I’m a Whovian, which means that I’m a member of the Doctor Who fandom. Doctor Who, the smash BBC hit that was named the longest-running science fiction television show by Guinness World Records, was revived in 2005 after over a decade of hiatus. Throughout the classic show and modern revival, the Doctor travels in his TARDIS spaceship through time and space with companions, saving small cities as well as the entire universe from disaster. Many feminist Whovians have analyzed the Doctor and his companions’ representations of gender, race, and sexuality; in this series, I give some of my own interpretations.
Rose Tyler, played by Billie Piper, is the Doctor’s first companion in the modern series, traveling with him in every episode in Series 1 and 2. She is arguably one of the most controversial companions, generating a huge range of opinions among Doctor Who fans.
Many Whovians are negative about Rose. Some claim that she is a Mary Sue, or an over-idealized projection of the author (in this case, Doctor Who writer Russell T. Davies) who can do no wrong. Others feel that Rose lacks evolution as a character, and many bemoan what they feel was a downhill turn that the plot took when she and the Doctor fell in love. In their essay in the collection Chicks Dig Time Lords, academics Shoshana Magnet and Robert Smith? criticize Rose for falling into the gendered roles of mother, maiden, and damsel in distress, as she takes on a nurturing role with the Doctor, becomes his love interest, and depends on him to save her, respectively.
Personally, Rose is one of my favorite companions, and I can’t see eye to eye with people who don’t like her. I genuinely don’t think that she is remotely like a Mary Sue, since she possesses legitimate flaws; for example, she shows selfishness when she leaves her mother and long-time boyfriend to travel with the Doctor after one chance meeting. The Mary Sue allegation is often the product of misogynistic attitudes, as it is rarely leveled at male characters, and I think that people who call Rose a Mary Sue are just falling into that sexist trap. Whovians who bash Rose often call her a Mary Sue and chav in the same breath, which implies that fans’ dislike of Rose and their desire to dismiss her stems from classism.
But when Whovians call Rose a chav, they misunderstand her. The whole point is that Rose is supposed to be an average person - she “don’t got no A-levels, no job, no future,” as she says about herself in the first episode, “Rose.” She’s just a 19-year-old working class shop girl with few opportunities for advancement, a bad dye job, and too much make up. And yet, she saves the universe on several occasions, both with and without the Doctor. Traveling in the TARDIS alongside the Doctor and learning what she is capable of helps Rose find purpose, giving her confidence in her abilities. This self-assurance enables her to save the word singlehandedly in the Series 1 finale “The Parting of the Ways.”
I really do believe that Rose is a dynamic character who develops as the seasons progress. I don’t understand why people feel that her character suffers when she becomes the Doctor’s love interest; on the contrary, I feel that their relationship enriches Rose’s character. Yes, she is inconsolable after her separation from the Doctor at the end of Series 2, but would you not be incredibly depressed if you were abruptly taken from your loved one? Her mourning does not mean that she did not develop as a character. Indeed, the fact that she loses him while she’s helping save the world shows that she progressed from the girl she was in “Rose,” who said that she didn’t have a future. By making the decision to travel with the Doctor and learning from her experiences with him, she gives herself a future.
Is Rose a feminist character? I think so. As a teenager, Rose holds particular influence over younger viewers, but the messages she imparts are applicable to women of any age group. She shows us that you can be a BAMF who saves the world and still get the guy; you don’t need to stifle yourself or dumb yourself down to be attractive. Rose’s humble origins as a shop girl, an everyday person, show us that you don’t have to be born special or extraordinary to become that way. She encourages us to take agency over our own lives, make our own decisions, and have fun while doing it.