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Published on September 19th, 2012 | by Scott Varnham

Steven Moffat – The Great “Lady Issues” Debate

Those of you who are active in the fandom will be aware of Steven Moffat’s alleged problems with writing female characters (alleged because not everybody will agree that he has them). For those of you who aren’t quite swayed yet, another blow has been struck to the case for the defence.

S.E. Smith of Think Progress has put together (on the back of Asylum Of The Daleks) a piece about Steven Moffat’s lady issues. It makes for interesting reading. One can’t help but think that it could do with an update based on the last two episodes of Doctor Who, as A Town Called Mercy sidelines women almost entirely. Still, S.E has plenty to talk about, taking in characters across Doctor Who and Sherlock.

Some choice quotes include:

I rather wish the man would write a submarine drama or something just to give us a break from his attempts at female characters, because it would be a relief for us all. Maybe they’ve got an opening on Last Resort he could fill for a bit.

When [Amy's] characterisation isn’t about her relationship with the Doctor, it’s about her relationship with her fiance and later spouse; nowhere in here is there room for Amy to be herself.

Who is Amy Pond, really? Can you define her by anything other that her relationships to the two major men in her life?

Food for thought, no? You can check out the full piece (which in itself is pretty funny; the author’s got a great writing style) for a full appreciation of these concerns, not to mention some interesting comments…

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About the Author

In his spare time, Scott writes for Kasterborous, his personal blog at WordPress and the revived Starburst Magazine. He’s also on Twitter (as @Scott_V_Writer) where he tries to be interesting and verbose in 140 characters.




11 Responses to Steven Moffat – The Great “Lady Issues” Debate

  1. Francesco says:

    How about we don’t see Amy only as a woman but also as a person? A person who (might be, let’s even concede this might be true) defined by her relationships with other persons.

    Wel, if ALL the persons like these in DW were women, than she’d have a point.

    But she doesn’t. Because, let’s pick up another character… what is Rory defined by? Amy. And he’s a man! So, the conclusion is that Moffat has lady issues *and* gentleman issues? Or maybe that he doesn’t have any kinds of “issues” and it’s all in the eye of the beholder?

    When I read comments like these I always feel very sorry for those who write them, because they must be really lonely people.

    • Jim McLean says:

      I would have to disagree. :)

      Rory’s personality defines his love for Amy; he’s a gentle character, which fits neatly into his caring profession as a Nurse. He puts others before himself, he put Amy before himself for 2000 years. His love for Amy is a harmonic part of his overall character. He is a besotted. He acts as a besotted, he is defined that way. So in essence, aside from a shambolic slip into self service in Mercy, his character is very clearly defined before the actor steps in. And while the character has grown, he’s not defied that core.

      Amy… there’s no coherency. She was a kissagram – that could perhaps indicate an uncertainty about life; that’s she’s looking for a place. Then she’s an actress. There’s no bridge there really. Nor is her love for Rory, which is meant to be as strong according to Asylum, but lacks definition. She’s a free spirit if she was an honest character, she like Rose gets a kick out of danger and excitement, possibly a character who because she initially lacked stability, feels more comfortable in unstable situations. That could in some respects start to define her, BUT, and here’s the big BUT, she is – as the writer suggests, defined by her men, not her personality. So she’s in love with a man who is essentially the quintessential opposite of what she seems to fight – stability, stick-in-the-mud. One person, one place. Her personality screams the need to travel, to find her identity. All of it goes to the wind through one act of backbone from Rory and then, as in stories written for tv 40 years past, she falls in love with him properly and never looks back.

      The point is, and far longer than I expected, the issue with Amy is that the building blocks were there, but the character ended up being defined by who she’s with rather than who she was. If I was honest, I’ve NEVER seen a girl like Amy end up in a stable relationship with a Rory type, because they both seek different things. It’s a male fantasy relationship that a girl like her would fall for a soft, sensitive nerdy type like me, scenario. The Mary Jane/Peter Parker scenario, so I can understand why Amy doesn’t ring true, I think the direction of the character hasn’t been quite as honest to her origins as was originally planned.

      Sad thing is, the moment in Asylum was VERY honest when Rory says that he will always love her more than him, and here’s why. His reasoning was correct, but Amy had to trump that, and that didn’t feel as honest. So yes, Rory very well defined. Take Amy away, his definition remains. Amy? Who is Amy without the Doctor and Rory? I hope the next few episodes go some way in exploring a little more of what Amy is.

      TL;dr myself.

      • Paul says:

        Er…

        When was Amy an “actress”?

        I’ve only watched Asylum once, I grant you, while eating my tea. But I got the impression that in Asylum, as in Closing Time, she was a model.

        • Jim McLean says:

          Yes, erroneous on my part – actress or model, in context to the point I was making I don’t think it really makes a great difference! But yes, she’s a model not an actress. Conceded! :)

          • Paul says:

            I think it does make a difference.

            You’re arguing a very specific interpretation of the text. If you’re going to do that, piling a heap of inferences on to the material that is in the text, then you have to be pretty sure that you get the text right.

            Moreover, there are a couple of dangers with saying that Amy lacks “coherency [sic].” One, I’ll describe as “instrinsic”: essentially you’re saying that you can’t make sense of her. But this may be a problem with you rather than her. The second I will label “extrinsic,” and it’s a little more complex. It can be summarised with the phrase: “the postmodern self.” In other words, the notion that coherence actually is a necessary characteristic of a human being (and therefore of a fictional character) may be mistaken.

            Note that I’m not actually dissing your interpretation. It’s the way in which you have made meaning out of the text with which you were presented. I’m just sounding a warning that to step from there to an assertion that your interpretation is the “meaning” of the episode, and therefore a stick which which Moffat can be legitimately beaten, may be a step too far.

            There are alternative interpretations of Amy which explain much of her behaviour and which don’t have some of the problems you identify. I’ve seen these on various forums. A lot comes down to her state of mind, and whether or not you find it credible that she and Rory wouldn’t have been able to solve their problems by “talking them through” (from my personal experience, I find this completely credible).

            Your “Amy is defined by her relationships” while “Rory is not” argument smacks to me, I’m afraid, of the very sexism you are at pains to attack.

  2. BOJAY says:

    Steven Moffat does not have any problems writing female characters, or creating them either. The only way any character (male or female)would not be “about” someone else (again, male or female)in any way would be for said character to exist in a vacuum. A very large part of who we are, and what we become, has a whole lot to do with the people we meet, interact with, bond with, and form relationships with. Nobody ever stands absolutely apart, defining themselves solely by themselves. Even in times of extreme isolation, unless one was born into that, one is going to have memories of other people, and relationships that had a great deal with developing who that person is. And the individual who wrote that article has no business making a statement about what would constitute “a relief for us all”. She certainly doesn’t speak for me.

  3. STLShawn says:

    bogus.

    Moffett’s characters are exactly as developed as they need to be in the time provided, both male and female (and robot, cyborg, and alien).

    I know of two you women (friends of my 20 year old daughter) who act so much like Amy it is astonishing. One in particular. She has a boyfriend that she seems to, at first, drag along, but her emotions are real even if her actions are erratic at best. Amy seems real to me because i know, and work with, women of that generation. It may seem surreal to someone who doesn’t know these young women, but it is true from what i see.

    River reminds me of a wonderful friend i had for years, once again, knew her quite well, and the portrayal of that “sort of personality” (insert adventurous 80′s-90′s woman description here) is completely accurate and in depth.

    I think the writer of that article is just trying to rattle cages. I can’t remember the term, but there’s a word for tech writers who “dis” technology in articles with flashy names like “What Microsoft Is Not Telling You About Windows 8″. I put all those authors in the same scrap heap.

  4. James McLean says:

    Paul: first off again, no I don’t think either model nor actress makes a difference because both equate to the same issue – neither help identify her personality with the audience bar from the fact she’s pretty.

    The mistake I think you are making is one of design. If you were analysing a real person, I’d agree, that in real life, surface deep doesn’t surmount to a person; you can’t definitively tell who a person is by the fact you can’t ever know what has nurtured that personality. Fiction however is an illusion of design – you make a character believable, identifiable or understandable by the illusion of making her feel real, and to do that, there is quantification. By the merits you suggest, any character can feel realistic by any level because any level can be justified because we can’t know everything about a character. Now fiction is inherently malleable; anything can be justified because of that flexibility – the flexibility of retroactive adjustment.

    So the bottomline is – like a piece of design – we are trying to see what in the design makes her a successful character that conveys the illusion of personage, to how much the audience must bring to “fill the gap”. This is the problem with Amy I don’t see in Rory.

    You misunderstand my point with Rory, I’m not saying that Rory’s relationship defines him and Amy’s does not, I’m saying how Rory operates in his relationship reflects the other facets brought to the character that creates him including his job. He is sensitive, caring man, he has constantly been besotted with Amy, he puts others before himself as an ethos – you see this all reflected throughout the show and in his career choice, the caring nurse. As part of character design, you can see the consistency that justifies both character and action. The one time this doesn’t feel as harmonious is in “A Town Called Mercy” where he wants Jex to be given to the Gunslinger. Now, by the logic you suggest, this could be justified if needs be, because people don’t always behave “in character”, but in narrative, if something does not fit the expectation of narrative or character flow, it needs justification for the audience to accept the illusion. This is basic storytelling – because storytelling can’t just do as it pleases without losing the illusion, to some degree, in whatever slight of hand, it needs to offer something.

    With Amy, there is no design resonance, nothing which really draws the pieces together in any way aside from the far too common use of the character description “feisty”.

    And this is why you’ll see a lot more people having issue with Amy over Rose, Donna, Rory or Sarah Jane. Not because they have an issue with Moffat or women, or anything, but simply as part of design, the illusion doesn’t add up and leaves many feeling disassociated with the person.

    Whether she’s a model or an actress surmounts to the same issue – which is why I strongly disagree with your comment. It doesn’t make a difference because neither role defines Amy Pond. The roles are what in narrative terms or merely a outcome reward: we want Amy Pond to be happy, audiences consider the role of actress/model as indication of personal success, so the job exists to tell the audience she has done well since the Doctor has left her, not that it gives you any indication of who Amy Pond is. Rory the nurse resonates with who he is. It doesn’t define Rory, it resonates.

    The skill in character design is creating something feeling real with archetypes we understand (which is why contemporary characters are preferred as audiences can relate more intuitively than ones from ancient Egypt) with the archetype making the character two-dimensional and uninteresting.

    If you wish to refute this, you’ll have to start bringing examples to the table rather than simply trying to strip mine apart. :-) Sorry for the lack of spider in this comment, the form wouldn’t let me reply to your post. Apologies if this seems like a lecture, it’s how I speed reply, nothing more than that! Each to their own etc.

    Interesting stuff.

  5. Stephanie J. says:

    I have to disagree, because Rory got sidelined in this episode even more than Amy did.

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  7. Mintflosse says:

    I’m pretty sure the people who complain about Moffat’s female characters would be content with having on television a plethora of those stock/flat female characters (you know, the boringly ‘strong’ and sassy females who always tell off men), which would mean a total sacrifice of creativity for the sake of apparent political correctness. Moffat writes very interesting and surprising as well as dynamic characters. Furthermore, constantly differentiating between who is male or female in analyzing the show is pointless – the characters are people, and they are not so much defined by their sex or gender, rather their virtues, ability to love, their humour, strength etc.

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