Wednesday, June 12, 2024

Love, Loss, and a Little Bit of Hope: Our Retrospective of Doctor Who’s Second Season

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In our retrospective of Doctor Who Season 2, first-time viewer Pete mourns the loss of his first companion while reflecting on the wonderful journey so far.    

Andy: If our Season 1 Retrospective was focused on the loss of the Doctor, then obviously Season 2 is about the loss of Rose.

The Doctor’s face is all of us.

Pete: As brilliant as the Doctor is, I don’t identify with him nearly as much as I do…did…with Rose. (It’s going to take me awhile to get used to those tenses.) I truly believe in compassionate communication with all beings. Rose represented that ideal, perfectly, from extremely early on in the series. She made friends with a Dalek! No one’s ever done that before! (Apparently.) Maybe no one ever will again. (We keep being told that all the Daleks are destroyed, but I saw that handy plot hole at the end of ‘Doomsday’.) Rose danced with the Doctor! (And damn did they look great doing doing it.) She killed the devil! (Literally.) Time and time again, Rose proved how capable she was not only at helping others, but herself along the way.

And that’s not to mention the effect she had on the Doctor. It’s clear at this point that he is super damaged. When he was with Rose, he seemed less damaged. And that’s an incredible gift that only the broken can ever truly understand.  

But now she’s gone. So where does the Doctor go from here? The last seconds of the finale seemed to imply that a new companion is going to magically appear, mirroring the Season One Finale where the new Doctor was revealed in the same fashion. But for some reason, I don’t think that is the case. (That could just be my own denial based on the “Too Soon!” principle though.)

I wonder if the Doctor will even take on a new companion in the near future. I mean, this is is a TV show, so I assume he will eventually, but this doesn’t seem like a good time. (Please dont be immediately. Please dont be immediately. I’m not chanting, you’re chanting!) What will it take for him to let someone else in again? What will his relationship be like with them when he does finally take on a new one? Rose is going to be a tough act to follow is all I know for certain.

Goodbye Rose.

Andy: In that way, I think the abrupt ending of the finale was very necessary, because how do you write your way out of that emotional bombshell? There’s no way to imagine the Doctor going back to “business as usual” so the Bride’s appearance at least gives him an immediate problem to focus on and distract himself.

More broadly, I think it’s interesting to look at how the show handles the departure of a character as monumental as Rose. This 50-odd year old show has always dealt with a rotating cast, but the reboot, followed by Eccleston’s departure, meant that a lot of the continuity depended on her character. No spoilers, but her departure does have the effect of essentially starting a new chapter for the show. It may bear his name, but changing the Doctor was less impactful than changing the companion.

Thematically, there is a lot to continue with in regards to the Doctor’s characterization, and I’d like to talk about how that relates to romance. The Classic series steered clear of having the Doctor engage in any romantic entanglements. “No hanky panky in the Tardis.” Indeed, fanon had previously held that the Doctor was asexual.

Rose Tyler’s relationship with the Doctor clearly destroyed that theory, and I don’t think it was on purpose. Billie Piper and Christopher Eccleston had such amazing chemistry, and while that doesn’t necessarily have to be read as romantic, Season 2 heavily played up her relationship with the Tenth Doctor for angst. Whatever your feelings on Ten/Rose shipping, that can of worms has been opened.

In some ways that opens up a lot of wonderful storytelling opportunities: love and romance is one of the most universally popular genres for a reason. It would be very exciting to explore that with a character like the Doctor, who lives in emotional extremes, and it’s even more exciting for him precisely because Rose is (apparently) the first to bring out this side of him.

But now that she’s gone, where does that leave this storyline for the Doctor? Again, no spoilers, but I don’t think the writers reckoned on how big a deal it was to open up these possibilities with Rose and then send her away.

The writings realizing what they had done.

Pete: Overall I felt this season was much stronger than Season One, but two episodes really stand above the rest. If you have been traveling along with us then it will come as no surprise that they are ‘The Impossible Planet’ and ‘Girl in the Fireplace’.

‘The Impossible Planet’ brought us the best pack of side characters (in a season with exceptionally strong side characters!), an untranslatable language, and have I mentioned before that Rose killed the fucking devil?!  (Spoiler alert: she does!) And then ‘Girl in the Fireplace’ introduced us to the lovely Madame De Pompadour. I know we’ve gushed over her an inappropriate amount already, but maybe just once more. She was just such a magnificent actress/character combo, and her whirlwind relationship with the Doctor that ended in tragedy played my heartstrings like a fiddle.

And who can forget K-9 the tin dog?!

You good dog.

Andy: There’s no doubt that on re-watch, this season is most heavily associated with Rose. ‘The Girl in the Fireplace’ is also one of my favorite episodes to revisit, but I’d include ‘Tooth and Claw’ on that list as well, which I knew Pete did not care for. I liked that both episodes had self-contained stories with interesting historical figures.

Oddly, the two-parter I find myself rewatching most frequently is ‘Rise of the Cybermen’/‘Age of Steel.’ I say oddly because I don’t think I’d point here as an example of exceptional storytelling, although the two-parter has very watchable and has been shown in movie theaters and IMAXes. But it’s such an important part of the serial narrative, it plays a much larger part in my recollection of the season than is really justified.

Pete: As for the villains, I’m so glad the Daleks showed up again. I find them fascinating. I know that as a race they are supposed to be irredeemable, but if Cornelius taught us anything it’s that anyone can change. How that change makes people feel about their past crimes seems to vary widely. Just like in The Idiot’s Lantern with the abusive father. I pointed out previously that i thought he was a monster, and i would not have considered him worthy of redemption. I would have been perfectly satisfied knowing he lived a sad lonely life till the day he died. Rose disagreed and for all we know helped put a family on the path to healing.

This is such an interesting theme in fiction, and I love that it’s being explored on this show since the time/space travel gives things such a unique context. I, for one, think Stannis Baratheon had the right of it. “Good deeds do not wash away the bad. Nor the bad, the good.” It’s not about redemption, because for some there is none. It’s not about some scale that needs balancing, or a debt that is owed. It’s simply about the power of the individual to change. To find a better way.

Like The Doctor, maybe? I still don’t know what exactly he’s been through that makes him so angry and sad, but I really hope I find out soon! I said earlier that he seems damaged, and I’m worried about him with Rose gone, but maybe this is an opportunity to explore his past.

Pete Predicts Season 3:    

The Doctor drops the mystery bride off at the altar creating quite a scandal. Afterwards he tracks down his own rogue void ship and rips holes in every dimension between him and Rose. (Shh, just let me dream).

Torchwood dicks arounds with more alien technology. This time they “accidentally” introduce a nanite virus to a bag of marshmallows and create a sentient race of sucrose based life. The marshmallow master race then proceeds to attack Boy and Girl Scouts across the globe. Luckily their marshmallowy efforts are thwarted by their weakness to campfires. Zero casualties are reported. Graham cracker and chocolate sales increase by dramatic margins worldwide.

Darth Dalek returns, revealing that he is fact the Doctor’s father! Right before cutting off his screwdriver hand.   

*Menacing mechanical breathing*

Images courtesy of BBC

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