Davies vs. Moffat: Which 'Doctor Who' Showrunner is Better for the Show's Women?
One of the first essential questions for any fan of the newest incarnation of Doctor Who is: Steven Moffat or Russell T. Davies? It's a question that's deeply divided the fandom, with audiences constantly arguing that one showrunner is better than another. Of course, Moffat and Davies themselves refuse to give in to the fighting. After all, the question isn't as much about quality as it is personal preference. Russell's version is darker and more character-focused, with a strong, overarching narrative, while Moffat loves to play with the laws of time and space in his plot and has a more light-hearted, comedic element.
Of course, this dynamic is important when it comes to an integral part of Doctor Who: the companions, who are overwhelmingly female. What does each showrunner's vision mean for the women of Doctor Who? Let's compare. Allons-y and geronimo!
Russell T. Davies
Davies creates much of the show's overarching narrative around the relationship between the Doctor and his companion — unfortunately, this often means that the companions have a romantic interest in the Doctor. But, because of Davies' attention to developing characters in the show, these women are always well-rounded. We get to meet their family, hear about their dreams and their goals, and watch them struggle between the world they've created for themselves and the grand adventure of time and space that the Doctor shows them.
Although most fans remember Rose in terms of her romantic relationship with the Doctor, her role as a character was so much more. Rather than having the Doctor simply whisk her away, Rose brought some of her life into his — her mother and her friend/boyfriend Mickey were frequently featured on the show, and there were entire episodes that revolved around Rose's life. And Rose had some power, too. Although the power of the time vortex was only temporary, it's Rose's "Bad Wolf" moves that saved the universe in the reboot's second season, not the Doctor.
Martha started as a much weaker companion, but ended up becoming an incredibly empowering character for the series. Not only did Martha start out as yet another love interest for the Doctor, she pined after him even though he couldn't return the sentiment. It was painful to watch Martha's biggest struggle in the show be her love for the Doctor. But not only did Martha have a family life, she was an intelligent woman with dreams of becoming a doctor. And Martha redeems herself and then some in the show's final moment when she not only starts a grassroots revolution to save the world, but realizes that her relationship with the Doctor is unhealthy and leaves the TARDIS.
Donna is the one outlier of the Davies companions, the one woman who seems to be immune to the Doctor's charms. Donna may not be the most intelligent companion, but her strong friendship with the Doctor puts them on equal footing. Donna also has her own dreams and family life, including the most adorable grandpa in this history of grandpas. And like other Davies companions, she gets to have a big hand in saving the world, although her story ends much more tragically. But at least for a moment, audiences got to see what a female Doctor would be like with the Doctor-Donna.
Moffat's Doctor Who is much more focused on the Doctor as a lone adventurer and how the element of time travel allows him to play around with perception in the plot. This makes for an incredibly fun show to watch, but it doesn't make for the best female characters. These women usually have a vague relationship with the Doctor and have no discernible dreams or life outside their travels with the Doctor. They generally wield more power than their Davies counterparts, but they're seen as some sort of "other," a mystery to be solved rather than a human being.
Amy's one of the feistiest recent companions, and she's a lot of fun to watch. But there's a feeling of a lot of wasted potential there. She first sees the Doctor as a romantic interest, but then all is soon forgotten once she marries Rory. She didn't develop much over the series, and while her relationship with Rory made her more relatable and realistic, there's still an entire episode that discusses how Amy and Rory have seemingly no outside friends other than the Doctor. And while the sacrifice she eventually makes for Rory is certainly moving, it's not exactly empowering.
River is a character who's equally exciting and charismatic. Finally, there's not only an older female love interest for the Doctor, but one who can match him in a battle of wits. Unfortunately, River's entire life revolves around the Doctor. She's born with him, searches endlessly for him, and dies by his side. She has no discernible goals that don't include the Doctor. Not to mention that her relationship with her parents is very underdeveloped. It's both refreshing and disappointing — the only woman in Doctor Who who doesn't need the Doctor's help is the only one who can't live without him.
There's still hope to be had for Clara, but so far she's the least well-rounded of Moffat's female characters. It's clear that her career and family life are of no concern to the show — in "The Day of the Doctor," she's been relocated from her job as a nanny to a schoolteacher without much explanation. Much of it is part of her recent existence as a plot point in the show. The eternal mystery of Clara Oswin Oswald means that her backstory is forever changing, as are her goals and the people she loves. She was imbued some computer know-how in "The Bells of Saint John," but it's not clear what other skills Clara has. And it's not even clear what her relationship with the Doctor is — she occasionally gets the puppy-dog eyes of love, but she just as frequently seems to only be his good friend. Here's to hoping that we see Clara develop more over the upcoming season of Doctor Who.