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Peter Capaldi’s Doctor Who debut has been met with near-universal acclaim from fans. Or his performance has, at least.
Warning: This article contains spoilers for Doctor Who.
In a viewership of this size, particularly one that spans everything from toddlers to people who have been watching since the 1960s, nobody can agree on anything for long. The fact that Capaldi has managed to transition into the role so smoothly isn’t just a testament to his acting, it’s thanks to the fact that he’s a lifelong fanboy himself. Basically, Whovians feel like they can trust him. Which in many cases is not a reaction inspired by showrunner Steven Moffat.
Peter Capaldi was outstanding and I have faith that this is the series that will bring the show back into the good old days.
— jess (@starspxngled) August 23, 2014
I’m just so happy with Capaldi as the 12th Doctor, you have no idea. He’s nuanced & dark & biting. LOVE.
— Kristina (@CurlyFourEyes) August 23, 2014
In Saturday night’s season premiere, “Deep Breath,” Moffat’s writing was in top form—in more ways than one. Last season saw fans grow restless thanks to meandering subplots and peculiar characterization choices, but now the snappy dialogue and dark undertones of Moffat’s earlier episodes seem to be back in full force. Unfortunately, the other hallmark of Moffat’s writing is sexist humor, which also returned with a vengeance during this episode.
Scarcely a scene went by without someone making some kind of sly dig about Clara’s gender. This encapsulated everything from comments about her body to the many admonitions that it would be somehow “wrong” for her to develop a crush on Capaldi’s Doctor.
“So, Mr Moffat. Great work! But we, ah, have some issues -‘ ‘Like what?’ ‘Like WHY ARE YOU MAKING JOKES ABOUT CLARA’S WATER RETENTION.’
— Foz Meadows (@fozmeadows) August 23, 2014
‘But the Doctor is old now!’ ‘HE WAS ALWAYS OLD.’ ‘But now he LOOKS it, and I thought, well, why not use that to police her sexuality?’ ‘NO’
— Foz Meadows (@fozmeadows) August 23, 2014
“you can put your clothes back on” HEHEHEHEHEHEHEHEHE STRAX THOUGHT SHE WAS NAKED HEHEHEHEHEHE NAKED GIRL HEHEEHEHEH IM TWELVE
— myrte (@kimjongddae) August 23, 2014
In some ways, one or two of these scenes felt like a statement directed at the fangirls in the audience. The assumption was that like Clara, perhaps female viewers had loved David Tennant and Matt Smith because they were handsome, and should be sternly warned off Peter Capaldi. The Doctor’s transition from youthful hipster to 56-year-old was framed in the context of Clara’s possible crush on the previous Doctor. With Capaldi looking slightly closer to the Doctor’s “real” age (at least a thousand years old, at this point), any kind of romance was now strictly off-limits. And apparently it should have been from the start. Or something.
This led to a strange combination of messages: First, a rejection of the flirty subtext Moffat himself had written into earlier seasons, and second, an element of implied disrespect toward Clara—and toward earlier companions who had been romantically involved with the Doctor. This attitude seems like it ties in with Moffat’s apparent belief that women enjoy his TV shows because simply they’re attracted to the leading men.
It probably didn’t help that cinema screenings of the episode began with an introduction from the character Strax, including several weird jokes that seemingly mocked the idea of a female Doctor: David Tennant being described as “a girl,” and so on.
Part of the issue here is the baggage Steven Moffat brings with him, not just from previous seasons of Doctor Who, but from his work on Sherlock as well. Without several seasons of other examples to back them up, the handful of sexist moments in “Deep Breath” would not have inspired so much annoyance among viewers. But after years of disrespecting female fans, making creepy comments about actresses, and failing to hire any female writers, Moffat has left fans in a state of high alert when watching new episodes.
Hard to sum up my feelings towards #DrWho– at once completely critical, but protective & adoring. Condemning, but desperate for another fix.
— Jet Cuthbertson (@Jet_Heather) August 23, 2014
The more time goes by, the more opportunity Steven Moffat has to write and say things that fans will then interpret as sexist. But since he’s clearly built up a winning formula for both Doctor Who and Sherlock, it seems increasingly unlikely that he’ll ever change his ways. Any comments about sexism in this week’s episode will soon be drowned out by the rave reviews of Capaldi’s performance. So at this point, the only two options for Moffat’s critics are either to tolerate the way he treats his female characters, or stop watching until someone else takes over as showrunner.
Photo via bbcamerica/Tumblr
Gavia Baker-Whitelaw is a staff writer at the Daily Dot, covering geek culture and fandom. Specializing in sci-fi movies and superheroes, she also appears as a film and TV critic on BBC radio. Elsewhere, she co-hosts the pop culture podcast Overinvested.