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Father's Day

First UK Transmission Date (BBC1)Scheduled TXViewers
14th May 200519:008.06m

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

Writer: Paul Cornell, Director: Brian Grant

Synopsis: - Rose travels back to 1987 to witness the day her father died, but when she interferes in the course of events, the monstrous Reapers are unleashed upon the world, and a wedding day turns into a massacre. Even the Doctor is powerless, as the human race is devoured.

'Father's Day' Background and Summary: - Following the diversion of the inconsequential The Long Game, Doctor Who returned to its new soap-opera basis with further exploration Rose's emotional back-story. Once more this new series delivers a story as if the the classic series had never existed and spells out in black and white why the Doctor can't just travel back in time and fix things. It's another "base under seige" formula, following Dalek - one which served the Troughton years so well - and the premise of toying with Rose's deepest emotions set expectations high for realistic implementation.

Paul Cornell's contribution to Doctor Who has been diverse. He had written New Adventures, created the character of Bernice Summerfield, written Big Finish stories and the webcast Scream of the Shalka. He delivers a more adult and edgier Doctor Who than most and his contributions are generally highly acclaimed. His novel Human Nature has been voted the best Doctor Who book ever by readers of Doctor Who Magazine and there's little denying that on the whole his Big Finish The Shadow of the Scourge had much to commend it. Quite whether or not the webcast Scream of the Shalka ever really achieved what it set out to do remains open to debate. Would Cornell's skills as a writer overcome the problems inherant in the story outline he'd been given by Russell T Davies?

To begin with this story does have some plot hole issues. However big or small their impact on the viewer's personal enjoyment of the episode, it's worth discussing the Doctor Who format and the vehicle of time-travel as means of creating a story. This should not necessarily be taken as a negative judgement on Father's Day but perhaps a warning on the issues of turning an adventure serial into a time-travel serial.

The original Doctor Who bible always made it clear that stories should not revolve around time travel and shouldn't be resolved by the Doctor travelling back in time. It doesn't take a rocket-scientist to understand that the use of a time-machine leads to very easy resolutions of tricky situations, as depicted brilliantly in the Comic Relief version of Doctor Who in which the Doctor had a great deal of help from his future self. The general adherenace to the rule makes it unusual to the seasoned Doctor Who fan to experience a story which revolves entirely around changing histoy and the 'terrible' consequences of time travel. Father's Day's premise that the entire planet can be destroyed by saving the life of one man is hard to swallow given the effect that the Doctor's tamperings must have on a weekly basis. Only the previous week the Jagrafess had changed the time-line for nearly a century without any fallout.

The Doctor has clearly stated in the past that he can't just travel back and save specific lives, with the most obvious example being Adric in Earthshock. But why? The Doctor saves lives all the time with no knowledge of whether they should have died. His adventures have also resulted in many deaths which should would not otherwise have happened, most recently in The Unquiet Dead. And given the number of occasions he's crossed his own time line, not least in Father's Day itself, some of the time laws which are trotted out are meaningless.

In truth, these laws are there to be bent or broken depending on the needs of the writer, but because of the afforementioned inconsistency of the laws, stories which analyse them will be as flawed as the laws themselves and therefore r
eferences to the consequences of time-travel are best side-lined to throwaway moments such as in Pyramids of Mars when the Doctor shows Sarah the future of Earth if they don't stop Sutekh.

Pyramids of Mars and the new series of Doctor Who have both made clear that time is in flux and can be changed. This provides a great deal of drama and is important within the series but dwelling on this fact is not wise. Previously, both The Visitation and Mawdryn Undead demonstrated that whatever the Doctor does throughout time has already been woven into history and the past cannot be changed. In Father's Day, it's established that the extinction of the Time Lords means any time-meddling can result in dragons from the time vortex appearing and eating people. The appearance of this episode's Reapers are explained by the "weak point in time" created by the paradox which evolved as soon as Rose saved her father's life and created a situation in which she had no reason to have travelled back to the past.

If a story choses to discuss in detail what happens when time is altered, then it helps to be backed up by some logic. Unfortunately Father's Day has very little. For example, if the Reapers had been allowed to go about their curious task of eating all the people, then sooner or later Rose's dad would have been a victim. This death should have restored the time-line in a similar way to the car accident. It's also never made clear what forces are actually at work to make the killer-car randomly appear exactly where its needed and the audience is left to assume that time itsself is somehow trying to fix the situation. The 'rules' of the story are not clearly defined, and therefore the resolution is far too convenient and again lacks logic. After Rose's father is killed a little later than he should have been the paradox is resolved which mends the tear in time and sends the Reapers back home, but there's no reason why the events of the episode should be void. The time-line should continue with half the population of Earth dead and and there's nothing to explain why the Doctor's death is reversed. Explanations were also thin on the ground when it came to rebuilding the TARDIS out of the key and a battery from a 1987 mobile phone - Curiously enough, an unlikely plot device lifted from Cornell's previous work, Scream of the Shalka.

With all these problems in mind it must now be pointed out that there is another story that shares all of the same paradox problems, breaks all the rules of the Doctor Who bible and also contains at least one scene which has no logical explanation. The story is City of Death and is one of the most-loved Doctor Who stories. What it's important to remember is that, along with the previously mentioned Pyramids of Mars, many of the great Doctor Who stories don't stand up to too much scrutiny and must just be enjoyed at face value.

Father's Day is a charming, touching and ingenious story. The depth and development of the characters is exceptional. Rose's emotional journey is delicatly done and all the scenes with her family are convincing and couldn't have been handled better. The Doctor's heroic role is typical of Cornell's portrayal of the character however it is a something of a shame that, yet again, a supporting character saves the day.

The episode has some beautiful moments and its wonderful to experience a life-long Doctor Who fan crafting scenes which will live long in the memories of new fans. The moment where Rose runs to save her father is great, the empty Police Box is inspired and the golden TARDIS rebuilding itsself at the front of the church is beautiful. On top of some excellent characterisation, there are the superb Reapers brought to life with some convincing special effects.

This is an extremely thought-provoking and enjoyable episode, despite some of the issues outlined above. These conceptual hurdles are generally explained away with comments about the Time Lords no longer existing and the weak point in time, but these worries shouldn't be allowed to spoil an interesting formula.

54.9% of fans rated this story "excellent" making up a good proportion of the 87.3% who rated it positively. 5.3% disliked it for one reason or another. Perhaps more interestingly, in a poll of 130 fans taken after the broadcast of this story, 26.7% voted Father's Day their favourite, second only to Dalek which took 39.7%. Curiously in the same poll, the much raved-about The Unquiet Dead managed only 11.5%, which was the same number of votes as the less-than-loved The End of the World. There was basically nothing to separate Rose, Aliens of London, World Ware Three and The Long Game which all came in under 4%.

Overall then, an undoubted success. Like many of the best Doctor Whos this story has to be taken at face value. Just as other greats like Pyramids of Mars stood up to little examination, Father's Day has a warmth about it which is hard not to enjoy. It also gives Rose an explanation of sorts why time travel isn't a ticket to re-write history, although precisely what the lesson is remains somewhat murky - it's okay to change history a bit, and when the Doctor says so. The viewing figures remained strong after Dalek, and the audience share was excellent. The relative lack of advanced coverage of this story demonstrated that Doctor Who was not a hype-driven show any more and it's opposition Celebrity Wrestling had made it's last stand. But as the country became excited by the forthcoming release of Revenge of the Sith, the following week was to be a major test as Doctor Who went head-to-head with Star Wars: The Phantom Menace.

Classic Series Influences and References:

  • The Doctor and his companion have met their current selves once before, equally briefly, in The Day of the Daleks.

Buy the Complete First Series

This is an absolutely must for anyone who remotely enjoyed the new series of Doctor Who. Unlikely the previous individual releases of episodes, the box set has extras coming out of its ears. And whereas some box sets just have extras on the final disc, this brilliant package has a selection of extras on each disk, plus the entire set of Doctor Who confidential (cut down) on another disk.

Nothing much needs saying about the episodes themselves but commentaries on certain episodes are almost worth the price alone. The commentaries of Rose, The Unquiet Dead and Dalek are of particular note and the video diaries of certain members of the team are very interesting and fun. The TARDIS container is a nice package and overall, believe me this set of DVDs is well worth the asking price, or probably more!


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