So yes, ‘Asylum of the Daleks!’ I have many thoughts about this episode, some of which have already appeared. But what I keep coming back to again and again, my friends, is that Steven Moffat has serious lady issues. Are you tired of them? Because I am tired of them. He’s got this obnoxious tendency of reducing female characters to orbiting moons rather than their very own planets, and the man cannot seem to understand why women are rather riled up at their depiction; who can forget that line where he tried to turn a critique ’round on the critiquer by claiming it was ‘anti-woman’ to be concerned about reducing female characters to mothers as though there was nothing else for women to do and it was impossible to be a mother and something else at the same time? (How could little ladybrains possibly manage dual tasks like that?!)
I mean, really. I rather wish the man would write a submarine drama or something just to give us a break from his attempts at female characters, because it would be a relief for us all. Maybe they’ve got an opening on Last Resort he could fill for a bit.
Be advised, my friends, that some discussions of recent plot events lie below!
My frustration with Moffat’s women manages to run across pretty much every one he touches, er, in a creative sense. And it’s irritating, because he’s got a knack for ruining perfectly fascinating, engaging, intriguing, and potentially wonderful women who could be taken along some truly fascinating storylines if they were given half a chance. It’s like he’s on a one-man quest to ruin everything good about the women in his work.
I know I’ll probably get rotten tomatoes thrown at me for this, but I’m not really a fan of Amy Pond. And that’s not her fault, but the fault of the way she’s written, as a constant foil for the Doctor and as yet another woman who falls hopelessly in love with him and doesn’t quite know when to quit. Even as she’s married in heterosexual dreamland with Rory (look at how fast that ended), she’s still thinking about the Doctor. Her whole life is basically defined by him, and when she attempts to strike out on her own—say, as a model—she gets punished for it by being, you know, whisked away to a Dalek prison planet/asylum. When her characterisation isn’t about her relationship with the Doctor, it’s about her relationship with her fiance and later spouse; nowhere in here is there room for Amy to be herself.
It didn’t help that the big promo for this episode had an evidently unconscious Amy carried in the Doctor’s arms; heavens forbid that Amy Pond help herself out of a situation, or be independent, or have something to do other than be a plot catalyst.
Evidently Moffat wasn’t sure what else to do with her. She always needs rescuing or the Doctor needs to save her relationship or she’s got to give birth to a key player in the drama (again with the using women as incubators to the exclusion of anything else, Steven). Who is Amy Pond, really? Can you define her by anything other that her relationships to the two major men in her life?
As for River Song, a character who started out strong has been brought depressingly low through a series of episodes that, again, use her primarily as a plot device rather than her own person. As Jess pointed out here last year, River Song as a woman starts out as a fascinating cipher. We want to know who she is, where she comes from, what she does, we are intrigued by her and we thirst for more information. Yet, in the end:
[she’s treated in ‘The Wedding of River Song’] as though her most important role was not her adventures with the Doctor (all off-screen!) or her adventures alone (likewise!) or her traumatic upbringing (this also does not happen on camera!) or her shift from trained sociopath to emotional devotee (I am sensing a pattern!)
Like other women in Moffat’s Doctor Who, she’s reduced, again, to a person who primarily appears in order to serve the Doctor in some way. Rather than as her own totally independent and badass character, which is what she should be, and has the potential to be. There are a lot of fascinating directions one could use for River Song while still keeping the focus of the show on its titular character, but Moffat chose not to take any of those routes. Almost as though he’s afraid to branch out of his comfort zone with women.
Sherlock offers us Irene Adler, who is a fascinating character but also a sometimes frustrating one; the dominatrix to Amy’s Madonna, a hypersexualised, sensual character who’s arch, witty, and of course unrelentingly sneaky. Of course Moffat would have a virgin/whore complex to work out on screen.
Her depiction revolves around her relationship to Sherlock, as one of the few people able to defeat him, but inevitably she’s also a bit in love with him. Even though she’s a character occupying a grey area, like all the women Moffat’s involved with, she just can’t help getting emotionally entangled with the man of the hour, eh? She can outsmart him, outplot him, and think circles ’round him, but in the end, she’s just another lady dazzled by his might. This is all the more creepy to consider when one thinks about the fact that Sherlock, much like the Doctor, is an authorial insertion.
What does it say about Moffat’s own thinking on women that his major female characters on these shows revolve around himself, under the veneer of Sherlock or the Doctor?