It’s pretty clear now, that when Doctor Who came back after its enforced lay-off, the character on whom the production team’s hopes rested wasn’t so much the Doctor as his first companion. Get that right, and you’re back in the game. Get it wrong, and you might as well give up.
In terms of the Doctor and his role in proceedings, it’s close to business as usual. He flies around time and space, acts like he’s in charge, fixes things, saves the day, blows up the baddies, and whooshes off once more.
Whereas Rose – played by Billie Piper – is the converted sceptic, representing the wary Who audience, who want to believe but have been let down too many times in the past. She’s from an estate in London, lives a life which does not lend itself well to fantasies, does not know how to create made-up bombs, does not have a plummy accent and has clearly not come straight out of drama school. Rose Tyler is, if the term has any meaning for a TV show in which people can travel in time and space, real.
She asks the awkward questions, like: “If you are an alien, how comes you sound like you’re from the North?”
To which the Doctor, who has always enjoyed a bit of bickering, replies “lots of planets have a north,” the line which reassures everyone that this new Who is going to be alright.
And she’s one of the companions who gets to blossom, a companion on whom the Doctor has an astonishing effect, and we can see the effect, because her boyfriend hates it, and her mum fears it.
She also gets to travel back to events from her own past, just to see that she can’t change them. Which is the one thing all companions would like to do above all else. Never mind visiting Shakespeare or seeing what the Romans had for breakfast, given the chance, wouldn’t we all go back and change things from our own past? Wouldn’t we try that FIRST (possibly after seeing some dinosaurs)?
Of course, the consequences are heartbreaking, but still, you’d try, wouldn’t you?
The other thing to consider is Rose’s effect on the Doctor. When they first meet, he’s in a nihilistic frame of mind. He’s just witnessed the end of the Time Lords, and the end of the Daleks, and he’s the sole survivor (so he thinks) of that conflict. And like a lot of combat veterans, he’s hidden his feelings away to keep them safe.
Look, this is what he’s really like inside:
He presents a brittle front, combative and sharp, which is why Rose, who has some of the same sharpness to her, appeals to him. She can joust with him, bring him out of his shell a bit. Which is exactly what he needs. He likes the reflection of himself in her eyes.
And she’s there for him when he regenerates. She’s saved his life by looking into the time vortex, he saved her life by absorbing all the energy into his body, so when he changes, she looks after him in the only way she knows, by taking him back to her mum’s until he feels better. That’s the bond they have, she brings the Doctor into her world as much as he drags her into his.
After the regeneration, things lighten up a bit. The bond between the Doctor and Rose intensifies, not least because he’s blazingly charismatic now, where once he was unpredictable and fiery. Even Mickey warms to the new Doctor.
Oh but the goodbye, when it comes, is long and hard:
And then, Rose having managed to travel across dimensions to get back to the Doctor – Di-flipping-MENSIONS though! – he goes and gets himself shot by a rogue dalek. This is the Doctor and Rose’s true Romeo and Juliet moment.
And at the end of everything, with an extra, part-human Doctor, it seems incredibly unfair that Rose can’t spend forever with her Doctor, the way she wants it to be. There again, she gets the best, most heartfelt send-off any companion has received, and her own humanoid Doctor to play with.
As much as Russell T Davies and the Ninth Doctor combined, Rose is the person who resurrected Doctor Who the show, because she represents the fans who loved it, and wanted it to come back better. She not only healed the emotional wounds of the Doctor himself, she healed ours too, allowing the show to return in triumph, not limp out with all the same tired old gags, for a wheezy victory lap.
And, as the greatest fan of the Doctor ever, it’s only fitting that, having brought everyone together, and made everything work, she gets to leave with the most unique collectable action figurine (fully poseable too) of all time.
NB: You can watch Rose in action in the Doctor Who episode “End of the World” via Facebook Video On Demand.