For the briefest of seconds, we hover over Earth in the serenity and silence of space. A disembodied form, we begin to fall, faster and faster towards the Earth, gravity pulling us to a continent, a city, a bedroom, and here we come face to face with the universally understood, universally despised, red-numbered alarm clock. It squawks mercilessly, and we awaken with the title character, Rose, to Season 1, Episode 1 of Russell T. Davie’s 2005 Doctor Who reboot.
Music kicks in with immediacy. Its galloping rhythm whisks us along with Rose from one cut-scene to another of the predictable familiar: waking, eating, working, more eating, more working. You get the picture. She works in a shop, lives with her mother, dates childhood friend Mickey: things are predictable, busy…and boring. Even in the midst of Rose’s fast-paced life, we can see it in the lifeless, blank way she goes from one thing to the next.
Then comes disruption: by chance or by fate, Rose and the Doctor’s paths connect. Window shop dummies come alive and Rose’s place of employment goes up in flames. She returns home, unemployed and with a head full of the unexplainable.
After her haphazard run-in with the enigmatical man that calls himself the Doctor, Rose goes about investigating him, starting where every 21st-century person would: the Internet. What she discovers there is not very encouraging: “When disaster comes, he’s there. He brings a storm in his wake, and he has one constant companion…death.”
Rose certainly logs this into her analysis of the Doctor, but she does not allow the first sign of trouble to send her running away. The Doctor is crazy and arrogant and dismissive, but his observations are uncomfortably on-point (perhaps it’s the 900-some years of traveling that have given him perspective). He tells her: “I mean you lot, all you do is eat chips, go to bed and watch telly, while all the time underneath you there’s a war going on!” And that’s exactly it: Rose has an instinctive feeling that there is something bigger and better than the “rat-race.” Her short encounter with the Doctor sets a spark of validation to this dormant suspicion. Once it is lit, she finds that she cannot simply return to busy-ness-as-usual, even though the unknown quickly proves dangerous.
It feels safe to say that viewers can resonate with life as exhibited in Roses’ day-to-day. The average adult spends eight hours a day working, only to come home to a list of errands and tasks as long as their arm, and ends the day without time or energy to spend on what makes them feel happy, rested, or–dare I say?–alive. The goal seems to be: work to live, live to work. This is the way of the world–we have to make the mortgage, pay off debt, feed the family. So why then do we struggle against it? What is the source of this boredom, this nagging dissatisfaction, this deep weariness?
“Creatures are not born with desires unless satisfaction for these desires exists. A baby feels hunger; well, there is such a thing as food. A duckling wants to swim; well, there is such a thing as water. Men feel sexual desire; well, there is such a thing as sex. If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.” (Mere Christianity, Bk. III, chap. 10, “Hope”)
I would argue that we were created for something beyond this world–something bigger and more beautiful. Just like Roses’, our souls know this. They refuse to be satisfied with anything less than the eternal wholeness they were designed to inhabit, and they are constantly reminding us that this life is not all there is.
The moment the Doctor enter Roses’ life is the moment the “world beyond” opens up to her–a massive, insane, unbelievable adventure just waiting for her.
Step One: Dare to believe in the unseen.
Rose Tyler: “Really though, Doctor. Tell me. Who are you?”
The Doctor: “Do you know like we were sayin’? About the Earth revolving? It’s like when you’re a kid. The first time they tell you that the world’s turning and you just can’t quite believe it ’cause everything looks like it’s standin’ still. I can feel it. The turn of the Earth. The ground beneath our feet is spinnin’ at 1,000 miles an hour and the entire planet is hurtling around the sun at 67,000 miles an hour, and I can feel it. We’re fallin’ through space, you and me, clinging to the skin of this tiny little world, and if we let go… That’s who I am. Now forget me, Rose Tyler. Go home.”
Rose can’t understand the Doctor and what he represents, not fully. This is a whole new ball game, filled with rules and terms, dangers and marvels she cannot yet name. But she follows the urging of her soul, and keeps investigating. When she at last must make a decision about the Doctor, she has to do it despite the fact that she is still faced with a lot of mystery. She evaluates what she learns about him–weighing the good against the bad–and makes a choice. In the end, the mystery that is the Doctor is better than the reality she knows so well. And in the end, choosing to listen to the inner yearning for something more begins to draw out the most fantastic parts of Rose.
The Doctor finds himself in a most-likely-fatal-situation when he offers the villain the chance to leave Earth and live, or to die, and it refuses both. While her longtime boyfriend Mickey is huddling against the doors of the TARDIS scared out of his mind and utterly useless, Rose uses the resources available to her and intervenes on the Doctor’s behalf. Though there’s no guarantee it will work, her actions save not only his life, but the life of her mother, Mickey, all of London and most likely planet Earth. It is Rose who defeats the villain, not the Doctor.
Step two: Leap.
The Doctor’s first words of the episode, of the entire series, and to Rose are the same he’s said to traveling companions for hundreds of years. They are the words she’ll hear almost every day they are together: RUN. He says it not with panic, not with anger or frustration, terror or sadness, but with a twinkle in his eye. This is the part he is in love with: the wild, unknown, adventure, full of risk and mystery and wonder. It is the same romance Rose has chosen to enter, and it is the beginning of her transformation.