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29 November 2008 @ 08:20 pm
Why Steven Moffat Isn't All That  
I love this writer! I just posted an article below written by the same writer about "The Hottest Kisses You Never Saw" which featured the Rose/TenII kiss from Confidential and then I randomly found this. And oh yes!!!

Why Steven Moffat Isn't All That

By Nivair H. Gabriel

Despite the fact that his hair is dark brown, Steven Moffat is everybody's favorite golden-boy Doctor Who writer. He's won two Hugo Awards so far for his episodes, and been nominated for two more Nebulas and another Hugo as well. With current showrunner Russell T. Davies's blessing, Moffat is all set to take over Doctor Who in 2010. But color me skeptical — I'm not sure we should be as happy and excited about this as everyone thinks.

Don't get me wrong. There was a time when I, too, thought Steven Moffat was one of the greatest television writers in the world. I watched all the seasons of Coupling — even the one without Richard Coyle! — and I adored his brilliant World War II two-parter in the first season of Doctor Who. Clearly Davies did, too, according to his March 2008 interview with Digital Spy:
I'll rewrite 100% if I have to. With Steven Moffat's scripts, I don't touch a word, but anyone else's I do.
Not one word, Russell? Seriously? Trust me - if you really can't find a single problem with Moffat's work, I don't think that you're doing your job as showrunner. Sure, Moffat kicked ass with "The Empty Child" and "The Doctor Dances," but his episode contributions have been going steadily downhill from there. Let's look at the evidence:

"The Girl In The Fireplace"

This was a clever story, at the beginning — it's one of those historical episodes that lets the Doctor Who producers clap themselves on the back for being educational guides to hordes of British schoolchildren (and adults). The Doctor, Rose, and Mickey discover a drifting spaceship in the 51st century (Moffat's "futuristic era" of choice, apparently - he's used it before and he'll use it again) and, as it turns out, the spaceship is attempting to repair itself by harvesting human organs from its visitors. To make matters worse, bits of pre-revolutionary France keep popping through time pockets on the ship, and sucking the Doctor back.

What then develops is a random, thoughtless romance between the Doctor and famous courtesan Madame de Pompadour, who was the most famous mistress of King Louis XV of France. Apparently the Doctor's always had a crush on her; with the whole universe at his disposal, naturally the most impressive, alluring woman he can think of is a professional sex buddy from the 17th century. And after a short acquaintance, aided by the vagaries of spaceship time pockets, he's ready to settle down and give up everything for her: not only his life, but Rose's and Mickey's as well. It's pretty jarring, if you're used to watching a show about a time-travelling maverick who values his companions above all else, who never has sex, and whose one prized possession is his TARDIS. And who, a single episode before, promised his longtime friend Rose that he'd never leave her — especially not to be mutilated alive by robots on a deserted spaceship.

It's sinister. And it belies far too much of what Steven Moffat really thinks of women like Rose and Madame de Pompadour:
There’s this issue you’re not allowed to discuss: that women are needy. Men can go for longer, more happily, without women. That’s the truth. We don’t, as little boys, play at being married - we try to avoid it for as long as possible. Meanwhile women are out there hunting for husbands.
Whatever your opinion of his none-too-thinly veiled misogyny, it's clear from that comment that Moffat views people only in terms of vast generalizations (Actually, Steven, what you seem to misunderstand is that not all women are hunting for husbands - some of us are scheming to take over Doctor Who so we can make it cohesive and thoughtful, instead.)

It should come as no surprise, then, that he has more trouble with characterization than any Doctor Who. showrunner should.

"Blink"

Nowhere are his characterization troubles more evident than in "Blink," Moffat's much-hailed Season 3 episode about statues that come to life when no one's looking. The idea of super-deadly aliens hiding out as gargoyles is certainly a tantalizing one, but the real scare in this episode is not those famous Weeping Angels. It's not even Moffat's embarrassingly flat narrator, Sally Sparrow, whose lack of complexity has earned her a place of honor in the annals of Mary Sue. It's the way women are written as if they have absolutely no control over what happens in their life at all — and they're fine with that.

"Blink" is a Doctor-lite episode, so we don't see him much and Martha appears even less. One might at least expect a solid presence, though, from his educated companion: She's most of the way to becoming a medical doctor, and, having grown up in a large and wild family, doesn't take shit from anyone. When she and the Doctor get trapped in 1969 with a broken TARDIS, though, it's Martha who's saddled with the consequences — and when she complains about working in a shop to support his doing who-knows-what, the Doctor shushes her away. Not now, Martha, men are talking.

To be fair, the woman with the most screen time, Sally Sparrow, does experience a tiny bit of development... if you could call it that. Throughout the course of the episode, while remaining quite superhuman in the way she deals with every obstacle, she's firm about her disinterest in her unwitting sidekick Larry. And yet, once the adventure's over, she loops her arm through his, all done with saving the world and ready to run a shop. No explanation.

Her friend Kathy makes a similarly nonsensical choice, when the Weeping Angels toss her back to 19th-century Hull and she finds herself alone in a field with a boy named Ben:
KATHY: Are you following me?

BEN: Yeah.

KATHY: Are you gonna stop following me?

BEN: No, I don't think so.
And then - marriage. Just like that.

It must make sense to some viewers and writers, that a happily single woman with her head screwed on straight could suddenly turn a corner and be ready to submit to previously unworthy suitors. The "no-means-yes" romance plotline is a convenient and popular one in television; hell, it's even been in Buffy. But as any dictionary will tell you, "no" is the opposite of "yes" — and the more television writers like Moffat push that dangerous fallacy, the more girls and women will find themselves victims of sci-fi fans who don't understand the rules of consent. Or, at the very least, they'll find themselves working in a shop to support a boyfriend's useless tinkering.

"Time Crash"

Okay, I'll admit it: this was a wickedly entertaining eight minutes. And yet, think about it: It's the Fifth Doctor and the Tenth Doctor, together. All one really needed to do was have them declare mutual respect using their trademark catchphrases, and possibly mock each other's costumes — both of which Moffat did, like the experienced audience manipulator he is. This doesn't mean he has any great genius to impart, or that "Time Crash" actually provided anything for anybody beyond fanboy glee for the Doctor Who faithful who remember Peter Davison's first time in the outfit. How fabulous for them; how utterly boring for the rest of the world, who deserve a part of Doctor Who as much as anyone.

"Silence in the Library" / "The Forest of the Dead"

If you're unconvinced by what I've said so far, I promise you that this baby is the clincher. Perhaps "The Girl in the Fireplace," "Blink," and "Time Crash" had enough cleverness and nerd-nip in them to blot out the Moffat misogyny, but his Season 4 two-parter established without a doubt that this guy has jumped the shark.

These episodes are peppered with problems. First of all, the main danger is a roving hive of flesh-eaters that exist in every shadow — which means, yes, keep in the light and... don't blink. Wow, that sounds familiar. And a (you guessed it) 51st-century archaeological research team has special technology that captures brainwaves in telecommunications devices, making it possible for people to literally speak from the dead. It's disturbing, especially when the team forces everyone to sit through someone's dying thoughts for several minutes … before they realize, oops, they could have turned it off all along. Moffat's estimate that only a few thousand visitors would come to the largest library in the universe is pretty sobering. His irritating repetition of successful tricks from his previous episodes is even more sobering. The worst, however, is yet to come.

To add to his litany of badly drawn, disappointing female characters, Moffat gave us River Song, an archaeologist from the Doctor's future who not only knows everything about him, but to whom he's also entrusted his precious sonic screwdriver. I'll say one thing for ol' Steven — apparently, he's a great wingman. He loves to set the Doctor up with every eligible, eternally willing female who comes along. Song's maddening smugness about her foreknowledge goes hand-in-hand with Moffat's, whose script is blasting love and admiration for Song before the audience has even accepted her existence. She's got no character; all we know is that someday she's important to the Doctor and that she loves him to pieces — so much that she's kept a detailed diary of every minute they've spent together. The idea that someone as empty as Song could actually be a romantic foil for the Doctor goes way beyond distasteful. I mean, once, we had Romana.

The next secondary character we get is Miss Evangelista, a personal assistant to the expedition head who's breathtakingly beautiful — but also breathtakingly dumb! Get it? Isn't that hilarious? It gets better - Later, we see the undead cyber version of the character and because of a few misplaced zeroes and ones, now she's incredibly smart yet hideously deformed, because you can't be intelligent and pretty. Ha! Ha!

But the worst part of Moffat's two-parter has nothing to do with sexism or characterization. It's at the very end, when River Song sacrifices her life for the Doctor's — and the Doctor collects her last remaining brainwaves to be stored in a giant computer program. In that way, Moffat tells us, she can live forever; and the camera pans over a vast cyber-meadow inside some giant hard drive, showing all of the lost archaeological team members.

With that, Moffat casually slips in his belief that the richness of human life can be captured with nothing more than what it takes to power a couple of LEDs. There's no discussion on this from any character, no resistance, no ambiguity in the dialogue — it just is. The Doctor's given her this great gift, something we could all hope for if we didn't bother to think about what it meant: He's simply translated her characteristics into lines of code and flipped a switch.

The line between intelligence and artificial intelligence is a powerful concept in sci-fi; it has sparked countless fantastic books, movies, and discussions. Moffat glossed over all that without a single word. If he'd rather ignore the thoughtful philosophical considerations that sci-fi can inspire, why is he even writing sci-fi?

Science fiction is supposed to be about raising the level of discourse on society by opening up the door to fantastic possibilities. It's supposed to be about hope, exploration, and opportunity — not cheapening what it means to be human, and certainly not subjugating people in the name of great white men. Yes, the first episode of Doctor Who (which aired all the way back in 1963) featured the Doctor as an old white man, cautioning his granddaughter against mimicing the stupidity of "the red Indian." But that racism wasn't something anybody wanted to see in the Doctor Who revival, and neither is Moffat's simplified view of human life or his bizarre seeming vendetta against women. We're in the future now; let's give everybody a chance to be great.

That said, no matter how great you are, you'll still need an editor. Everybody does. Even — maybe especially — the not-so-fantastic Steven Moffat.
Source

The comments ranged from the Moffat-lovers jumping all over the writer (including many males not thinking misogyny is a problem) as well as some reasoned agreements. (At least the first page, there were six.) Still, it's nice seeing someone in any form of media NOT fawning over Moffat.

Basically, the writer details so many of the misogynistic issues that those of who are NOT Moffat-fans have. Detailed and broken-down with logic and not presented under a haze of Doctor/Rose 4-eva twuwub! Awesome.
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never underestimate a Celtvanitashaze on November 30th, 2008 04:01 am (UTC)
I'm usually the first one to cry foul on these sorts of things, but apart from the glaringly bad ending of "The Forest of the Dead" - motherhood is not every woman's idea of happily ever after, thankyouverymuch - I haven't seen this "glaring" sexism much in his work. Reinette didn't get me up in arms; after all, the Doctor's been known to form attachments at the blink of an eye, and to be somewhat of a bastard when it comes to leaving his companions behind (think Jack on Satellite 5). As for Ben and Kathy, would it be less "dangerous" for her to fall into his arms at first sight, less demeaning? While the "no-means-yes fallacy" is quite dangerous, this is in the context of banter, not sexual advances.

As for Sally Sparrow - characters falling flat is not a concept exclusive to a single sex. (If it were, Queer As Folk wouldn't exist.) There is a line between spotting actual misogyny and crying wolf, and I'll be the first to admit it's really, really hard to toe, especially when you can't actually see the proverbial wolf. So with all respect, I agree with afrocurl on this one (at least, I think I do - I'm not entirely sure what she's getting at). Moffat may be sexist in his own life, and a little misogynist in his writings, but is it any different from one of the thousands of jokes wives make about their husbands being as useful as a socket wrench?
Diana: Flame Hair - Donnabutterfly on November 30th, 2008 04:06 am (UTC)
As for Ben and Kathy, would it be less "dangerous" for her to fall into his arms at first sight, less demeaning?

Why does she need to end up with him at all? There's no particular reason for him to show us the 'yes turns into no' story with nothing to contradict it. He could have had Kathy met by anyone when she went to the past. This is what he chose to do. Just like Sally and Larry... what possible reason do they have to end up together? Why is that at all necessary to the story? All it does is add to the impression that women must end up in a romance to be worthwhile.

So with all respect, I agree with [info]afrocurl on this one (at least, I think I do - I'm not entirely sure what she's getting at). Moffat may be sexist in his own life, and a little misogynist in his writings, but is it any different from one of the thousands of jokes wives make about their husbands being as useful as a socket wrench?

Also, I'm a bit perplexed at the notion that lots of men being sexist makes it all right.

Edited at 2008-11-30 04:14 am (UTC)
never underestimate a Celtvanitashaze on November 30th, 2008 04:17 am (UTC)
Actually, she does need to end up married - or at the least, involved at some point in her life - because her grandson is the one to deliver the package to Sally.

All it does is add to the impression that women must end up in a romance to be worthwhile.

This was why I liked the banter, though. Because though she does end up in a romance, it's not with the swooning and the horses and riding off into the sunset. Rather, in their (admittedly short) conversation, Kathy stays the dominant one, with Ben displaying more of an amused subservience, setting up - or at least I like to think so - their relationship in the future. Maybe she could meet & marry someone off-screen, but the Kathy/Ben meeting gives us a point of reference, something to help us imagine her strange, displaced life. Had she met someone else and we never saw the husband, it would have seemed even more of a bad cliche.
Diana: *heart* -- the Doctorbutterfly on November 30th, 2008 04:21 am (UTC)
Had she met someone else and we never saw the husband, it would have seemed even more of a bad cliche.

Did Billy end up as a bad cliche, then? We never met his wife.

I'd have much preferred to have not set up the 'woman runs, man chases' dynamic that they did with Kathy and Ben. To you, it felt like banter. To me, it felt like harassment.
never underestimate a Celtvanitashaze on November 30th, 2008 04:38 am (UTC)
I'm sorry, I can't recall, but did he even mention a wife?
Dianabutterfly on November 30th, 2008 04:43 am (UTC)
Yes. She was also named 'Sally'. It was played as tragically ironic. I thought it (the scene between Sally and Old!Billy) was actually the best scene of the entire episode. The actors had so much chemistry together and I actually mourned the relationship they never got to have.

I'll find the bit in the transcript for you!

(Sally is looking at a picture of Billy in a wedding photo with another woman.)

Sally: "She looks nice."
Billy: "Her name was Sally, too."
Sally: "Sally Shipton."
(no subject) - vanitashaze on November 30th, 2008 04:48 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - butterfly on November 30th, 2008 04:52 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - vanitashaze on November 30th, 2008 06:12 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - butterfly on November 30th, 2008 06:24 am (UTC) (Expand)
Arabian: Billie Piper_01arabian on November 30th, 2008 04:43 am (UTC)
Yeah, I remember that because I was a little annoyed because I loved the Sally/Billy chemistry.

I know, I know, I'm *such* a couple-girl!
(no subject) - butterfly on November 30th, 2008 04:56 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - arabian on November 30th, 2008 05:08 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - butterfly on November 30th, 2008 05:10 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - arabian on November 30th, 2008 05:15 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - butterfly on November 30th, 2008 05:18 am (UTC) (Expand)
Arabian: Dr Who (Ten)arabian on November 30th, 2008 04:21 am (UTC)
I'll pop in here to admit that while I have a LOT of issues with "The Empty Child," "The Girl in the Fireplace" and "Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead" and some issues with "The Doctor Dances," remembering from my one watch of it ... I really liked "Blink." (Even the romantic subplots.)

I still don't like Moffat as a writer on the whole, and I do think that there's a thread of misogyny in that women are displayed as less than in his writing.
Diana: A Light -- Mimibutterfly on November 30th, 2008 04:23 am (UTC)
In the way that my Moffat viewing has been half the time... I quite enjoyed "Blink" the first time through. It was on the second viewing (and after having read the 'women are needy' interview) that my feelings started to change.
(no subject) - arabian on November 30th, 2008 04:30 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - butterfly on November 30th, 2008 04:32 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - arabian on November 30th, 2008 04:35 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - butterfly on November 30th, 2008 04:38 am (UTC) (Expand)
never underestimate a Celtvanitashaze on November 30th, 2008 04:37 am (UTC)
I am... not sure where you got that from. Rather, I was referring to the way that the door swings both ways (though not as often for men). Chick lit, for instance, often feature men that are either sluts or ball-scratchin' Neanderthals, but nobody calls them out on it.

In a show such as Who - which, for the most part, is comprised of individual characters, instead of the stereotypical roles, filled-in (for the most part, mind, not completely) - it seems somewhat inaccurate, if not irresponsible, to do just what we call the writers out for and generalize genders. Rather, I think the characters should be viewed first and foremost as individuals - sexless - and if then one finds something that cannot be explained away as anything but sexism, then yes, go ahead cry about that wolf.

I'm not saying Who doesn't have misogyny, because it does. Essays have been written on it; hell, I've written essays on it. But I think there is a tendency to see misogyny in everything when it exists in some, and yeah, I'm not really sure where I'm going with this, but do you get what I'm trying to say? It's the same thing I tell my gay friends when they complain that they "just don't get straight people": don't generalize. Don't divide.

...Or something.
Diana: Bookworm -- Pride and Prejudicebutterfly on November 30th, 2008 04:50 am (UTC)
Chick lit, for instance, often feature men that are either sluts or ball-scratchin' Neanderthals, but nobody calls them out on it.

And you've uncovered the reason why I don't read much chick lit (and when I do, it's because I've found authors who don't do this). I don't particularly enjoy stories that insult and/or stereotype entire groups of people, regardless of what the group is.

There are stories out there that manage to be entertaining and high-quality without treating women like they are less than equal. Not as many as I'd like, but enough that I don't feel the need to subject myself to constant insults from what is supposed to be my entertainment.

And I'm sorry, because I'm totally went all feminist-lecturer on you.

Edited at 2008-11-30 04:58 am (UTC)
never underestimate a Celtvanitashaze on November 30th, 2008 05:10 am (UTC)
Perfectly okay. Don't hand it out if you can't take it, right?
(no subject) - arabian on November 30th, 2008 05:13 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - butterfly on November 30th, 2008 05:16 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - vanitashaze on November 30th, 2008 06:20 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - butterfly on November 30th, 2008 06:23 am (UTC) (Expand)
Arabian: Billie Piper_04arabian on November 30th, 2008 04:19 am (UTC)
I do see your point in that it's not glaring (because, really, it's not). It's the little things (plus, a few big things) that just add up when you stack up Moffat's six episodes all together. The women all become needy, swooning over some man, dependent upon another ... basically less-than, in my view. It's not in your face (and thank goodness for that), but it's a constant thread and I fear that when he has complete control over the series, it will become a tapestry.
Moffat may be sexist in his own life, and a little misogynist in his writings, but is it any different from one of the thousands of jokes wives make about their husbands being as useful as a socket wrench?
No, it's not, but those jokes that wives make are still insulting, and presented as such. However, they're generally presented in light of a specific situation and aren't repeated ad nauseum. More importantly, there are other shades generally on display in the commentary. For Moffat, it's always that women are needy, clinging, have to have a man/romance to be happy ... in other words, less than. There are no other shades.
never underestimate a Celtvanitashaze on November 30th, 2008 04:44 am (UTC)
It's not in your face (and thank goodness for that), but it's a constant thread and I fear that when he has complete control over the series, it will become a tapestry.

This too is true. I suppose what I've been trying to say is that in the grand continuity of Who, Moffat's little things are more or less blips on the radar, things that I don't see to be anything to grumble over. But with Moffat as the Grand Poobah of the Writing Staff, this may change, and I agree with you there in that it worries me. (I suppose, then, this may be a conversation to continue after several months. And when is that Christmas special, anyway?)
Arabian: Billie Piper_01arabian on November 30th, 2008 06:18 am (UTC)
I suppose what I've been trying to say is that in the grand continuity of Who, Moffat's little things are more or less blips on the radar, things that I don't see to be anything to grumble over.
Yes, the problem becomes that because they are so casual, they become just an accepted fabric of "how things are" and it thus perpetuates the myth that women are less than, are only good enough to be the wife/the mother/the lover.

And a whole series based on that premise? It's rather scary, and quite one of the big reasons why I won't be watching Who under Moffat's direction.

Edited at 2008-11-30 06:18 am (UTC)