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cultural vandal | by maryann johanson

Doctor Who thing of the day: Steven Moffat weirdly limits who can be a companion

Doctor Who Jenna-Louise Coleman

Steven Moffat has teased a bit of info on the new companion, to be played by Jenna-Louise Coleman. NME quotes Moffat from Doctor Who Magazine (which isn’t online):

It’s going to be a shock, I think. In terms of the companions all being ‘the same’ – that’s not as phony or artistically crap a thing to say as it sounds.

What is the base group of people who would run away with the Doctor? They’re all going to be a bit mad. A bit dislocated. Not happy with where they are. Are they yearning for outer space? They’re going to be people who feel like they can take on the Doctor, who’s quite an intimidating sort of person. So, they’re going to be feisty – they’re going to be all those things. He sort of defines the people who are going to travel with him. The distinction comes very much from the various actors and actresses. So, you know, they’re the ones who create the differences between them. But you are always going to have the same sort of person, just because it’s the same man choosing them, and it’s the same person being chosen.

It’s just a question of who credibly is going to agree to go in the TARDIS? Who’s going to do it? Is it going to be a mother of 15 children? No. Is it going to be someone in their 60s? No. Is there going to be a particular age range? I mean… who’s going to have a crush on the Doctor? You know, come on! It’s more than a format. It’s evolved from good, dramatic reasons.

Moffat isn’t wrong… to a point. Yes, there is a certain personality type that will be drawn to running away with the Doctor. But he’s limiting himself in a way that’s frankly shocking for the guy running a show like Doctor Who, in which the range of dramatic possibilities is far wider than for most other shows.

Does Moffat seriously believe that only young people feel dislocated or dream of outer space or are a bit mad? Does he seriously think that a 60-year-old woman — or a 60-year-old man, for that matter — couldn’t possibly have a crush on the Doctor? Does he seriously believe that the only basis for wanting to run away with the Doctor is a sort of generic low-level disaffection with ordinary everyday life?

Moffat’s restrictions make sense only from a narrow, white, male, middle-class, Western, heteronormative perspective. Yes, Doctor Who is a basically a kids’ show, and intended for a general British audience, so we can’t expect it to be too daring. But Moffat is still limiting himself too much. The show has already broached topics such as child abuse (“Fear Her”), so why not a young person who’s fleeing abuse? The show deals with military matters constantly, so why not a young soldier fleeing a deployment to the Middle East? Of course, there’s no reason why a companion must be from 2012. Why not someone fleeing Nazi oppression? Fleeing slavery on a Southern plantation in 1820? There could be many good reasons why someone wants to fly away with the Doctor that aren’t about having a crush on him but about wanting to get away from a hellish existence even if he or she doesn’t quite trust the Doctor.

What about someone with a nefarious purpose for joining the Doctor? The show could use a new companion like Turlough, from the Peter Davison era, who wasn’t just fleeing an intolerable situation but was “hired” by the Black Guardian to kill the Doctor (and who slowly figured out that this would be a bad thing to do, and slowly came around to life on the TARDIS with companions who never quite trust him). For that matter, Turlough was an alien (at least culturally, if not biologically) — why not a nonhuman or at least non-Terran companion with nonhuman and/or non-Terran motives for hooking up with the Doctor?

The possibilities are almost literally endless. Why can’t Moffat see that?

(If you stumble across a cool Doctor Who thing, feel free to email me with a link.)

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