Watching “The Stolen Earth”/”Journey’s End” last night, I got to thinking about one of my favorite characters in the reboot series, Mickey Smith (played by Noel Clarke). He wasn’t always my favorite character – in fact, I really disliked him early on – but he developed, perhaps more than any other character in the show.
Mickey started out as Rose’s clingy boyfriend. He had a “thick” air about him, which is something that never appeals to me, but he really wasn’t stupid – he was at least of average intelligence, if not higher than average (he was a bit of a computer whiz, as well as a gamer). The thing about him was that he was just an average, non-adventurous guy that happened to meet the Doctor: he couldn’t handle the thought of the alien Doctor and the TARDIS at first, and he didn’t have any interest in the kind of life the Doctor seemed to live: he refused the offer when it was made. Rose wanting to travel with the Doctor was incomprehensible to him. His dislike of the Doctor was compounded by the fact that the Doctor had no respect for him: the Ninth Doctor routinely dismissed what he had to say, refused to say his name correctly, calling him “Ricky,” and nicknamed him “Mickey the Idiot.”
Of course, the biggest insult was that Rose left Mickey in the dust, running off with the Doctor without a second thought about their long-term relationship. He loved her deeply, enduring her absence of a year (during which he was suspected of killing her), and waiting for her through four seasons of the show, even during the time that they were both trapped in Pete’s World and she ignored him, pining for the Doctor and trying to find a way to blast through the dimensional barrier to return to him.
The thing is, Mickey could have remained a one-dimensional character, following Rose around with puppy-dog eyes every time she deigned to return to the Powell Estate, but instead, he grew. The first time Rose returns, in “Aliens of London”/”World War Three,” Mickey shows his resourceful and resolve. With help from the Doctor, he gains control of a missile and makes the decision to fire it into London and possibly kill a lot of people, in order to prevent a greater disaster. He stands up to Jackie when she begs him not to fire. The Ninth Doctor gains respect for him here, and the nickname “Mickey the Idiot” starts to become a term of camaraderie. Later in the season, in “Boom Town,” Rose summons Mickey to Cardiff, flirts with him and leads him on, but runs off to the Doctor as soon as trouble arises, and Mickey decides that it’s time to give it up, to move on. At the end of the season, Rose resolves to return to the Ninth Doctor, who is facing certain death against the Daleks, and, knowing that if Rose can’t return, they can live out their lives normally, Mickey instead sacrifices his wishes and helps her.
During the second series, Mickey begins to find his own life. He begins to try to do something important with his life and uses his computer skills to investigate possible alien activity on his own. He discovers a school getting record results not long after multiple UFO sightings in the area (this was shown in a Tardisode), and he calls Rose and the Doctor to investigate, but makes it clear that it was the only reason he called, not some ploy to bring Rose home. Rose, being the heartless tease that she is, leads him on again. In this episode, Mickey realizes that he’s the “tin dog,” the one left behind and not cared about, and he asks to join the Doctor, so that he can see what’s out there. Part of his motivation was certainly wanting to be with Rose, but she, in typical Rose fashion, gets angry with him for responding in kind.
And then they land in Pete’s World. He meets his parallel Ricky and watches him die, and fights the rise of the Cybermen. The trapped Doctor uses the code words “any idiot” to signal to him what to do, and Mickey rescues them all as the Cyberman factory is destroyed. He chooses to stay in Pete’s World to fight the Cybermen, where he knows he can make a difference: he finds his strength as he cuts himself off from the poisonous Rose. He still loves her, but he knows that she doesn’t want him, though she’s immature enough to want to keep him as a plaything. But he’s still human: when she gets trapped in Pete’s World with no hope of returning to the Doctor, he waits for her to return to him. She, of course, never does, and when the Meta-Crisis Tenth Doctor joins her, he is strong enough to admit that it’s done, and he returns to the main universe.
In a nutshell, Mickey started as a simple, average guy, then, enduring years of emotional trauma at the hands of the woman he loved, became a tough, courageous man who found his own purpose in life. He didn’t start with a strong character – unlike all of the main companions: Rose, Martha, Donna, Amy, Clara – but instead developed completely during his brief appearances on the show. A lot of the story in Doctor Who revolves around the story of the companion, but there are a lot of other wonderful personal stories to follow, and Mickey’s is one of the best.