(Total spoilers for season 1, 2, and 4 in this post; there is, in fact, no point in reading this post at all if you have not watched all of Doctor Who, Seasons 1-4. The following clip is from Journey’s End.)
You have to look at things from Rose’s point of view. Of course, from the outside in, you might think she’d betrayed the Doctor when she’d kissed that human hybrid. Why would she do that, you wonder? It wasn’t his hand that she’d been holding all those times before the devastation at Canary Wharf. Not his arms she’d thrown herself into time and time again, even most recently when they’d finally, finally reunited, after she’d worked so hard to get back to him. No matter how much the two men look and think alike, this guy is a stranger and the actual Doctor was standing right there. Besides, you might rightfully point out, it isn’t as if she had loved the Doctor only in that one form; that body, that man. No, their bond had been formed and solidified before he ever had brown eyes, great hair, and a suit. Did she forget him? That original Doctor in Rose’s life?
So go back with her. Remember what her life was like before Nine. Working as a shop girl, dating a boy she’d known her entire life, having given up on college, taking care of herself and living with her mother, watching the men come and go because her father was long dead. Anyone can imagine where a life like that would have led without the influence of extraordinary circumstances to intervene. How did the Doctor put it? Get up, go to work, come home, watch TV, eat chips, and go to bed only to start the same the next day.
Then this man shows up, and maybe they made a really odd pair, because you can bet she never expected to feel anything like that for him. Compare him with Mickey, and see that he wasn’t exactly her type. Too old, too snappish…but she knew he was special right away, and it wasn’t long before she understood the extent of his loneliness. She saw the pain in him and realized that she could fill some of that void, heal some of that pain. Rose was tough when she needed to be, but it would be hard to find a softer, kinder heart.
It had to be gratifying, later, to realize that she’d become important to someone so obviously vital and unique himself, not just in the world but in the Universe. They shared things that no one else could possibly understand. The 9th Doctor was always aware of her, watching what she did and said, saving her when she got into trouble, celebrating with her when she did something clever, and always challenging her to be her best self. This is a guy who saved and damned entire worlds while she watched. Try having a relationship with someone like that, just you and that person, together against the Universe. She knew she was never going back to her ordinary life. Not even death in some foreign world or time was scarier than that.
Except he sent her back, didn’t he? Because her death would be a worthy sacrifice in her eyes, but not in his. Better that she lived somewhere, somehow. Better that she finished out her days with her loved ones. He would gladly die alone, knowing she was able to live.
Now here’s where you need to pay attention, you need to really remember what happened. This girl, this young girl, was home safe with her mother, with her boyfriend, where she belonged, right? He’d done it; he’d rescued her, impossibly, from an entire fleet of daleks, and then sent her away in his own time machine, dooming himself to save her.
Recall now what she did about it. The idea of leaving him there to die alone was completely unbearable to her. She was freaking out, sick with the desperate knowledge that he was alone, sacrificing himself with no hope of rescue. She got into that Tardis, and while she didn’t know the danger of looking into its heart, nor did she care. She just had to get to him, at any cost. And she did, and she saved him, saved the future human race, and, incidentally, turned Captain Jack Harkness nearly immortal.
Except…she still lost the Doctor. All that effort and he was still gone and she’d never see him again, not that way, not ever. She didn’t even know it was coming; she’d no earthly idea what he was babbling about before he burst forth with golden light and became someone entirely different.
Take a second before going forward and think what that would be like, to lose someone like that. Yes, it wasn’t long before she realized this new man was, in fact, her Doctor. Yet is that really so? The Doctor himself would say that each time he regenerates, a new man walks away. SOMETHING dies. He is always surprised to find he still looks human, in fact. So the man who found her, who changed her entire life, who shared so much with her that they became like a married pair, was gone. In dreams, she must’ve still seen his face…
But it wasn’t as bad as it could have been. In this case, Rose, quite literally, had made him a new man. When she’d met him, he’d been bitter and hard, formed by his experiences in the Time War, haunted by the shattering knowledge that he’d been the one to end the existence of his own people, filled with cutting loneliness in a world that didn’t know or care to know that he even existed. Being with Rose had shown him differently, and loving her…for he did love her, something he’d been aware of at least since the dalek soldier had pointed it out when holding her captive in that underground museum…loving her had changed him even more. He was happy to sacrifice himself to save someone as sacred as she had become to him…and that sacrifice made him into a happier, lighter version of himself.
Here is where things get complicated. Her time with her first Doctor had made her love him quite unexpectedly, something she wasn’t even aware of until she thought she’d lost him for good. Yet here he is again, except this time…well, a little more her type. Physically.
It didn’t really help that other women kept “connecting” with him all the time. This had started in his old form too, that floozy “Lynda with a y” who wanted to jump aboard his ship at the Bad Wolf Corporation. Okay, so she died there. And maybe she wasn’t a floozy. But he’d liked her hadn’t he? Rose had been less than thrilled. With his tenth regeneration, she’d have more chances to feel less than thrilled. Less rude, more charm, that was part of the problem.
Except this isn’t infatuation, this is love, and when it is mutual you know it. Rose knew it.
So we skip way ahead to Canary Wharf, where she made that choice that women sometimes must make, when you can either follow the man you love into a scary, unknowable future or stay your mother’s child, safe and sound in a familiar world. Rose never even blinked, not when it came down to it. Maybe if she’d had more time to wallow over it…but it was do or die and she knew she’d rather die than lose him. But this time she forced him to agree. He was angry with her, because he didn’t want to be the reason she lost everything…yet he let her. He wanted her to stay, too.
Only she lost him anyway. Again.
And this time the separation seemed irrevocable, the heartbreak made worse by an even further closeness. They’d been through so much…and she’d chosen him, chosen him forever. Even if he’d already known it was never going to work, when you love someone, sometimes you take what you can get. Not that she’d have accepted anything else.
In so much pain was she, that she followed his voice in her dreams to the literal end of the earth. There wasn’t a choice, not for her. Only it was just for a good bye, and a lousy one at that. She couldn’t touch him. She could only fall apart, and finally say out loud the unspoken truth between them. Yet they’d be cut off before he could say it back. Not cold comfort, no comfort at all.
Give me a break. Who would believe that Rose, the chick who drove the Tardis back to the center of a dalek fleet, would have given up? Can you see her doing that? Accepting what had happened, maybe striking up her relationship with Mickey again, working for Torchwood and getting to know the father she’d never had? I wonder if it even fleetingly crossed her mind.
Because I bet instead that she was already thinking that if they’d found a way before to cross worlds, they could do it again. Her father was an important man in Torchwood, and she’d been the Doctor’s companion. Surely they’d want her help. Surely they’d be willing to help her in return.
Of course, the Doctor had said it was wrong to do it, that Universes could collapse and the Worlds, all Worlds, might just end. He wouldn’t want her to take that chance. He had been so mad at Torchwood; if they’d never done such things, he wouldn’t have lost Rose in the first place. Not then, not that way.
Well, I think she’d have done it anyway and just let him be mad about it. Let him sulk and stew, but she’d be with him again and he’d just have to get over it. I’m betting that when the stars started going out and she realized what it meant, she only doubled her efforts. I’m betting she’d have crossed the worlds regardless. The fact that they needed him only meant she had to move quicker.
So she’d crossed worlds, and faced untold dangers, and rewritten history…all to see him. To be with him.
To hold his hand.
When she thought he was going to regenerate in front of her, yet again, she’d been frantic. She knew, KNEW, that this next doctor would be like starting all over again. And she is only human. Her feelings, her heart, can’t keep up with all the changes and whose to say this new Doctor would feel a thing for her? Fortunately, he stayed himself and at long last she was able to hold him, be held by him. Then she stood at his side: while he watched the Tardis supposedly destroyed; when they towed the Earth back where it belonged.
So back where this started. At Bad Wolf Bay a second time, when she realized he’d brought her back to the world she’d fought so hard to escape and he told her she had to stay there…with “him”. This fake, second Doctor. She had but moments to try and understand.
Here was this human hybrid Doctor…and she stared and tried to find a difference and could not, because there just aren’t any. He had all the memories, as if he’d been through everything with her when he certainly had not. Even the ones from before…from the first Doctor. He had those, too.
But that’s the crux of why it is so wrong. Because she’d been in love with the Doctor before he had this face, this body. It was not this incarnation that she loved, but the Doctor himself, and he was saying she’d never see him again. But he loved her and she knew it! It was wrong.
Only he wasn’t going to even try to say it this time, not ever. Why hurt himself with the admission? What was the point? In over 900 years, he’d learned something that young Rose was never going to be able to accept; love does not conquer all. It couldn’t conquer the fact that they were different species. He was never going to be able to settle down and grow old with Rose, much as he might have liked the chance. She was going to grow old and die and all he could do was watch; he’d told her that, hadn’t he?
So, fine. He could give her this, and in a way, he could give it to himself. Some other world, where he could love her the way he wanted to, be with her properly, live and die together…and if it meant he had to watch her fling herself into the arms of some mirror-image man…if it meant he could never see her again, touch her hand, hear her voice…well, maybe he just would rather take most of the pain onto himself, rather than let her waste her life on a man who wasn’t human, whom she eventually would have to lose anyway.
Okay, that is his logic, but our Rose, our fighter, our crosser of worlds, why would she ever give in? She’d never listened to him before, right? Why start now?
Well, maybe she didn’t mean to. It wasn’t supposed to be like that. She was supposed to fling herself at him, her Doctor, the proper Doctor, and tell him that he was right; it doesn’t need saying, not when it can be expressed with one true kiss. The kiss should have been his.
Rose would have done that, probably meant to do that. But maybe he’d been telling her for so long that they couldn’t work it out. He was always going to do his own thing. And if you think she’d ever forgotten Sarah Jane and the hard lesson she’d learned at that school, you’d be wrong. How long was he going to keep her around? She’d been willing to deal with that later, and he said it was different with her, right? Except it didn’t seem like she believed that. One day there’d be another Madame Pompadour and she’d be left as a dinner lady in some time where she didn’t belong…
Okay, maybe not. And the chance to grow old with the human Doctor wasn’t enough to blind her to the fact that he wasn’t her Doctor. So what did it? What tipped the scales…?
Look again. It was the Doctor. He was looking down at her with those same sorrowful dark eyes. He’d taken her hand, just as he’d always done, and it’d felt the same as it always felt. He’d leaned in, he’d said…
You can’t imagine how much it would have meant, but try. She’d been waiting, waiting so long to hear those words. She’d said them herself and then he’d been gone…
Her reaction must be forgiven.