FATHER’S DAY– 14th May
Written by Paul Cornell
Review and Commetary by Andrew Panero
Imagine for a moment that you were the Doctor; what would it be like to be the last of your race, zooming around the universe in your go-anywhere machine? What would it be like, to be hundreds of years old, to have seen and done things ‘you can barely imagine’ as the Doctor tells the bride and groom in this episode?
How would it feel?
I suppose I begin of in this vein, because understanding the Doctor’s psychology seems important to understanding this particular episode. The actions of his companion, who is put in an intolerable position by the Doctor, are very clear and explicable. The actions of the Doctor however are harder to fathom. In agreeing to her suggestion that they go back to the day her father died, so that she could be there for him at his death, surely he should have known this would lead to problems?
Rose’s father had died on his way to a wedding, run down by a hit and run driver in a dodgy looking beige Vauxhall. He had died alone waiting for an ambulance, no one know where he was as they were already at the wedding. So it is understandable that Rose should want to be there for him at his death. However as the Doctor points out to her ‘be careful what you wish for.’ So in a way I feel he must have known it was going to lead to trouble.
When the inevitable happens and Rose runs out to save her father from being killed, the Doctor is angry with her for interfering in the course of time. He accuses her of manipulating him, of only being interested in travelling with him in time so that she could be there for this moment. She in turn retorts that it is okay for him to interfere and save people, so why is it not all right for her? Maybe he is right to suspect her of manipulating him, for she rather cruelly uses his affection for her and slaps him in the face with it. ‘I know how sad you are!” she tells him. “You’ll come back for me or hang outside your TARDIS, well I’ll keep you waiting a long time!” I’m sure if any time lords were watching this episode they’d be shaking their heads in dismay by now; they would probably say how sadly inevitable it all was. The Doctor has been hanging around with humans so long that he has gone native.
What can Rose’s Dad make of all this? Naturally he thinks the Doctor and she are an item and of course he has no idea that the attractive young woman who has just saved his life is his daughter. When he rather innocently tells her that if he were travelling with ‘a beautiful young lady like you’ he’d be back in a shot, Rose is horrified. Clearly she hasn’t been able to think through all the implications here. I’m sure a lot of Freudians would have got very excited about this manifestation of the Electra complex.
There are more fun and games in this vein when Jackie makes an appearance. She immediately assumes that Rose is some blonde floozy that Peter (Shaun Dingwall) has picked up. Rose is about to have some of the illusions that Jackie brought her up to have about her father, rudely shattered.
‘Father’s Day’, is in short, a superb piece of television drama in a fundamentally different league from any other Doctor Who story I can think of. This is because it works on so many different levels that it is impossible to do justice to them all. There is the exploration of one of the most strangely neglected themes in Doctor Who, the nature of temporal paradox. Here it is explored in a compelling and very human way, through the effect it has on Rose and her family with the Doctor as a kind of passive onlooker.
But of course it wouldn’t be Doctor Who if there weren’t a universal threat involved, which of course there is in the shape of the Reapers. These are bizarre, reptilian, insectoid creatures that dwell in the vortex and come swarming out into the world because of the disruption in time caused by Peter’s survival. When I first saw a clip of these creatures I must confess I was thinking ‘oh no, not more crap CGI!’ However, I don’t why I thought that, because they are very well realised creatures. I should imagine they would have given some children nightmares by now; one of the first scenes where they feature is of them snatching children away in a playground. This is very well done; we don’t see anything of the creatures other than a POV shot with the classic horror film device of the red screen. What we do see however is the children vanishing and a little black boy who is suddenly left alone on his swing.
This little by comes running back to the church to tell everyone that monsters are attacking people in the playground. The Wedding Party knows who he is, so do we although we have only met his older self. It is Mickey and the monsters he is referring to soon make their appearance, killing the vicar and the groom’s father in a blink of an eye. Time for the Doctor to make his appearance; this he does and manages to save the rest of the congregation by ushering them into the church.
The use of the traditional place of sanctuary is underscored here by the way in which the Doctor assumes the pulpit during their stay in the church, taking responsibility for the souls of his human charges. The reapers have arrived to sterilize the wound and there is nothing the Doctor can do to prevent their eventual annihilation, being in the Church is but a brief respite from destruction. Rose is beside herself with guilt and grief over what she has brought about; but the question in my mind was how could the Doctor have allowed this to come about?
Which brings us back to my point at the start of this review; what is the Doctor’s state of mind? Are we to conclude that the destruction of his home world has affected him so badly that he repeatedly walks into situations where his death is almost inevitable? Does he have a subconscious desire to join his dead people, something that he can only realise by acting through a proxy agent like Rose? I suppose we can never really know the answers to such questions, which is what ultimately makes this good drama. We never really knew what William Hartnell’s Doctor was thinking when he picked up that Rock way back in ‘The Unearthly Child’. Was he about to dash out the wounded caveman’s brains in order to save himself? Again we will never know.
I know a fair number of fans have big problems with the way this particular Doctor always seems to need someone else to save the day. From my own point of view it is not so much a problem who saves the day, as long as I am entertained on the way. I feel that the idea that the main hero should be the one to save the day is an oddly anachronistic one in any case. I feel that the hero’s role is much wider than this.
Sometimes the hero must die so that others may live and in this episode the Doctor does die, at least temporarily. However it is his example that finally inspires Peter Tyler to become the real hero of the hour. He realises that the Doctor has been trying to protect Rose all along from the real truth. Only Peter’s death can heal the wound in time and stop the reapers from destroying the world, something he realises as he watches the beige Vauxhall constantly circling the church in a time loop. With a final farewell to Rose and Jackie he goes out to meet his destiny.
With Peter’s death everything returns to normal and Rose is finally allowed some closure. The timeline returns to more or less how it was, with some alterations, so it seems from the scenes following his death. One can’t help wondering though how exactly that would be possible, but maybe that’s the wrong question to ask of a story with such an implausible premise as time-travel in it. The other question that arises is linked again to the Doctor’s state of mind; why put the entire human race at risk simply so Rose can achieve closure? Why risk the destruction of so much that he holds dear for one person?
So I conclude this review with mixed feelings about this particular episode. In many ways it is a superb episode with very high production values, a gripping story line and convincing characterisation. But it leaves me feeling very uneasy about the character of the Doctor and his motivations, but then he always was a bit of a dark horse.