There are so many things that could be written about this amazing season, but they have to be put aside, because there will never be another chance to talk about the Ninth Doctor.
What to make of him? Manic and wild-eyed, grinning and gurning, but callous too, no longer compassionate – see his dismissal of Mickey as a ‘stupid ape’. The Doctor’s not always been a consistent character, but Russell T Davies – possibly the greatest writer of character-led drama around – isn’t going to have slipped up there. It must all mean something.
‘It wasn’t my fault!’ the Doctor tells the Nestene Consciousness, a man in denial. At the end of The End of the World we get a clue:
“You think it’ll last forever, the people and cars and concrete. But it won’t. One day it’s all gone, even the sky. My planet’s gone. It’s dead. It burned like the Earth. It’s rocks and dust before its time.” The Doctor confesses to Rose that he’s the only survivor of a war. And it is a confession, because he’s just spent the last 45 minutes manufacturing an appropriate context in which to bare all. Suddenly we see a shell-shocked Doctor, a grief-stricken one. He’s been manic and grinning because he’s trying to cover up what he’s feeling inside.
Grief goes through stages. Of course people are complex and it’s never clear cut, but there’s an overall progression that can be traced in the reactions to loss. The Doctor we meet in Rose was in denial, the Doctor at the end of The End of the World shows he’s in pain.
We’ve rarely been privy to the Doctor’s inner thoughts and feelings, but then nothing up till now has ever come close to the agony he’s experiencing. It makes sense of complaints made at the time of broadcast about the Doctor’s seeming emasculation, the way that his adventures were resolved by someone else. He’s still the Doctor, he still gets involved, but it’s so much more difficult for him now. Rose’s gymnastics defeat the Nestene Consciousness. It’s left to Gwyneth to ignite the Gelth and Mickey to nuke Downing Street. This Doctor enables, but perhaps he can’t always face the responsibility of delivering the coup de grace.
He moves on. Look at the Anger and Bargaining in Dalek. The Doctor rants and raves at this final example of his old enemy, and it’s here we learn more about what went on – the Time Lords against the Daleks, both annihilated, both burned from the universe. And the Doctor… the Doctor made it happen.
Perhaps if he destroys this Dalek, it’ll make it all OK again. The sacrifice won’t have been for nothing. He’s bargaining with the universe, desperate to rid himself of the guilt, the anger, the loathing… even if he has to give up Rose to do it. But Rose, even at the moment when she thought he’d sent her to her death, gave him absolution. “It wasn’t your fault. Remember that, okay, it wasn’t your fault.” This is huge for him. Perhaps he can be forgiven after all? He hits the Depression stage – “I couldn’t… I wasn’t…. Oh, Rose. They’re all dead.”
The Doctor is calmer now. While he’s still intolerant, his sense of perspective is returning. “Who said you’re not important?” he tells Sarah and Stuart in Father’s Day. He’s furious with Rose but tries to save her from the consequences of her actions. It’s Pete’s sacrifice that ultimately saves the day, and in acknowledging Pete’s supreme bravery, the Doctor can start to accept what happened during the Time War.
“Everybody lives, Rose. Just this once! Everybody lives!” declares a joyous Doctor towards the end of ‘The Doctor Dances. Even the heroic self-sacrifice by Captain Jack has a happy ending – and suddenly, wonderfully, the Doctor is working through his grief. No more need of cheesy grins, of enforced jollity that wasn’t there behind the eyes. The Doctor is whole, and he is himself once more.
What remains? Acceptance and Hope. The Doctor may have accepted what happened, but he knows he could never do it again. ‘What are you, coward or killer?’ ‘Coward any day.’
Rose ends the Time War, and with it she brings an end to the process of grief. It’s Rose who has guided the Doctor this far, Rose who has recreated him. Is it any wonder that he loves her? Is it any wonder that he can’t let her die? In sacrificing himself, the Doctor is making peace with the universe – with himself. Perhaps it’s only through letting go of this incarnation who has suffered so much that he can find hope for the future – the hope of a new Doctor.
But there’s something I need to say to the Ninth Doctor before he goes.
Doctor. I just want to tell you. You were fantastic. Absolutely fantastic.
1. “What did you do that for? It was scared! It was scared!” The Doctor has rarely been so furious as he is here, raging at the death of a tiny, terrified pig, robbed of its life and its dignity. Aliens of London.
2. “So. You gonna be there for me, love?” The heartbreaking moment that Pete Tyler gives up his life to save the world. An ordinary man – an extraordinary hero. Father’s Day.
3. “Are you my mummy?” Who would ever have believed a child in a gasmask could be so terrifying? The series gets a new catchphrase, and creates new nightmares. The Empty Child.
4. “I won’t see you again. Not like this. Not with this daft old face.” Rose would do anything to save the Doctor. Now the Doctor gives up his life to save Rose. Greatest love story since Romeo and Juliet? Could be. The Parting of the Ways.