One of the things I love contemplating about Doctor Who is each companion’s first trip in the TARDIS. Not their first meeting with the Doctor, when they get caught up in the wake of adventure, danger, and world-saving. But the first willing trip they take after the Doctor invites them to travel along with them for a while. While it’s not my favorite “first trip” episode, “The End of the World” (S1,E2) is the most fascinating to me. Just having helped the Doctor (Christopher Eccleston) save London from the Nestene Consciousness, a sort of living plastic that was controlling store mannequins, Rose Tyler (Billie Piper) bounds into the TARDIS in search of adventure. Where the Doctor decides to take her says so much about where he’s at on his own emotional journey. How she responds to this says so much about who she is and why the Doctor needs her.
The first episode of the first series of the new Doctor Who is titled “Rose,” not “Pilot” like so many other shows. Rose is the first character we see in the episode. Rose’s voice is the first we hear. Rose will provide the lens through which the viewer meets the Doctor and gains an understanding of his world. Clearly, Rose Tyler is important. She is the heart of the narrative and, in time, will be responsible for breathing life back into the Doctor’s hearts as well.
Situated within the history of the show, Rose falls in a unique place amongst the Doctor’s companions. The 2005 reboot/continuation of Doctor Who takes place after the Great Time War. The Doctor is the lone survivor from the war, the last of the Time Lords. His planet was destroyed. His people were destroyed. He is left to wander the universe alone trying desperately to outrun his pain in some measure. When the Doctor invites Rose to travel with him she is the first person he’s reached out to since the war ended. She will prove to be the one who reaches through his self-imposed isolation and begins to pull him back into relationship, into community . Essentially, she is responsible for bringing the Doctor through the trauma that haunts him.
Rose agrees to travel with the Doctor, S1E1 ending with her running into the TARDIS with an excited smile spreading across her face. The second episode picks up as they debate where to go. The exchange is playful, fun. There’s lots of teasing and a hint of flirting, too.
The Doctor – “Right then, Rose Tyler, you tell me. Where do you want to go? Backwards or forwards in time? It’s your choice, then.”
Rose – “Eh…forwards.”
The Doctor – “How far?”
Rose – “One hundred years.”
[The Doctor dials it in and sets the TARDIS wheezing towards their destination.]
The Doctor – “There you go. Step outside those doors, it’s the 22nd century.”
Rose – “You’re kiddin’ me.”
The Doctor – “That’s a bit borin’, though. Do you wanna go further?”
Rose – “Fine by me.”
[The Doctor dials the TARDIS controls and sets it off once again.]
The Doctor – “Ten thousand years in the future. Step outside, it’s the year 12,005 – the New Roman Empire.”
Rose – “You think you’re so impressive.”
The Doctor – “I am so impressive!”
Rose – “You wish.”
The Doctor – “Right then, you asked for it. I know exactly where to go. Hold on!”
The TARDIS materializes inside a suite. The Doctor sonics open the window to reveal the Earth. He tells Rose, “You lot, you’re always thinkin’ about dyin’. Like you’re gonna get killed by eggs or beef or global warming or asteroids. But you never take time to imagine the impossible – that maybe you survive. This is the year 5.5/Apple/26, five billion years in your future. And this is the day…hold on [checking his watch to be sure of the exact time]…this is the day the sun expands. Welcome to the end of the world.”
Out of the entirety of time and space, the Doctor brings Rose here. And they reach this destination specifically because of the Doctor’s prodding. He keeps urging Rose to think bigger, wider, further. He teases her that her 100 years in the future is too provincial, given the TARDIS’ capabilities. And, ultimately, he doesn’t even tell her were they’re going until they are already there. “I know exactly where to go,” he assures her. In response to Rose’s jab at the Doctor’s impressiveness, he brings her to the end of the Earth. However, I don’t think it was random on the Doctor’s part. I think this was where he was always planning on taking Rose.
In a great bit of commentary, the Doctor tells Rose the observation platform they are on is so people – “the rich” – can gather together to watch the Earth burn. The planet has become “the property of the National Trust.” They kept it preserved, shifting the continents back to their “classic Earth” orientation for nostalgic entertainment’s sake and using gravity satellites to hold back the sun. Now the money’s ran out so they’re letting it burn. The message plays out wonderfully – the entire world has been the plaything of the rich and, because they’ve bored with it, they are literally letting it die. Talk about a commentary on wealth and corruption!
Rose – “How long’s it got?”
The Doctor – “’Bout half an hour. Then the planet gets roasted.”
Rose – “Is that why we’re here? I mean, is…is that what you do? Jump in at the last minute and save the Earth?”
The Doctor – “I’m not savin’ it. Time’s up.”
Rose – “But what about the people?”
The Doctor – “It’s empty. They’ve all gone. All left.”
Rose – “Just me then…”
In this moment, the excitement and awe begin to slip for Rose. While she’s standing in a place, in a time she could never have fathomed just moments before, she is now wrestling with the idea that her world is about to die, her people are all gone. She is all alone. What the Doctor has done here is so obvious and it is both a little twisted on his part as well as a clear indication of how broken he is. This is a painful cry for help. He is so alone. He has invited Rose into his life and the introductory journey, her first steps into the Doctor’s world, are a time and place which will naturally make her feel isolated and alone, too.
They’re interrupted by the steward of the event who introduces all the other distinguished guests who have come to see the destruction of the Earth. At first, Rose is swept up in the excitement of all the alien species parading around but she’s soon overcome by the foreign nature of it all and she hurries out of the room.
The Doctor finds Rose back in their suite, struggling to come to grips with everything she’s seeing. As she tries to take in the aliens, the location, the end of the Earth, and all of it you can see the sadness and loneliness wash over her face. Pulling out his sonic screwdriver, the Doctor modifies her cell phone so she can call anywhere in space and time. Immediately Rose rings her mum. You see Rose smile in reassurance as she talks to Jackie (Camille Coduri) but, once she hangs up, the sadness hits again. She says, “That was five billion years ago. So…she’s dead now. Five billion years later my, my mum’s dead.” “Bundle of laughs you are,” is the Doctor’s retort.
The Doctor is at a place where he can’t express his own emotions, his own grief and pain. He can’t approach Rose’s emotions either, without a veneer of sarcasm. Clearly it was important to the Doctor for Rose to feel this – he didn’t know how to begin to connect with her otherwise – but he is in no place to help her process what she’s feeling. Their exchange is interrupted by the observation station shaking unexpectedly.
Naturally, this leads to investigating. As the Doctor pokes around the engine room with Jabe (one of the invited guests, a Tree of Cheem), she pushes into his past. “And what about your ancestry, Doctor?” Jabe asks. “Perhaps you could tell a story or two. Perhaps a man only enjoys trouble when there’s nothing else left. I scanned you earlier. The metal machine had trouble identifying your species, refused to admit your existence. And even when it named you, I wouldn’t believe it. But it was right. I know where you’re from. Forgive me for intruding but it’s remarkable that you even exist. I just wanted to say how sorry I am.” With this Jabe (Yasmin Bannerman) puts her hand on the Doctor’s arm and you can see the Doctor fighting to hold back the tears in his eyes, blinking as they fall. Christopher Eccleston plays this scene brilliantly. For a moment all his bluster and sarcasm and cockiness fall away and the real hurt is revealed. There is so much pain he’s running from, so much he wants to forget but never can. When his walls drop in that instant, the viewer sees it along with Jabe.
All the adventuring plays out and the Doctor discovers the trouble on the station was caused by another invited guest, Lady Cassandra (Zoë Wanamaker). Lady Cassandra is referred to as the last human but she’s basically a stretched out piece of skin with a face on it. Her brain’s in a vat below the skin and the skin itself is in constant need of moisturizing or else she’ll dry out and crumble. Cassandra was trying to create a hostage situation by putting all the wealthy guests on board the station in danger to turn a profit off the event.
The Doctor reverses her teleport and she returns to the station and, as temperature in the room rapidly increases, Cassandra begins to dry out. As she struggles Rose looks to the Doctor. “Help her,” she asks. Refusing, the Doctor replies, “Everything has its time and everything dies.” This is the villain being defeated, sure. But it also adds another layer to the emotional experience ripping through Rose. She is witnessing the literal destruction of the Earth, five billion years after everyone she knows has died. And now she’s seen the death of “the last human.”
The Doctor does his thing and the shields are restored. The station doesn’t burn up as the Earth is destroyed and all the guests are free to leave. After the day is saved, the Doctor and Rose are the last two aboard the observation platform. Rose looks mournfully out a window at the floating debris representing all that’s left of the Earth. She tells the Doctor, “The end of the Earth. It’s gone. We were too busy saving ourselves, no one saw it go. All those years, all that history and no one was even lookin’. It’s just…” In her speechless, aching lamentation the Doctor tenderly takes her hand and says, “Come with me.”
They exit the TARDIS back in London in 2005. Rose looks around but she’s still haunted by what she’s seen, there’s still a deep sadness and loneliness in her eyes. The Doctor says, “You think it’ll last forever – people, the cars, and concrete. But it won’t. One day it’s all gone. Even the sky.” Again, Christopher Eccleston lets the emotion, the pain and regret masterfully play across his face before he says, “My planet’s gone. It’s dead. It burned, like the Earth. It’s just rocks and dust, before it’s time.” He begins to open up. It’s tentative. He’s still guarded. But he begins to let Rose in.
Rose – “What happened?”
The Doctor – “There was a war, and we lost.”
Rose – “A war with who?”
The Doctor – ….
Rose – “What about your people?”
The Doctor – “I’m a Time Lord. I’m the last of the Time Lords. They’re all gone. I’m the only survivor. I’m left travelin’ on my own ‘cause there’s no one else.”
Rose – “There’s me.”
In many ways this trip was an act of desperation. The Doctor was so lonely, so hurt…but he didn’t know how to begin to voice his pain let alone how to let someone else in or start to heal. So he did the only thing he could think of, he took Rose someplace that would cause her to feel some of what he carries in his hearts all the time. There was a degree of manipulation to it and it was a bit emotionally exploitative, too. There was nothing healthy about it and this act shows us just how broken the Doctor is. After hearing all this Rose steadies herself, evaluates what she’s seen and who the Doctor is, and reaffirms that she is with him in his travels.
Rose will meet the Doctor in his brokenness and – through her joy, her enthusiasm, and ultimately her love – she will begin to help heal all that’s broken within the Doctor. She can’t heal it on her own, though. That’s important. She’s not magic. That’s not the way relationships work. Rose can’t “fix” the Doctor just as others can’t do that sort of work for us and within us. That’s a foundation that only breeds a toxically co-dependent relationship. But that’s not who Rose is nor what she does. That isn’t the relationship she will form with the Doctor. Rather, Rose will walk with the Doctor, offering herself as a supportive and compassionate partner along his journey of healing.
After all the emotional turmoil and pained revelations, the episode ends on a bright note.
The Doctor – “You’ve seen how dangerous it is. Do you wanna go home?”
Rose – “I dunno. I want…oh, can you smell chips?”
The Doctor – “Yeah, yeah.”
Rose – “I want chips.”
The Doctor – “Me too.”
Rose – “Right then. Before you get me back in that box, chips it is and you can pay.”
The Doctor – “No money.”
Rose – “What sorta date are you? Come on then tightwad, chips are on me. We’ve only got five billion years ‘til the shops close.”
Rose didn’t try to “fix” what the Doctor shared nor did she even try to reassure him everything would be alright. What she does is far more helpful and far more beautiful. Rose listens. She holds him in that place – not physically but emotionally – in his sadness and in his struggles. In this exchange, the Doctor can feel heard and cared for. And when it was clear he’d reached the point where he was no longer ready or able to share anymore, she takes in and weighs everything he’s told her. She values all he shared. And then Rose shifts the topic and makes him smile, all the while reaffirming he doesn’t have to go it alone anymore. Despite choosing to travel with “the Doctor,” at the end of her first trip in the TARDIS, it is Rose Tyler who offers the support and compassion necessary for the Doctor to begin his journey to face all the pain and trauma he carries.
This is the moment when the broken Time Lord begins to heal. In being a loving steward of all the Doctor’s shared, Rose proves capable of helping the Doctor find the courage to stop running from their trauma. Everything the Doctor can do in the future – all the joy they find in creation, all the relationships they build, all the love they espouse, and all the worlds and people they help to see a better and brighter way – begins here, in this beautiful moment of healing.