Review: Father's Day

Last Alteration: Monday 19 September 2005

In advance of the screening of "Father's Day", it's been commented by many fans that Doctor Who has rarely 'done the time thing' well - or often. So Paul Cornell's attempt to redress the balance slightly has been eagerly awaited.

At the beginning of the episode, Rose requests that she and the Doctor go back to 1987 to make sure her father doesn't die alone. She fails to rush over to him at the time of the crucial last gasp, so she asks to witness the whole thing again, only this time she intervenes and saves his life. It's soon after this that things go somewhat pear-shaped, when shadowy flying creatures known as Reapers appear on the scene to massacre church-goers and children alike.

The writing is clear, the direction very slick, though in my view the pace is different in this episode. And although there is drama and horror galore, there is also a lot of talking and soul-bearing. And I liked that! It is timely, if you can excuse the pun, that eight episodes into the season, various emotional strands come together to push the relatively weak premise of the story. The best bits of the episode are the emotional exchanges: the guilt, horror and disgust that the various characters feel; our own reactions to the feelings of desperation and futility, and the possibility that this is one time paradox that the Doctor won't be able to reverse.

RTD and his team have the unprecedented ability (in Who) to constantly move across a very broad spectrum of episode types, and "Father's Day" is another departure from the norm, even if the basic concept of a time paradox is nothing new. Much of the season so far has been refreshing and experimental, yet like "The Long Game" before it, "Father's Day" seems very familiar. And although it is a departure in style, I can't help but be reminded of Paige in 'Charmed' re-visiting her adoptive parents' car accident and changing the course of events. Indeed, in the very same television series, when time paradoxes occur, events are also re-aligned by an external influence called 'The Cleaners'.

With "Father's Day", this familiarity doesn't detract from the excellence of the way Cornell deals with the plot, and as expected there's a lot of pathos and great characterisation. The character of Pete Tyler, in particular, is well drawn-out, and Shaun Dingwell puts in a funny and very touching performance as the rather hopeless husband who, when given the chance, ultimately comes good. As a Dad. His growing realization - of what has happened, and the sacrifice he will need to make - is wonderfully played out. Rose has no real memory of Pete, and Jackie has placed her late husband on a pedestal to a certain extent, so Rose expects to find a clever and successful entrepreneur, rather than the Del Boy that she ultimately gets to know. Camille is on fine form again, though she can't convince us that she's in her teens/early twenties. She's an attractive woman, but she looks almost as old as in previous episodes.

Billie and Chris are excellent - again. The relationship of Rose and the Doctor has developed to the point where he is undeniably the most important man in her life. It has been suggested that he is a surrogate father figure to her, so whether the relationship is complicated by Pete's brief return is up for grabs in future episodes.

In terms of the horrific nature of the car accident itself, and the way in which the Reapers attack - and massacre - small children in playgrounds, this is dealt with brilliantly. With the help of excellent CGI, the view (from within) of the shadowy Reapers flying past the stained windows should encourage a certain amount of bed-wetting. I wouldn't be very surprised if 8-12 year olds remember these scenes for many years to come. The episode is classically scary and an excellent example of bringing chills and thrills into familiar territory.

Andy Keast-Marriott

  • Read Andy's review of Aliens of London/World War Three, and of The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances.