Friday, 2 November 2012

My Father, The Del-Boy

Doctor Who
Father's Day
Series One, Episode Eight

If you had a time machine, what would you do with it?  Doctor Who takes us to exotic times and places, but cool as it is seeing the past and the future, it's all pretty much just decoration.  The scenery changes, and we meet the occasional famous person, but the actual time travel bit rarely really matters.

Although at a push, it will make the Doctor change his jumper.
All of which leaves an elephant in the room.  We're only human, and there are things we'd want to change given half a chance.  In Father's Day, Rose finally plucks up the courage to visit her dad so she can be there for him when he dies.  She bottles it on her first go, and when she tries again, instinct takes over.  The consequences are disastrous, but it's hard to imagine yourself doing anything different in her position.  She's never met the man, this is her only chance, and she could save his life.  Wouldn't you?

There's just gobs of stuff going on here.  To start with, has Rose been planning it all along?  The Doctor thinks so, as it was his pointing out that "it also travels in time" that got her on board the TARDIS.  But Rose says otherwise, and I agree: as much as she'd love to meet her dad, she isn't quick to think up schemes that'll benefit her, or she'd have pulled an Adam (so to speak) before now.  Anyway, she does what she's supposed to the first time, which is more than most people would.  The rational bit of her brain just went (quite understandably) bye-bye when too much was asked of it.

The Doctor's furious, probably in no small part because it's his fault.  He's only too happy to act like a genie if it'll make Rose happy, and he knows a trip to see the fabled Pete Tyler will win him brownie points well into his next lifetime.  But the desire to keep her sweet overrides his common sense, which must surely be screaming No, don't do it!, especially when Rose asks for a double-dip.  And then she goes and disappoints him.  Just last week he shot Adam down in flames for abusing time, and used Rose as the shining example.  Now he's all with the eggy-face, and he doesn't like it one bit.

"All right, FINE, I'll go and fix Adam's head.
Point taken."
So you've got Rose disregarding the most important man in her life, laying bare the dad-shaped hole he was occupying all along; and the Doctor's tendency to show off leading to death and destruction all round, but his absolute need for Rose letting it run amok.  Eventually the Doctor's fury subsides (after he makes Rose apologise, then gives her a fatherly stroke, setting things back to the way he needs them to be), and he does what he can to keep Pete alive.  But it's a doomed effort.  Pete knows what needs to be done, and so do we: the car that kills him circles like a vulture.  It's not a question of what needs to happen, but whether the characters can go through with it.  With the Doctor gone, Pete's all Rose has, and he doesn't disappoint.  It's complex and satisfying as hell.

And all that before we even get onto how utterly, heartbreakingly good it is as a story.  Rose finally meets "the most fantastic man in the world" (Jackie's words, and oh, the coincidence that it should be fantastic), and quickly discovers the truth's been heavily Rose-tinted.  But even with the love goggles slipping, she's still drunk on daughterly affection; the moment where he takes his hand away from her cheek, and she can't not put it right back, is an absolute emotional knock-out.  Billie Piper shines here, and Sean Dingwall makes a believable go of her dimwit dad, who's got enough imagination to figure out who she is and what's really going on.

It's a stunning episode for Rose, whose flaws and faults finally seem endearing, rather than irritating.  And it's a dark, complex one for the Doctor, who can no longer avoid just how much he needs Rose, and needs her to think highly of him.  He's even willing to die to stay in her good books, once she's made things right and said sorry first.

It even makes time for smaller dollops of colour.  1987 makes a refreshing change from ancient history, and the moment the Doctor enters the completely hollow TARDIS prop is something you'd never expect to see.  Love it.  But... ye-eah, there are also things wrong with it.  Not dealbreakers, but annoying enough to spoil the mood a bit.

Take the plot.  Rose saves Pete, so giant time-bats appear to "sterilise the wound", i.e. eat everyone.  It's monsteriffic, a bit like Stephen King's Langoliers if they actually looked scary and not like Pac-Men.  But you've got to wonder why this has never happened before, why they're just eating the people, and also, what the hell, time-bats?

"Would that I could change time, my dear,
but alas... time-bats."
And speaking of elephants in the room, it's taken Doctor Who all of five episodes to change its entire stance on time travel from "Your cosy little world could be rewritten like that" to "There's a man alive in the world who wasn't alive before, the whole world's different because he's alive."  Is there such a thing as a Script Editor?  No one thought it was a bit silly having two episodes the same year that say the complete opposite?  This situation's got to be nothing compared to the historical clusterbomb of The Unquiet Dead.

On top of that, I'm not even certain what's going on here.  As well as Rose saving Pete's life, there's a time paradox: the previous Doctor and Rose vanish, presumably meaning she didn't then return to rescue PeteBut aside from them vanishing and an offhand reference to it being "a vulnerable point", nothing is made of this.  Which is it?  A paradox or a change in history?

Then there's all the incidental flotsam, like bits of different times poking through.  Bell's first ever phonecall, a Streets song... what the hell's all that about?  And for all the hoo-hah about not changing time, they actually do.  Pete's killer is no longer a hit-and-run, he now stays with him until the ambulance comes, and probably even meets Jackie.  His whole life's different for having made that effort.  Are we seriously going to put that down to semantics, when saving one man's life can destroy the world?

Deep breath.  It doesn't matter.  Yes, it's a shame that the continuity's horrendous and the plot's got holes you could fit your head through.  But it's about the emotions, not the details.  This isn't a free pass for the future, mind you, but this time the heart's in the right place, and that's enough.  In spite of everything, it's a classic.


  1. The original classic true series contradicted itself on whether you can change time three times in the first season, I'm pretty sure. That's the trouble with time travel - the writer just does whatever would be 'cool' for this story. However, I don't think there's ever room for the 'can't change time or the world blows up' type story, it's just irritating, what's the point having a show about time travel in that case.

    Never seen this ep, because time-bats looked stupid in the trailer.

    The 'mustn't change time' but blatantly do anyway script error sounds like what you complained about in the final episode of season seven, so seems they never ever ever learn.

    And finally, the Doctor's constant emotional manipulation 'you must love me and no one else' of Rose these season must be what makes her go pshycho-nuts when he turns into David Tennant, so it's his fault.

  2. I'd never really considered that it was his fault for getting so involved in the first place. That's a good way to look at it! Way to go, Big Ears...