The classic ideal of British science fiction, Doctor Who, has been around since the 1960s. It became such a fundamental part of pop culture that when it was revived in 2005 after a lengthy absence, it wasn’t considered niche anymore. It was full-on Saturday night entertainment for all the family.
Which is why it’s so disappointing that the current show is a crude, poorly-written mess that’s so slathered full of misogynistic hate that I am legitimately surprised anyone even agrees to act in it.
The latest incarnation of the kindly time-travelling alien called the Doctor is Peter Capaldi, except somewhere along the way the show seems to have forgotten the “kindly” part. Though stern and, some would say, a little patriarchal, the Doctor has always been a nice person. Just not this latest one, who takes every opportunity to belittle his travelling companions in a number of ways. He calls them fat, stupid, egocentric, and the more you listen to him go on, the more you wonder if he’s not projecting the writer’s own insecurities against a vulnerable target.
The writer in question is Steven Moffat, who also pens the BBC’s Sherlock, and the similarities are uncanny. Both protagonists are, at least now, unlikeable sociopaths who simply do not care about anyone around them in any way. People’s feelings, people’s lives, they’re all just inconsequential nonsense to these narcissistic, “misunderstood” geniuses. The only thing that seems to stop the Doctor from cracking a joke whenever someone is gruesomely murdered by aliens is the chance to call them names.
There’s nothing clever about writing protagonists like this, in fact it’s possibly the laziest thing any writer can do. It’s like putting things on cruise control: the protagonist never has to do any work, because they’re so smart that it’s like they’re sitting on your shoulder watching you write the plot. Any quirk or twist is “worked out” by their insufferable genius, transparently obvious to them and only them. Everything just falls into place in big, grandiose “revelations” where they tell everyone else in the room to shut up so they can hear themselves talk, explaining the plot to both the cast and the audience in a fountain of self-congratulatory praise.
These characters are scarcely characters, they’re more just mouthpieces for the writer. What flaws do they have, except being “too clever” or “too proud”? The only consequences they seem to face for their actions are ones that are simply not their problem, messes for other people to tidy up while they go off and smugly pontificate to their dimwitted sidekick about how things are often a lot more complicated than they seem. It’s like a sad little do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do moment from the most patronising kind of authority figure, one who not only doesn’t deserve to have any authority, but doesn’t even do anything with it.
I have literally no idea what reason there is for companion Clara Oswald, played by Jenna Coleman, to even associate with this smug jerk. Every episode so far has seen her talked over, talked down to, insulted, pushed around, sometimes even humiliated. That’s not even counting all the instances of deadly peril which inevitably end with some angry comment about her thighs or “too much makeup” because of course that’s how you treat someone you care about.
In more than one episode now she’s actually had to explain, in character, why she sticks with him, and the reasoning is circular and doesn’t even make sense. She mentions being his “caretaker”, who “cares” for things in his place, because apparently caring for things is a weak and womanly thing that the Doctor has no time for as he pats himself on the back for being oh so very clever.
Doctor Who was part of my childhood, watching old videos of the serials that featured grotesque rubber-suit monsters and strings of silly nonsense words. It was camp, it was often silly, but it was fun. Not once did I severely wish I could punch the Doctor in the mouth, but lo and behold Steven Moffat has managed to make that happen. I am now officially disappointed with Doctor Who, which means I’m done with it.