Can a worse fate be imagined than that to which Rose Tyler is condemned at the end of series two of New Doctor Who?
The necro-oedipal scenario in which each of the bereaved Tyler parents is united with the other’s surviving parallel-universe double is like a child’s fantasy of family reconciliation gone horribly right; by rights they should have buttons for eyes, like the sinister “other mother” in Neil Gaiman’s Coraline.
The prison in which Rose has been confined is that of a factitious, reconstructed compulsory heterosexuality, a heterosexuality whose compulsions operate even beyond the grave. We are told that there is a child on the way: not Rose’s and Mickey’s (a scarcely plausible scenario in any case), but another little Tyler. What could be more natural? Jackie and Pete Tyler are parents, after all; and what are parents for, if not having children…?
(Parallel-universe Jackie, unable to have children for whatever reason, had a little dog called Rose, confirming the inevitability of her maternal desire and Rose’s unalterable destiny as the object of that desire: it scarcely matters whether what fills that place is dog or daughter, what matters is the fixity of the role, the identity it secures).
At the end of Doomsday Rose is effectively compelled to accept what she has already renounced three times: the dead father she rescued from his fatal accident in Father’s Day, who then sacrificed himself in order to resolve the resulting time-paradox; whose parallel-universe double she failed to seduce in The Age of Steel and then deliberately chose to abandon in returning to the Doctor’s side during the sealing of the breach between worlds.
There is a kind of kettle-logic to these three renunciations: each is posited as final, and each new encounter between Rose and Pete undoes the finality of the one before it. In Father’s Day, what Rose gains in return for giving her flesh-and-blood father up is the image of him as an ethically integral individual, in spite of the shambles of his worldly dealings: she exchanges the actually-existing Pete Tyler, with his shameful and embarrassing lack of trustworthiness and consistency, for the good father who proves the fundamental honesty of his motives by dying a beautiful death.
But the significance of this exchange is completely undone by the appearance, in Rise of the Cybermen of a parallel-Pete who “got lucky”, whose schemes worked out and made him rich and respected, and who consequently has nothing to prove by sacrificing himself in this way. Against the Doctor’s advice, Rose tries to repair the parallel-Tylers’ failed marriage, and to resume her place in the ideal family; she is rejected by both would-be parents, and must leave them behind in the parallel-universe to which, supposedly, there is no possibility of returning.
Finally, in Doomsday Pete Tyler travels from the parallel universe via the void-breach, and recognises both Jackie and Rose as his own virtual flesh-and-blood, holding out as desirable the very promise of an imaginary restitution that the parallel-world story cautioned against desiring. But this time Rose herself rejects the Tylers, choosing instead to remain with the Doctor: a decisive act of conscious sacrifice, in which she chooses the real surrogate father over the surrogate real father.
This series of undoings, which culminates in the ghost-Pete lunging out of the parallel-world and snatching his undaughter away from the death that was half-promised as the climax of the series, is simultaneously one of the queerest and one of the most sexually conformist things ever essayed in UK TV drama, its relentless over-identification with “family values” pushing it to ever more bizarre and upsetting extremes. While I can sympathise with anyone who found it all a bit much, I believe a closer examination of the development of the necro-oedipal plotline will reveal by just how much it is altogether too much.