Spoiler warning: contains some fairly wild speculation about The Day of the Doctor. Avoid if that’s not your thing.
There’s a very simple two-word answer to that headline question: Rose Tyler. It’s what the IMDb says. It’s what common sense says.
Then came this weekend’s The Day of the Doctor trailers, in which ‘Rose’ wasn’t quite looking herself. The face was the same, yes, but her hair, accent, and clothing were all unfamiliar. Not to mention that her trailer scenes weren’t with Ten, but John Hurt’s Doctor, and that her eyes appeared to turn golden and glow at one point. Was this Rose Tyler, or was it someone or something quite different?
Before weighing up the options, let’s review the last few months of promotion for The Day of the Doctor. The press releases, interviews, TV and convention appearances have been at a constant trickle for a while now, and acknowledging that secret-keeping is all part of the game for Doctor Who, what have we actually been told about Piper’s role in the fiftieth anniversary special?
“My name’s Rose. Rose Tyler”
Beginning with the BBC’s official casting announcement, dated the 30/03/2013, here’s what was said:
“Last seen as the Doctor on January 1st 2010, this will be the first time Tennant has reprised his role as the Tenth Doctor. During his reign as the Time Lord, Tennant appeared in three series as well as several specials. He was first revealed as the Doctor in the 2005 series finale, ‘The Parting of the Ways’.
Meanwhile Billie Piper, who played companion Rose Tyler for two series following the reboot in 2005, will appear in the show for the first time since featuring in Tennant’s last episode, ‘The End of Time’ in 2010.”
Appreciating that there’s a bit of straw-clutching going on here, note the language used. While Tennant is ‘reprising’ his role as the Tenth Doctor, Piper is simply ‘appearing’ in the show. Not necessarily, is one way of looking at it, as Rose Tyler.
How about what Piper has said about her role? In an interview with Flicks and the City at this October’s LFCC, there was this: “I’m just looking forward to the fans being able to finally see it, really, because there are so many questions, relentless questioning about what’s about to happen and I can’t say anything. It would be nice to be rid of the burden of that enormous secret”. Carrying around enormous secrets and misleading the press about them is part and parcel of any Who actor’s lot, but to which enormous secret is Piper referring here? We knew by then that Matt Smith was leaving, we knew that John Hurt was playing the Doctor, and we knew that Peter Capaldi had been cast as Twelve. What might be left?
Trawling back through other interviews, it’s hard not to spot a pattern of avoidance when it comes to discussing the specific return of Rose Tyler, not Billie Piper, in the fiftieth special. Asked by Vulture how Eleven gets on with Ten and Rose, Matt Smith responded, “Well first, [Billie Piper] is a great friend of mine anyway. We’ve worked together and I’m very fond of her. She’s wonderful. But yeah, bizarrely, if you look at previous Doctor Who stories, they tend to be quite grouchy with each other, but I think Ten and Eleven actually like each other. David and I do in real life as well, and our Doctors are quite collaborative.”
Again, when asked by Den of Geek in April if there was a certain amount of possessiveness over the companions between the Ten and Eleven, Smith replied “Yes. A lot. A lot, which again, is very funny, and of course, a certain Billie Piper is coming back as well, so there’s a lot of fun to be had.” Once again, the actress was mentioned without reference to her character.
In a later interview, David Tennant swerved the question of whether it was key for Rose to return for the fiftieth, saying “Again, that’s story-led, so I never presume to tell Steven or Russell before him what the story should be.”
In fact, the only reference we can find to Piper playing Rose from the last few months’ press (appreciating that we may not have caught them all) from the actress herself is a single mention of her being anxious about “getting back into the character and whether you’ve actually still got it there”. Jenna Coleman referred to “David and Billie” as “like the classic Doctor and Companion” in our round-table interview, though that’s scant confirmation of Rose’s actual return. Smith gets us the closest to a definitive statement, saying that “Rose Tyler is around” in the fiftieth, finishing with his now-customary side-step to the question, “I’m great friends with Billie so it’s lovely to have her here.”
“You’re always wearing the same clothes. Why won’t you tell me your name?”
Now to those trailer appearances.
First up, and most noticeably: the clothing. Hoodies, jeans, dungarees, that Union Jack t-shirt and the purple leather jacket… Rose Tyler as we knew her was a casual dresser; young, cheap and comfy was her style. Moth-eaten, piratic and bohemian she was not. So what explains this ensemble?
It is the look of a time-traveller, we’ll grant her that. There’s an improvised patchwork of periods and styles such as someone who’d passed through different eras and not had too great a time in the process might assemble; tattered embroidery meets utilitarian knitwear, feminine meets masculine, tablecloth meets your dad’s old fishing coat. Add to that what looks like a leather belt wrapped around her left wrist (acting, perhaps as a makeshift vambrace?), and the palette of whites and beiges and the result is half-Victoriana, half-New Age traveller. Drop her on top of House in The Doctor’s Wife, and she’d blend right in, this raggedy Rose.
Additionally, though we’re used to the odd crimpy wave and curl on Ten’s favourite Companion’s head, this hairstyle (especially the Captain Sparrow-like adornments), isn’t the look of Dame Rose of the Powell Estate. It’s the look of a woman with more on her mind than GHD straighteners and hot oil treatments. Such as The Time War, perhaps…
Let’s deal with the glowing eyes. Only visible in the first, shorter trailer, Billie Piper’s irises momentarily appear to glow golden. That sent a great many of us nodding sagely that this must be Rose-as-Bad-Wolf, noting the similarly glowing eyes of Piper’s character after having stared into the heart of the TARDIS in The Parting of the Ways. Look closer though, and it’s not quite the same glow, not quite the same effect. In fact, is it even a glow at all, or a reflection of an explosion? (There are plenty of those in The Day of the Doctor trailers.)
Piper’s character looks to be standing in the desert barn containing what many are assuming is the device used by John Hurt’s character to wipe out the Daleks and Gallifrey in the Time War (backed up by her only line of dialogue in the trailer: “the moment is coming”). That line, not at all incidentally, is delivered without Rose Tyler’s characteristic Estuary vowels. There’s a clearly enunciated ‘t’, and everything. Perhaps elocution lessons are all part of life in Pete’s World?
The last bit of ‘evidence’ spotted (if you can call it that) is that in neither trailer is Piper’s character paired up with anyone other than John Hurt’s Doctor. She doesn’t appear to be travelling with Ten, perhaps, as some have suggested, indicating that in his timeline at least the fiftieth anniversary adventure takes place after Journey’s End and before The End of Time.
My (almost certainly worthless) money says that’s not a post Journey’s End Rose Tyler though. After all, reuniting Rose and Ten after their emotional goodbye would be like reversing a truck over the heart of one of new Who‘s most affecting scenes, wouldn’t it?
“I want you safe, my Doctor”
What possibilities then, are available to us? Well, this being Doctor Who, approximately all of them.
She could simply be Rose, or Bad Wolf-Rose, or Pete’s World Rose (pre or post Meta-Crisis Doctor?), or a Rose from another parallel world. It could be someone or something that’s borrowed Rose’s appearance.
When Rose scattered the Bad Wolf warning around space and time, did she somehow leave a version of herself in the Time War? In that form, she does, after all “bring life”, so with the power to make Captain Jack immortal and see the whole of time and space, could Rose have dispersed a few of her atoms Gallifrey-way to be the Companion to an earlier, and even more battle-scarred Doctor than the three (well, two and a clone) she was to eventually meet?
The possibility of Piper playing an entity in Rose’s form throws up infinite suggestions drawing on Doctor Who’s long and varied history of things in disguise. Could she be a TARDIS-generated hologram, à la young Amelia Pond in Let’s Kill Hitler? An alien, friend or foe? Another temporal anomaly impossible girl, a clone, a Meta-Crisis Rose, Flesh (nah), Slitheen in a Rose-suit? (definitely not). Any more for any more?
There’s not long now before the speculation can be shooed away and replaced by answers (answers from Steven Moffat, mind, so we wouldn’t be surprised if they don’t lead to one or two further questions). See you back here for the post-broadcast dissection.
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