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rare female film critic | by maryann johanson

Doctor Who blogging: “Kill the Moon”

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[previous: “The Caretaker”]

warning: spoilers!

And then there was the week when Doctor Who threw an MRA-esque tantrum about abortion.

After last week’s episode, reader Danielm80 and I independently came to the conclusion that the Doctor has been engaging in “Pickup Artist”-style behavior toward Clara, including “negging.” This week the Doctor appears to take inspiration from “Men’s Rights Activists,” who believe that straight white men are the most oppressed people on Earth, as evidenced by, for example, the fact that women can have abortions without being legally required to consult with and get the permission of the father of the embryo she’s carrying.

Doctor Who under Steven Moffat has had numerous problems with its depictions of women, but by now venturing into PUA and MRA territory, it is heading down the most vile black hole of misogyny, where the nonhumanity of women isn’t under debate, it’s foundational. It’s entirely possible that Moffat and this week’s scriptwriter, Peter Harness, have never heard the terms pickup artist or men’s rights activist, but they are nevertheless reflecting some very ugly ideas about the place of women in the world — or the universe — that they are far from alone in espousing.

This week, the Doctor and Co. discover that the Moon is an egg, has always been an egg, and has been slowly in the process of developing for 100 million years, which, the Doctor implies, is how old the Moon is. Never mind that we know a helluva lot about the Moon: that it’s actually more like four billion years old (that 100 million figure looks like it could be the result of a misreading of a hasty Googling on the writer’s part), and that its composition is actually very similar to Earth’s. (No wonder the Doctor suddenly has so little respect for humanity: he must think we’re really, really stupid to have misinterpreted all the solid scientific data we have on the Moon.) Also never mind that it would have to be one helluva weird development for the Moon-egg to have remained stable for (according to the Doctor) 99.99999 million years and only put on the bulk of its birth weight in the last 10 years before hatching (and hence increasing its gravity and wreaking tidal havoc on Earth). Also also never mind that the newly hatched Moon chick was somehow able to lay a new egg that is even bigger than the just-born creature itself. How does that work?

Doctor Who doesn’t care about being even remotely in the neighborhood of scientific accuracy? Fine. Let’s talk about the attitudes and the character development this fantastical base is used to explore.

The astronaut, Lundvik, wants to use the nukes she brought to the Moon to kill the “parasite” so that its birth pangs do not destroy Earth. Clara’s not sure what the best thing is to do and wants to talk about their options. Courtney is all “Oh please don’t kill the little baby.” And the Doctor refuses to give any advice or help at all — even though he later all but admits that he knew that everything was going to be okay and Earth wasn’t going to be destroyed — because “It’s your Moon, womankind, it’s your choice.”

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Note: Not humankind. The Doctor does not say “It’s your Moon, humankind.” He very specifically says “womankind.” These two women and one girl, they’re not human, not really. At best, they are a subset of humanity, an offshoot, perhaps. And he also doesn’t say “It’s your decision” or “It’s up to you.” He uses a word that is very loaded when it comes to abortion: choice. (And while abortion is not generally a contentious issue in the U.K. the way it is in the U.S. [except in Northern Ireland], British MRAs are just as opposed to women’s autonomy when it comes to abortion as those in the U.S. are.)

The Doctor’s hissy fit here is a petty, spiteful reaction to the situation, and it’s certain not about the “respect” that the Doctor later claims it is (which Clara rightly rejects; it’s more negging). It makes absolutely no sense at all within the context of this story or within the context of the history of the show for the Doctor to suddenly be hands-off like this. It only makes sense in a meta context. It only makes sense when read as: “Because I don’t get to make the decision entirely on my own, I want no part of the decision-making process whatsoever, regardless of whether you would like my input. It’s not our problem — it’s your problem. You deal with it.” And there’s the implied extra bonus fuck-you later: “Even though I obviously would have made the correct decision for you anyway, if you’d simply deferred to my wisdom.”

But no: a woman — Lundvik — dared to believe that this was her decision to make. So the Doctor withdraws completely.

Now, I don’t think the Doctor, as a character, is offering any sort of commentary on human reproductive rights or perceived lack thereof in any of this. But even though what happens here is such a laughably idiotic metaphor for abortion, one that really has to stretch to make its point (ie, no one contemplates an abortion while in labor, five minutes before the baby is about to be born), I can’t see how anything that we see here works except as that bizarre metaphor. From the specific vocabulary of the dialogue to the fact that it’s three female characters who are the ones discussing and ultimately deciding what to do about the inconvenient baby — as if to negate any potential criticism of the abortion metaphor — there doesn’t seem to be any room for another interpretation.

(As I’ve said elsewhere, women hardly ever get to be people in pop culture. They’re always defined primarily by their gender in ways that men are not. [Imagine if we mostly only ever saw stories about male characters if a guy was being diagnosed with prostate cancer or worrying about his receding hairline!] If only the Doctor — or, really, the scriptwriter who put the words in the Doctor’s mouth — hadn’t specified “womankind”! A dearth of female characters in pop culture, and specifically in Moffat’s Doctor Who, automatically leads us to suspect that when a woman — or three! — does show up, she’s there for a “reason”: not to be a person, but to be a woman. And that does seem to be the case here.)

If there is a contextual explanation for the Doctor’s behavior (which does not negate the metaphor), it’s this: Moffat is consciously turning the underlying concept of the show upside down by transforming the Doctor into an unheroic asshole. Is he trying to drive us away from the Doctor? Maybe we do need to heed the sign the Doctor posted last week: “Go Away Humans.” But you know what? If the Doctor is so fed up with humanity, he should go somewhere else for a while. It’s a big universe. Go pick up an intelligent talking cabbage for a companion.

[next: “Mummy on the Orient Express”]


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