Doctor Who has survived as long as it has because of its fans, so it’s unsurprising they have been featured a number of times in the show itself. From LINDA in “Love and Monsters,” Malcolm Taylor in “Planet of the Dead,” to the meta fanboy references in “Time Crash,” the show has made subtle and not-so-subtle references to its fan base time and time again. So it was only fitting that in the 50th Anniversary episode the fans made another appearance in the character of Osgood.
"The Day of the Doctor" used pretty much every stereotype, trope, and plot device in the book to cue the audience that Osgood was a nerd and a Whovian. Her name seems to be a direct reference to Classic Who character Tom Osgood, who was also a member of UNIT. She wears the Fourth Doctor’s scarf everywhere, much like a fan who can’t resist incorporating some part of their favorite show into their wardrobe (writes the author, suddenly conscious of the fact she’s wearing a TARDIS T-shirt).
Osgood’s actual participation in the plot was underwhelming. At first, she was just there to be the episode’s fangirl-stand-in who could get flustered and literally breathless by the Doctor’s presence alone. I finally got interested in her story when she figured out the Zygons had broken the statues and were hiding under the sheets. Though initially she cowers in the corner, repeating the mantra “The Doctor will save me” over and over again, she finally takes matters into her own hands, trips up the Zygon, and rescues herself and Kate Stewart. It was, all in all, a nice subversion of the Damsel in Distress trope.
Aaaaaaaand then when things get intense in the Black Vault she turns back into a damsel and basically begins praying for the Doctor to come and rescue them all. Because humans can’t figure things out on their own and the Doctor needs to sort it all out for us.
Pretty much every episode which has made references to Doctor Who's fans has made some sort of joke about how if we were actually in any situation involving the Doctor and an alien threat we'd basically be useless. Elton in “Love and Monsters” freezes up when faced with an actual alien and stares on in shock while the Doctor, Rose, and the alien recreate a scene from Scooby Doo. Malcolm in “Planet of the Dead” is useless for a minute because he’s too busy fanboying about being able to meet the Doctor to actually do anything to help the Doctor. The difference is that these characters get past their initial shock and deal with the threat themselves. Elton and the rest of LINDA figure out how to defeat the Abzorbaloff on their own with barely any help from the Doctor. Malcolm provides crucial information to the Doctor and stands up to his Captain, even when threatened at gunpoint, in order to give the Doctor enough time to return to Earth.
Osgood never gets this character development. After pulling off her requisite Bold Move with a Witty One Liner to assure the audience she is a Strong Woman, she is turned back into the damsel so she can pray for the Doctor to save her and the three Doctors can make a dramatic slow-motion entrance.
And then there were the more problematic cues to alert the audience that Osgood was a nerd. Easily the most problematic element was Osgood’s inhaler.
An inhaler is an old visual trope used to signal to the audience that the character is a nerd, and the official Doctor Who tumblr certainly didn’t do anything to discourage that impression by reblogging a gif of Osgood with her inhaler captioned “Why do I feel like we Whovians actually made an appearance, in person, in the special? Don’t tell me this isn’t us. Complete with breathing problems.” But it’s also a pretty ridiculous and offensive trope . TV Tropes speculates that this trope originated from the assumption that nerds have asthma and need inhalers because only people unable to go out and participate in strenuous outdoors activity would be interested in nerdy things.
Tumblr user thefaultystar, a Whovian who has asthma, broke down for me why this trope is so false and offensive:
Asthma is so often the “nerdy introverted” disease, but I was a two sport athlete for YEARS and I have asthma. It isn’t indicative of anything other than “your lungs like to get irritated and swollen because of certain things.” The weird mentality around asthma being something that only X kind of people have is something that continues to exist and cause problems for those with it.
Furthermore, she was not pleased with the way Osgood’s asthma was trivialized for laughs:
Using her condition for giggles (aka when The Doctor winks at her and she wheezes loudly) is simply not ok. It isn’t a funny thing that she gets so flustered around the Doctor that she literally has trouble breathing. If I am in a condition where I need my inhaler, it isn’t something I, or most people with asthma, can gloss over. Something usually triggers it, and not addressing the fact that her inhaler use was indicative of a possible LIFE THREATENING thing pissed me off.
Yet Osgood came out of “The Day of the Doctor” as a much-loved character. There are already a number of theories about how the curator gave her the scarf (and fanart to go along with it), and a lot of fans are already saying that she should be Capaldi’s next companion. Clearly there’s a desire for a character like Osgood. Most of the “fan” characters in Doctor Who are men, and in a fan community that often feels dominated by men, it’s refreshing to have a female character represent the fans. Her character is endearing and clearly has a lot of potential, and none of the flaws in her characterization couldn’t be easily fixed in future episodes. I doubt she’ll become the next companion, but I’d be very happy if she was a recurring UNIT character in Series 8.
like, how overused is the “lol look at the awkward nerd with the inhaler” trope. the only reason why she actually needed the inhaler is for that last moment with the zygon and please, there are so many other ways of doing that