Since the start of December, I’ve been doing a rewatch of post-2005 Doctor Who. Today, I watched the finale of Series 2, the one where Rose is finally written out of the show (…but only temporarily, as it turned out).
When this season first aired, I was 13 years old and a huge Doctor Who fan. I read lots of fanfic, and even wrote some (having never been a really big fanfic person otherwise). That said, I strongly preferred the classic series. And the main reason I preferred the classic series is that I could not stand the Doctor/Rose romance that the new show shoved down our throats. I wanted sci-fi concepts and exciting adventures, not gross squicky romances between immature teenage girls and 900yo aliens who should really know better. I pretty much had to stop reading Doctor Who fanfic as the brand-new fans writing endless tedious Doctor/Rose ficlets came to completely overwhelm the pre-existing fans who’d been writing more interesting stuff, and I just couldn’t deal. I drifted away, and became a lot more interested in original fiction (which for me personally was probably a good thing). I did keep watching the show, though, which is good, because IMO it got better once Rose was no longer in it.
It seems to be a regular discussion point online that people who dislike the Doctor/Rose ship “just” want the Doctor to be asexual, which would be a bad thing for reasons (that it’s prudish, that it’s unlikely for a canonical grandfather, that it’d make the show less popular with a mass audience – take your pick). TBH, I’m not one of the people who thinks the character of the Doctor has to be strictly asexual. When I was into Doctor Who fanfiction, I enjoyed Doctor/Master fics, and I still think there’s a lot of juicy potential in that kind of “mortal enemies but also lovers” dynamic (which probably helps explain why I love Killing Eve).1 I also didn’t really mind Doctor/Romana shipping (at least Romana II, once she has some experience to go with her book smarts). But I’ve still always hated most Doctor/companion ships, and since apparently this is not a popular opinion among the fandom at large (although I think a non-negligible minority does agree with me), I’ve had a good think to myself about why.
The main reason, I think, is that there’s just such a power imbalance between the Doctor and almost all of his companions. He’s many centuries old, with incredible knowledge about advanced technology and the history of the universe, and extensive experience managing himself in dangerous situations. The vast majority of companions are completely dependent on him: if he’s not there to fly the TARDIS, they get stranded. If he’s not available to save the day, the day will (99% chance) not get saved. He acts super affable, is kind and caring, but when the show’s written well there’s a definite darkness lingering under the surface, and he’s regularly manipulative and deceitful if he believes it serves “the greater good”.
I think of the Doctor/companion relationships more like mentor/mentee relationships, and even – with the high number of companions that are relatively young (and often with dead/absent fathers!), including Rose herself – as quasi-paternal relationships. I just think, therefore, that the Doctor should exhibit better sexual morals than your average sleazy university lecturer who works his way through half a dozen undergraduates a year, before getting himself deported back to Europe because he’s too fucking useless to renew his own visa (oh sorry, is that just the ones I know). I don’t think it’s unrealistic that many companions would develop massive crushes on him, an insanely charismatic man who puts himself in danger to courageously save the universe time and again. I think it’s unrealistic that the Doctor would not enforce a greater degree of detachment, knowing that these companions are completely dependent on him, and can never share his understanding of time, space, or even the mortal danger they’re truly in all the time when they travel with him. This is someone who’s had companions killed before, and he has to carry that guilt of feeling like he led them like a lamb to slaughter. So many of his companions just have this boundless faith that “the Doctor will always be there to save the day”, and to be fair that genuinely is the case in 99% of episodes because it’s not a grimdark kind of show. But narratively, the Doctor should know better – enough to enforce a degree of detachment.
I haven’t seen all the Moffatt era, and it’s been a number of years since the parts of it I did see (I tuned out somewhere in series 7 and came back for series 10, so basically, I missed the Clara years, haha). But, in general, I felt like this was something done better under his watch. When Amy tried to hit on the Doctor (poor Rory), the Doctor was grossed out and rejected her.2 And the main romance Moffat did have going in his era, with River Song… well I didn’t really like that either (not that I saw how it resolved) but I wasn’t grossed out. At least River Song is clearly independent, goes on her own adventures, has her own “saving the day” and “getting out of trouble” skills, and has her own knowledge of the universe entirely separate from what she experiences with the Doctor. (…right?) That degree of independence is basically the bare minimum required to make a ship supportable in this show, IMO.
It’s not like I can’t enjoy darker works of fiction with inappropriate or unhealthy relationships at all. I actually do enjoy those quite a lot, lol. It’s just that the relationship has to be depicted knowingly as such, not as a straight-up idyllic romance. And, also, I don’t want it in my Doctor Who. “Grey and grey morality” is all well and good, but Doctor Who is not that kind of show. And I especially don’t want an exploration of sexual dynamics in power-imbalanced relationships in this show 🥴 In, like, actual well-written novels, sure thing, but keep it away from my Doctor Who.
That said: I think when I was a teenage girl, I channelled all my frustrations with this stupid ship into hating the character of Rose herself. I don’t agree with that any more. I don’t find Rose terribly likeable (she’s ridiculously self-centred, and she has so much cringey dialogue with Tennant’s Tenth Doctor), but I think she’s a realistic character, and that Billie Piper plays her well. Like I said: she basically reminds me of a naïve undergraduate who crushes hard on her charismatic professor. You don’t blame the student in that kind of situation (if you have a moral compass, at least); you blame the kind of professor who feeds into it and takes advantage of it. The crush itself is kind of harmless, and not uncommon. So, I empathise with Rose a lot more than I did at 13 years old (while still being glad I’ve watched her last ep as a series regular). I still hate that RTD himself clearly thought Rose was the perfect star-crossed lover for the Doctor, to the point that even after she left the show, her memory kind of wrecked half of Martha’s first and only season, or the fact that he felt the need to bring Rose back a season after that.3 It wasn’t until series 5 in 2010 that the show actually moved the hell on from this creepy “romance”. Which is probably why I loved that series so much! Hoping that the RTD2 era won’t repeat the same mistakes… and I’m not sure how much confidence I can have, when I don’t think RTD sees it as a mistake.
I still need to watch the fourth season of Killing Eve 😔 ↩︎
Not that I’m saying this was a good thing to happen in the show, this was also pretty bad, lol. But at least Moffatt recognised that in retrospect. ↩︎
This comment on the /r/gallifrey subreddit , or at least the first two paragraphs, could basically have been written by me; that’s my exact opinion on Rose’s time on the show. I could not BELIEVE that after the hullaballoo at the end of “Doomsday” she could cross back to her original universe as easily as that, or that she was “rewarded” for endangering entire universes with a full body-clone of the Doctor who’d settle down with her forever (so she only liked him for his body then anyway?? 🥴🥴🥴). Even if I’d liked Rose, I’d have hated everything that happened with her character after “Doomsday”. ↩︎