Given that both Doctor Who and the first episode of the second series of Sherlock gathered nearly 10 million viewers each, you would think that they must have been pretty popular. But whilst there have been positive reviews of both in the traditional media, online it is different.
Tweeters are angry at how the Christmas day episode of Who presented an unsubtle environmental message and resolved the storyline with a “men are weak, women are strong” device. They also felt that there was a forced happy ending by wimping out on the implied death of Reg Arwell, the father of the children in the story.
Bloggers are fuming with anger over the way the same writer, (Stephen Moffat for he wrote both) recreated Conan Doyle’s original Victorian opera singer, Irene Adler, as a modern day dominatrix prostitute. Even the mainstream media were furious over her nude scenes shown before the watershed. In fairness her hands and the camera angles hid anything “rude”.
Is Moffat being too stereotypical in his portrayal of the women in his stories? Or are we reading to much into it and what we actually did was to create two great stories which actually entertained huge audiences?
Think about the Christmas day episode. By the time it came on air at 7pm, most people will have eaten a huge Christmas feast, drunk wine and champagne, guzzled Quality Street chocolates and eaten them even more Twiglets. Some may even have had a second plate of turkey for supper. Brains were fuzzy. Eyes were heavy. What we did not need at this point was the usual complexity of a Moffat plot weaving different time streams and interlinked stories of incredible intricacy. We wanted a light, family oriented story that would fit with our Christmas evening stupor. It’s what we got.
In 1941 Madge Arwell receives a telegram. Her husband is missing in a presumed crashed Lancaster bomber. She takes her children to a remote country house where they are entertained by a mysterious “Care-taker”. They get transported to a “Narnia” inspIred snow filled forest where they help the trees to escape from an imminent environmental catastrophe. Only Madge is strong enough to operate the spacecraft that is their salvation. And as she flies the children home the ship becomes a beacon that her husband Reg can use to make a safe landing.
For those who accuse Moffat of wimping out on the father dying, they miss the point. The episode raises the possibility of the death of loved ones and that’s something that any child has to face eventually. But it doesn’t go all the way and for a Christmas day family episode that is exactly right. Reg Arwell was “missing” but he wasn’t dead. As it turned out he followed the space craft -time jumped over a few days and arrived at the country house. For him, he was never missing at all.
Sherlock’s episode was a modern re-imaging of “Scandal in Bohemia” and unlike Christmas Who, was multi-layered, complex and therefore satisfying. I suppose I can understand the critics of the modern Irene Adler being a sex worker, and that it might have been done purely for titilation. Is this indicative of our society that modern writers have to reinvent heroines of old to conform to the plastic sexuality of the Reality TV world? Actually, I don’t think Moffat had these debates with himself. I think he just wrote two great stories both of which demanded very strong female lead characters and it was the stories that decided their circumstances .
Taken separately they might appear stereotypical, but separately they were just two examples of different women. Madge was a loving mother protecting her children at Christmas, Irene was an ambitious woman using her sexuality to make herself safe in a dangerous political world.
“Doctor Who and Sherlock carried by two strong women.”
So two strong stories carried by two strong women. As for the males I thought the leads, Matt Smith and Benedict Cumberbatch were both at the top of their game. Pages could be written on the relationship between Holmes and Watson, and even the most ardant critics must have shed a secret tear when the Doctor was reunited with Amy Pond for Christmas dinner.
Stephen Moffat served up two exquisite slices of Christmas pudding. Okay so Doctor Who might have been a little too syrupy, but I was one of those with a wine softened brain who needed something light, happy, family oriented and above all “nice” to enjoy on Christmas night. It worked for me.