Sunday, September 28, 2014

From The Political To The Personal, “Father’s Day” Is An Important Dramatic Shift For Doctor Who!

The Good: Wonderful character development, Good acting, Good narrative structure
The Bad: None within the episode.
The Basics: Rose Tyler gets the focus of “Father’s Day” when she explores her dead father’s timeline and makes an effort to save his life . . . with disastrous consequences.

In decent serialized television, like Doctor Who, the conceptual framework of the series has to be established and sometimes the episodes that establish the framework are not as good as the episodes that simply exist within the framework and use it. In the first season of Doctor Who, “The Long Game” (reviewed here!) establishes the fluidic nature of time within the Doctor Who Universe. The episode, however, is largely without significant character development. So, that the episode follows up with “Father’s Day,” a powerfully character-centered episode that utilizes the framework established in “The Long Game” works to the benefit of the season.

“Father’s Day” is also notable in that it does not have a defined villain, which is pretty refreshing given that the prior episodes almost exclusively contain adversaries motivated primarily by greed. “Father’s Day” is a strong Rose episode and focusing on The Doctor’s companion for an altered-time episode establishes a decent precedent for the show. In addition to finally making explicit that The Doctor has the ability to alter the outcome of the Great Time War where The Doctor’s people were all killed, it is finally explained – explicitly - why such changes cannot be made in the Doctor Who Universe.

Recalling how her mother told her about her father’s death, Rose implores The Doctor to take her to visit her father. Together, they witness Peter and Jackie Tyler marrying (with Pete getting Jackie’s name wrong) and then they journey to the day Peter died from a random driver running him over. Witnessing him getting hit by the car, Rose is distraught and wants to make sure that Pete will not die alone. Going back to right behind themselves, Rose runs out and stops Pete from getting killed. Despite The Doctor being clearly upset over Rose’s meddling with the time stream, the pair returns to Pete’s apartment where Rose sees all of Pete’s weird inventions. The Doctor abandons Rose in his anger and runs afoul of a massive flying creature he calls a Reaper.

Accompanying Pete to the wedding of Sarah Clarke and Stuart Hoskins, Rose encounters the younger version of her mother as people in the immediate vicinity begin to disappear at alarming rates. Jackie, seeing Rose, gets upset with Pete (and his job history). The Doctor arrives in time to save Rose and some of the wedding guests from the Reapers who are picking off people in the area. The Doctor reasons that saving Pete’s life has created a wound in time and, seeing the car that was supposed to kill Pete appearing and disappearing around the church leads The Doctor and Pete try to restore order to the timeline.

The fundamental fluidity of the Doctor Who universe is explored wonderfully in “Father’s Day.” Not only does such a fundamental shift in time, such as Rose saving Pete’s life, alter the immediate vicinity, it creates tremendous ripples throughout the timeline. The TARDIS disappears and the appearance of the Reapers menaces all existence. In the larger context of Doctor Who this sort of illustrated consequence makes one question how such consequences are avoided for other temporal incursions (like how the Jagrofess in the prior episode enslaving Earth for 91 years that altered what The Doctor remembered of time not having similar consequences) makes no sense. But within “Father’s Day,” there are no such issues.

In fact, “Father’s Day” might well be the first perfect episode of Doctor Who, at least in the rebooted series. The episode is strong in character development for Rose and there are a number of incredible lines from The Doctor that enhance his character’s flexibility. He gets very angry at Rose throughout “Father’s Day,” but he comes to the anger from a place of frustration and love. Pete is characterized well as a smart, imaginative, but out-of-touch man and there is an interesting parallel to be made between him and The Doctor in the episode. Fortunately, Rose immediately puts the kibosh on Pete’s unwitting almost-advance upon her.

Actors Christopher Eccleston and Billie Piper have amazing on-screen chemistry in “Father’s Day.” Their ability to emote to one another through eye contact is incredible and they sell the deepest emotional moments for their characters very well. Camille Coduri (Jackie) and Shaun Dingwell (Pete) have decent banter that makes it seem like they were a viable married couple once upon a time. Their on-screen tension plays out well through the course of the episode.

“Father’s Day” is one of the few episodes of Doctor Who that cheats on some of the consequences; most episodes of Doctor Who do not essentially “reset” the timeline to its starting point (characters remember the incidents in the episodes, casualties remain dead and time goes on with the incursion in place). “Father’s Day,” despite being wonderful, pretty much half-asses its resolution. While it restores the timeline, essentially, the story that Jackie tells the young Rose Tyler changes . . . so how the episode actually works out remains troublingly murky. What happened? What didn’t? In the final blend of the temporal wound and its resolution, the timeline is resolved in a murky way. The argument can be made – given that The Doctor and the previously-deceased father come out of the church after the important event – that a rest happens when Pete meets his fate head-on, but it does not really explain how the temporal reset works. Jackie says “people say” there was a girl . . . even though she saw the girl in question and how they disappeared.

That said, “Father’s Day” is still a perfect episode. The level of character, consequences, and the performances all lend themselves well to a solid hour of television that replays remarkably well. Despite all the time spent on the conceits, “Father’s Day” is a tight, resonating character story that is accessible to fans and casual viewers of Doctor Who.

[Knowing that single episodes are an inefficient way to get episodes, it's worth looking into Doctor Who - The Complete First Season on DVD or Blu-Ray, which is also a better economical choice than buying individual episodes. Read my review of the sole season with the Ninth Doctor here!

For other, intriguing time-travel stories, be sure to check out my reviews of:
“The Visitor” - Star Trek: Deep Space Nine
The Time Traveler’s Wife
Fringe - Season Five


For other Doctor Who episode and movie reviews, please visit my Doctor Who Review Index Page!

© 2014 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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