Father’s Day

Doctor WhoRose persuades the Doctor to take her back to 1987 to witness her father’s death; disturbed by stories that her father died alone, she wants to be with him, even if he doesn’t know who she is. But when the time comes, she’s paralyzed with emotion, and asks the Doctor to take her back again – only now, not only does she only have one more shot at being with her father when he dies, she has to avoid being seen by the versions of herself and the Doctor from mere moments ago. But instead of comforting her father as he dies, this time Rose leaps out and pulls him out of the ray of an oncoming car, saving his life and completely changing the timeline. The changes in time ripple forward, turning the TARDIS into nothing more than an empty Police Box and gradually decimating the population in the surrounding area. Enormous black dragon-like creatures – reapers – appear, consuming people one by one, beginning with the oldest they can find. The Doctor races to the church where Rose’s feuding parents were attending a friend’s wedding, where Rose’s father was supposed to have died, and hustles everyone inside, hoping the old church will be at least a temporary safe haven. Outside the church’s doors, the reapers destroy everything, attempting to rectify the divergent timeline that Rose has created. Only one reminder of the outside world remains – the car that should have hit Rose’s father still circles the church at high speed, its driver still reacting to an unseen obstacle, an obvious clue as to what must happen to set time right.

Order the DVDDownload this episodewritten by Paul Cornell
directed by Joe Ahearne
music by Murray Gold

Guest Cast: Camille Coduri (Jackie Tyler), Shaun Dingwall (Pete Tyler), Robert Barton (Registrar), Julia Joyce (young Rose), Christopher Llewellyn (Stuart), Frank Rozelaar-Green (Sonny), Natalie Jones (Sarah), Eirlys Bellin (Bev), Rhian James (Suzie), Casey Dyer (young Mickey)

Reviews by Philip R. Frey & Earl Green
LogBook entry by Earl Green

Philip’s Review: Father’s Day is an odd case, for me. I found it to be an effective piece of television drama, but not a very appropriate story for Doctor Who. I suppose it comes down to what one expects from Doctor Who. Should the boundaries be stretched to include actual drama, not just adventure? I’m not sure. Deep down, I no more want pure drama from Doctor Who than I want screwball comedy or sex farce.

But there’s no denying that Father’s Day works. Oh, there are some logical leaps to be made and the effects are not particularly strong, but these kinds of issues are unimportant. It is the emotional relationship between Rose and her father Pete that drives the story and it can be quite moving in places, especially leading up to Pete’s fateful decision. Billie Piper’s tendency towards weepiness finally finds a worthy story here, and she never seems to be overplaying the emotion, despite how strong that emotion is.

But there’s no question that the Doctor, for all his well meaning, still comes off rather badly in Father’s Day. He should know enough not to allow an emotional girl like Rose to be in the position to do the things she does. Blaming her (with his usual catchphrase “stupid ape”) is just his way of deflecting the blame, I guess. Luckily, the Doctor isn’t the central character in Father’s Day, so his continued unappealing nature doesn’t hurt the story.

It is Pete Tyler that is the emotional center of the piece and it is he, not Rose or the Doctor, who holds it all together. Shaun Dingwall plays all the highs and lows that Pete undergoes with a depth that most of Doctor Who’s supporting cast is denied. He creates a complex character that is not easily defined by his situation or his previous actions. Pete shows the kind of wisdom, insight and humility that is historically the Doctor’s forte. He is a good man and as far from the Doctor’s “stupid ape” as any character so far this season.

Writer Paul Cornell’s script is light-years ahead of the work he did on the webcast story Scream of the Shalka. Although Father’s Day and Shalka contain similar pulled-out-of-his-hat TARDIS plot devices and lack strong, well thought-out plots, Father’s Day succeeds in presenting, in Pete Tyler, the kind of dynamic, deep character that Shalka obviously tried to present with its emotionally scarred Doctor. Perhaps it is the fact that Pete’s situation is more down-to-earth, or perhaps Cornell performs better here, out from under the pressure of being “the guy”, as he was on Shalka. Regardless, Father’s Day is drama done right.

I compare Father’s Day to a film like Awakenings. Not in content, of course, but in that they are the kinds of things I have little interest in seeing, ultimately find immensely effective, and yet have little interest in seeing again. Still, Father’s Day shows that the Doctor Who formula can support true drama and do it convincingly. So why don’t I like it more? Personal taste, I suppose. I tune in to Doctor Who for exciting adventure: thrills, chills, some humor, some drama. Father’s Day is a story best suited for something other than Doctor Who, in my mind. For all its quality, it stands in too sharp a contrast to the historic series for me to think of it as an appropriate sibling to even dramatic stories like Inferno or Remembrance of the Daleks. So can an episode be good television, but poor Doctor Who? To me, Father’s Day is just that.

Earl’s Review: I’m a huge fan of Paul Cornell’s Doctor Who New Adventures novels. They helped to elevate the Doctor and his travels into truly mythic territory, and showed that deeply emotional stories could be at the core of a Doctor Who adventure. In the early 90s, I was literally about to give up on the novels until I read Cornell’s “Love And War”, which made me a diehard fan of the books. So, arguably, whether you like it or not, Paul Cornell has been a seminal influence on Doctor Who storytelling in print, and arguably, the New Adventures were a critical influence on the new series. I was very excited to hear that Cornell would be writing for the new show. It just seemed like a perfect, things-coming-full-circle kind of moment.

Where Cornell’s trademark stories of deep emotion are concerned, Father’s Day does not disappoint. It left me with a lump in the throat, despite the fact that a few parts of the story really seemed to be rather obviously manipulating the audience into that emotional corner. And yet on another level, there’s something awfully familiar about this story – right down to the way that time has to be set back on its proper course. Pete Tyler must die, and he must die in a manner not unlike Edith Keeler! You got it, fans of the Star Trek episode The City On The Edge Of Forever will find some distinct similarities here, with a shift toward a doomed familial love instead of a romantic interest. (I won’t tell Harlan Ellison’s lawyers if you won’t.)

The thing about Father’s Day that drives me completely nuts is the reapers. (One wonders if these creatures are the same as the McGann audio dramas’ “vortisaurs.”) The Doctor says that they appear anytime the timeline needs to be repaired. Now, to be fair, he does hint that the Time Lords once kept the reapers in check, but still, this whole development flies in the face of some 40 years of established Who history. It does give the story a “monster,” a danger to be feared and fought, but ultimately the out-of-left-field-ness of the reaper element makes it stick out like a sore thumb – or perhaps that’s me just being a little too rigidly attached to continuity.

That aside though, there are so many things that make this vintage Cornell Who. The conversation the Doctor has with the happy-couple-to-be, about how their seemingly ordinary lives are actually unique and extraordinary and therefore worth saving, is precisely the sort of thing Cornell used to have the seventh Doctor say, which helps to make Eccleston not just the ninth Doctor, but the Doctor, a vital part of the whole continuum of that character. (One wonders if Cornell tried to work his “never cowardly or cruel…” gag into the script somewhere, only to have it excised before production.)

The guest cast is fine, with Shaun Dingwall making a particularly good impression in his portrayal of Rose’s father, a well-meaning loser who, I gradually realized, would’ve made a great addition to the TARDIS crew. With his quirky inventiveness and off-kilter emotions, it’s easy to draw parallels between Pete Tyler and the Doctor, and to see why Rose finds traveling with the latter so appealing. And all this despite the Doctor’s recurring “stupid ape” schtick reaching what I have to say is an extremely unappealing crescendo here; I’ve let it slide in many episodes, and I’m assuming that Davies put it in the script rather than Cornell, because it’s so at odds with the Doctor who’s trying to save the lives of the happy couple. That said, this episode also seems to be the last time the “stupid ape” motif appears in the season; as much as I’ve just shrugged it off in prior episodes, I hope it’s an element that doesn’t return on David Tennant’s watch.

In the end, Father’s Day is a mixed bag of an episode – engaging and emotional but perhaps not entirely original, and sometimes just a little bit at odds with itself. The bits I enjoyed the most were the bits that I would’ve enjoyed had this been one of Paul Cornell’s books, and I have to say that I’m profoundly disappointed not to see him in the lineup of writers for the second season.