Tag Archive for Rose 2005

The First Face This Face Saw

[crossposted at tansyrr.com]

I know that most of us are thinking REALLY HARD about The Angels Take Manhattan right now, but I wanted to step back for a moment and talk instead about a thought that emerged from the previous episode, The Power of Three.

“The first face this face saw,” the Eleventh Doctor said to Amy, explaining why it is that he has been so very emotionally attached to her, and by extension, Rory, over the last several hundred years. Much like “I always took you where you needed to be” from The Doctor’s Wife, this one line throws the whole history of Doctor Who into a new light.

I’ve always subscribed to the idea that the Ninth Doctor was freshly regenerated in “Rose,” and that he went off to have a bunch of adventures in that instant before he and the TARDIS came back for her and he upped his offer: “Did I mention it also travels in time?” Not only is this a nice thought because it means he got to have a bunch of adventures on his own, but it allows him to appear at various points through history in his leather jacket, thereby catching the attention of Clive.

But Rose could well have been the first face that his Ninth face saw. At least, the first non-Auton, non-dead face. The first person he talked to, the first person he told to “Run.” Extending this thought further, this could be why he came back for her at the end of the episode, once he thought of something new to tempt her with. And maybe even that “run” was the first word he said, also imprinting itself upon the destiny of his incarnation of the Doctor.

Yes, I’m arguing that the Doctors set their own themes in the first moments of life. Bear with me.

I know that many fans are annoyed by the perceived “specialness” of Rose, while others love her best and most above all others. Well, she is special. Because she may well be the only person whom the Doctor saw first in two incarnations. With the Ninth, it’s arguable, but it’s definite with the Tenth. He regenerated in the TARDIS, and the first face his face saw was Rose, crying and angry and bouncing emotions off the walls. Rose, who loved him.

Yep, this explains a lot about the Tenth Doctor.

But does the theory hold up into the Classic series? I had a long walk this morning, which always does ferocious things to my brain, and I’m here to tell you that maybe it DOES.

Some are drawing a longer bow than others, I’ll admit. The first face the Eighth Doctor saw was that of a morgue technician screaming at him for being alive. But the surgeon who killed him, Grace Holloway, certainly can have had an effect on who he was as a Doctor. Did he see her through the anaesthesia? Does his grogginess explain the weird hallucination about being half human?

The Seventh Doctor is a way better example. The first face his face saw was his old enemy the Rani, pretending to be his companion Mel. No wonder he spent his whole incarnation as a sneaky, suspicious and manipulative dark version of himself! Apart from the whole spoon-playing phase which was obviously caused by the strobing effect from Mel’s psychelic apricot striped outfit.

The Sixth Doctor tried to kill the first face his face saw, the argumentative Peri, and his incarnation was certainly characterised by bickering and violence.

The Fifth Doctor saw three young people he barely knew: Adric, Nyssa and Tegan, and spent the rest of his regenerative crisis freaking out and impersonating his former selves. I have no idea what effect this had on his personality. But it does explain why he and/or the TARDIS failed so utterly to return Tegan to her workplace over and over again, despite her stated wishes.

The first faces the Fourth Doctor saw were Sarah Jane Smith and the Brig. Interesting then that he set out to distance himself quickly from UNIT and his previous life on earth. A born contrarian? Still, there’s no denying that he remained more closely attached to them both than almost any other companions of the classic era. He sent Sarah a K9, after all, and he always came back for Alistair Gordon.

The first face that the Third Doctor’s face saw was a random squaddie who shot him. He then spent five years living with and working for the military, despite the fact that this was dramatically against anything established for the character previously.

And finally, the Second Doctor. His very first regeneration, and the first people he saw were Ben and Polly. There was nothing particularly special about them, though it is worth noting that he spent his entire incarnation with companion pairs of a boy and a girl, except for the one time that Jamie stowed away.

The first faces that the first regenerated Doctor saw were human, though. And in fact, apart from Nyssa, Adric and the Rani, every first face his faces have seen have been human. No wonder he’s so attached to us all, to the humans who live on Earth. The First Doctor despised humans, and if he had any control over the TARDIS, would not have chosen to land on Earth nearly as often as he did. But the later Doctors… every one of them called Earth his home away from home.

And there we are, proof that I think about this stuff way too much.

NuWho, poverty, and class: Or, the poor women are totally screwed

Kate’s great post on Rose Tyler reminded me of my own love affair with Rose. Rose gets a lot of flack in the fan community (mostly because she had the gall to be loved by the Doctor), but for me, she was revolutionary. I had never before seen a show that featured a working-class young woman as its heroine. When I was growing up poor, the best representation I got was Roseanne.

In Doctor Who, Rose’s background is never swept under the rug, or made the butt of a joke. Even when Cassandra calls her a “chav” in “New Earth,” the show doesn’t align us with her opinion. Cassandra making negative comments on Rose’s appearance after she jumped out of her own body, a trampoline of skin, appears almost laughable. Further, she has always been depicted in the show as a snob. She is, after all, Lady Cassandra. Her classist remarks come off as petty, not observant. And I loved this about the show. Rose was poor and a heroine. She was depicted as bright, adventurous, and badass.

Unfortunately, as I watched Russell T. Davies era end, I noticed a pattern in the stories and outcomes of the poor vs. privileged companions in NuWho. And that pattern was not nice to the poor companions.

Rose lives in government-subsidized housing. She has an entry-level retail job in “Rose” (2005), and no higher education to speak of. She is stuck in a dead-end job, with a dead-end boyfriend, and not a lot of prospects for the future. Then the Doctor comes along. With his infinitely-large house, the TARDIS; his unlimited possibilities for travel and adventure; and his obliviousness about money.

That last bit always got to me. I think that the Doctor thought it was charming of him, how he never understood money. But I couldn’t find it charming at all, any more charming than I find rich people in the U.S. who say things like, “But $500,000 isn’t even that much money!” Not having to think about money is a privilege the Doctor shares with the upper class in Rose’s world. Not bothering to think about money and the effect it has on this race he claims to care so much about? That felt pretty cruel to me, as I watched him travel with a companion who was poor.

So Rose is saved from a bleak future by a Daddy Warbucks with a time machine.

Compare this with the story of Martha Jones. Martha has her own problems, being stuck in the middle of her parents’ bickering after a nasty divorce. But Martha is also in a position of extreme privilege. Her family clearly has significantly more money that Rose’s, and Martha can even afford to live alone. She is going to medical school, and loans are never really mentioned, even when she jets off with a time traveler. (That would be my first concern: Am I going to have bill collectors on me by the time I get back?) Martha doesn’t have to be saved by the Doctor, but that’s not just because she’s older or more mature than Rose. It’s because she doesn’t have too much to be saved from.

Donna’s story, on the other hand, is very similar to Rose’s, only Rose is 19 and Donna is played by 42-year-old Catherine Tate. Donna is living in a multi-generational home, for financial reasons. (We can tell this in part because Donna’s mother seems very unhappy with Donna living in the house, but never seriously suggests she moves out, probably because she knows that’s a financial impossibility.) Donna’s career looks like what Rose’s probably would have been 30 years in the future; she works a series of dead-end temp jobs, without much hope of a “real” career. Donna is smart, but we don’t hear about her having a college education. Her best hope of a normal, middle-class life is getting married to someone better off than herself.

Is it any wonder that both Rose and Donna say they will stay with the Doctor forever? I’ve heard fans say that this is out of character for Donna, because she isn’t young and in love. But Donna has as little to look forward to in her working-class life as Rose does. Of course they both want to stay with the Doctor; he represents a life unburdened with thankless and unfulfilling work, living paycheck to paycheck. It’s not just adventure that companions get to look forward to, it’s a life in which money doesn’t matter.

Being poor and on food stamps myself, I can see why Rose and Donna would jump at the chance to stay forever.

Unfortunately, neither of them get to stay forever. While I understand that has to be a production decision, I railed as a viewer against what I would term the “classed outcomes” of the companions in NuWho. I can’t include Amy in this analysis, because her ending is still up in the air, so let’s look at the other companions’ outcomes.

For Rose, the privilege the Doctor carries offers her a “happily ever after” ending. Her father returns (sort of), she gets the lover and partner she wanted (sort of), and is returned to her world (sort of) with new-found family wealth and influence. I would argue those “sort of”s are important, however. Rose is still trapped in an alternate dimension. I don’t know if we can gloss over that quickly just because her mom and best friend are with her. She doesn’t even officially exist in this world, so how can she thrive there? Is she going to be able to go to college without a birth certificate or ID? Is she going to be able to work? Are we supposed to believe her father’s money will smooth all that over? And this universe was supposed to be a dystopia, and now we’re to believe everything’s fine and awesome for her?

Rose’s dad is not really her dad; this man never even fathered a child, and had completely different experiences than her real one would have had, if he had lived. And Rose’s Doctor is not the Doctor. He is supposed to be an improvement, a man who can make a real life with her, but last time I checked, Rose wasn’t hankering for a white picket fence and children. She won’t get to live in the TARDIS again, or have time-traveling adventures, or get to help save the world. And none of that was a choice made by her.

Donna’s fate is even worse. Donna forgets everything, and thus everything good that came from her experience with the Doctor–her growth and her friendship with him–is gone. She returns to her unhappy life and her temp jobs. She loses her zest for adventure. And in the end, the best we can hope for her is a happy marriage to someone richer than she.

Compare these fates to Martha’s. Martha returns to the security she always had. (I would argue that security is precisely why Martha can leave the Doctor, while Rose and Donna had to be forced out.) She gets her medical degree and has her choice of careers. She is in a position of power at UNIT when we see her again. And had she forgotten the Doctor, like Donna did? She still would have been fine. It would have been sad, but it wouldn’t have devastated her life. She would still have gotten her M.D. She would still have gotten a rewarding job. She still would have had her independence and security.

On one hand, I think that the fact that the poor companions get shafted in Doctor Who is the result of their being shafted in real life. How much can adventuring experience help you if you don’t already have the security of a good education and financial stability in real life? But on the other hand, Donna didn’t have to be the one to lose her memory. Rose didn’t have to be the one trapped in an alternate dimension. Martha didn’t have to be the one hired by UNIT. And yet.

For the Russell T. Davies era at least, the poor women are totally screwed.

Is Rose Tyler “fantastic” for our daughters?

 

The excitement in our household was palpable in the Spring of 2005 when Doctor Who returned to the BBC. My husband a life-long fan, me a fresh convert and our impressionable two-year old daughter—who we said had to watch it with us or go to bed. You always remember your first Doctor.  In the case of my daughter Christopher Eccleston came and went too quickly. Her Doctor will always be David Tennant, though she has embraced Matt Smith’s Time Lord incarnation. Rose Tyler will always be her first companion. And so I choose to place Rose first under my Feminist Fan Girl Icon Microscope because, like my daughter, Rose was my first companion.

Investigating the impact of Dr Who on the developing feminist consciousness of my daughters requires me to do some rather difficult things. I must first step outside of myself and re-connect with little Kate. I have to look at these female characters from a juvenile view point in order to truly assess the cultural communication taking place. I also need to place Dr Who in the context of other forces muscling in on this conversation, attempting to shape the characters of our children. All this I shall attempt whilst sticking to my previously established success criteria.

Does Rose embody a positive body image? I believe she does. She is not unreasonably skinny nor is she unattainably glamorous (excessive mascara notwithstanding). When I compare her with characters from the Disney Channel shows my daughters watch, Rose seems positively radical in her disregard for fashionable footwear and hair extensions. She does not appear interested in cultural standards of beauty, a fact emphasised on Rose’s first trip in the Tardis. At The End of the World, she meets Cassandra: “The Last Human”. “You’re not human,” says Rose to Cassandra. “You’ve had it all nipped and tucked and flattened till there’s nothing left. Anything human got chucked in the bin. You’re just skin, Cassandra. Lipstick and skin.” (The End of the World 2005) What a marvellously eloquent and witty comment, worthy of science fiction’s long tradition of exploring the extremes of human society in order to shine a laser beam on our foibles and follies. Even when enjoying the attentions of Captain Jack, The Doctor and Mickey, Rose never gives the impression her desirability is rooted in her body or in her ability to accessorise.

Does Rose use her intelligence and is she valued for it? First impression reports a negative on this issue. Rose is not a medic in training nor an accomplished reporter or a brilliant scientist. In the very first episode (Rose 2005) she loses her low status retail job and confesses to having no academic qualifications. However, her keen observation and deduction skills capture The Doctor’s attention right away.

Rose Tyler: Very clever, nice trick. Who were they then, students? Is this a student thing or what?
The Doctor: Why would they be students?
Rose Tyler: I dunno.
The Doctor: Well you said it, why students?
Rose Tyler: Cos… to get that many people dressed up and being silly… they gotta be students.
The Doctor: That makes sense. Well done!

Class plays an important role in determining the value of Rose’s intelligence. Marxist Feminist theory would say Rose has a high level of intelligence based on her relatively far out position in the concentric socio-political hierarchy since she is a working class woman of little education. She also possesses a great deal of emotional intelligence. Perhaps Nu Who has a theme of valuing alternative intelligence in its female characters, creating a dramatic balance to the Doctor’s supernaturally logical mind? While this is not the post for examining in detail the relationship between the Whopanions and the concept of Multiple Intelligence, it would be an intriguing topic to explore at some point.

But all this gets rather lost on the under-ten crowd.

To my daughters, Rose exemplifies a kind of homespun common sense intelligence throughout her travels with The Doctor, as does Donna’s character in Season Four. But is Rose truly valued for it? The honest answer is probably: Sometimes Sort Of. Obviously Rose is no Hermione Granger (the Feminist Fan Girl epitome of being valued for your intelligence), but she receives far more respect for her brain power than Lisa Simpson or Katniss Everdene. The Doctor himself vacillates between praising the alternative intellects of the women around him, while also making it clear that no one can possibly possess more wisdom and intelligence than the last timelord.

Does Rose sometimes “save the day”?  The answer to this is an unequivocal: Hell Yeah! From her first episode to her last, Rose’s stubborn courage saves the day over and over again—and she does not give up easily. She swings heroically on a rope, absorbs the heart of the Tardis, abandons her family to help save the world, convinces The Doctor to spare the life of a dying Dalek, infiltrates a Cyberman factory and risks everything to break through dimensions in order to save The Doctor and The World. She makes my childhood hero Princess Leia look like a bit of a wimp in comparison.

Does Rose show spunky independence? Again, the answer has to be: Yes. All Whopanions show a certain level of spunky independence. If they simply did as they were told, the program’s narrative would lose a great deal of its dramatic conflict.  Rose is no exception.  When did she ever just “stay in the car”?

Does Rose strive to stay true to her beliefs? In the beginning, Rose does not really appear to have any beliefs. She comes across as a Little Girl Lost—dissatisfied with her career prospects, disaffected with her education, disinterested in her relationships. One thing she does appear to believe at the start is the dignity of working class women. She converses freely with maintenance worker Raffalo in The End of the World. In The Unquiet Dead 2005 she even attempts an East End London Chav’s version of Consciousness Raising with Victorian servant girl Gwyneth. However, as Rose was likely absent the day her College Life Skills course addressed the topic of Respect, she handles Gwyneth in a way that clearly shows an ironic lack of appreciation for the servant girl’s own intelligence.

Gwyneth: Don’t I get a say, miss?
Rose Tyler: Well, yeah… look… you don’t understand what’s going on.
Gwyneth: You would say that, miss, because that’s very clear inside your head, that you think I’m stupid.
Rose Tyler: That’s not fair!
Gwyneth: It’s true, though. Things might be very different where you’re from, but here and now I know my own mind.

These early attachments to working class women have more to do with Rose’s need to connect with familiar circumstances and people in the mad world she has thrown herself into than with promoting social equality. What Rose truly believes in is The Doctor. The same can be said of most Whopanions. Does she stay true to this belief? Every single time.

In the end, Rose Tyler passes my Feminist Fan Girl Icon test. She may not be an adult fan’s idea of a feminist character but, where our daughters are concerned, she presents a positive image. It was not until later in life that I associated the changes in Princess Leia’s character with the cultural backlash against second wave feminism. As a little girl, I thought she was incredibly brave and powerful. Adult Me has cultivated serious righteous indignation at the desexualisation of Velma, but kid me loved the fact that a smart girl always solved the mystery. So it is with Rose. Flawed though she may be, I believe she is a feminist force for good among the under tens.

Doctor Who quotations courtesy of Doctor Who Reference Guide.