Doctor Who Father's Day

Doctor Who meets Donnie Darko1 and rocks quite severely. ‘Father’s Day’ manages to be the best episode of the season while keeping one foot in reality, one foot in the wacky ideas of the novel series, and yet another foot in brilliant humour. I’ve been whinging about the Doctor failing to obviously save the day for a while now; he doesn’t do it this week either, and yet I couldn’t be happier.

In this story by old New Adventures scribe Paul Cornell2, Rose asks the Doctor if it wouldn’t be too much trouble to pop back and watch her Dad die. Ever eager to impress — a character trait of the Ninth Doctor I really enjoy — her friend takes her right to that point, and… she saves his life instead. From that point on, wackiness ensues, as crazy Time Dragons appear out of nowhere to remove the paradox from existence, and the Doctor finds himself short on options, and rather angry with his best friend…

Now Rose, you’re not going to bring about the end of the world, are you? Are you? — The Doctor

Christopher Eccleston is on record saying that this is his favourite episode. It’s easy to see why. If the Doctor gets a better story this season I’ll be impressed. Previous episodes have sidelined and neglected him on occasion — ‘Father’s Day’ does the former, but not the latter. The scowl on his face after Rose screws with time; his reaction to the TARDIS’ unexpected dimensions; his stern admonishing of baby Rose; “Just.. say you’re sorry”; updating the congregation on his plans via the pulpit, and looking sheepish while fiddling with the key; his disgust at Jackie’s stupidity. And that’s barely scratching the surface. Christopher Eccleston IS the Doctor, as they say, and I’m expecting to shed a manly tear when he regenerates.

Of course, this story is mostly about Rose and her Dad, and it’s great. I’ve watched a lot of TV about father-daughter relations in my time3. This one manages to be reasonably fresh while dealing with a lot of things that’ve been said before. The disillusionment of Rose as she sees how her parents really are is something we can probably all relate to in some form. Billie Piper is, as always, fantastic, but Shaun Dingwell gives the best guest performance so far this season as her dear old, useless, Dad. What I love about a show like Doctor Who, or Season One of Angel, is that the format allows a guest actor to come in and get equal screen time and emphasis with the regulars. I’m not necessarily against the large regular cast that accumulates in shows like Alias and Buffy, but it does mean that guest characters usually get shafted in deference to regular characters’ development. Dingwell presents both the pathetic and heroic natures of his character marvellously, and sells his rather clever deductions about what’s actually going on.

Finally, for us nerds, there’s the whole crazy aspect to the time shennanigans this episode. In more clinical Sci-Fi universes, like Stargate’s, time travel can get a bit awkward. Who’s universe is the sort of semi-magical one where the idea that Time would actually try to sort herself out fits right in. ‘Father’s Day’ pulls off a bit of a Matrix — there’s enough explanations for everything to make sense the first time, and plenty of room for fun speculation afterwards. Where do the Dragons come from? Who remembers what? What’s the limit of Time’s ability to heal itself? Of course, the danger with such scripts is that some people insist on calling them plot “holes”,4 which hardly seems fair. Maybe one day I’ll write an essay on the difference between the two. But not today. You can all relax.

It seems Doctor Who’s dull patch is over after one episode. Some shows take whole seasons to break out of such things! We should all be grateful.

  1. I’ve been thinking about Donnie. Clearly the events of that film are set before the Time War, and the forces manipulating young Mr Darko are Time Lords doing what they used to do to sort out such things.
  2. Author of awesome books such as Timewyrm: Revelation, Love and War and Human Nature. And of crummy ones like The Shadows of Avalon, but you can’t win them all.
  3. Pretty much every episode of Alias, for example.
  4. Ugh, I’ve just found such an idiot. The sort of person who doesn’t realise that “I don’t understand why this happened” and “This shouldn’t have happened” aren’t the same thing. All people who haven’t worked out on a second viewing why the first Doctor and Rose disappear after Rose interferes — or why the TARDIS is in a different space at the end — and complain about it deserve to be shot.
2 comments posted — most recent by Tom on 22/05/05