Ladies and gentlemen and others, the inimitable Neil Gaiman.
I have a hard time with the Moffat hate out there. Partly because nothing is black and white; you can’t paint a person with unequivocal labels and expect them to stick. Partly because he is, as so many of us are, only human. Partly because he’s done some amazing and fabulous things, which can’t be entirely discounted by the turkeys. Partly because of Neil Gaiman, Sue Vertue, and the like: when respectable people have respect, you might consider having some too.
Not to say I universally like Moffat either. Part of the problem with the haters is that if you’re not with them you’re against them; if you don’t hate, you must love, and are therefore wrong in every way. It is in fact possible to both like and dislike a thing or a person. I know that doesn’t leave one with much of a soapbox, but that’s life. Deal with it, or be a screaming toddler forever.
One of Moffat’s top labels is ‘sexist’ or ‘misogynist.’ These can be applied to specific acts, maybe, but hardly a whole person – particularly not a person of Moffat’s family associations. I do know of cringeworthy things the man has said, things he has not apologized for, that qualify. However, he has in my opinion written at least as many strong, rounded, real female characters as thin or weak ones. Any writer has good characters and bad. And some of the things the haters chalk up as evidence of wrongdoing is equally cited by the other side. Things can often be taken different ways, can mean different things to different people: as an example, Orson Scott Card, an unapologetic hater of homosexual people and practices, nevertheless provided support and inspiration to young queers via ‘Ender’s Game.’ Maybe Card is unconsciously more ambivalent than he could admit, but the fact remains that an action by an expressed oppressor resulted in the liberation of at least some of the oppressed. Moffat’s own sexism is at least partly cultural, and difficult to avoid even by the most aware individual; it’s not helpful to shut down a person for failure in that area. Yes, calling him out is reasonable, but writing him off is not.
Another common label is ‘bad writer.’ Even though I prefer the Davies era – and what of the Letts and Hinchcliffe eras I have seen – to Moffat’s, I don’t attribute that to Moffat’s writing. Davies offers his own share of turkeys, and Moffat has produced plenty of gems. Writing well is actually harder than most people think, particularly as tastes themselves vary, and people are happy to label anything they personally dislike as ‘bad’ rather than ‘not to taste.’ Every writer in the world, even the best, has bad ideas, bad stories, bad dialogue. It’s unavoidable. In spite of last year’s Christmas special, Moffat isn’t a bad writer: at the very least he’s a writer, with all the good, bad, and indifferent that comes in the package. In fact, the evidence suggests he’s a very good writer, turning his stories into successful television and helping other writers make theirs better. My preference is instead based on taste. Moffat has his ideas about the characters and the overall story, Davies had his, and I have mine, which line up better with the latter than the former. It has little to do with each writer’s skill.
This is all a very long way of saying that in spite of personal skepticism and the word on the street, I believe Gaiman speaks the truth about Moffat. I don’t know all the reasons why the writers I want to see haven’t joined up: they have their own projects, or their own ideas, or their own families, or the spark hasn’t quite struck, or or or. I just find it too difficult to accept that the reason is the personal animosity of a single man.
More than that, Gaiman speaks the truth about writing. Being good takes work above all. Training, innate skill, genius, luck, all these things can help, but perseverance above all is the most essential tool. Anyone can write down words. Most can make a story out of them. Some can make a story people enjoy. A few can make a story that changes lives. Those writers don’t appear out of the blue; they work, they write, they rewrite, they burn manuscripts and drink too much and stay up late at night and write some more. They write for years, some of them for the entirety of their lives. And it’s still no guarantee; luck has a hand, and skill, and the tastes of the age in which the writer writes. But the unchangeable fact is that of writing.