“Except that implies, in this big grand scheme of gods and devils, that she’s just a victim. But I’ve seen a lot of this universe; I’ve seen fake gods, and bad gods, and demi-gods, and would-be-gods, and out of all that, out of that whole pantheon, if I believe in one thing, just one thing, I believe in her.”
Let me state up front that i have often thought of the entire Rose Tyler arch as weird and illogical. But I’ve been re-watching the series, and I’ve actually drawn a very different conclusion: that the Doctor and Rose were actually in one of the most egalitarian relationships ever portrayed on television.
The show began with a nineteen year old blonde girl running off with a forty-something Doctor. They fell in love. This was not an auspicious beginning.
As the first companion to the Doctors after the devastation of the time war, Rose was bound to have an important influence on his personality. Like so many companions, she loved him instantly, and he quietly adored her.
And that is why Rose stuck around longer than anyone but the Ponds: because of what she did to the Doctor. The strange relationship, apparently horribly lopsided with the Doctor holding knowledge, experience, and (to put it bluntly) power over Rose, was probably the most equal relationship between any modern Doctor and Companion.
Rose was a creature of the present. She felt everything, saw the world as full of light and fascinating things. She gave of her heart freely, to people she had never met. The Tenth Doctor once realized she had been possessed because she didn’t care about a load of strangers. Even the Daleks gained Rose’s sympathy.
Rose’s soul was young, and she made the Doctor’s soul feel lighter. The Ninth Doctor came out looking like the kind of doctor you’d be scared to meet in a dark alley, some sort of hyper-masculine dock worker, and although he was often happy around Rose, his demons were never far out of frame. They were light and dark, beauty and fearfulness.
And Rose’s determination to live in the present, to never give up and to keep on loving her Doctor, was what led her to swallow the time vortex, temporarily becoming one of the most powerful companions ever, loads more powerful than the Doctor. She “brought life;” the shopgirl defeated the Daleks with a gesture, and shaped space and time to send the message “Bad Wolf” to herself. Her actions determined the course of the first series’ ending, not the Doctor’s actions. She became an ultimate feminine power, imbued with the Tardis’s abilities, and she used that power to both create and to destroy. Her choices were determined by love, but this isn’t super-silly “feminized” fluffly love—this is love like Kali, love that gave her power.
Rose’s power was always rooted in her ability to love, and in this way she was highly feminized, for better or worse. But this is not reductive femininity on the show’s part: Rose’s compassion makes her stronger, larger, more than herself.
And the strength that comes from love was not Rose’s alone: she gave it to the Ninth Doctor too. He embraced his death without fear, because he was dying for Rose.
Light and Dark became a lot less extreme, the Doctor’s demons were buried further, and his feelings were a lot closer to the surface. When the Tenth Doctor and Rose were together, they made each other infinitely better, which is what we all want from a relationship. The Doctor felt more strongly than he had before (although that might have been because David Tennat is a way better actor), smiled more easily, loved more overtly. That’s how the first honest-to-God love story, in “The Girl in the Fireplace,” was able to deliver the emotional punch it did.
Rose changed the Doctor by giving him something to believe in. She never allowed herself to be a passive agent, she stood by her choice to follow the Doctor (both for him and for herself). The doctor once scoffed at the idea that Rose was “just a victim” in the game of Gods and Devils, and Rose proved his faith in her time and again.
Even in her departure Rose was an actor, choosing to trade her safety to defeat the Daleks and Cybermen. She left the show against her will, and there was nothing anyone had any power to do about it. Rose’s power was always rooted in her emotions, and her ability to cause others to feel as she did, and her departure at the end of the season is heartbreaking for her, the Doctor, and the viewers. She and the Doctor changed each other, they were two complete individuals in a real partnership, and the end of their time together was brutal.
And then came the insanity of the fourth season’s finale, in which Billie Piper apparently forgot how to act. Rose’s agency, along with almost everyone else’s went out the window and she got involuntarily locked in an alternate reality and in what amounts to an arranged marriage. It was like bad fanfiction, and they should really have just left it at the second season finale.
Rose’s influence colored the rest of the Tenth doctor’s companions, and was unparalleled until a little girl asked the Eleventh Doctor for help with the crack in her wall. Martha was basically in a permanent state of comparison with Rose, and knowing it all the time gave her a terrible inferiority complex. Donna wasn’t much like Rose at all, and was thus able to escape her narrative influence.
Amy Pond, at first, seemed to be a lot like Rose. She too had a serious relationship she abandoned for the Doctor, she ran off to travel space and time, she made eyes at him. But it is there that the parallels end, because where Rose was a constant actor in the Doctor’s life, the situation was reversed with Amy.
Of all the companions, Rose’s raw emotional power, power the Doctor lost as he aged, was stronger than any other’s. This relationship seems strange when taken objectively, but subjectively, it makes every kind of sense that Rose would be the love of the Tenth Doctor’s life.