Doctor Who: The Price of Involvement

Filed under:Reviews,Television — posted by Anwyn on July 31, 2006 @ 9:23 pm

Warning: Written in emotional aftermath.

Warning x2: Huge **SPOILERS** for Doctor Who S2 below the jump.

I never watched the old Doctor Who. I know the Doctor was played by many actors and that he had many companions. I know that is the formula of this show, and that actors and actresses make all kinds of choices about when to stay and when to leave any TV series. The new Doctor Who did a good job in changing from Christopher Eccleston to David Tennant as the Doctor after just one season. They did an absolutely masterful job of saying goodbye to Billie Piper as companion Rose Tyler at the end of this season. But that doesn’t mean I have to like it.

Those who follow the BBC well knew already that Billie Piper would be leaving the show. I didn’t. They had done a bit of foreshadowing about her possible death, but I didn’t really believe that would happen, and it didn’t. What they did instead was both better and worse than any death would have been.

I have loved from the beginning the relationship between the Doctor and Rose. They were brought together by circumstances and ostensibly not romantically connected, but like Mulder and Scully they were both far more connected and far more restrained than any ordinary romantic couple could be, and that’s what made them fun to watch. They enjoyed the same things, to giddy levels of delight, complemented each other in thought, word and deed when the stakes were high, and generally operated as a close-knit team. Others, like Rose’s mother, Jackie, were allowed around the outside but never fully included. Though they often took each other’s hands in moments of fun or danger, they were never conventionally involved. How could they be? The Doctor, immortal, can never give himself up to a partner, knowing that he would then have to watch her age and die, while for her part, Rose knew that she was along for the ride and that while the Doctor appreciated, even needed her, he could (and had, in continuity with the older version of the show) make do with any number of other companions just as well.

So. How does a show get rid of one of its leads in a way that’s affecting, not alienating, and serves the actress’s wishes to leave the show? Doctor Who was already ahead of this game, given its past history, and I really shouldn’t have expected Rose to go on forever even if Piper hadn’t wanted to leave, but I’m a girl. I go for the love story every time. It didn’t help that some of the show’s later plots have been really lame–I kept watching for the love story. And they kept giving love story, right up to the end.

Briefly: Daleks and Cybermen arrive on Earth through a door into an alternate-dimension version of Earth–one on which the man who, in our Earth, was Rose’s dad (Pete) is still alive and her mother’s counterpart is dead (which is convenient for Jackie, whose husband has been long dead on our Earth) and where Rose’s former boyfriend, Mickey, has been living and fighting the Cybermen. The only way to get rid of Daleks and Cybermen is to suck them back through the hole into the space between dimensions–hell–and let the vacuum seal the hole behind it. But the vacuum will also suck through anybody who’s been to the other dimension, including Rose, the Doctor, and everybody else she cares about. The Doctor has a plan to avoid that fate, but he is unwilling to risk Rose on it. So Jackie, Pete, and Mickey are to go back to the alternate dimension before the Hell Sucker begins. Rose is, by consensus, to go with them, but naturally she refuses. She knows she will never see her mother again, but she tells Jackie that she (Rose) must stay with the Doctor, as otherwise he must continue battling to save the universe alone, and she couldn’t bear that. The Doctor tries to send her to the alternate dimension against her will, but she manages to escape and return to him. They commence vacuuming Daleks and Cybermen into the hell-hole, but Rose is about to be sucked in as well, the Doctor looking on in helpless, screaming anguish, when Pete pops in from the other dimension, grabs Rose, and pops out again.

Rose is utterly devastated and desolate. And so am I. For the moment.

She lives in the new dimension, presumably trying to come to terms with what has happened, when she dreams one night that the Doctor is calling her name. Pete, Jackie, and Mickey support her in following the voice’s directions, and they end up on the coast of Norway, where there is one small rift left between dimensions, through which the Doctor is sending a projected image of himself to say goodbye. They cannot touch. They will never see each other again. Nice, neat little box to leave Rose the character in so that Billie Piper can escape the role without killing off Rose outright. Which is better, Rose: living on an Earth not your own, without the man you love, or getting sucked into hell?

Thus the price of involvement. Of love. I’m speaking here of the love between the characters, but it’s also the price of getting involved in a TV love story. I felt so let down after their tearful goodbye (even having watched the end, I still didn’t know for sure that Piper was leaving. I looked that up afterward) that I pointed to the TV and prophetically announced that if Piper was leaving, I was done with that show. Having gotten used to the Eccleston–>Tennant switch, I felt that it was asking too much to expect me to take on a different companion. I may not hold myself to that pledge. There’s a long time between now and S3. We’ll see. But it can actually be very difficult to say goodbye to characters and relationships we’ve loved in television. Books are easier. At least in books, there’s no possibility of The Adventures of Arwen Undomiel with the New Bloke we Brought In after Viggo Mortensen Wanted to Leave.

It speaks to the quality of Tennant and Piper that they could suck me this far into their love story in an otherwise very uneven sci-fi effort whose target audience is likely considerably younger than I am. So good for them, and good for the show. But still, it’s a hurdle for a show every time it has to replace a lead, and this will make the second lead Doctor Who has replaced in two years. I hope it will continue and grow more solid, but I wonder how much of its audience will be thrown by yet another change. We’ll see.

zero comments so far »

Have something to say on the subject?

Copy link for RSS feed for comments on this post or for TrackBack URI

Leave a comment

Line and paragraph breaks automatic, e-mail address never displayed, HTML allowed: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>



image: detail of installation by Bronwyn Lace