The Underrated Doctor Who Character
Doctor Who is perhaps the most well known and popular science fiction shows of all time. It certainly is one the BBC’s biggest hits since it’s revival back in 2005, after it had been off the air for fifteen years. After it’s initial release back in the early 1960s, the show has been on and off the air for nearly sixty years, and is currently awaiting it’s twelfth season (sorry, twelfth “series”, as the Brits like to say).
The character of the Doctor has been played by no less than fourteen different actors, depending on how you count them (like cards in online poker), and all throughout the doctor has been accompanied by one or more of his (usually female) companions.
The dynamic between the eccentric and alien doctor gets grounded by the human companion, to whom he has to explain the plot to, which helps clue the audience in to what the heck in happening. Sort of like how Sherlock Holmes lugs around Watson to explain the mystery to.
However, today, I don’t want to talk about either the Doctor nor his companions. I want to talk about a companion to a companion. Let’s talk about the underrated character that is Mickey Smith.
Davis versus Moffat’s Vision
The reason for some of the biggest differences between the latest seasons of Doctor who and the initial seasons after the 2005 revival is because of the directorship over the show transferred from Russel T Davis to Steven Moffat, one of the show’s writers.
Steven Moffat is responsible for writing some of the best Doctor Who episodes and inventing some of the more iconic monsters to date (he created the terrifying “Weeping Angels” and the “Vashta Narada”).
However, the more relevant difference between Moffat and Davis is in their presentation of the Doctor and his companions. Moffat’s version presents the Doctor as an almost God-like figure, who deigns to walk among mortal man, offering help and aid to those in peril. The companions in Moffat’s era are “quirky” and energetic and often supermodels.
In comparison, Davis’ era is far more grounded. The Doctor is merely lonely. Rose Tyler is literally a random woman he meets by happenstance, with almost no discerning characteristics to her name. She’s not particularly clever, or a minority, or exceptionally good looking (Billie Piper doesn’t look bad by any stretch of the imagination. It’s just that future actresses are friggin supermodels). She’s a normal person, who works in a chip shop, lives with her mum, and has a normal, working-man boyfriend- namely, Mickey Smith.
Mickey the Plot Device
Mickey is present in the very first episode of the 2005 revival. He gets kidnapped by an evil plastic monster, and has to be rescued by Rose and the Doctor. In the episode, he comes off as cowardly and comical, and clutches at Roses legs during dangerous situations. He’s played off as a joke. Then, Rose runs away with the Doctor, and he’s forgotten about for a couple of episodes.
When Rose finally returns to England after galavanting around time for a bit, she comes home (accidentally) a year later than when she left. Obviously, her home life is a disaster. Her mother has been frantically searching for her for a year, and pointed the finger at poor Mickey for her disappearance.
His social life got ruined by Rose and the Doctor’s actions, since everyone thought he was a murderer, despite the lack of any proof. And when Rose finally did turn up, Mickey, her supposed boyfriend, was the last to be informed.
He was quite justifiably pissed.
Mikey’s Toxic Relationship
From this point on, we get to see a really interesting character arc play out. While Rose is jumping around the universe with the Doctor, she still claims to be in a relationship with Mickey, and occasionally pops back to Earth to prove it.
However, it’s clear to the audience, at least, that a relationship between the Doctor and Rose is not-so-subtly building with each episode. They’re clearly infatuated with one another. However, Rose is still in a relationship with Mickey, and she sort of… strings him along. It comes across more along the lines of “she’s a young woman who doesn’t know how to handle this” rather than something malicious. Meanwhile, when the Doctor isn’t negligent regarding Mickey, he’s openly antagonistic. He gives Mickey the nickname “Mickey the Idiot”, simply because he doesn’t happen to be a time travelling eccentric with a thousand years of history jammed in his head.
Talk about impossible standards.
This fiasco makes for a very interesting character dynamic, and a strong arc for Micky. Mickey has to come to terms with the fact that Rose is simply no longer interested in him. He has to learn to assert himself, and stop following Rose around like a lovesick puppy. He tries to redeem himself in Roses eyes by joining her and the Doctor on their adventures, but quickly discovers that three’s a crowd. He’s the third wheel.
It all comes to a head in the two parter “Rise of the Cybermen” and “Age of Steel”. The Doctor, Rose, and Mickey accidentally fall into another dimension (as you do), and it becomes laughably obvious just how poorly they treat him.
The episode opens with a gag where Mickey is holding down a button because the Doctor had told him to, and because the Doctor had neglected to tell him to stop, Mickey is still holding down the button half-an-hour later. In this other dimension, he discovers that his grandmother is still alive, and (due to various shenanigans that happen), finds a purpose for himself greater than just following the Doctor and Rose around. He officially ends his relationship with Rose, and moves on at last to bigger and better things.
The reason that I find Mickey and his story arc so fascinating (when a younger me found the character irritating) is because of the very real-world kind of arc this is. Most people in real life never go through the heroes journey.
However, people end up in bad relationships all the time, and this kind of arc grounds the science fiction nonsense effectively into the real world. Men (and women too, I guess) get strung along by a woman who’s losing interest all the time.
While both parties can see the downward spiral, it takes a long time for their relationship to actually end, because ending it makes it official. Realizing that, and taking the appropriate action requires a level of emotional maturity that most people don’t have to tap into often.
Plain and simple… it hurts. The man has to admit that he’s either a) not good enough and / or b) she’s not right for him.
Most of the audience watches the show because of the Doctor. He’s charming, charismatic, good with the ladies, funny, and inhumanly smart. He’s brave and goes on wild adventures all the time.
Most men are not the Doctor. Most men- most people, do not get to eschew their responsibilities and go on adventures. Most men do not have a harem of women following them around for said adventures.
Most men are like Mickey. Brave, on occasion. Dedicated and Hard working, perhaps, but simply cannot compete with tall, mysterious men, with hot-rods worth more than all the money they’ve ever had in their entire lives. Or in this case, a time machine worth more than half the universe.
I think this kind of story arc adds a fascinating level of depth to a story that’s usually just “monster of week” setups. It clues you in to the kind of person the Doctor is- and proves that he’s not perfect.
Mickey eventually returns in a later season, and he’s a changed man. No longer cowardly or whiny, he’s become a whole person after cutting Rose and the Doctor out of his life. This is something that a lot of shows never even attempt- a relationship that doesn’t work out.
Take, for example, another Steven Moffat show, “Sherlock”. Sherlock and Watson is the most famous detective duo in literary history. However, Moffat’s version of Sherlock is a complete c*nt, and Watson sort of just… accepts it?
The characters have no reason to stay together other than the fact that the story expects them to. Watson’s life, while considerably more interesting when Sherlock is around, is downright miserable at times. Sherlock constantly berates him, and when he isn’t working on a case, he’s putting bullets into the walls and getting high.
Sherlock even doeses Watson with an experimental fear toxin at one point in order to prove a theory. The show doesn’t even grant Watson the privelege of using his skills as a war doctor to help save the day, because Sherlock is awsome at everything (basically, don’t watch BBC’s Sherlock).
The point I’m trying to make is that Watson’s arc should have mirrored Mickey’s. He should have grown to realize how awful Sherlock treats him, and parted ways- or at the very least, have Sherlock grow to realize what a terrible person he is, and had him do something about it.
Mickey Smith is a character worth aspiring to be, not because he’s a hero (although he is), and not because he’s special, but because he’s precisely the opposite. He thrives in spite of his normalcy, and that’s more admirable than anything the Doctor’s ever done.