Showrunner says he does not understand why sci-fi show is singled out after study revealed speaking time of female characters has declined
The Doctor Who showrunner Steven Moffat has hit back at claims that the show has become misogynist since he became its lead writer, but conceded that better female characters were needed on television.
Last year a group of US university students analysed the female characters created by Moffat and compared them with those written by his predecessor, Russell T Davies. They found women had less speaking time, and fewer speaking roles, under Moffat.
Moffat said it was a “complicated issue”, telling the Radio Times : “The general point being made by these people is correct. We need better female role models on screen.”
However, he added: “Maybe this is my dimwittery but I do not understand why Doctor Who of all shows is singled out as misogynist. I’m sure I’m to the left of a lot of my detractors.”
In his defence, Moffat also said he was “married to a very powerful woman” – Sue Vertue, who produces Sherlock, the other BBC drama series that he also runs.
The Doctor’s companion Clara – one of the female characters created by Moffat – is leaving the show at the end of the current series after appearing alongside both Matt Smith and Peter Capaldi.
The 54-year-old writer said he wanted to emphasise the impact her departure has on the Doctor. “Doctor Who does that form of bereavement rather well. We have an emotionally engaged hero and those women he knows are not like James Bond girls. They don’t just disappear between movies. When the Doctor ends a friendship, it tears him apart,” Moffat explained.
A replacement for Jenna Coleman, who plays Clara, is yet to be decided. “A new companion gives us the chance to relaunch the show, and we’ve got a really cool new idea about how to do that.”
Moffat said he was in the process of planning the next series – the tenth since the show was reincarnated by Davies in 2005. He took over five years ago and said he would not step into the Tardis himself until the right replacement materialises.
“Everything is difficult in Doctor Who, including leaving,” Moffat said. “I’d never leave it in the lurch because it means too much to me. Let’s not pretend it’s not a big problem, but there will be a solution.”
The current series has not been as popular as its predecessors. An average of 4.6 million viewers tuned in for the premiere on 19 September, which suffered from stiff competition from The X Factor on ITV. It was the lowest viewing figure for a season premiere since Doctor Who returned a decade ago.
Earlier this month, Capaldi accused the BBC of using Doctor Who as a pawn in its Saturday night ratings battle with the commercial broadcaster. After running in a teatime timeslot for eight series, the ninth’s premiere was shifted to 7.40pm.
Since the return of Strictly Come Dancing, the show has started as late as 8.25pm. The penultimate episode, Heaven Sent, goes out on Saturday night at 8.05pm, putting the Doctor up against The X Factor.
Capaldi said: “I feel it’s slightly used as a pawn in a Saturday night warfare. I feel as if it should go out at 7.30pm or around that time. I see a lot of kids and a lot of families and these families who all love Doctor Who want to sit down and watch it together. I used to do that with my daughter when it came back so it has to be on at a time that’s reasonable for them to do that.”
Moffat appeared to agree with Capaldi, calling the BBC’s scheduling “not smart”, adding: “I don’t think 8.25pm is brilliant for Doctor Who.”
• The full interview with Steven Moffat appears in the current issue of Radio Times.
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