Monday, October 23, 2017

The Doctor Who Genderswap controversy

So, I was pretty excited a few months ago for Doctor Who news.  Not because of the announcement of a new Doctor, but because of the announcement of the departure of Steven Moffat as show runner. In my opinion the man was an absolute poison to the series.  He completely destroyed it, turning it into a silly, nonesensensical mess with very little in the way of plot or enjoyment.  He doesn't seem to know how to tell a coherrent story, how to write decent characters with clear motivations, or to follow through with any of his promises.  He also lacks a clear understanding of the concept of a climax.  I have not seen the BBC try so hard to kill Doctor Who since the Colin Baker era.  Keeping this guy around for so long was incredibly damaging to the credibility of the series, such as it is, as a hard sci-fi adventure.  Moffat doesn't write stories or characters.  He writes scenes that he thinks are cool, and then strings them together, typically in a way that makes as little sense as possible.  He ignores previous character traits and motivations to fit characters into his loose collection of scenes.  And he absolutely disrespects Doctor Who's history.  I checked out at the end of Capaldi's first season.  I just couldn't deal with Moffat's writing ADHD anymore.  And I just could not watch a show that did not respect where it came from.  He took the corpse of the Brigadier, a much beloved character from the old series, and turned it into a cyberman.  That was the point where I said, "NO MORE!!!"

Anyway, enough about that.  So I was very excited that we were getting a new show runner.  Now that Moffat is on his way out, the future of Doctor Who is looking much brighter.  And then came the announcement of who would play the new regeneration of the Doctor.  A woman.  I actually thought it was a pretty cool idea, and was interested to see how it would play out.  I seem to be in the minority on that one.  Personally, I don't really care who plays the doctor, so long as the writing is decent.  Every single Doctor has great episodes that are very well written.  Every single Doctor has terrible episodes that are painful to watch, though some have more than others.  Yes, I will admit that even Matt Smith and Peter Capaldi had decent episodes that I enjoyed.  Unfortunately, again, because of the writing and the leadership of Steven Moffat, those episodes are extraordinarily few and very far between.  What makes a good Doctor Who story, for me, is not the actor playing the part, it's the story itself.  Is it a good story?  Does it come to a satisfying conclusion?  Does it really use the concept of the series to its fullest?  Does it offer great character moments?  These are the questions I ask, not is the Doctor played by whichever of these dozen plus actors?  I mean, who can forget the moment when Tom Baker decided not to destroy the Daleks before they were created?  The time when  Patrick Troughton humored Jaimie and Zoe in their escape attempt from Galifrey, knowing it was doomed to failure?  The time when Peter Davidson sacrificed himself so that Peri would live?  These were unforgettable moments that were less about the actor playing the part, and more about the character himself, making hard decisions based on who he was as a person.  Personally, I think having the Doctor regenerate into a female body will provide for a deeper exploration of what it really means to BE the Doctor, which seems like a pretty fascinating direction that the series could go into.

Now, I understand that there are a lot of politics at play here.  A lot of people see this casting choice as a very political decision by the new show runner, trying to force ideas of feminism etc etc etc into a show that, frankly, really shouldn't be about that sort of thing.  A lot of people are mad and afraid about that, thinking that it will turn the show into a platform for gender politics rather than the sci-fi adventure that it's supposed to be.  I've talked with a lot of fans of the series over the last few months about the change.  And weirdly enough, amongst the people I've discussed it with, the people most opposed to the Doctor being a woman are women.  That seems really weird to me.  I mean, of all the people I thought would be excited over it, female fans were at the top of the list.  Most of the men I've talked with seem pretty okay with it.  Not all of them, of course.  There are still a lot of men out there that are very opposed to the idea of the Doctor being a woman.  But just from the people I've talked to about it, women seem more opposed to the idea of the Doctor being a woman than men do.  It may be different in other circles, but in mine, that's the way things seem to be rolling.

I don't know how all of this will turn out.  The new Doctor may be fantastic.  She may be terribly miscast.  Only time will tell.  The new show runner may try to use the series to bludgeon us over teh head with gender politics.  Or he might just try for some really fun and well written stories.  All I can say about it is that no matter what, Steven Moffat, the cancer that was slowly destroying a series I have loved since my childhood, is gone, and that is cause for celebration.  I am excited for a new show runner.  I'm excited for a new incarnation of the Doctor.  I don't really care about what gender the Doctor happens to be, so long as the Doctor is still the Doctor, and the writing is good.  I would ask everyone who is feeling some, or maybe a lot, of apprehension over the decision to cast a woman as teh Doctor, to give it a chance before you start screaming obscenities.  Wait and see if it works, before tearing it apart.  It couldn't possibly be worse than what the series devolved into under Moffat. Just give it a chance before checking out.  Who knows, you just might love it.  Or it could be every bit as bad as you're dreading it will be.  But you'll never know if you don't watch.

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