The second season of new Doctor Who is remarkable primarily for its introduction of a new actor to play the role. This isn’t the first time this has been done- David Tennant isn’t called the Tenth Doctor for nothing. But this Doctor... is different. Perhaps it’s the writing, perhaps it’s the incredibly charismatic and talented actor- I like to think it’s some blend of the two. Because during David Tennant’s tenure, it’s like something clicked in the collective consciousnesses of fans. Fans of the zany and often sarcastic humor of the Fourth Doctor, the cunning of the Seventh, the confidence of the First, the humanity of the Eight, the passion of the Ninth, and more found themselves a common champion in the Tenth Doctor. It doesn’t help that, by far, he was the most likely to sweep millions of fan girls off their feet.
I say this because, looking at the season at the whole, this fact is going to be very important when I compare these stories to the reactions this season engenders. The fact that David Tennant was the first person in thirty seven years to replace Tom Baker in Doctor Who Magazine’s “Favourite Doctor” poll stands as a direct opposite to the fact that a large number of fans consider Episode 10 of this season to be the worst episode in the history of Doctor Who- a conclusion that I, so far, heartily agree with.Of the thirteen episodes in this season, I find the majority of the first half of the episode to be largely forgettable, while the majority of the second half have some serious writing weaknesses. Simple things like unbelievable plots (such as spaceships powered by love) make squeamish subjects like Rose Tyler playing Damsel in Distress all that more difficult to swallow.
I’ve talked about the Doctor’s effect on this season, now it’s time to talk about Rose’s. Starting in Series 1, Rose began a transformation, from a flaky teen girl who would pick up any guy she found cute into a woman who started to dig into herself and find her hidden strength, through her admiration of a man who defined rough around the edges. When that man transforms into a more likable and more attractive man who shares the same memories with her, her feelings toward him move toward their obvious conclusion: she falls in love with him.
This would be nothing big, if not for the fact that Rose has been as much of a positive influence on the Doctor as he has been on her. The Doctor’s been suffering from the traumas of a massive war (and believe me, head writer Russell T. Davies is not about to let us forget about the war that the reincarnated show is based on), and his companion has slowly been acclimating him to the idea of dealing with a person- or indeed, people.
You can see this in many ways. Whereas the Ninth Doctor had no interest in social interaction beyond a single companion, much as he had been used to during the century prior to the Time War (or longer, but that’s a discussion for another day), the Tenth Doctor was a fairly friendly individual. There’s more to his social interaction, which I’ll discuss later, but that’s not part of this season. What is part of this season is that the Doctor spent the vast majority of the prior season bitching about the idea of spending time with more than one person at a time, until he cooled down after spending time with Captain Jack (arguably the most charismatic person in the revived series). This season shows the benefits of that, as the Doctor becomes more friendly with Mickey (Rose’s on/off boyfriend) and Jackie (Rose’s mother), and meets with a former companion.
Other than that, the Doctor spends much of his time enjoying Rose’s company and saving her. Rose has grown from effectively a waste of space on the TARDIS to someone who genuinely attempts to pull her weight. Still, she’s not quite the hero that we would see in next season’s companion, which makes her Damsel in Distress moments believable. Whether what I’ve described justifies the Doctor’s speech describing her as the one thing he believes in is a different story, and viewer mileage may vary. Still, the greatest thing about this season is the chemistry between leads Billie Piper and David Tennant. You can really believe that these two are having the time of their lives, and care for one another at the same time.
Do I recommend this season? Yes, and no. Several of the episodes in the first half, and the two parters in the middle and end of the season are both plot-relevant and generally pretty good episodes, featuring such events as the Episode 3 return of Sarah Jane Smith (who would go on to star in The Sarah Jane Adventures), the Episode 5 return of the Cybermen to the show, and the Episode 13 confrontation between two of the show’s oldest and most deadly villain factions. The others aren’t as good. I wouldn’t say to downright avoid them, but they’re not essential and not top-of-the-line entertainment. The main reason to watch these episodes is for the Doctor, and occasionally Rose, so you can make your own judgment as to whether you’d like to watch these. The only episode that I recommend outright avoiding is Episode 10, “Love and Monsters”, an episode low on the Doctor, low on action, low on comedy, low on drama... and probably higher on forced blow jobs than any other episode in family television history.