Originally posted on Tumblr but reposted here for archiving. Please note that my views may have changed since this was first written.
I’ve seen a lot of talk about the Doctor being asexual – with the occasional bit of aro-ness thrown in for good measure – but today I want to give aro!Ten an entire post to himself.
I’ve shipped Rose and the Doctor since I first watched the show when I was about ten. I don’t really remember noticing any romantic or sexual overtones in their relationship as a kid (although Tumblr GIFs now attest to the fact that there were a lot of ‘more-than-friends’ tropes being used). I do, however, know that the Doctor’s inability to tell Rose ‘I love you’ has confused me for years. Today, I finally had a brainwave that would make this behaviour fit my perspective of the Doctor.
But before I ruin the obvious tension surrounding that (hint: I think he’s aro), let’s talk about Ten’s other companions.
I don’t think anyone in the entire world shouts ‘best friend for life’ to the Doctor more than Donna Noble. He absolutely adores her and she absolutely adores him, but the notion that they would be dating was ridiculous to both of them. Sure, they loved living with each other as they crossed the stars and went on adventures, but they didn’t want to date! The idea of them being a couple was one of the main jokes of the time.
I think this is where you can truly see the Doctor’s aro-ness come through. He’s completely oblivious to Martha’s romantic love for him, to the point where she leaves in part because it’s clear that he doesn’t reciprocate and staying will just continue to hurt her. He doesn’t mean to hurt her, of course – it just never occurs to him that his friend would want to be his girlfriend because, hey, he’s just showing her the majesty of the universe the same way you’d point out Father Christmas if you saw him in the sky; it’s not a bouquet of flowers.
Martha’s era is also where things get interesting. I’ve seen people suggest that the Doctor being an alien was a metaphor for his asexuality, and so, as a normal-life-span human, he would get into relationships. I think that’s a bit of a stretch, but there’s certainly something there when it comes to the Doctor’s actions as a human and as a Time Lord. In the Family of Blood episodes, John Smith the very-human teacher falls in love with an equally human school nurse.
Fast forward to Tentoo, another human version of the Doctor, and you find the exact same pattern of events: very-human Doctor falls in love with/admits his love to very-human Rose. What’s more telling, however, is that even now, even at this point when the Doctor has a second chance to say the words he always wanted to say to Rose… he lets the human version do it.
That always baffled me. It made sense within the story, but personally? Ten was a good man but he wasn’t perfect, and I could never imagine him stepping back from that last chance to be honest with Rose simply because it was the right thing to do to make her realise that the human version wasn’t just a substitute. Why would he? Why would anyone?
Which brings me to today’s realisation: Ten never said ‘I love you’ to Rose not because he was insensitive but because he was worried how it would come across. Saying ‘I love you’, for him, meant something special, something important, something he couldn’t ever lose, but it didn’t mean romance – or at the very least, not the conventional kind, because I think his friendship with Rose was markedly different to his other friendships but not to the point where he could definitely say it was ‘romantic’ (I can’t decide whether I see him as grayromantic or wtfromantic in a demi sort of way). I think Ten was scared because he knew that Rose was confident in her romantic identity and knew that she was in love with him, and he thought that saying he loved her would change the relationship they already had. He was scared that Rose wouldn’t understand that ‘I love you’ didn’t always mean ‘I’m in love with you’ – but he was even more terrified that she would understand and would treat him differently because of it.
And so he let the human Doctor, the one who knew what romantic love meant without even having to think about it, say the words he’d always wanted to say to her.
Now I know what that sounds like. He’s aromantic as an alien and romantic as a human – the only way he’d better fit the cliches is if he was actually K9 in disguise. But since when was the Doctor ever just an alien? He has a human face, and his character arc as Ten, as ‘godly’ as he himself made it out to be, ended up being the most human, the most haunting, story I’ve ever watched. The Doctor isn’t short of emotions, and no matter how well he hides it he is intrinsically human. And that, I think, is what’s great about seeing the ‘alien’ Ten as aro and the ‘human’ Ten as romantic – ‘alien’ Ten is like a quantum state of clearly-not-human to the most human (sound anything like wtfromantic to anybody, because I’ve decided that that’s the specific headcanon I’m going with now), while ‘human’ Ten is a simplified model of what the Doctor should be (i.e., he ‘should’ be romantic). That’s why aro!Ten/wtf!Ten is so important to me.