Still thinking about it.
I did want to answer the questions posed in the Kasterborous article and add a couple of thoughts. Writer James Lomond asks:
Does Moffat write with a male gaze? Are his women mere tropes and negative ones at that? Or is this a skewed view and Moff’s Who has given us far more rich and engaging female characters that a lot of shows out there?
The first answer is obviously yes. It might be argued that a man can’t help but write for a male gaze, as that’s all he has to work with. I’m not sure that’s entirely true, given that writers, particularly SFF writers, must make heavy use of their imaginations. Still, in large portions of his work Moffat revels in the male gaze. Amy’s clothes, her work as a kissogram and then a model, River Song’s sexual repartee, Clara’s mystery, the Doctor’s discomfort with and lack of understanding of women, all are effects of the male gaze. What thousand-year-old alien, having spent centuries traveling space and time, finds female humans such a cypher – or even particularly distinct from male humans? Compared to all he’s seen, it’s not only unlikely, but insulting.*
The other two questions are a set, and the answer is of course somewhere in between. River Song is, ultimately, a mass of negative tropes; Orla Brady is a non-character; Amy and Clara each have their issues; hardly anyone manages to avoid some sort of fate-driven entanglement with the Doctor that bars her from independence or agency. However, Moffat also writes interesting, autonomous women with their own lives and stories. Liz X, Madge Arwell, and Kate Stewart all blossom under his pen. Nancy (‘The Empty Child’) and Sally Sparrow are among the best characters of the entire series. Even Osgood, described in the article as incapacitated by her infatuation, is in fact not: every time she stops to plead for the Doctor to save her, she ends up saving herself. Her situation is more parallel to Malcolm’s (‘Planet of the Dead’) than Molly Hooper’s. Not all of Moffat’s female characters are richly realized – the villains of S8 are a mixed bag – but the growing number of them can only be a good thing for women in the industry and in the audience.
As I’ve said before, a long way from perfect but not the worst thing in the world.
*Part of this is Matt Smith. He’s spoken in interviews about his view of the Doctor, which is very much a young male human perspective: to him, women are alien, unknowable, and hot. You’d think someone would have smacked him upside the head by now. Oh well, he’s still very young; there’s time.