so much for writing this!

  7. Linwe says:

    I agree with a lot of this. I particularly like how you don’t attribute the sexism only to Moffat. Yes, he is worse. But RTD was sexist too, as you pointed out in saying that only Martha had a career prior to meeting the Doctor (a choice on her part that seemed to matter less and less the longer she was on the show). There’s a focus on NuWho that assumes the most important aspect of a female companions is their relationship, usually romantic, to a man. Even Donna’s story ended with her marriage, as if that was the only perfect ending to a woman’s story.

    As a classic series viewer, let me say this was very very different back then. Yes, they were still expected to trust the Doctor and often get rescued by him. But they were also, with a few exceptions, actual characters who had choices and careers outside of their lives with the Doctor. A lot of times, these attributes were things that allowed them to take the lead. Barbara (who traveled with the 1st Doctor) was a history teacher, and at the time her knowledge of Earth history was better than his. Zoe (the 2nd Doctor) was an astrophysicist whose knowledge of science and computers was so good that the Doctor often had her do calculations instead of him. Leela (the 4th Doctor) had tracking and survival skills that the Doctor didn’t. Romana, also a 4th Doctor companion, was a trained Time Lord every bit as intelligent as he was. Ace (the 7th Doctor) was a rebellious explosives expert. That’s not to say that Classic Who didn’t siffer from sexism, because it did, but so many of its companions were fully fleshed out characters who were partners rather than assistants taken out of their comfort zones.

    Two things I disgree with though. The Doctor is supposed to be somewhat cold and unrelatable. They’ve turned this into “stalker” in recent years, which is a massive problem, but he’s not actually all that empathetic about humans: he just has a strict moral sense. That’s part of why I don’t like 10: he’s far too human. And the companion’s families: it’s supposed to be about traveling through time and space, not sitting around the family table eating chips and that’s one thing I’m glad is finally gone. But the current group of writers seem to have a very sexist view of what the entire show is, which is actually pretty far from what the show actually is.

    • Cazza says:

      “But the current group of writers seem to have a very sexist view of what the entire show is, which is actually pretty far from what the show actually is.”

      That’s exactly what I was going to say. I can think of lots of representations of women on who that were *well* ahead of their time, but they generally predate 2005. Romana is like the antithesis of this topic, because she is as competent as the Doctor, better as certain Doctory things like flying the TARDIS, and a bit rubbish at connecting with people. But the more recent companions aren’t really up to par. I always wanted her to make a comeback in the new series, but I emphatically don’t want Moffat to bring her back. Can you imagine?

      I think with RTD vs. Moffat, it’s like the difference between someone who has just never really thought about how sexist he is vs. someone who doesn’t give a fuck because he’s certain all women *are* like this. All of RTDs women are capable of saving the world, and often do, entirely on their own steam; its the in-between moments where he makes them excitable about weddings and how cute David Tennant is. For Moffat women, the weddings and attractive Doctor are the point; saving the universe is just a distraction.

      And I say this as someone who *likes* Sherlock and even Coupling, to some extent, despite the fact that they’re problematic. It’s just what’s problematic on adult television is infuriating on children’s television, because children can’t think so critically about things like this, will take it at face value, and will grow up thinking the job of the woman is to provide an exciting adventure for the man.

      • Vilma says:

        “I think with RTD vs. Moffat, it’s like the difference between someone who has just never really thought about how sexist he is vs. someone who doesn’t give a fuck because he’s certain all women *are* like this. All of RTDs women are capable of saving the world, and often do, entirely on their own steam; its the in-between moments where he makes them excitable about weddings and how cute David Tennant is. For Moffat women, the weddings and attractive Doctor are the point; saving the universe is just a distraction.”

        THANK YOU, this is exactly what I’ve been trying to say but I haven’t really been able to put it into words! During the RTD era the general feeling was so brilliant, and I could look at the sexist and other “bad” things in between and admit that they were there and that the show wasn’t PERFECT, but I could still LOVE the show and the characters. Now there is so many problems the few good things just kind of drowns in shit – and I don’t even like the show anymore but I still kind of stick with it, (you can’t complain if you haven’t seen it) just waiting for Moffat to leave so someone else can try to repair the damage.

      • Ally says:

        With your RTD vs. Moffat idea, I COMPLETELY agree. RTD had all of his companions start off as really annoying. Honestly, I hated every single one in the beginning. But then they grew in character, in ability, in EVERYTHING. For Amy and Clara, I don’t feel that. Clara only got her computer skills in “The Bells of St. John” because she was partially downloaded, not out of her own volition. And Amy…. I don’t know. She neither grew nor was stunted. She started off fine, with the “The Beast Below” episode just being a choice thing, but that was never really followed through. She could’ve gained a huge confidence, because she chose one thing right, but it only just stayed the same. Nothing different, nothing changed. It was monotonous.

      • Kata says:

        That’s funny, I had a different take: I can’t imagine any writing anywhere is free of misogyny, but with that allowance I never had a problem with RTD’s writing of women. I was a fan of RTD’s Queer As Folk, and admired something he had talked about with regards to that show – that he was interested not just in presenting the central male gay characters as prejudiced-against, but also possessed of their own problematic attitudes. There is a lesbian couple in the show who the male gay characters mostly treat with insulting disregard – RTD explains he had observed a lot of misogyny and lesbian-hating in the Manchester scene, and wanted to reflect this this on screen, rather than white-wash the gay characters based on his own social circle into paragons.

        So I always think of RTD as a writer who, while by no means perfect in his attitudes, is ready to question and challenge attitudes from within his own life.

        As for Moffat, I think you’re spot on.

  8. Noni says:

    This! This is it. Ever since Moffat took over my once-adoration of the show has just slipped away. I’m still watching, hoping that something would click perhaps and this show would really get *interesting*. Reading this struck a chord and it really has clicked that the characters and their roles in the most recent series are the problem. Admittedly some of the (often unneccessary) effects have annoyed me too, but the lack of uniqueness, change and EMOTION of characters is the real problem. Ack. Why can we not have a male companion with the Doctor- a male Doctor? Can we show some relationships other than the mild-sexual-allusions that Clara and Amy have shown- maybe bring back ‘the Doctor’s daughter’ Jenna for a different style of relationship and to give the series’ plot a kick in a different direction.

    Regenerations of the Doctor that I would like to see:… ;)

    -Morgan Freeman. Maybe Timelords are all caucasian-esque but cmon they can change appearance…

    -A young child or tween

    -Beyoncé, Pshh, don’t lie, you would watch that. Powerful girly sass.

    When I hear peopel complain about female regenerations I always think of the Red Nose Day Dr Who spoof where he regenerated into a female body (Joanna Lumley). ( https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=Do-wDPoC6GM) :P Perhaps after his 13th regeneration, a gender change might be possible? A spin on the idea that the Doctor can only regenerate 12 times… maybe that was simply in the same gender. Hummm. THOUGHTS.

    • Avia says:

      According to the Extended Universe, gender change happens if the Time Lord in question committed suicide. No idea how technically “canonical” it is, but hey, it’s an answer and hasn’t been retconned yet.

      If you want a pubescent Doctor, you may just want to stick around until 12 comes along; what with how the Doctors seem to be only getting younger with Nu-Who, and as young as Matt Smith is, I can’t say it’s not pretty likely.

  9. I have not been enjoying the episodes this season, even though I like Jenna Louise Coleman very much. Hadn’t quite put my finger on it, but some of the things you write definitely resonate. The Doctor just isn’t very likeable and the plots have been pedestrian at best. I liked Matt Smith with Karen Gillan and Arthur Darvill; it may be that the presence of Rory took some of the gender creepiness out of the equation.

    And of course I still miss Christopher Eccleston.

  10. Pepper Potts says:

    I most ARDENTLY agree with this, save for the points of Matt Smith as I adore him (he was my first Doctor so when I got into Who during the 5th season) but then I went back to the previous seasons and you know loved all the Doctors. It’s a shame that Amy and Clara had been relegated to damsel-in-distress caricatures but are still so very ~fiesty~ (ugh, I’ve loathe that term ever since male writers decided that a female needs to be that way.) I adore Sherlock too, but that was before I realized that it had Moffat’s name on it (along with his sexism)(which I mean, every writers has some that they don’t even know about, but Moffat’s is in your face jokes about how women surprise him when they’e ~emotional~ and clearly have impaired judgement) and how he grossly queerbaited with John/Sherlock. I always thought of it as a friendship like relationship (as the one that can be seen especially on Elementary.)

  11. THANK YOU SO MUCH. THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU. THANK YOU. This is exactly how I’ve felt all along, and I just couldn’t put it into words. I read this with tears in my eyes. Every week I still watch this lobotomised, rotting amputation of a show, and every week it seems to get worse. I watch it because I hope that maybe one of the minor writers will slip something through Moffat’s perpetual damsel-in-distress net (which, I might add, actually happened on the Jenny and Vastra front on the most recent one, I adore to see those two working INDEPENDENT of the Doctor, and not just to be shown for vague titillation and “ha ha doodly doo let’s put some lesbians in for shits and giggles”) and I’m constantly disappointed to see that, no, it’s not going to be a common occurrence. I would readily eat my own weight in broken glass if it meant I never had to see a series overseen by Moffat ever again. But anyway, I really want to thank you for writing this article, and for also pointing out where Russel T Davies really made the series shine. I’m going to show this to all of my friends. Thank you!

  12. BenevolentClick says:

    I agree with all of this, and thank you for releasing me from the obligation of watching Sherlock. I’ve already noticed that everyone who was recommending Sherlock tended to be those guys who constantly self-asserted their own perceived intelligence and their tweed blazers and their having read Catcher in the Rye.

  13. Anonymous says:

    Thank you so much for putting my thoughts into words! It always feels so good to see you’re not alone. The Moffat era is so upsetting and frustrating.

  14. Julia says:

    I haven’t enjoyed a single episode with the 11th doctor! The companions are a big problem, but I also think the doctor are really overrated, overexcited and not interesting at all.
    Just the other day I said to a friend that I thought Clara looked really thin, because she didn’t look like that in the Titanic. What is that about?
    Well. I actually considered to stop watching the new serie, but I couldn’t because I hoped it would be good although I knew it wouldn’t be…

  15. I gave up on New Who when it pulled out the emotional dalek, so I can’t comment on recent episodes (though this account makes them look pretty grim), but I think it’s important to note that the serie was originally about an old, unrelatable man taking children (or young people who were, in those days, thought of as not so very dfferent from children) on adventures. He was unrelatable because he was alien; for the same reason, there was no possibility of a sexual connection between him and a human assistant. The series was paternalist in a way that didn’t feel problematic because he was actually taking a fatherly (albeit distant) role and the assistants were young enough that we’d expect them to need support, but they also had opportunities to show that they could be resourceful. Occasionally, the doctor’s alienness and crotchetiness would mean that he himself seemed threatening but that too worked in context, partly because there was no attempt to conceal or sugar-coat the power imbalance. It seems to me that the writers of the new series thought they were being clever by addressing these issues and thereby failed to understand what actually made the doctor-assistant dynamic work. They’ve undermined it to a degree that will be their undoing.

    • andres says:

      The relationship between the Doctor and the companions is the most important thing in the show to me because we get to see the Doctor through their eyes. The relationships of New Who are:
      9º Doctor + Rose -> The Doctor really needed company, he found Rose and didn’t hesitate asking her to be his companion. He adored her, the ninth Doctor looked at her as if she were a goddess and she loved him so much she was willing to leave everything that mattered to her for a slim chance of saving him. But they never had any typical romance film scene, the depth of their relationship was hinted by their acts but never used as the main focus of the show. I think it was a healthy relationship.
      10º Doctor + Rose -> The Doctor regenerated because of Rose and FOR Rose and because of that the relationship changes, they start to look like a couple with couple issues. This may be a good thing because the Doctor deserves some happiness but we know companions don’t last forever so it was doomed from the start. They have a few romantic scenes but nothing big (they don’t even kiss). I like this relationship but I’d rather a longer one 9º + Rose style than this short and tragic one.
      10º Doctor + Martha -> Martha adores the Doctor at first, then gets over him and sees him as a friend. Pretty unhealthy at first, it would be better if the Doctor ignored her because he’s an alien and not because he’s only thinking about Rose all the time. But it ended well.
      10º Doctor + Donna -> The perfect relationship. They are best friends and that’s all. And what’s better is that the Doctor isn’t a paternal figure, they are equal and she’s “maybe not the stuff of legend but every bit as important as Time Lords, thank you”. It’s a very healthy relationship. Maybe that’s why Donna’s fate hurts so much.
      11º Doctor + Amy -> Awful relationship. She’s obsessed with the Doctor during all her childhood, sexually harass him and ditches her fiancé the day before her wedding. She’s really selfish most of the time. Of course she didn’t have an easy childhood but that’s no excuse.
      11º Doctor + Clara -> It doesn’t start well. The Doctor is only interested in her because she’s a mystery. I thought she would prove she was much more than a puzzle to be solved but so far she hasn’t.

  16. One name can sum up Moffat’s relationship with what could be interesting, strong female characters: Irene Adler.

    She should have been awesome. But no, her downfall is that she’s in love with Sherlock. Yes, even despite that fact she’d been pitched as 90+% lesbian in the first 5 minutes.

  17. Debbie Moody says:

    All of the above and add this: Moffat isn’t so much concerned with the show as he is himself. I have never really bonded with 11…and I’m an old-time fan. This is because Moffat seems determined to sub-textually shoehorn his “greatness” into the show instead of letting the show *be* great. And don’t get me started on Jar Jar Song.

  18. I’m going to say that I absolutely love Matt Smith, and I love Jenna-Louise Coleman; I’ve loved the actors they’ve had (including Alex Kingston, Karen Gillan and Arthur Darvill)… But I hate the way they use these people; I hate the way they continue to make bland story lines when, in all honesty, they could be using them to their full potential. They could be writing -real- stories and not these half-assed ones.

    And I agree with pretty much everything in here (except I do like the idea of exploring the depths of the TARDIS; I really thought The Doctor’s Wife did a good job of that (but also probably because Neil Gaiman is generally a good writer), but I feel as if Journey left things a bit lacking — if they’d created Clara’s character a bit better with more strength and intellect, it would’ve been far more interesting to see the longest and most permanent companion ‘bickering’ with the most recent, who doesn’t understand that it’s really alive).

    But the sexism nonsense seriously needs to go. I don’t mind the jobs people are in (or not in) because I think most people feel unfulfilled, so it was nice to see that they picked a shop clerk, a medical student and then a temp; it would’ve been so nice to see Amy come from something that wasn’t a Kiss-a-gram (further adding to Moffat’s understanding of women, obviously), and Clara repeatedly is a dimwitted nanny-type (even without the latter being in her initial preview, she was still ‘stupid’ in that she couldn’t possibly ever figure out how to do something technical without being taken over/possessed, which was a point that was further pushed the third time we saw her).

    And I feel like I’ve assaulted your comments and should probably write my own post. I think I’m just so frustrated by the messages Moffat’s show is creating, and it makes me incredibly sad to see that what could’ve been a progressive show in SFF entertainment was given to one of the most sexist writers of ever.

  19. Kata says:

    You’re spot on, and it’s also heartening to see the comments box full of articulate and righteous anger at Moffat! There’s so much Moff-worship around.

    One point you talked about in particular had me nodding enthusiastically (and occasionally going, ‘hey, yeah!’): the fact that Moff’s Doctor Who has become insular, self-regarding and referential. JTTCOTT is a good example. No one needs to see the cenrte of the Tardis. Why should we care? The Tardis is interesting texture, it;s fun who hear ‘the library inside the swimming pool’ referred to. But it;s the ship that takes the characters to their adventures, not something to spend an entire episode having fanwank over. This is a show written for people heavily invested in the show’s ephemera, not for it’s general audience. Like you say, we are being told to care most about that which matters least – except to the writers themselves, of course.

    Your related point that the show has lost its charm strikes me both as true and very sad. It is exactly because of this ‘look how wacky we are’ focus on the show’s texture, and not any real stories, that the charm has seeped away. The show has always been a bit of an odd duck, and always had a sense of humour, but it took itself seriously as a medium to tell interesting and important stories. Moff’s Who exists to wallow in self-indulgence.

    As for Clara, she is the distillation of the attitude that what female characters really need to be is perfect, non-challenging pseudo-girlfriends for the Doctor. She ticks off the companion trait checklist by being feisty, pretty and vulnerable and has no life outside of that. Everything we know about her exists for the Doctor’s benefit: her mysteriousness (and why exactly can’t she include her in solving her own mystery?), her aimlessness. Even her motherlessness exists not to give Clara’s character any kind of dimension but to make her footloose and fancy-free enough to be a good companion who doesn’t drag the Doctor into her domestic life like Rose or Martha or Donna did. The fact that Rose’s father had died was hugely important to her character. Clara, a character whose mother has died even more recently, has so little internal life that when offered time-travelling capabilities, she can only hand the choice straight back to the Doctor. She suggests they go ‘somewhere awesome’, again proving herself the perfect, submissive companion by having no motivations or desires of her own, but there to be delighted with whatever the Doctor chooses.

    Ugh. So done.

  20. Adam Ford says:

    Well said, and a pleasure to read. Thanks.

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  22. This was such a satisfying and good read, thank you! I agree with almost all of this, and as someone who watched Old!Who growing up, a lot of the dynamic which made the show fun has been lost.

  23. Thank you for this. I have felt alone in my feelings since Eleven’s regeneration, because everyone I know seems much more about admiring Matt Smith (who does a great job with what he’s given) and the “Is he hot?” running theme, that they’ve forgotten that what the series used to be all about.

    I loved the RTD era. Yes, it had its problems but overall, he was able to really revive the show and build it up to something with a lot of heart. Moffat has single-handedly chipped away at a fantastic build up with his sexism AND his desire to insert his own gender-bias into the minimal characterisation he’s brought to the series. It’s all about The Moff, not his characters. And what we see in the current Doctor really is a mirroring of Moffat’s own inner workings, I believe.

    The only thing I can appreciate him for is the creation of my favourite character: River Song. But kudos must be given to the brilliant Alex Kingston, because she has brought much heart to an otherwise Doctor-dependent semi-companion. Unfortunately, River has also been twisted now to exist solely for the well being of the Doctor. She was initially portrayed as a bad-a**, independent woman with her own (unseen) adventures, but has now become the obedient pseudo-wife who does as she’s told (and Moffat writes those very lines for her in The Impossible Astronaut AND The Wedding of River Song). The Doctor has also been relegated the role of a “God” in the series, with the women worshipping at his blue-box altar. And the Doctor is constantly sexualising his companions (Amy, Clara) to the point of great discomfort (put away the bloody, at-ready sonic screwdriver, yea?). No longer is the Doctor a source of knowledge and a teaching tool for these women to learn to explore their independent resourcefulness, but he is a Master to their subjugated existence as pretty arm/eye candy who do as they’re told and risk life and limb to preserve this Godly alien. Moffat clearly has an inferiority complex as a man, and it’s bled through to his Doctor. Harsh? But true, I feel.

    I used to love this series and still watch many of the pre-11 series on repeat. But with the advent of Eleven, and especially the current series (7B), I am ready to say goodbye. And while I feel a certain reluctance and resentment towards leaving this show behind, (to quote the Tenth Doctor prior to his departure/regeneration, “I don’t want to go…”), it is also true – like others who have commented here – that if I miss an episode now, I’m not bothered (or bovvered, if you will). And what happens to Clara…I don’t really care. She is so boring and bland, and she brings so little to the show (no fault of Jenna’s) that except for being mind-numbingly “Impossible,”, her inexplicable perkiness gives me a less than zero connection to her character.

    Isn’t it time tor the show runner to regenerate? I think he’s well past the “Use by” date.

  24. Evy says:

    You make some valid points, though I do disagree with some of the analysis. Without knowing about Moffat’s sexist behavior in other venues of his life, I would not have chalked the current Doctor’s sexually immature attitudes up to anything other than exactly that: sexually immature. Like a pre-teen boy trying to figure love and sex and women, rather than a sexist man (I feel this is enforced by his overall general awkwardness – this is a Doctor that is much younger than Tennant’s Doctor).

    I agree that the companion’s characterization is often too reliant on being “sexy” or “good-looking” (especially, I would say, with Amy Pond – though I never found her a great actor, so maybe I’m biased).

    I would disagree, however, with lumping Clara into the same brand of companions who always blindly trust the Doctor with no realistic regard for their own safety. At times she does, but there are other times, such as in Hide when the Doctor wants her to go ghost hunting and she shows reluctance or in the Cold War episode when the Doctor tells her to stay put and expects her to argue and she doesn’t, that I think her character manages to break free from the fearless companion mold and acts a bit more human. I wouldn’t be eager to put myself in danger either, and while much of the time she is as bright-eyed and eager for adventure as every other companion, I also think that there’s a little bit more to her than that.

    I also applaud Clara for her (if somewhat comical) wariness of the Doctor. She is cautious of him when he first shows up at her door, communicating through an electronic device rather than in person, and if anything, he forces himself into her life. Later, she is again skeptical when he wants her to get inside his box with him, and she laughs at his attempt to convince her to travel with him, even demanding more time (though, of course, she eventually decides to go).

    The Doctor is clearly chasing her during the second half of this season, and while that might be seen as problematic as though she does not have agency, I think it actually provides an interesting dynamic. Rather than the companion needing to prove herself to the Doctor, this time it almost seems the other way around.

    That said, I do think that the fact that her mystery is seen as more important than her character is unfortunate.

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  26. This is a great analysis; I don’t necessarily agree with everything here and I think you feel more strongly about it than I do (or have just managed to contextualize where the dislike is coming from better than I have) but you’ve summed up a lot of what’s bothered me lately. I used to LOVE Doctor Who, particularly the Tennant era (though toward the end it got kind of completely horrible), but a few weeks back I actually turned the episode off mid-way through and I haven’t felt a need to watch a single bit of it since. I quite like Matt Smith’s acting (“The Lodger” is one of my favorite eps of all time, probably in part because the bulk of it is completely outside of all the “companion as mystery” stuff that you’ve pointed out) and I think Jenna-Louise Coleman is wonderful in a wide variety of ways, but I’m finding the show itself to be the opposite of compelling.

    But I think you hit the nail on the head with the change in the character dynamics. One of the things I loved in the first few seasons of New Who was the Doctor turning to some background bit player and explaining to them that they are, in fact, important. Or having faith in his companions to do something as enormous as save the entire world. At this point, even aside from the skeevy dynamic of the Doctor choosing his companions on the basis of what sort of mystery they are to unravel, I feel like the “huge amazing secret about the companions!” thing is SUPER over-played. It was really intriguing when all the Bad Wolf stuff happened with Rose. It was a bit much with Donna when it turned out she had this huge pre-destined thing (one of the things I loved about her was that she was so incredibly ordinary in so many ways). But then there’s a huge mystery around River, and Amy, and Clara… does he ever just run into people who *aren’t* some sort of cosmic Gordian knot?

    One of the final straws for me though was that they seem to be going for some huge emotional payoff in every episode, and as a result they just end up falling flat. It’s like they’re trying to take that moment you liked — with Tennant ranting about not wanting to die — and have a scene like that in EVERY EPISODE. I was watching the Doctor standing there ranting at a sun about I don’t even CARE what anymore and I was just *bored*. I switched the TV off. I start to not give a shit, and the episodic payoff usually doesn’t live up to the dramatic opening they tried to give it. (I always think of Torchwood’s Children of Earth and how they opened one of the episodes with that ridiculous video of Gwen talking about the world ending and then as the episode goes on it’s like “psych! World’s not really ending so much, Gwen’s just a drama queen I guess.”)

    Anyway, I think you’ve really hit it with this and you are amazing and I love your brain. I am a pretty die-hard Sherlock fan, and I recognize that parts of that are problematic too, but I think what works for me there is that Sherlock is generally the problem, and I think Cumberbatch at least plays him in such a way as to acknowledge that he’s kind of fundamentally a bit broken. He’s almost always *right* but he’s rarely really… right. ;D Every time I see quotes from Moffat about what he intended or what he thinks about his characters though it’s always a bit of a kick to the head, because it usually makes me wonder what show he thinks he’s making, because it’s not the one I’m watching. I give massive credit to Cumberbatch and Freeman in particular for I think playing their roles in ways that Moffat might not have intended to be read into the text. (I think Cumberbatch leans way more toward asexual with Sherlock than Moffat seems to think, anyway.)

  27. Tolrick says:

    I’ve been spending most of the time since Smith took over as The Doctor trying to explain why I don’t like him. I accept that Tennant is my favorite, even surpassing the absolutely wonderful Tom Baker, and part of my dislike for Smith is simply because he’s the replacement.
    But you’re right on a lot of levels. Smith’s Doctor isn’t about saving the universe, regardless of how many times he says that. It’s about him. He’s gawky and unfocused, and has no real sense of who his Doctor is, unlike every Doctor before him. Even McGann had a better sense of that and he was only in one movie.
    And I also agree with a lot of your thoughts on the Companions. Every companion prior to this version’s was important in some way, but not as a spectacular mystery to reveal. It was evident during Tennant’s run why the Doctor even has companions. They keep him grounded, connected and attached to life outside his little box. He cared about them as people, formed relationships with them. They traveled with him and fought all sorts of monsters, alien -and- human. They were often times pivotal to a story, but never overshadowed or were overshadowed by The Doctor. Micky, for all his apparent uselessness, was an important part of things. So was Captain Jack, Rose, Jackie, Donna, and everyone else that wandered along with this crazy man in a blue box. More importantly, you could tell these people were friends, not just travelling companions or tourists. Looking back, you can see that same interaction with every previous Doctor and those companions. Sarah Jane Smith. Everyone calls her Sarah… except for the Doctor. He calls her Sarah Jane every time. With Tennant and Baker and Pertwee, you could hear the friendship. Smith is just doing it cause it’s in the script.
    Yes, there were mysteries about the Doctor, but they were rarely the focus of the show for long, the surprises about the companions were never the point of the whole season. By the end of it, I could care less who River Song really was. I’m already sick of the Clara mystery. I like Clara, I do. I think she could be more than she is. I liked Amy. But honestly, my favorite Smith companion so far? Rory.

    • missing10 says:

      That is EXACTLY what I have wanted to hear for so long. It’s not that the companions are bad, necessarily, but the storyline and execution is bland. I think that, at heart, Smith’s doctor is still up on that cloud. Also, it seems that the writing has become dry and a bit boring. The drama is over the top. In the Tennant era (the best, in my opinion), they had the occasional monologue or dramatic moment, but it was rare and enriched the storytelling. Now, they make every other scene into something like that and it infuriates me that they steal the good parts of the tenth doctor and misuse them with them eleventh doctor.

  28. Victoria says:

    I agree with most of this, however, I detest that you used Sherlock as an example of Moffat’s “fear of women”. Sherlock is primarily filled with strong male roles. In fact, in both the novels and short stories written by Doyle, Irene is the only strong female role. And Moffat wanted to keep the show as much like the cannon as possible when translating it to modern day. That said, the companions on Doctor Who lately have not been as strong, especially Amy. Clara showed that she is more than a pretty face who blindly follows the Doctor. She has questioned him and she has taken a few giant steps to show compassion. In “The Silver Nightmare”, she orders the army around and comes up with the ideas on how to stall the Cybermen. Then in the season finale, she sacrifices herself to save the Doctor and his time line, not to mention all the people and planets he had saved.

    Personally I’ve always felt Donna was the ideal version of a companion, someone who is willing to travel because they want nothing more than to see the stars and live a regular life yet someone who is the Doctors friend, not someone who is romantically involved and a strong female who won’t put up with his moaning yet still shows the compassion of a human. The whole point of a companion is the human aspect. The compassion and simplicity that the Doctor could never have because he is a Time Lord who has lived 1,000+ years. I like that Moffat takes risks and is asking and exploring things that never had been, yet at the same time it has become over hyped. Like others have said, it’s like they are looking for the big emotional pay off at the end of every episode when those types of things are best left for season finales and occasional BIG episodes.

  29. Sophi says:

    Oh god yes, thank you for writing this–it’s been all the microaggression filtering through that’s finally got me fed up, and I care so much for Doctor Who, I care for all the universes it creates.

    Part of the attraction–not sexual–of the Doctor is that he’s alien, distant but understandable. I really did not like the introduction of romance. For god’s sake, we get the message that romance is the be all and end all from the gigantic industry it has for itself; we don’t need it with the Doctor! The Doctor kissing people, for example; what the hell was that with Jenny? That was… I can’t fully articulate why that makes me shudder so much, but let’s begin with: she’s in a committed relationship, she’s a lesbian, he did not ask for consent at all, it was portrayed as “haha oh doctor” when it was actually sexual assault, I just… that made me deeply uncomfortable and unhappy.

    The Doctor has begun to feel more and more like a predator rather than an instigator of wonder. I can’t watch Doctor Who and feel afraid of him as a man. I really can’t; or, rather, I won’t. I am fine with being afraid of him as an alien, a creature with power. The Time Lord Victorious speech was pretty magnificent. But the Doctor feels more and more like a human man with dangerous power under Moffat, and he’s playing into some pretty enormous and terrible rape culture problems at the moment. If the Doctor is making me feel unsafe as a survivor, I can’t watch this show any more, and that really breaks my heart.

  30. Kim says:

    I agree with a lot of this. I think, while RTD’s portrayal of women wasn’t 100% perfect, they seemed to at least be important. In fairness, with the comic element of Dr Who, I don’t think you can completely remove things like the wedding scene. It’s perfectly fine to have a woman getting excited about a wedding or shoes or whatever as long as A.) Not ALL the women act/feel the same way and B.) It is a side-bit of comical relief that doesn’t define them or somehow mean that they are unable to do anything productive apart from listen or make friends.
    I’m not a big fan of Moffat in general, though I will admit to loving Sherlock, though that’s mainly due to my love of crime dramas and the brilliant acting of Freeman and Cumberbatch. I think Sherlock can get away with the general lack of significant women as the original books shares that quality and they were written at a different time blah blah and so I’m willing to put that down as a fault of Victorian Britain, rather than the show. Though that’s not saying I don’t love it when a strong woman does show up and I wish there were more, but I can deal with it for now. Also Sherlock’s disdain for women is less due to their gender and more due to his disdain for people in general. It’s not that he thinks women are stupid and useless, it’s that he thinks people are stupid and useless.
    Damn, I switched shows, okay, back to Dr Who. I think the problem with Moffat isn’t that there are ‘weak’ or ‘useless’ women, as there are some women who would be happy to jump off that cliff with him or who’s greatest asset is their ability to connect with people, that’s fine. I mean we had Mickey a few seasons back and he was pretty ‘useless’ for most of it. The problem is that ALL the women are like that at the moment and women in general on the show seemed to have slipped into a ‘mould’ which makes them 1-dimensional and easily disposable. They lack importance and significance and, as you said, it’s not about them being qualified-enough to travel with the Doctor, it’s not about how clever or resourceful they are anymore, it’s about how much they interest the Doctor, or how utterly helpless and bored they are without him.

    I’m not a massive fan of Dr Who, but I will watch it if there isn’t anything else on. I love Matt Smith and I think he makes an excellent Doctor, I just wish the storyline could do him justice instead of making him completely unfathomable and un-relatable. I know the Doctor is meant to have elements of that, but we’ve always seen the rawer side of him before; his panic, his pain, his struggles. They make him less infallible and much more likeable.

  31. Lena says:

    This pretty much sums up my feelings. Matt Smilth has proved time and time again that he’s an amazing actor, but his character is very two dimensional… and we’re seeing the same problem with Jenna Louise Coleman as well. I honestly can’t wait for Moffat to resign in the hopes that someone more well rounded will take up the job. Moffat is a great writer when it comes to the flashy, mindblowing events, but when it comes to the storyline as a whole he’s terrible. I hope that the Special in November proves me wrong, but I don’t really have very high expectations for it.

  32. Anna says:

    I suppose, to me, the Doctor’s regression and withdrawal are a natural reaction to recent processes (his last real connection with humans, Amy and Rory, broke his heart, so I can understand why he has become so much more aloof) and will swing back around soon – to me, it’s just a character arc making its way around – and the helpless nature of the companions is a fair point, but I think it would be as true if they were men (e.g. Rory, although you may not consider him a true companion) because of practicalities.

  33. Shaun says:

    Thank you so much. I stopped watching Doctor Who mid 5th season. I could never put into words my reasons for not wanting to watch it anymore. All I could think was that it was different, that something was wrong. Something seemed so wrong with Amy and the plots. But, now, I feel like i have some closure and if anyone asks why I don’t like doctor who anymore I can show them this.

  34. April says:

    Remember at the end of ‘Rose’ when the Doctor really wanted Rose to come with him, to the point where he was a bit self conscious about it? Remember how he was really impressed by her and how he needed her and how she was so independent of him (less so with Tennant). I miss that. It is impossible for me to care about Moffat’s companions when they are introduced to us as a ‘mystery’ the Doctor wants to solve.

  35. Just wanted to leave my own little thank you here, I’m incredibly glad you wrote this piece – it’s finally saying what a lot of us have been trying to say for years, only to be backed into a corner by those who remain convinced that we just haven’t been giving Moffat, Smith et al a chance. Granted, while he was not my first doctor, David Tennant will always be my favourite, and many took my lack of enthusiasm for Smith and Moffat’s first series simply to be my fangirl attachment to Tennant and his Doctor. I was ready to give the new writers and doctors my full attention at the time, and yet I couldn’t put my finger on what was suddenly missing and years on, after the most recent series, it’s finally becoming more clear in my own mind. This piece has perfectly captioned my own feelings and is wonderfully written to boot. While I personally enjoy ‘Sherlock’ a great deal, and will continue to do so, your perspective has put a new slant on that also, something which I will definitely be considering in Series 3. Overall, just a massive thank you for finally doing what many of us have been waiting for for a long time, your take was pleasantly unbiased and I wholeheartedly agree with your argument that the show is sexist by nature, but that RTD just seemed to manage to grapple with that far more satisfactorily. I too miss the days of the Ood, strong female companions and emotional, engaging and relateable Doctors! This piece was just perfection!

  36. Nerdanel says:

    THANK YOU. This is exactly how I feel about the Moffat era. Having seen a lot of classic who, I can say with confidence that nobody should doubt your credentials – this is absolutely spot on. It’s been really upsetting for me to realize over the past few weeks that I no longer care about this show that I used to love, mainly because the doctor is becoming increasingly manipulative, unempathic, and generally creepy, and the companions are bland, generically ‘feisty’ damsels.

  37. Maddy says:

    I’ve spent years trying to figure out why it is I don’t like Doctor Who any more. At first I thought it was just me being sulky at the end of the Tennant/RTD era. Then I thought that maybe it’s because I’ve grown up. But it really isn’t – You’ve hit the nail on the head here.

    I feel like the show’s become so soulless somehow, and none of the characters relatable. Amy, Clara, they all seem to fit a blank mold, (don’t even get me started on how much I hate River Song) and only Rory in the Smith era has, I feel, seemed a well rounded loveable compainion. I’ve loved how Clara does occasionally chat back to the Doctor, and that she’s fairly quirky. Good. It’s about time someone tried to put him in his place. That at least has made 7 part 2 more bearable to watch than the appalling (yet oh so clever and glitzy and impressive) series 5 and 6.

    But it’s still not the show I used to know and love…

  38. This was beautiful and sums up a lot of my problems with the past few seasons. Donna was always my favorite companion because she was so proactive and willing to argue and never lt the Doctor get away with anything, and then they elevated her to be just as smart and powerful as the Doctor and my heart soared. And by the end of the same episode they stripped away not only that power, but everything else in her: Every bit of strength Donna had accumulated since seeing the universe. It hit me right in the gut, and I kept watching for two and a half seasons after that, but the magic was gone and I just haven’t had much interest in Doctor Who since.

  39. Criticism of Sherlock not withstanding….

    …standing ovation to you, my friend.

    Sometimes I wonder if I’m even watching the same effing show as all these people who just worship the ground Moffat shits on.

  40. Brooke says:

    Very good article. One of my absolute favorite moments in RTD’s Who from The Parting of Ways:

    ROSE: But what do I do every day, mum? What do I do? Get up, catch the bus, go to work, come back home, eat chips and go to bed? Is that it?
    MICKEY: It’s what the rest of us do.
    ROSE: But I can’t!
    MICKEY: Why, because you’re better than us?
    ROSE: No, I didn’t mean that. But it was. It was a better life. And I don’t mean all the traveling and seeing aliens and spaceships and things. That don’t matter. The Doctor showed me a better way of living your life. You know he showed you too. That you don’t just give up. You don’t just let things happen. You make a stand. You say no. You have the guts to do what’s right when everyone else just runs away, and I just can’t.

    That entire episode really underscores how much Rose has changed throughout the season, leaving a life of safety and routine by taking charge of her own destiny. To not just settle for the easiest route in life, but fight for herself and for others. I haven’t seen a moment in Moffat’s Who yet that has touched me as much as that scene, and I think your article points out why. Moffat’s companions aren’t simply being written with depth and a life not centered on The Doctor, moreso the women. What a shame, because he’s missed out on some great opportunities for some great storytelling and creating some pretty dynamic characters.

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  43. Kelley says:

    A female Doctor under Moffat would be a disaster.

    I am a female Whovian who pretty well loved the show under Davies (nobody is perfect, but his characters were well developed, the plots were fun and interesting, and of course the writing was great) but I’m actually not interested in seeing a female doctor – first of all, I think it’s unnecessary, and (secondarily!) one has to acknowledge that the political weight it would create for the writer might get in the way of the story, a messy reality. In ANY case, however, whether a female Doctor comes along or not, if it happens under Moffat you’ll be seeing something rather worse than the problematic companions, I would think.

    That being said, I agree with most of what you’ve written here; Moffat’s gobsmacking misogyny is galling, and hasn’t exactly done the show any favors either.

  44. IV says:

    I recently started watching series 5. I loved Nine, I loved Rose, Ten, Martha, Donna. I can’t remember a show that made me laugh and cry as much as the first four series of Doctor Who. I had reservations about a new Doctor (much as I was, and still am, sad that Nine didn’t stay longer) but hey, Ten ended up being great so surely it’ll be fine.

    I couldn’t put my finger on it but I disliked Eleven from the start. I think the camera slowly panning up a 19 year old’s legs to her short skirt (in The Eleventh Hour) was the moment I realised this would not be the Doctor Who I knew and loved. As I kept watching, what used to be a tale about the powerful but flawed Doctor and his human but “every bit as important as Time Lords, thank you” companions is now about the flawless Doctor and his cardboard cutout companions. I feel no connection to the Moffat-era Who. None at all. The humanity is gone.

    I’ve stopped watching now. I’d rather remember Doctor Who the way I loved it, not whatever you’d call this mess Moffat has made.

  45. ryoki9 says:

    Interesting points. The problems I had with Rose were in the 3rd season when some of her episodes featured choices which were weak and mindless rather than the spunky Rose I knew. I loved Eccleston and Tenet, and their love and curiosity for mankind was exciting as their driving characteristics.
    I have had trouble latching on to Matt Smith as the Doctor. I think his look and mannerisms are quirky (much like Eccleston and Tenet), yet lacking something. I have wondered if it was the companion, since it is via them we have a way to connect with the Doctor. I have not really loved Amy (and have not watched Clara yet).
    It’s odd writing for Matt, as you noted here. He is almost put off by humans. His curiosity seems more driven to put us under a sanitary microscope than to dig in and experience life and history with us.
    I love Matt…but it is the writing that is killing Dr Who for me and the tack of the director. I just had not realized it until reading your blog.

  46. missing10 says:

    I have never thought about it that way, but hearing it said makes so much sense. I think that this is the reason my favourite doctor is the 10th since he displayed real emotion and actually respected the women (or Captain Jack) he traveled with. I thought the 9th was bossy and mean and the 11th is childish and sexist. All of the doctors have their strange qualities and have human characteristics, but are not quite human. For the 9th and 10th doctors, this gives them curiosity about humans, but, with the 11th doctor, the tables are turned and it is the human companions’ curiosity about him.

    I’ll compare the 9th and 10th doctors’ companions with the 11th doctors’ companions. Rose Tyler saves the doctor many times and when she saves the Earth by reopening the breach, she ends up in a parallel universe and then finds her way back to her universe on her own. No help from the doctor, thank you very much! Martha Jones was very smart. She had a real career and wasin school to become a doctor. She held her own against aliens all over the universe and defeated the master without any help from the doctor. Donna Noble wouldn’t take any spacey crap from anyone, not even an all-knowing alien like the doctor and she is plenty capable of taking care of herself and the doctor, too. He would be dead and our world would be in shambles if it weren’t for Donna Noble, as we saw in episode Turn Left. Also, these companions have lives apart from the doctor. They have families and jobs. Amy Pond and Clara Oswald are pretty girls with feisty attitudes, but they are not extremely good at saving the universe and they don’t have families back on Earth, so they become extremely attached to the doctor. You never really get to know Rory, but from what I know, he seems to be weak-willed and goes along with Amy. River Song was the one exception to the mold of the 11th doctor’s companion since she was as capable or more than the doctor. She was ruined for me when she and the doctor got married. Just another example of how sexist Steven Moffat’s writing is.

    I miss the old days of the 9th and 10th doctors and the days when companions were women who held their own against aliens instead of screaming for the doctor to save them. Hopefully, the people at the BBC will find this blog and realise that they should fire Steven Moffat and find someone new.

  47. Thank you for this! I fell hard into NewWho a few years back, and have watched all of it… except for the newest 7b episodes, which I’ve read about, but can’t seem to actually bring myself to watch. Which is puzzling behavior, but thanks to you I now have a starting point to articulate ‘why’.

    I wouldn’t have believed it beforehand what a huge difference the head writer/showrunner makes, but there’s no denying it now. I think what drew me to the RTD era were the emotions splashing all over the place. He created (and presided over) three dimensional characters, where the Doctor and his companion(s) were a team, but they also interacted and changed and grew over the course of the show. Watching them was fun and rewarding. (Shame about some of the plots though…:) )

    Moffat strikes me as being all about the fancy spectacle, damn the characters. You’re absolutely right about his female characters, and that may in fact play a huge part in why I feel so alienated by him. I don’t care about these people anymore, they hold no interest for me, so I’m just not as emotionally invested.

    Someone called Moffat’s writing ‘teflon’ writing, in that it’s all fancy, but nothing sticks. I think I for one have fallen off the pan.

  48. Badumtsk says:

    River Song…that is all.

  49. Sierra says:

    Thanks for saying this, it really helped. Throughout seasons 5-7 I really tried to ignore the fact that I just didn’t like Doctor Who nearly as much anymore, don’t get me wrong beside all the reasons you said, I really liked and loved the eleventh Doctor, but I really didn’t like how the show was. I tried to ignore it and give it a chance because I thought I was just being picky after the 10th Doctor left, I figured that I’d get used to it, and learn to love it just as much, but it’s actually really kinda disappointing, the people don’t really feel as real. So, every time there’s going to be a new episode, I get myself excited and happy, and sometimes the new episodes are REALLY good, but when I really think about it I start to feel kinda disappointed. I’m Thirteen now, and when I discovered Doctor Who, it changed my life for the better, but now, I just kinda feel close to indifferent about it, and that makes me really sad.

  50. dianavanderpluijm says:

    Thank you for your well-written article. After posting it on my Facebook, a friend pointed out that you left out Rory, who – even though he is a male – gets treated much the same way as the female companions. Other than that, you really hit the nail on the head about the reasons, for me, why Doctor Who doesn’t appeal to me any longer. I’ve started watching the 10th, went back and saw the 9th, then followed the series as it moved along.
    At first I thought I didn’t like 11 because of 10’s death, but after three whole seasons I can safely say that’s not the case any longer. Matt’s a good enough actor, but the scripts, the stories, the characters… it just doesn’t compel me any longer. Did you know I even bawled my eyes out after watching The Name of the Doctor? Not because I was touched by it, well, I was, but in a very, very negative way. It felt as if the show had been killed. I couldn’t handle the utterly insane plot and the holes and the non-logic of it all.
    I’m not even psyched for the 50th anniversary or the Christmas episode. I’ll keep watching, yes, because I still have hope and I still love Doctor Who (I even like the First Doctor’s tenure!), but sadly, with Moffat? I don’t know how much more I can take.

  51. Hannah says:

    You know what I want? A fat, black, sassy female Doctor who is strong and smart, but still emotional, and a wimpy skinny stupid male companion.

    • lara says:

      somewhere along the line we have to look at how the character was written, and it was not a fat, black sassy female. the same way james bond was not written as a fat black sassy female.

  52. Keito says:

    I think the distinction between Moffat and pre-Moffat Doctors is a very good one. Certainly the pre-Moffat Doctor Who had its flaws, but they seem to jump out more with the Moffat one. Also I am so glad you brought up Martha Jones. She is my favorite companion who seems so often to be overlooked in favor of Rose (not that I am anti-Rose).

    • lara says:

      i think the reason martha is so overlooked is because she is so easily “overlook-able.” i found her bland. even in moments of stress, excitement, she had one look on her face. she simply wasn’t a good actress. for example, i can think of many instances when rose had great expressions on her face, her emotions were out there to see, but i can’t remember one from martha except first time tennant kissed her – in a non-romantic way- that she showed any emotion at all. and even then it seemed forced. of all the companions she is my least favorite.

  53. Pingback: A Letter to Doctor Who’s Steven Moffat | The Nerdy Girl

  54. Sandy says:

    Couldn’t agree more, after Moffat took over, for many reasons, including the ones you wrote about here, I haven’t enjoyed the show anymore. I do hope it gets better.

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  58. I agree with most of your points, but I did bristle a bit upon reading your criticism of Sherlock – you wrote that his disdain for women gives him power, but I would argue that his disdain for people in general makes him a loveable misanthrope! While watching Moffat’s Who, all I can think is ; how in the hell is this the same guy who created Sherlock?! I think Moffat would do well to choose a less obnoxious male actor to play the Doctor and give him an attractive male companion (could they maybe work John Barrowman back in? ) Then they could be a slash couple like “Johnlock” or “Spirk ” and fangirls could “ship” them! And more importantly, since Moffat is better with male characters, hopefully the show would become watchable again ; or at the very least, be of high enough quality that I can sit through it without cringing every other scene! Also, where are the black people in Moffat ‘s series?! To go from interracial couple Rose and Mickey, companion Martha,

    • Sorry, mobile cut me off.
      Anyway, no the show is whitewashed in that insidious way where they’ll throw in some black actors for bit parts just so nobody complains. I really hope Moffat gets enough bad reviews to set him straight!

    • lara says:

      >>I think Moffat would do well to choose a less obnoxious male actor to play the Doctor<<

      the problem i (and i am sure many others) have with this statement is that it implies matt smith is an obnoxious doctor which he isn't. he plays the role with great subtly that can often be missed when watching episodes on tv. i watch them and youtube compilation videos on my laptop and he is amazing. especially the mini-episodes "night" based on what the doctor does at night when the ponds are asleep.

  59. Reblogged this on Miss Ann Thr0pe's Stuff and commented:
    I don’t agree with all of the author’s statements, but criticism of Doctor Who, especially the new Moffat version, is badly, needed.

  60. Jeffy 9ster says:

    Boring and rubbish. Climbing into his own timeline to save impossible girl. What’s that? Its my entire timeline. ‘here you blew in on this leaf, hold it and it will guide you home.’ Oh that’s me, but not the doctor. – Fucking booo!
    I watched this show recently and I thought it was intolerable, It was laying a big-turd-on-the-memory-of-a-previously-watchable-program bad. It made me feel embarrassed for the program makers.
    Why isn’t it any good anymore? It could be really good. They just need to stop writing these awful plot lines where there is a big high-stakes moments in every episode. Its not amazing and magical. It’s just really bad. Why is the doctor in love with everyone? He should be slightly distant and he should be a bit more of a bastard and not so much of a bleeding tit.

  61. Myrmidon says:

    Bang on! I aggree 100% with what you say.

    I’ve just watched “The Day of the Doctor” and now I feel like my soul has been wrenched from my body and squashed into a big pile of dog muck. SM not only ruined my evening, he has sullied my 40 years’ worth of Dr Who memories. Maybe even worse than that, he has made me feel that David Tennant was a shit Doctor (I used to think he was brilliant).

    SM’s stories are one-dimensional, predictable, infantile and boring. “Blink” was the only decent episode he ever wrote. I can’t see how the show can possibly get any better whilst he is at the helm – and, let’s face it, certainly it can’t get much worse than it is right now.

    SM has destroyed all that was good and honourable about Dr Who. It is now an empty shell of a show and (it pains me to say) I can’t be bothered with it whilst SM has anything to do with it.

  62. aeryn says:

    I agree with this to the umpteenth level of *insert something big and important sounding*. The way they’ve played the seventh season has just spiraled it out of control. I think part of the problem is that everything in the seperate episodes tends to be ridiculous and not make sense, but when they actually get to the season finale, they tie things up and you have to REWATCH the entire season for it to make sense. Also, Clara’s character is so washed out. the only thing they have going for them is her romance (for lack o a better word) with the doctor, which I wholly disagree with.

    on a side note, I would love to see a female ginger as the doctor one time….

  63. rebeccakulik says:

    Steven Moffat once had aliens translate “man” as “weak” and “woman” as “strong.” That is all.

  64. jess says:

    Thank You So Much!
    I live in the Philippines, so it’s kinda hard to get episodes, but my sister found a way, and I was totally hooked!
    Key Word: was
    I enjoyed watching Doctor Who, it was fun and exciting, and you would never know where (or when) the TARDIS would land next. I enjoyed how the companions grew over time (how did RTD do that? I hate them when they appear, then cry when they’re gone, especially in Doomsday) then died (or something similar).
    I enjoyed how the Doctor knew that the human race is going to be ever so important so he always (usually) found a way to save us.
    You know what I really enjoyed? The episodes are usually never about him.
    Then, Moffat came along (he made a great episode during the RTD era.), and I was like “He made Blink and that was a great episode, Doctor Who is in great hands.”. I watched his episodes (all of them, a month after they came out, except with the special, I found a site.), hated Amy and Rory at the beginning (Like I do with all the companions), but never grew to like them as much as I did with 9 and 10’s companions. I didn’t even cry when they were sent back in time to whenever, and the Doctor kind of overreacted…
    Clara comes along as a companion, and to me, the Doctor could’ve gone without a companion, because Amy and Rory were kinda like there but not there….
    Then suddenly, we’re introduced to John Hurt (who’s an amazing actor.) as the Doctor, which leads all the fans to be confused, which in turn leads Moffat to dedicate the 50th anniversary special to be all about the Doctor and not on some really cool special on Earth(or some other planet).
    There was something I found really annoying, too.
    Clara was like a background person in the episode, when I expected her to be by the Doctor’s side… or something.
    A word to Steven Moffat :Fix this huge mess you’ve created, make the used-to-be-whovians whovians again, and finally, make the companions seem like they’re actually there with the Doctor, and not some people you’ve hired to be in the background.

  65. Ginny says:

    Huh. This was a very interesting read, as someone who really loves the Eleventh Doctor and adores Amy Pond.

    I agree, there’s something inherently sexist about Doctor Who. Now, I’m not sure I’d agree with your argument that it’s sexist that the female human companions are only brought along to “emote.” I think that ANY human the Doctor chooses as a companion–whether male or female–would be the one emoting. The whole POINT is that the Doctor doesn’t connect well to humans, though he tries to and he means to. But he just can’t, not completely anyway.

    And I rather think Matt Smith’s colder and darker Doctor was more fitting for the character. He is more alien, more disconnected–and that’s how it should be. If you watch Classic Who, you’ll see that Matt’s Doctor has more in common with previous Doctors (especially the FIRST Doctor) than David Tennant’s did. Even Christopher Eccleston’s angry Doctor had more in common with Classic Who Doctors. Don’t get me wrong, I loved David Tennant’s Doctor—but he sometimes got a bit too mushy and emotional for me and it put me off a bit.

    And even Amy I think is okay. True, she’s a bit…well, useless compared to the Doctor—but I think that’s a bit unfair to say because no matter HOW smart a human is, whether male or female, they’re going to seem a bit pale compared to the Doctor, aren’t they? He’s a centuries-old Time Lord alien. It’s sort of like complaining that Jane Foster pales in comparison to Thor. Jane is clever, intelligent, has agency, is a scientist in her own right, is curious about the universe, and is a tough lady—but compared to Thor, she does seem very HUMAN, doesn’t she? It’s only natural. And yes, Amy had no family—but at the end, she ended up with Rory, her childhood sweetheart. I think the POINT was that she originally had no family—so she could finally find one, with the Doctor and with Rory. Because even though you think Matt Smith’s Doctor is cold and unfeeling, I truly think he loved Amy Pond (as a friend) and I think he cared deeply for her. He sometimes translated it in awkward ways but I definitely think the Doctor loved BOTH Amy and Rory. Almost to the point where he forgot they would have to leave him eventually. Amy leaving him seemed almost as painful as him losing Rose.

    Honestly, the MOST sexist thing about Doctor Who seems to be the treatment of poor Clara Oswin Oswald. She, and Jenna Louise-Coleman, deserved so much better. She is empty, has no agency, no purpose, no family, nothing. She’s just the Perfect and Pretty Witty Companion and it makes me want to die because at FIRST, Oswin seemed like she had the makings of a fantastic companion!

    To be honest? I’m less worried about sexism in Doctor Who as I am worried about RACISM. Excuse me, but where the hell are the people of color? People of different ethnicity, races, and religions (there aren’t really religions on Doctor Who—but they’ve showed a church now and then, and I’d like to see some Muslim hijabi women or some Jewish women in NON-sacriligious and NON-insulting ways). So far, Martha and Mickey are the only POC who are even important character and I’m sorry, but two characters out of seven seasons is just not enough and is, quite frankly, VERY insulting. And now another white guy has been picked for the Doctor. I’m sure Capaldi will do a great job as the Doctor—but if a person of color is NOT chosen for the Doctor after the Twelfth, I’m done watching this show. I won’t stand for it. All of time and space, not even from the human race, hundreds of years old, and the Doctor STILL can’t regenerate into a person of color? Give me a goddamn break.

  66. Anna says:

    I agree for the most part. And this article is old but I’m a relatively new fan of the show so, here I am!
    One point I strongly disagree on is the Doctor regenerating into a woman. He identifies as male. I have nothing against genderfluid/trans etc. The idea of there actually being a female time lord somewhere is awesome. His daughter is supposedly out there! I simply find the idea of him suddenly being a woman strange. I don’t think that’s a time lord thing.
    I do think having him regen into a person of color at some point would be RAD. (And hopefully, for the Doctor’s sake, a ginger at some point too.)

    Also, it might just be me, but I don’t see anything wrong with the companions connecting on an emotional level with people, while the doctor is off being the doctor. Being able to empathize with other individuals is a huge gift and should be something everyone strives to be able to do.
    I do think Eleven is less emotional, thanks to Moffat, And I dislike that very much, I don’t see him as cold though.

    Amy is just a git, for the most part. I don’t hate her, but she is by far the most selfish of the companions. Rory is such a genuine person! And her treatment of him bothers me, as did Rose’s treatment of Mickey. Mickey ends up with a strong end, his character development was awesome. Rory is equally strong, but Amy . . . ugh. I like little Amy.

    Why was River not mentioned at all here? River is amazing. River, who is so humanly flawed, but strong and capable. I think perhaps this article was written before we got to the episodes (spoiler) after River has died and Clara is saving the Doctor. But I think he loves her VERY much! The stuff at the end of that, oooh I cried.

    Eleven is capable of feelings, he’s just not so good at showing them. (And we can of course, blame Moffat here for the writing.)

    I do hope River returns with Capaldi. Especially since when we first meet River she says to the Doctor that he looks so young. I’d be interested to see how that would play out.

    Clara has potential to be awesome. I’m looking forward to seeing how Coleman and Capaldi work together. I’m sort of ranting. I’ll be off now.


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