The end of an era is coming. With the finale of Sherlock’s fourth season giving what will hopefully be a nice, but definitive end to the show, and the announced new showrunners for Doctor Who, it is the end of Steven Moffat’s era of reign over his two most prominent properties. For better or worse, he has had a very distinctive take on both, and his absence will be felt.
I have been reminiscing over his time in charge of them, and I have come to notice something about his villains – they seem, to me, to be a perfect representation of his own weaknesses.
Not that there is anything particularly surprising about that. A good villain should tap into some real fears and there’s nothing wrong with putting a bit of yourself into your writing. No piece of art can do without that, I would say. But when it is done so consistently, it can paint a picture of the creative mind behind the camera and, I must say, it seems to represent a rather worrying mindset.
Look over the female villains of Stephen Moffat’s shows. In Doctor Who, we have, to name a few :
* The Mistress, the newest incarnation of The Master,
* Madame Karabraxos from Time Heist
* Rosanna Calvierrie and her beautiful students from The Vampires of Venice
* The Siren from The Curse of the Black Spot and
* River Song when she was temporarily trying to kill the Doctor
In Sherlock, the more adult show, it gets even more obvious with:
* Irene Adler, a dominatrix who cons all the men around her by virtue of her irresistible sex appeal and
* Eurus Holmes, the third sibling, who disguises herself to seduce John Watson (for reasons that are never explained) and has a weirdly flirtatious attitude towards her brother
Sexually aggressive, unapologetic beauties who know what you want and will let you have it, for dire costs. Not an uncommon weakness in some men, to be sure. But when it happens this often, whilst the characters may not always give in to their base urges, I cannot help but suspect the man who conceived of these ladies has…
Granted, not all of his female villains are like this. Sherlock had a different female antagonist this season who could not be less like Eurus. Doctor Who has had Madame Kovarian. The big difference is, compared to other antagonists, these are older women, bitterly taking there revenge. Vivian from the first season 4 episode of Sherlock is a lonely old lady working an extremely important and high level job in British intelligence that she considers beneath her. The poor woman just wants to be special, and (surprise surprise,) is a widow, with no man to calm her down. Madame Kovarian is a religious nut who wants to destroy the Doctor for poorly explained reasons. Her plan is to actually raise a baby from scratch to seduce and destroy a man. Yes, her actual plan is to be an evil stepmother who raises a femme fatale, as she is too old to be one herself. So, either way, not the best portrayal of villainous ladies.
This is not to say that overtly sexual villains can’t work. It’s fair to say that some of the male villains are also ones inspired by our dirty little weaknesses. But honestly, comparing them to the female villains and you can really tell they were both written by a man. Look at Sherlock’s new take on Moriarty – a flamboyantly prancing, slickly groomed dude who flirts in every single encounter he has with Sherlock, even when it’s only imaginary. A clear threat to a heterosexual male audience, who will have their orientation and personal space invaded if brought near this flaming baddie. Then there are the others. Charles Augustus Magnussen, who croons to his blackmail victims like a rapist when he unsettlingly touches them, or Culverton Smith, who leers at younger women, has an unsettlingly touchy-feely fondness for his daughter and has some unmistakeable mannerisms of the notorious Jimmy Saville about him. Even in Doctor Who, the episode Dinosaurs on a Spaceship gave us Solomon, one of the more memorable one off villains, who outright tells us how much he enjoys ‘breaking women’ as he grabs his chosen sex slave, before our hero rescues her in classic ‘unhand her, you cad!’ style. Not sexual villains as ‘seducers’ in other words but ‘predators’ who revel in their dark desires.
So, when we look at the weaknesses Mr Moffat puts into his villains. The women femme fatales that men just can’t resist, or bitter spinsters who have no men in their life and refuse to be ignored. The men are salivating old creeps you wouldn’t want a sleep over, whatever gender you are. What might we infer about the mind of a man behind it all?
One final thought: I enjoyed the Sherlock Christmas special, The Abominable Bride, even though it was divisive amongst fans I quite liked the plot twist that the Victorian setting was a drug induced simulation and that the imaginary plot was the work of militant suffragettes, but I would still argue the whole thing made little sense. Sherlock admits to himself it is a metaphor for the women in his life, the ones he had ignored and mistreated. Again, that makes no sense. The manipulations and marginalisation’s of the women in his life are no worse than those towards the men, and happen less often. There is no reason for him to become so aware of gender politics, especially with so much else that could be on his mind at the time. What inspired this sudden confession of unthinking misogyny in him? I think Stephen knows the answer…