Love and Loss on Doctor Who

A new companion has been announced and, whether we like it or not, Rose is slipping into history. Those of us who loved them together are caught in the dilemma of second-stage grief; we want to remember, yet know it is better to forget, at least to some extent. Where does this leave us emotionally?

For me, it’s in the position of the child who has seen his mum and dad split up, and clings to the hope that one day they’ll get back together. That’s the experience of many of the children watching the show. And it is a family show, which is different from being a kids’ show. A kids’ show is one you park them in front of while you go and do something else. A family show is one you watch together, enjoy on different levels, and maybe talk about. There are few of them around, because they’re really hard to do. In today’s climate of fragmented families, though, they’ve never been more important. And DW is in a particularly good position to be that kind of show, because it is one that mum and dad remember from their own childhood, but it’s cool enough not just to be something they go on about.

It gave me a buzz when my son said, “This Master guy, is he important, then? Has he been in it before?”

So, with regard to Rose, as memories of S2 recede it takes on more of a fairy-tale quality. Doomsday upset a lot of kids, maybe not the way it upset adult viewers, but enough for them to go a bit quiet and slink away, just as kids do when they come home from school, find Mum crying again, and go round to a friend’s house. Maybe some people think it crossed a line, though we saw more disturbing stuff in “Last of the Time Lords.” But plenty of kids relish Harry Potter, and there’s a lot of pure, unadulterated evil and cruelty in there. It’s not necessarily bad for kids to show them adults falling apart or behaving badly. They see it in RL and they need to figure out how to handle it.

What does matter is how they see adults coping with grief. And from that point of view, much as I’d love to see Rose and the Doctor reunited, I can buy the argument that it’s healthier for children to see them surviving the loss of one another (Although I’d still really like to see how Rose is getting on). Martha’s role was never going to be an easy one and I know many people hoped for love to flower and for her to replace what the Doctor had lost. Not unlike the way Dad might introduce his new girlfriend and reassure the kids that they’ll soon love her just as much as they love Mum. A lot of children must see that happening – parents going into relationships rapidly, or even before, they split up, and kidding everyone, themselves included, that everything will be fine. It rarely is.

So we see that, for the Doctor at least, Martha’s not the answer, and for Martha, getting involved with a grieving bloke who’s got 900 years of history behind him isn’t right for her. Well, what a surprise. Rebound relationships have a lot going against them and rarely work out well. What I loved about Martha’s story, though, was that the Doctor trusted her to do something incredibly difficult, and very simple. Something that children could really understand and relate to. He told her to go and tell the story of him, and of her love. And, indeed, of his love – not for her, but for the human race.

That’s such an empowering thing for kids to see – this woman healing a broken world and bringing down the ultimate baddie by telling her story, the one thing all of us can do. Okay, so it was Tinkerbell Doctor. I cringed at that, but kids familiar with the Disney vocabulary would have seen exactly what was going on, and felt they could be part of it. That  no situation is so hopeless or so evil that change is impossible. And in that sense, S3 was indeed a story of hope.

For most of the children who experience divorce, the happy ending of Mum and Dad reunited is fantasy – and with the passage of time, the memory of Mum and Dad being perfectly happy together, and that solving all your problems, is fantasy too. Now there is a place for myth and fantasy. I think adults often crave it because we want some relief from real life. However, it is probably not the best thing to show kids all the time. Whereas if they say a Doctor that they remember as hurt and crying, eventually picking himself up and moving on to an accommodation with the past, and some kind of happiness, that’s quite a healthy thing for them to see. Because, mostly, Mummy won’t come back and make everything all right again. And Dad’s new girlfriend won’t make everything all right, either. The only thing that will, undoubtedly, make things better, is seeing the grownups learn how to grow through loss, because that teaches us it is possible, and maybe even the way to do it.

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10 thoughts on “Love and Loss on Doctor Who

  1. Very well said. Not much else I can add to that. I would have liked to seen a lot more healing this season, but they chose to go the truly dark route. I’m not sure why that is other than RTD being a mean bastard. (I kid out of love *g*) I didn’t connect with Martha at all, but I can still appreciate the story and the sentiment behind it.

  2. Very well said… and you’re right, though I’m still not ready to let go of Mum and Dad getting back together again… even if I know it wouldn’t last. *grin* Maybe sometime next year it won’t hurt so much.

  3. All very true; I don’t like it when shows kill off characters, and bring them back from the dead, either. That really bothers me, because it instills something in the back of kids’ heads that can actually interfere with the grief process if anything ever does happen. Kids will think their lost loved one could come back. It’s not healthy, and it’s disrespectful.
    I’d like to see how Rose is doing, too. I don’t see why they don’t do some sort of spinoff miniseries or something. You know Billie’d be up for it but RTD and his crew can’t be bothered. Tossers.

  4. Well, interesting you should say that. They got very close to planning a Rose spin-off and then RTD pulled out, even though it cost him money and credibility. That’s the main reason I’ve always half-expected Rose to return. Still wonder what’s going on there.

  5. I do have a few issues with S3 similar to yours. I felt cheated that they built up the mourning for Rose so much and then there was no payoff. I sometimes wonder if RTD is getting a bit arrogant and taking pleasure in toying with the fans, and it left a bad taste in my mouth in the finale, although I liked most of it.

  6. Oh yes, I still live in hope. But I can see that if they did it, and then for some reason it was lame, that would make things worse. So I still wonder if they’ll do it right at the end, and go out on a high. Or maybe, even, a movie?

  7. Oh, a movie would be a lovely idea. I view Rose coming back sort of like UST… you keep wishing for it resolved, but once fulfilled, you know it could go downhill.

  8. I really think she needs to come back, if only briefly. I don’t know if her joining the Doctor as a companion again would even work at this point, when so much has changed, but some closure would be nice.

  9. I felt cheated that they built up the mourning for Rose so much and then there was no payoff.
    Well…is it no payoff, or is it no payoff yet?
    Jack’s return was planned back at the end of S1. And there have been so many little things planted along the way…I think RTD is taking a very long road. I don’t know where it leads, but I think that he had a full four-year story to tell. Then when he’s told it, he’ll hand off the “Who” torch to someone else.
    It’s not as well done as Babylon 5 was, but I do see strong elements of that type of storytelling. It’s a tapestry. Or maybe a painting like Seurat’s “Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte.” We’re being allowed to see small threads or dots…and they haven’t pulled the camera back to give us the full picture yet.

  10. Just wondered, did you ever see the Sondheim show, “Sunday in the Park”. That was all about La Grande Jatte.
    No, I haven’t. My husband’s not a theater person, so it’s very rare that I get to indulge.

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