There are a few episodes of “Doctor Who” that I don’t rewatch all that often. Not because they’re bad (quite the opposite), but because I know they’ll leave me feeling depressed for quite some time afterwards. I save those episodes for when I’m either in the mood for a good sad story, or when I’m rewatching the entire series from start to finish. Some of these stories include “Father’s Day”, “Turn Left“, “The Water Of Mars“, “The Angels Take Manhattan“, “Face The Raven” and “The Demons Of Punjab”.
“Father’s Day” is a pretty unique installment of Series 1. It’s not as campy or larger-than-life as “The End Of The World” or “The Long Game“, it’s tone is a lot more grey and muted than “Rose” or “Aliens Of London“, and it’s about as character-driven as “Dalek” (albeit showcasing a different cast member). Furthermore, while there are time travel sci-fi elements present in this episode, they largely rest in the background and service the primary focus of the story: the Tyler family (which is just as well, since the Reapers serve their purpose as one-off antagonists, but are really troublesome as a concept down the line). Like ‘Aliens Of London”, the Powell estate drama can sometimes come dangerously close to soap opera territory (like the subplot of a groom’s annoying, womanizing father nagging him about the girl he’s marrying), and the overall plot of this episode is pretty basic, straightforward and sometimes predictable. But for the most part, “Father’s Day” goes a long way in humanizing Rose, and it ties the separate strands of it’s plot together well to create an effective dark fairy tale. Every companion has one or two episodes where their character really shines, and I think I would single “Father’s Day” out as the ultimate Rose episode, much like I would say “Turn Left” is the ultimate Donna episode, or “The Girl Who Waited” is the ultimate Amy episode, or “Flatline” is the ultimate Clara episode.
I’ve had plenty of good things to say about Christopher Eccleston’s performance in the last few reviews, and I want to shine some light on Billie Piper for today’s episode. When Billie was cast as Rose Tyler in 2005, she caused a minor stir. People figured Russell T. Davies had picked a pop star as the new companion for a bit of stunt casting and they doubted she had the acting chops to lead a sci-fi show like Doctor Who, only to be surprised by her raw talent (just as they would be with Catherine Tate and Matt Smith). Even if Rose isn’t one of your favorite companions, there’s no denying how good Billie is in the role, giving her both an ego and a believable vulnerability. I especially like that whenever the script calls for her to cry, she doesn’t just go half-way like actors sometimes do, looking sad while still remaining attractive. She goes full-on, unapologetic, jarring ugly-cry, both in this episode (as Pete goes to sacrifice himself) and in the coda of “Doomsday“, when Rose is separated from the Doctor.
All in all, Billie played as large a role in making Series 1 a success as Russell and Chris did. Her best performance so far has been in “The End Of The World”, but “Father’s Day” finally gives her some meatier material again. Rose grew up hearing stories about her dead father from her widowed mother, about how brave and clever and kind he was. Jackie rarely spoke ill of him the way people tend to do when their loved ones pass away. Having never known him in person, little Rose followed her mother’s example and mythologized him, putting him up on a pedestal in her head as the perfect dad she never met. Now that young adult Rose has a friend with a time machine, she would like to fulfill a childhood wish and see her dad when he was still alive. Needless to say, the past is not as romantic or idyllic as Rose imagined.
Pete and Jackie’s relationship was very strained and dysfunctional while the man was still alive, to the point where Jackie started to regret her choice of a husband, and Rose has a hard time dealing with that revelation. In fact, there are a lot of Rose scenes in this episode that are just plain uncomfortable to watch, underlined with a stony silence: like Rose growing more and more horrified as her parents tear into each other in front of her, or Rose trying to think up a good lie to tell Pete so he won’t know he’s dead in her time, or the fights she has with the Doctor. The real trouble starts when Rose steps in and saves her father from being killed in a hit-and-run, which removes her reason for being there in the first place and causes a paradox that starts to unravel the timeline.
From that point on, Rose really falls from grace as a companion as the situation grows more and more horrifying and lethal. Keep in mind, Adam was kicked out of the TARDIS in “The Long Game” for almost getting the Doctor and Rose killed and almost bringing about the end of the world. Rose actually does doom the universe and gets who knows how many people along with the Doctor (the man she loves) eaten by monsters. Despite a few glimmers of hope, Rose just sinks lower and lower until she eventually hits rock bottom, and it’s painfully sad to watch. The one good thing about the whole ordeal is that Rose gets to spend a day with Pete, learn who he was as a man, and form a real, short-lived connection with him, which culminates in Paul Cornell twisting one last knife into her gut when Pete goes to heroically commit suicide to save the world. It’s a dark, emotionally sublime climax where Rose’s heart breaks, but she still ironically accomplishes the task she came there to do in the first place: give Pete some comfort in his final moments. Like I said in “Dalek”, Rose must be really good at repressing some horrible, horrible memories.
After two episodes of Rose being sidelined, it’s the Doctor’s turn to be kept out of focus in this installment, but he still benefits from his supporting role. By now it’s pretty clear that the Ninth Doctor (Christopher Eccleston) is a very knowledgeable time traveler, but he has two noticeable weak spots in his judgment. The time war is one of them – the Gelth used it to manipulate him, and the lone Dalek taunted him with it – and Rose is the other one, since he’s starting to fall in love with her. He knew bringing Adam onboard the TARDIS was probably a bad move, but he wanted to give Rose’s idea a fair chance. Likewise, bringing Rose to the site of her father’s hit-and-run is a terrible idea – not just because of the potential risk to the timeline, but because basic common sense should tell you that taking someone to see their dad die is a very morbid and traumatizing request that a good friend probably shouldn’t oblige.
Still, the Doctor trusts Rose enough to ignore his instincts and tries to help her with heart’s desire and he winds up getting burned. Considering how he handled personal betrayal in the last episode, the audience waits with bated breath for his reaction when the Doctor and Rose get some privacy, and it is not pretty. The Doctor is pretty furious, outraged and worried about the potential consequences of Rose’s actions (and not without good reason). Like the previous episode, it’s implied he had started to put Rose up on a pedestal in his head, thinking she was special and wiser than other humans, while forgetting that an important part of humanity is making mistakes and learning from them. The Doctor would like to just nip back to the TARDIS, fix everything and wipe his hands clean of the whole affair like he did in “The Long Game”, but the episode’s plot forces him to stick around.
“Father’s Day” suggests that the Doctor can sometimes be too harsh, unforgiving and self-righteous. While he works to save everyone, he’s reminded that however terrible the outcome was, Rose did have good intentions in mind, and the ultimate resolution to the problem breaks her heart, so the Doctor finds it in him to forgive her this time by the end of the episode. The Doctor would also go on to forgive Captain Jack for causing the gas mask zombie problem in “The Doctor Dances“, after he almost got himself blown up to fix it, so “Father’s Day” served as a growing experience for Nine. This episode also provides some more insight into the Doctor’s standard M.O. In a crisis, he will always try to keep everyone calm and safe, try to buy as much as time as he can, and try to keep hope alive, even when he has no plan in mind and he has to lie to them. The Doctor has a quiet, lovely exchange with the frightened newlyweds about how important an ordinary life can be, even if it’s not the kind of life for him, which telegraphs the main theme of this episode.
Paul Cornell includes a rather cruel hope spot before the climax of his script. The Doctor comes up with a plan to summon his ship so he can sort out the paradox and ward off the reapers with a TARDIS ex-machina. It’s a very feasible plan and one the audience would love to see succeed after things have gotten increasingly bleak for the last hour. But from a storytelling standpoint, it would be an unsatisfying resolution to the problem at hand; it’s way too easy and completely at odds with the main themes of the episode. Instead, Paul uses it to crush the last bit of hope the survivors had left by straight-up killing off the Doctor and the TARDIS. It’s a horrible, crushing scene, but one that needed to happen to really ram home what Rose’s actions have done on a personal level, and take the episode into the darkness entirely so it can emerge with a stunning, emotionally stirring finale centered around the true hero of the hour: Pete.
Peter Alan Tyler (Shaun Dingwall) is a seemingly unremarkable yet funny bloke. Like all the members of the Tyler family, he comes from a pretty modest, working-class background and his relationship with his wife is pretty rocky by the time his daughter is born. Pete is apparently a layabout who can’t keep a steady job and can barely provide for himself and his family. He would like to fancy himself an inventor, coming up with all sort of clever schemes to make money, but none of his ideas take off. Jackie also accused of him cheating on her once, which is quite the eye-opener, whether it’s actually true or not. Regardless, the man does love his family and the idea of being a father, and he would do anything for them.
Despite Pete’s overall dodginess, he is clearly not dumb. He’s actually quite sharp and observant, to the point where the other characters frequently underestimate him. Keeping track of every strange thing he sees and learns about the wound in time, it doesn’t take long for Pete to realize that Rose is his daughter from the future (and it helps that Rose is a terrible liar). Beyond that, he quickly comes to the horrible realization that he is not and never will be a part of Rose’s life, that he’s supposed to be dead. In a sobering scene, when Rose describes his dad skills, Pete sadly notices the dissonance between the lionized hero Rose has imagined and the man that he actually is, knowing they can’t possibly the same. In that exchange, it becomes clear that Pete’s opinion of himself is about as low as Jackie’s. By the end of the episode, Pete has accepted that he couldn’t be there for Rose during her childhood, fate stole that chance from him, but he can die a good death to save the world and the future she lives in, he can be her hero. Pete was a completely ordinary man, and a screw-up for much of his life, but when it counted he was completely extraordinary, and only a few people will ever know that.
While the Doctor has griped several times about Rose’s mother being annoying, it’s mostly been an informed attribute before now. In previous episodes, Jackie was at most mildly irritating, and often quite funny in my opinion. In “Father’s Day”, young Jackie is kind of a pain. She frequently comes off as a snide, bitter, and rather vicious nag. She’s very haughty and vain, and the script never misses a chance to insult her intelligence. Jackie makes it no secret that she’s starting to regret marrying Pete and she constantly calls his integrity into question, though it’s clear this stems more from frustration with their failing marriage than a place of genuine resentment. Lastly, when they’re all trapped in a church, about to be killed by monsters, Jackie keep obsessing over how close Rose is sitting to Pete, convinced he’s trying to cheat on her. To quote Slip Fel Fotch Slitheen, she really needs to get some perspective. It’s implied that Pete dying young and Jackie having to raise Rose on her own as a single mother humbled her and mellowed her out a lot. In an alternate universe where Pete never died and Rose was never born, present day Jackie is exactly the same, but somehow worse.
I suspect that if Russell T. Davies and Paul Cornell had known how long the Doctor Who revival would actually last, they probably wouldn’t have introduced the Reapers as one-off villains in the first series, or if they had, they would have written them differently. The Reapers are indestructible monsters who live outside the time vortex and opportunistically feast on temporal paradoxes, like the one Rose accidentally creates. Trouble is, since 2005, we’ve seen way worse paradoxes in Doctor Who than the one in “Father’s Day”, and we haven’t seen hide nor hair of the Reapers since: the inconsistency makes the plot of this episode feel very strange in retrospect. My own personal headcanon is that the Reapers got a bit too curious about the cracks in times in Series 5, like the Weeping Angels did, and got themselves erased.
Joe Ahearne returns to direct this episode, and unlike his previous work on “Dalek”, I’d say his direction for “Father’s Day” is competent and workmanlike but otherwise unremarkable, save for a few interesting shots like the long, held take of Pete staring out into the street, slowly realizing what he has to do, or the cold, distant shot of Rose feeling empty inside while the world burns outside the church. Set entirely in a regular London block, “Father’s Day” is probably one of the least interesting episodes of Series 1 in terms of visuals, especially since it’s sandwiched between the exciting world of Platform One in “The Long Game” and the World War II setting of “The Empty Child”. Still, I do like the ominous atmosphere of this episode, achieved with grey filters and washed-out, desaturated colors.
Adding to the chilly tone of the episode, Murray Gold’s score is rather haunting this week. It’s whimsical and childlike, but in a twisted and perverted sort of the way, since this is Rose’s childhood fantasy gone horribly wrong. It’s the sort of music you would expect to hear in a horror movie while a serial killer picks off child targets. After all that creepiness, Murray writes a gorgeous, emotional piano piece for the scene where Pete runs out to meet his destiny, simply titled “Father’s Day” (which is sadly trimmed down on the album). I also appreciate that there are several scenes in the episode where there is no score at all, and the actors are left to do the heavy lifting themselves. Because sometimes, an absence of background music can make the atmosphere feel so much more uncomfortable. After the last two episodes have sported some really good CGI, “Doctor Who” steps a step backwards this week with the Reapers, unsettling CGI creations that serve their purpose but haven’t really aged that well and never quite feel like a tangible part of the environment.
The plot of this episode can get a bit dry and predictable, and I prefer Paul Cornell’s next entry, “Human Nature / The Family Of Blood“, over it. But it is a very good, small-scale story, and as a character study, “Father’s Day” has to be one of Rose’s best and most memorable outings from her tenure.
* I’m pretty impressed by how the crew managed to find a kid who does look like a mini Billie Piper to portray young Rose in the flashbacks.
* “I want to see him” “Your wish is my command. But be careful what you wish for”.
* Apparently, Pete was either drunk or hungover at his wedding. Classy Pete, classy.
* “I did it again, I picked another stupid ape” That’s still racist, Doc.
* “Rose, there’s a man alive in the world who wasn’t alive before. An ordinary man. That’s the most important thing in creation. The whole world’s different because he’s alive”.
* “Boyfriend trouble?” You don’t even know, Pete. You don’t even know.
* You’ve gotta love how quickly Rose shuts things down when Pete starts talking about pretty she is, for so many reasons. I like to think Rose has seen “Back To The Future”, and she knows she has nip that cringe-worthy shit in the bud as soon as possible.
* “Oh, Pete. You never used to like them mental. Or I don’t know, maybe you did”.
* Heh, just when Rose thinks she has the Doctor wrapped around her finger, giant bat monsters show up to eat her.
* “The entire Earth’s been sterilized. This, and other places like it, are all that’s left of the human race. We might hold out for a while, but nothing can stop those creatures. They’ll get through in the end. The walls aren’t that old. And there’s nothing I can do to stop them. There used to be laws stopping this kind of thing from happening. My people would have stopped this. But they’re all gone. And now I’m going the same way”.
* “Rubbish. I’m so useless I couldn’t even die properly. Now it’s my fault all of this has happened” “This is my fault” “No, love. I’m your dad. It’s my job for it to be my fault”.
* “Her dad? How are you her dad? How old were you, twelve? Oh, that’s disgusting” It was at that point that Nine checked out.
* “It’s cold. The key’s cold. Oh, my God, he’s dead. This is all my fault. Both of you. All of you. The whole world“.
* “I never read you those bedtime stories. I never took you on those picnics. I was never there for you” “You would have been” “But I can do this for you. I can be a proper dad to you now” “But it’s not fair” “I’ve had all these extra hours. No one else in the world has ever had that. And on top of that, I got to see you. And you’re beautiful. How lucky am I, eh?”