Recently, I’ve been re-watching the new Doctor Who chronologically. In a previous post, I expressed my disdain for Amy Pond’s non-character, and hinted at my nostalgia for the way the show used to be. This post is basically an appendage to that, with some thoughts on the companions individually and the show generally.
Unlike Amy Pond, Rose Tyler is many things, but, as The Doctor tells Satan in “The Satan Pit,” she is not a victim. Victimization has been and remains today an important facet in understanding pseudo-empowered female characters. If the character, in an attempt to save herself and others, formulates her own ideas and successfully carries them out, she is probably not a victim. In “The Satan Pit,” Rose thinks she and the Doctor might be separated forever (not an uncommon occurrence in the show). She is in the middle of a life-or-death crisis on a ship impossibly orbiting black hole, and neither she nor the crew know exactly what evil is among them. So what does she do? She doesn’t let the crew or herself wallow in self-pity, instead forcing all of them to think their way out of the situation, using the bits of information given to her by the crew to solve the puzzle. She doesn’t simply sit there and cry, wishing the Doctor were there to save them, and cursing him for not being there. She pulls herself up by her bootstraps, as the saying goes, and helps to save the universe.
Now, after reading this testament to Rose’s capability and smarts, you might be under the impression that I really like and admire Rose. That’s not exactly the case. Before Amy Pond, I really didn’t like Rose. Basically hated her. I found her personality grating and her sorta-kinda relationship with the Doctor pretty annoying. I also disliked her possessiveness of the Doctor; she tends to act like she is entitled to be with the Doctor. (Boy, was I to learn what a person could be like when they’re really possessive of the Doctor!) This time around, I was able to understand a few things about Rose. For one, she’s only nineteen/twenty. Of course she falls in love with the Doctor and thinks being with him is more important than being with her family. I also never realized how capable and clever Rose is allowed to be. While she may be just an ordinary chav working in a shop, she does have a brain and tends not to panic. When Rose does wander off, it’s usually to try to figure out something for herself. She clearly follows in the show’s tradition of using your brains, not your brawn, in order to get out of sticky situations/save the universe.
And that, dear reader, is how I grew to appreciate Rose. The Doctor’s next companion, Martha Jones, was a much easier character to love. Martha, a med student, is extremely intelligent, which impresses the Doctor when they first meet. Her intelligence and capability remain an important part of her character, even after she chooses to leave the Doctor. Less intelligent, but no less lovable, is Donna Noble. As I expressed in the previous post, Donna is funny, deeply empathetic, and twice as sassy as Amy Pond could ever be. All three of these women prove to be useful counterparts to the Doctor, and never allow themselves to be damsels in distress.
The show is sometimes accused of being sexist. I would perhaps call it heteronormative instead. It’s a mainstream, family-oriented British TV show; what about that says radical? I don’t think it promotes misogyny, but it obviously doesn’t do much to challenge gender norms. In my ideal world, Doctor Who would have even stronger female characters, a more equal villain-to-gender ratio, break down the barriers of race, gender identity and sexuality. But that’s my ideal; what’s real is much easier for most people to digest. And what’s real isn’t bad, but could be so much better.