Steven Moffat Has Some Thoughts About Women in Doctor Who


Doctor Who’s Steven Moffat feels that the gender of the Doctor’s companion is also a fixed point in time and space.

Steven Moffat is an extremely talented writer and showrunner. As head writer of Doctor Who, and co-creator of Sherlock, he’s told some truly great stories. (“Blink”, anybody?) But he’s also caused a fair bit of controversy, most of which has had to do with his handling of and attitude toward female characters.

So it should come as no surprise that his latest comments on the role of women in Doctor Who are…complicated.

In the latest issue of Doctor Who magazine, Moffat replied to a reader question asking about whether having the Doctor’s human companion always turn out to be a young woman is the best choice. His answer was rather long, and almost equal parts uplifting and frustrating.

First off, Moffat has apparently always felt that the Doctor’s companion needs to be female.

"“Science-fiction is notoriously male. You can tell that because everyone wears uniforms and marches around talking about rules. But Doctor Who has always felt to me, rather female. It’s full of kindness and compassion and eccentricity and wisdom instead of violence. And from that point of view it is important that the main character, the Doctor’s best friend, should be female. Someone will now pop up and say it’s called Doctor Who, not Clara (or or Rose or whatever). Well, listen you, it’s not called The Doctor either, it’s called Doctor Who – it’s about that question and who’s asking it.”"

While it’s certainly been important to tell the stories of these women as they travel with the Doctor, this statement is all kinds of problematic. Why is it the job of the ladies on Doctor Who to inject the series with compassion or kindness? Isn’t the Doctor himself a pacifist who frequently advocates compromise and non-violence?

To be clear, it is admirable – nay, necessary – that Doctor Who centers the best ideals of humanity. The show is about hope, after all. It challenges us all to be better than we are. But this adherence to outdated gender roles is so frustrating. There’s no reason for it. Other than that’s the way it’s always been. Which isn’t even entirely true. There have been several prominent male companions in in both new and classic Who. Captain Jack Harkness and Rory Williams, to name just two recent men on the TARDIS, are fan favorites. And both had important character arcs during their time on the show.

Moffat did have some positive things to say about Who and female representation, however.

"“Doctor Who has a tremendous appeal to young girls as well as young boys. They have to have an identification point; someone that they can imagine themselves being. The truth about Doctor Who is the main character has never been the Doctor. He the star turn, with the best lines, and the big moments, but it’s always been the story of his companions – and often his companion has been a young woman he has met and befriended. I think it would be damaging to Doctor Who if that voice and viewpoint were not represented.”"

It’s certainly important to allow young girls to see themselves in the TARDIS. Vital, even. And I’m glad Moffat recognizes this fact. Because an increasing number of young girls are becoming Whovians everyday. And it is so important that Who fandom is a welcoming space for them. In the end – Moffat is absolutely right. It would be incredibly damaging to Doctor Who if the female voice were not represented in its stories. But it seems equally important to stress that women’s stories don’t have to be told in relation to a man. They can be partners, rather than sidekicks.

There’s no mystical Doctor Who rulebook that says the show must stick to this 1:1 male to female ratio. There could be multiple companions of both genders. (It’s happened before!) The next companion could be an alien who doesn’t even have a gender. Or the Doctor could regenerate as a woman, and we could have an all-female team in the TARDIS.

Next: New Doctor Who Christmas Special Clip Is Revealed!

Season 10 marks Moffat’s last year as Who showrunner. Torchwood’s Chris Chibnall will take over in Season 11, and who knows what changes are in store. Perhaps we’ll see more fluidity and willingness to embrace change in the Chibnall era.