At this time in our rewatch of the entire new Doctor Who, we are at the end of series 2. This is a season that we’ve only seen twice now: by the time we had watched all of the seasons, we had lent series 2 to a friend and he held on to it for a couple of months, and only got it back at about two weeks ago. Thus, we’ve seen the shows from series 1, 3, and 4 more often. I’ve seen a couple of the episodes more than just twice, but not all of them.
Now, I’ve found that with every episode I’ve watched a second time, I’ve liked it more than I did the first time, probably because the second viewing allows me to pick up on things I missed the first time. I certainly felt that way upon rewatching some of the episodes that I didn’t like the first time, such as “Fear Her” and “The Idiot’s Lantern.” Interestingly, though, my opinion of the series in general went down. I used to always say that the writing in series 1 was not very good, as the show was finding its voice, but after watching both series, I think series 1 is better than series 2 (though neither is as good as series 3 or series 4).
Series 1 was all about the Doctor, his struggles with the Time War, and Rose’s efforts to heal him. Almost every episode in that season either establishes the Ninth Doctor’s history or character, or develops Rose’s effects on him, even in episodes that are basically just adventures. The second series loses that edge. After a brilliant regeneration episode which establishes every aspect of the Doctor’s character, including the lack of mercy that will be addressed in later seasons, he’s mostly reduced to one half of a happy-go-lucky couple gallivanting around the universe. Now, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing: Doctor Who at its heart is an adventure show about the Doctor traveling around and getting mired in adventures, and this in itself is fun and the show can thrive on just that. But this season tries to have an overarching theme of “look how much in love these two characters are.” It’s brought up, subtly or overtly, in almost every episode, but since it’s rarely actually developed, it’s boring. “School Reunion” uses Sarah Jane Smith to demonstrate to Rose what the consequences of loving the Doctor are, and it’s a great episode. “The Impossible Planet”/”The Satan Pit” basically has the Doctor admit he loves Rose by declaring his faith in her, but that’s not character development, and this admission more or less fails to be compelling. He doesn’t learn anything from it – certainly he doesn’t tell her, and still can’t do so at the end of “Doomsday,” or even in “Journey’s End” (though I have a separate theory about why he refused to say so in that episode).
Meanwhile, Rose’s character is oddly inconsistent during series 2. In series 1, she’s established to be utterly devoted to the Doctor while also being selfish (such as in her treatment of Mickey) and overly emotional, with a lack of self-control (such as when she saves her father’s life after promising the Doctor she wouldn’t interfere). In series 2, her character changes with the episode. After pretty much telling Mickey she loves the Doctor and is going to leave with him, she leads Mickey on again in “School Reunion” and then gets angry when he joins the TARDIS crew . In the next episode, a few minutes after she was angry with him in the previous episode, she’s fine with him again. By the end of the series, she’s been traveling with the Doctor for years and shows impressive skills in leadership and dealing with an alien threat in “The Impossible Planet”/”The Satan Pit,” and then in “Army of Ghosts,” she’s incapable of confidently infiltrating Torchwood, despite being in disguise and wielding psychic paper which she was confident would work. Jackie was pretending to be Rose and conducted herself better in a very unfamiliar situation than her experienced daughter did.
Thus, upon watching the season again, I found that from episode to episode, I had no idea what to expect from either the Doctor or Rose, characters that I should understand (especially later in the season) and that I want to see grow. I know the series was meant to make me love the Tenth Doctor and Rose, and then tear my heart apart at the end, but the more I watch it, the more I feel like the romance was forced. It felt like a jumbled mess, and, to its detriment, it was made up of episodes I’d consider more or less average when taken alone; the only two episodes that I would consider standouts are “School Reunion” and “The Girl in the Fireplace,” and there are a number that I rank as substantially below average. An average set of episodes with a forced romance on top of it just really put me off.
I actually liked series 2 the first time I saw it, and I was really hoping I’d like it more the second time. Maybe it’s because I’m so familiar with series 3 and 4, with their darker and more serious Doctor, excellent writing, and strong companions, but going back to series 2 brought it far down in my estimation. Perhaps it’s significant that the two episodes that I really like are about people other than Rose. I think I’ll let the series sit for a while and revisit it eventually, and maybe I’ll warm up to it then.