‘I’ve known him since he was a little girl,’ is one of three facts about The Doctor The Master doles out to Clara in the season premiere of Doctor Who this week. With a wry smile, she asks Clara to identify which one is a dirty big fib. Hopefully, The Doctor’s ambiguous gender is not the one.
I don’t say this as someone wanting to troll those hard-core fans who angrily wept into their tea when the Doctor was given a new set of regenerations two Christmases ago. I don’t want to hurt the feelings of those people who cried out that their precious canon had been crushed under foot, and then tore their souls out over the prospect that a throwaway line from 40 odd years previously had been ignored. Though I will say, I enjoy it a little.
No, for me the line is significant in that it suggests that Moffat, for all his supposed misdemeanours, is leading to something big. That whooshing sound you just heard was the inhalation of a million people getting ready to tell me in no uncertain words that Moffatt is the anti-Christ. To them I say, hear me out.
The post-credit opening of The Magician’s Apprentice started with planes frozen in the sky. Hanging like so much metal and pulpy flesh in the atmos, it was clear that there was only one person who could help… And he was nowhere to be found. Yes, like Sterling Archer, The Doctor had decided to go AWOL when things weren’t going his way. A trait he appears to have kept from his Time Lord Victorious days. So, who was left?
Well, to begin with there was Clara; Nanny turned English Teacher, now, let’ be honest, the Doctor’s equal. It was she who first noticed the planes, it was she who instigated a hashtag frenzy with her students to call certain people’s attention to the event. And upon rocking up at UNIT headquarters, it was she who taken into Kate Lethbridge–Stewart’s confidence. Yes, Clara has become a force to be reckoned with.
And of course Kate, following in her father’s footsteps, is bolshie, but willing to listen. With no Doctor around, the two women set about trying to work out what’s going on and how they’re going to find the elusive Timelord. To aid them, they bounce ideas off UNIT’s new Scientific Advisor Jac, who, like all those who have come after The Doctor, doesn’t quite meet the requirements, but is still someone with valuable input.
And then came the gate crasher. She’s so fine, she blows my mind. Hey Missy. The Master had her own reasons for finding the Doctor and, despite a momentary lapse in which she needlessly killed people, she was begrudgingly willing to side with the goodies to get the job done. If you’re not catching on, dear reader, here were four strong women solving problems and dealing with catastrophic events – albeit a catastrophic event manufactured by one of them. Four women getting shit done. In Doctor Who. Without the Doctor. Yes, with reasoning, the scene doesn’t exactly pass the holy Bechdel Test, but they weren’t hopeless without him. They rolled up their sleeves and got on with it.
Later on, they find the Doctor who is licking his fractured ego after leaving a young Davros to die. Which to be fair, is a horrible thing to discover. You know that haggard, corrupted megalomaniac you’ve fought eons? Well, his twisted view of humanity was probably down to a chance encounter where YOU left him to die. Pop that in your pipe and smoke it. But lets’ digress. When Davros’ slithering associate came to take him away, Clara and The Master decided they would go with him, even before he had chance to wag a finger at them. The Doctor would not define their actions through his. No, they would be the ones to do that.
Twenty minutes into Doctor Who and the Doctor has become a side character in his own story. The women were up front and tenacious, and whilst inevitably the Doctor was their destination, THEY were the ones who set the course. Not him.
It’s the kind of thing Moffat isn’t supposed to write in accordance with the internet. But for all his detractors, Moffat is trying, he is learning and he is growing. In the same way that no one is born racist, no one is born with a full set of values that encompass every one of the beautiful people that populate this planet. Well, yes, we’re a lot less judgmental as babies, but we also soil ourselves regularly and can’t form shapes with our eyes. Have you ever tried to discuss the patriarchy with a baby? Utterly pointless. I myself try to be a good ally, but will struggle with concepts and vocab. thinking I was being all benign and majestically during a conversation with a transgender woman, I referenced that she was born a girl in the wrong body. No, she said. She was born a boy and as she got older she realized who she was. There will be some reading that last part who may think that that SHE was wrong, but such is the world. It is a great big ball of learning and evolving.
So yes, Moffat has said some ridiculous things via twitter and interviews. But haven’t we all been pulled up on something and realised that we had to rewire our thinking. Equally we can take all the stuff we’ve thought was right, and break it down enough to find offence. I cringed a few times watching the Ninth Doctor only yesterday. Remember that time Russell T Davis had Rose call the Doctor ‘gay’ for wearing a leather jacket, or spent two seasons having the Doctor calling the only main character in the show who was black ‘thick’? And what’s with all the mother’s being matriarchal harpies who the Doctor re-educates?
I’m being flippant – well, only a little bit anyway – but the point I want to get back to is that this new season of Doctor Who has made great leaps and bounds from the days when Amy forced herself on an unwilling Doctor (Yeah, that’s right. I have a list of all the stuff that bugs me) It might not seem like it, but there’s a revolution coming. The seeds were planted long ago when the Corsair and their gender swapping ways were first mentioned. They grew when The Master took her new body for a test-drive and when Clara, sonic screwdriver in hand, solved a mystery for the Doctor. They blossomed when an admittedly cheeky season finale saw Clara’s face replace the Doctor’s in the opening credits. I am confident we’re going to have a female Doctor. It may not becoming as soon as people want, but if we accept what The Master said about her childhood with the Doctor as truth, then it’s going to happen. The door has been propped open.