Rose Tyler is one of the most important companions in Doctor Who history, and the effect that she had on the show – and the Doctor – endures to this day.
It’s often said that Doctor Who Season 26 laid the ground-work for the future shape of the programme. Certainly, Doctor Who was starting to develop companions in much deeper and more nuanced ways, exploring their backgrounds, struggles and personal histories. The Seventh Doctor‘s companion Ace was undoubtedly an archetype for the companions to come.
And so when Rose Tyler arrived in 2005, she picked up where the classic series left off – only this time the writers were able to develop her character more fully (Doctor Who had been axed in 1989, leaving Ace‘s character arc unresolved.) One obvious similarity between Ace and Rose Tyler was their background, both having grown up on council estates near London with absentee fathers. Rose was more down-to-earth in every sense, immersed in the gritty reality of a life that wasn’t always easy.
And like Ace, Rose Tyler wore her humanity on her sleeve. Audiences slowly learned what made her laugh, and what made her cry; indeed, Rose shed her very first tear in episode two of the relaunched series, overcome with sadness after seeing the Earth consumed by the sun in the year 5 billion.
But Rose Tyler’s moments of sadness were not just tokenism. Her character came with a tragic backstory, having lost her father at a young age after he’d been killed in a hit-and-run. And this personal sadness formed part of her motivation to travel with the Doctor; she’d initially refused a trip in the TARDIS, but when she discovered that the Doctor’s machine travelled in time, she quickly accepted his offer. It wasn’t until episode seven that the truth of this fully emerged; she wanted to use the TARDIS to change history and save her father’s life – a plan that had disastrous consequences, for both herself and planet Earth.
This was one of the first times in the series’ history that a Doctor Who companion’s backstory had been so deeply interwoven into the narrative, or indeed that a companion’s motivation for travel had been seriously addressed. The showrunners continued this depth of characterisation for many years after Rose Tyler’s departure. Martha Jones, for example, travelled with the Doctor because she was infatuated with him. Clara Oswald, on the other hand, became something of a personal carer, having seen him go through a challenging regeneration that left him with an (at times) impaired moral judgement.
That is not to say that Rose Tyler’s motivations could be reduced to a single sentence. She was a complex character, and she too developed romantic feelings for the Doctor. And uniquely for the series, these feelings were reciprocated. The Doctor’s relationship with Rose Tyler – while platonic – was romantically charged, and co-dependent. In fact, Rose became so possessive of the Doctor that she became defensive and jealous when former companion Sarah Jane Smith arrived on the scene, and she even went so far as to resist Mickey (her on-off boyfriend) from joining the TARDIS team.
Prior to this, the idea that romance could exist in the TARDIS had been strongly resisted; the 80s producer John Nathan-Turner had even gone to great lengths to conceal every millimetre of bare flesh on his companions out of fear that people might think there was “hanky panky” going on in the TARDIS corridors.
And while the Doctor never had an attachment as strong as the one for Rose Tyler again, their future relationships were much deeper. At one point he even allowed himself to believe he was Clara Oswald’s boyfriend, and relished the idea – something he later apologised for. And in the 2022 episode ‘Eve of the Daleks,’ we saw the Doctor and Yaz’s relationship taken to the next level with Yaz admitting that she had feelings for the Doctor.
But one thing that Rose Tyler will always be remembered for – both in-universe and in real life – is for being the mysterious ‘bad wolf.’ This was a mystery that built up throughout Series One, with the words ‘bad wolf’ following the Ninth Doctor and Rose through time and space like a message – a message that was ultimately meant for Rose Tyler herself. And delivered by Rose Tyler. (It’s complicated.)
This was because Rose looked into the time vortex at the heart of the TARDIS to save the Doctor’s life. She scattered the words ‘bad wolf’ throughout time and space as a message to herself, pointing her to the Game Station of the same name in the year 200,000. And the bad wolf legacy remained long after her departure. In fact, when Rose returned from a parallel universe in ‘Turn Left,’ the words ‘bad wolf’ came with her, signalling to the Doctor that she was on her way back to him.
And in real life, the words ‘bad wolf’ have an enduring legacy. They now form the name of the production company setup by Jane Tranter and Julie Gardner as a nod to their time working on Doctor Who. And it’s now come full circle, as Bad Wolf Productions are currently making the next iteration of Doctor Who under the guidance of showrunner Russell T Davies, who created the character of Rose Tyler! Wibbly wobbly, timey wimey.
Alas, we haven’t seen much of Rose Tyler since she left the TARDIS (for the last time) in 2008, although she made a cameo in David Tennant’s last episode, and the sentient weapon known as the Moment adopted her body as a means of talking to the Doctor in the 50th anniversary special.
In addition, a spin-off series titled Rose Tyler: Earth Defence was originally planned in 2006, and indeed it was commissioned by the BBC before being quickly aborted by Russell T Davies, who felt it would lessen the impact of her dramatic departure. Apparently, it would have followed Rose Tyler’s character as she joined a parallel universe’s version of Torchwood and defended the Earth against alien threats.
That is not to say that there is not still an appetite for Rose Tyler’s character, and few Doctor Who fans would object to seeing her character return in some capacity. And with Russell T Davies returning to the fold for the show’s 60th anniversary special and subsequent series, it is not beyond the realms of possibility.
What’s your favourite Rose Tyler memory? And would you like her to return to Doctor Who at some point? Let me know in the comments below.
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