by A.L. Belmont
With the last two companion departures, a great deal of discussion has sprung up about whether Steven Moffat is justified in apparently killing off companions and resurrecting them within a short time frame. I’ve been following the controversy and find it interesting that the general anti-resurrection argument has shifted from “Moffat should not kill companions” to “If Moffat is going to kill a companion, they need to stay dead.” As one Redditor put it:
“People don’t care that he doesn’t want to kill his characters. People care that he keeps repeatedly killing them, and then bringing them back. Either kill them, or don’t, because what he’s doing right now is cheapening death entirely. It’s difficult to take any kind of death seriously when it’s so easily undone all the time.”
The Redditor also said that Moffat apparently doesn’t really understand these criticisms, and I’m quite sad about that because that means nobody has really mounted an effective counterargument to these (excellent and very valid) points. Not that that’s a problem, necessarily. Maybe this is all just gut feelings in the end, and I have a gut feeling that dead characters do not have to stay dead, but you have a gut feeling that dead characters have to stay dead, and we should all just take a deep breath and get off the Internet. Nonetheless, I’m going to be that person who insists there’s some deep reason behind everything. So let’s get to it.
I’ve noticed a lot of assumptions implicit in the anti-resurrection argument as represented here and elsewhere, so I’d like to dissect what I think are the five main ones. Parts 1 and 2 of this series treat the death-resurrection combination in the abstract. Part 3 examines the specific cases of Clara and Bill, and part 4 looks at death and resurrection in the context of the show’s ethos. This first part asks whether death in fiction has to work like death in real life, and whether resurrection is technologically possible in the Whoniverse.
Steven Moffat is not a perfect writer.
It’s obvious, really – no writer is. And, as an author with a very clear style and strongly delineated themes, of course there are going to be patterns and recurring flaws in his writing, and of course said writing is not going to appeal to everyone. I’m a fan, but that doesn’t mean I can’t turn a critical eye to his era and notice weak episodes, bad runs, and flawed storytelling in places.
But apparently, I missed a memo, because this man is a terrible writer, the devil, and also he shot my dog, ate him, baked him in a pie he then proceeded to serve to a bunch of Satanists in a black mass presided by Richard Spencer, Beelzebub and the ghost of Chairman Mao.
Opening cliché statement: the Moffat era of Doctor Who is one hell of a marmite.
It goes beyond the simple outraged and simultaneous cries of “He’s a misogynist!” and “He’s a Social Justice Warrior!” of “He’s repeating himself!” and of “He’s changing the very fabric of the show, the gall!” – the very way he approaches storytelling is divisive. Intentionally so – he’s a media-savvy master ès trolling, that will never hesitate to purposefully provoke and antagonize. Which is why he’s also the best writer Who ever had (sorry, not sorry!) – because that’s what the show is about. Being chaotic and confusing and throwing the whole scope of the time vortex at the flabbergasted viewer. Sure, not everyone has to like it, and sometimes one can rightfully wish for a more subdued vision of the show. Still, he does “get” it; he taps into something that’s deeply, primarily tied to the essence and ethos of Who.
But let’s try a change of perspective, for once. Let’s try not to talk about themes – really, dressing a complete and accurate portrait of the man and his writing style is a bit of an impossible task anyway. There’s way too much to say – you could write books about it, and indeed, books were and will be written about it. Keeping things at a purely structural level: what does Steven Moffat adds to the show? What are the core ideas he brings to its basic skeleton – not the themes, not the writing mannerisms, but the pure, structural ideas – ?
Well, proposition: Steven Moffat has changed, and continues to change, the status of the Doctor Who writer.
A few days ago, it was recently announced that Bill Potts, the new companion for series 10 of Doctor Who, will be gay. This is, as far as we’re concerned, a very good thing. And plenty of fans, LGBT and straight, agree.
Christel Dee, host of the Doctor Who fan show, tweeted:
“It means so much see someone like me in my favourite TV show. Representation is so important.”
Similarly, tumblr blogger and prominent fan critic Whovian Feminism, had the following response to the news:
“There’s going to be someone on screen like me in Doctor Who that loves women. My heart is going to burst with joy.”
These are just a couple of the many overjoyed reactions that have been seen all across fandom in the last few days. There has, meanwhile, been a more critical strand of response to the news (beyond the inevitable overt homophobia, which really isn’t worth dignifying with a response). It’s not one that I agree with, obviously, but it’s a response that’s worth analyzing, and placing in the context of fandom today, the history of Doctor Who as a show, and the way these things intersect to demonstrate some things worth understanding about sexuality, and the way we as a culture respond to different expressions of sexuality.