Friday, November 22, 2013

Strong Female Character Friday: Rose Tyler (Doctor Who)

The time has come, it has actually finally come, to talk about Doctor Who and its fifty years of awesomeness. Now, in the years that this show has been on the air, it's had a lot of really amazing female characters. There's Ace, who loves to blow things up, Romana, who is delightfully smug, and Layla, who believes in violence like some people believe in Santa, to name just a few. 

But none of these characters is as close to my heart as Rose Tyler. Why? Because Rose was our road back into Doctor Who and because Rose Tyler is not, in fact, the most important girl in the world.

Yeah, okay, so that might have been a bit confusing. Allow me to give you some background.

Rose Tyler (Billie Piper) was the first companion we got to see on the new and restarted Doctor Who that came on in the air in 2005. And while this may be surprising to those of you who just started watching Who in the Moffat-era, Rose wasn't anything special. She's introduced as one girl out of thousands in London. A nice pretty girl who works in a shop and likes junk food and lives with her mother in low-income housing. Who has a boyfriend that's more nice than passionate, a job she doesn't much care about, and who didn't really finish high school. She's not particularly clever, or ridiculously beautiful (well, she's Hollywood Homely, but you get what I mean), and she's not especially inspiring to talk to.

She can be whiny, and she can be selfish, and sometimes she accidentally almost ends the world because she's so insufferably human. In short, Rose, out of all of the companions, is the one that is hands down easiest to relate to. She's just a normal girl. Screwed up, kind, and looking for an adventure.

So it is important, crucial even, that Rose was the first companion we got to meet. Why? Because Rose isn't special. And that makes her extraordinary.

Stephen Moffat has a habit, and it's not one I like, where he creates female characters that have some sort of magical ability or relationship to the Doctor. There's Amelia Pond, "The Girl Who Waited", and Clara Oswald, "The Impossible Girl", and River Song, the child of the TARDIS. 

All of these characters, fun as they can be, exist only because of the Doctor. They're only there, traveling in the TARDIS because the Doctor needs to figure out something about them. Whether it's why Amy has that crack in her wall, or why Clara keeps appearing and then dying, or what on Earth is going on with River, the Doctor has found a mystery and must solve it. All of these women are important, and because they're important, they're not very relatable.

Rose, though, Rose is relatable. She first runs into the Doctor by complete and total chance. She's closing up at the shop where she works, and the Doctor pops in and saves her from some homicidal mannequins. And then later he shows up at her flat to save her again. Why? Because he's just passing through. There's no bigger mystery or story to how they meet. They just happen to run into each other. Then, later on, after Rose has helped the Doctor track down the evil plastic, she saves his life. And he thanks her. But it's not remarkable or even particularly graceful how she does it. Rose just screws up her courage and uses her high school gymnastics skills to pull him away from a fall. 

And that's awesome. Because Rose doesn't have to do any of this. She doesn't have to help him, she doesn't have to save him, and when he asks her come away with him in the TARDIS, she doesn't have to go. Rose travels with the Doctor because she wants to, and he asks her to come sheerly because he wants her with him.

Do you get how awesome that is?

When they're traveling, Rose makes mistakes, she screws it up, and she constantly is getting lost or kidnapped or stumbling onto someone's evil plan. On one memorable occasion she ends up hanging from a barrage balloon during the London Blitz wearing a Union Jack t-shirt. Good times. 

But honestly, Rose's ability to wind up in trouble is part of what makes her such an awesome character. Because Rose really gets out there. She tries everything. She doesn't wait for the Doctor to tell her what to do, she just runs full tilt at the alien-ness of her surroundings. And sure, it gets her in trouble more often than not. But that's okay. It's human. She tries.

I don't think I have a great prophecy concerning the destruction of the Earth hanging over my head. I'm pretty sure that I wasn't born to save the Doctor, and I have a reasonable amount of certainty that I'm not the center of the universe. I'm rather average. And that's okay. Because that means that I can choose to be great.

What Rose Tyler has that the others don't is a choice. If she wants greatness, she has to choose it. And she does. Rose decides that she would rather live a life of danger and adventure and aliens alongside the Doctor than live a safe life at home with her mother. 

Even when she knows that she's going back into a situation where she might die, Rose will move heaven and Earth and a really big truck to make her way back to him. Not because she has to or because she even really thinks that her presence will change everything that much. But because she believes that there is nowhere in the universe she would rather be. 

I want to be that kind of person. The kind that inspires people not with my big words and my important actions, but with the courage and depth of my heart. There's a reason Rose is both loved and reviled by the fans. She's the companion we all relate to best, and she's the one we all know we could so easily be. And I don't mean that in a bad way.

I don't really know what's coming with this 50th Anniversary Special. I'm a little leery of it, to be honest, because I don't love Moffat's storylines as much anymore, and because I'm afraid of how he'll write Rose, but I don't think it'll ultimately change how I feel about her character. 

For all that she was sometimes whiny, sometimes irritating, how she could be so single-minded and focused, Rose is the companion that I most want to see by the Doctor's side. Not because she has to be, but because she wants to be.

And because Rose, more than any other companion, changed the Doctor himself. He didn't really change her at all. Maybe gave her a little more confidence, room for sass, and a larger view of the universe. But Rose in the finale is the same as Rose in the pilot. Same girl, different day. The Doctor? He has changed.

He's changed because he's gotten a view of how the ordinary people live. He gets to see her heart and her priorities and her grief and her love. He's sat on the sofa with her baby cousin, wrestling over the TV remote and yelling uselessly for her family to quiet down. He's celebrated Christmas with her in her tiny destroyed flat, pulling crackers with Mickey and arguing with Jackie. He's seen her mourn her father, and he's blown up her job. 

While other companions find themselves becoming slowly more alien and remote from the lives of ordinary people, Rose has the opposite effect. Rose is human, so human, and her time with the Doctor makes him human too. 

Even when she becomes Bad Wolf, when she takes the heart of time and space into herself, she's still Rose. It doesn't really change her. In fact the whole point of it being her to do that is that it didn't change her. It didn't destroy her. Instead, she brought life. She saved people. She saved the Doctor. Not because she had to, but because she wanted to.

I'm a huge fan of choice. The choices we make are what define us, and that's what's so infuriating about the recent companions. None of them have any choice about whether or not they go with the Doctor and whether or not they leave. Their lives are already written. Rose has a choice. So does Martha, and so does (sort of) Donna. They all choose this life, because they want to. That matters. That makes a huge difference.

So remember Rose. Remember her when you're tired and upset and your job sucks and you can't pay the rent. Remember that Rose is human, and ordinary, and that she had bad days. Remember that there really wasn't anything special about Rose, and that instead of being born amazing, she chose it. Remember that you have a choice.

Happy Birthday, Doctor Who.

Don't screw it up.

5 comments:

  1. I don't know if you've seen Day of the Doctor, but I'd say that they didn't. Especially since you could easily argue that everything you just wrote is the reason that last picture exists (doing my best to spoilervoid).

    In defence of Clara, she too proves to be a ordinary girl who did something extraordinary; just that we got to see the fallout before she did it, because Moffat can't resist temporal origami.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I am deeply happy with what they did with her character. Deeply happy. I think some people are probably pissed, but I for one think it was marvelously done.

      As for Clara, I like her, but there just isn't as much to her to like. I mean, she's lovely and clever and says the right thing at the right time, but that's kind of the problem. I'm not Clara. I'm never going to be Clara. I sleep like a wounded octopus sprawled out on my bed and when I wake up my face is covered with hair and I sound like death. My hair isn't shiny, and I don't skip through life. My quirks aren't adorable and cute, they're kind of irritating, like forgetting to take out the trash for weeks on end. I like Clara, but I don't get her. There isn't really enough to get.

      There's nothing wrong with her is what I mean. And that makes me sad. Without flaws there's no way for her overcome them.

      Delete
    2. Fair points re Clara. I like her, but I miss Amy.

      I'm in the happy camp with Rose, but I can't explain my biggest reason why without spoiling it for everyone reading the thread - but if I say that Rose (the episode) seems to be almost immediately after the Doctor regenerates into Nine/nowTenIsuppose and the TARDIS's comment about taking the Doctor where he needs to go, you can probably put the dots together.

      Delete
    3. Yesssssss. Deeply, deeply happy with how that all went down.

      Delete
  2. This article is perfect. I love Rose. I hate seeing how people say she's annoying and too attached to the Doctor. But you're right, she's human. She's more human than any other companion. Her traveling with the doctor became her life. They just went around laughing, holding hands, and saving the world.

    ReplyDelete