We have mixed feelings about Steven Moffat around here at Nerd & Tie. I’m probably his biggest fan out of the three of us, and I think he can be an arrogant, sexist toolbag whose storylines too often focus exclusively on the nature of the Doctor and nothing else a lot of the time. He’s written good episodes, he’s done bad ones – but hey, we’re Who fans.
Anyway, Moffat seems to delight in causing occasional chaos amongst the fans, and his recent behavior is no different. In an issue of Doctor Who Magazine, Moffat asked a simple question: When exactly was the Doctor first explicitly stated to be not-human in canon?
And the fandom flipped out.
What Moffat said, specifically, was this:
Here’s a question I tried on some Doctor Who fans recently, and we were all a bit startled by the answer, when it finally emerged – if we got it right. Okay; keeping in mind that everything you know for sure is probably wrong, answer me this: in which story is it confirmed, definitively, that the Doctor is not human?
Now before you jump up and yell An Unearthly Child – sorry, but wrong. He makes it clear he’s not from this time, and seems to indicate that he was born on another world, but he never says he’s an alien. He could, just as easily, be a human being from the far future, born on some colonised world. Indeed, most of his conversation in the early days would seem to confirm that he thinks of himself as human, and he even explicitly states that he is, at least once.
So come on then. To your DVD collection. In what story do the wise men and women of the BBC stop fudging the issue, and make our hero Not One Of Us. I’m not talking about him having remarkable abilities or attributes – we’ve always known he’s not ordinary, that’s fair enough. Spider-Man’s not ordinary, but he’s not an alien. And I’m not talking about series bibles, or internal memos or retconned continuity – when did the Doctor Who production team stop hedging their bets and make him alien?
Fandom, to your work. Yes, Russell, you too.
If you just, y’know, read that, you get the impression that he wants to know when the Doctor was first canonically mentioned to be a non-human. We know he’s not one. Hell, Moffat himself wrote that the Doctor was not one in The Beast Below back in series 5.
The question, really, is when did the writers of the show stop treating the Doctor as human. That’s it. And the fans freaked out.
The comment section from one blog post includes such gems from the more thoughtful:
To the significantly less so:
Sometimes people got a bit… violentish:
Not to mention my favorite, which I only wished had been accompanied by the crude drawings the text invokes:
It’s not just internet commenters that freaked out. Tor.com’s Emily Asher-Perrin put out a piece today with the ever so accurate headline “Steven Moffat Ignores Canon, Insists That the Doctor Could Be Human.” How the hell she got that out of the Moffat quote is beyond me.
I have the theory that she didn’t actually read the whole thing.
Let’s be clear: Moffat believes the Doctor is of a different species. The series has been explicitly clear about it. He’s asking when the canon changed, and maybe making a point about the fluidity of said canon. He’s not rewriting the rules, he’s asking how the rules came about.
Of course, as recent as 1996 the Doctor explicitly stated he was half human – but we all try to ignore that really, really hard.