Instances of the Doctor or his companions crossing their own time-streams are very rare in Doctor Who up to this point. The First Doctor and his companions encountered themselves in glass cases in a museum, the Third Doctor and Jo met themselves when a fault occurred in the TARDIS, and the Brigadier caused a big explosion when he met his younger self. The Doctor has met himself several times, but normally different incarnations.
Back to the Future style paradoxes always make for great television, and it is perhaps surprising that this sort of thing has rarely been touched upon in Doctor Who’s forty-year history. It shows how much the TARDIS is just a way of depositing the Doctor and his companions into a new story, rather than a plot device itself, until Steven Moffat started making Doctor Who much more timey wimey. Just the sight of the Doctor and Rose looking at themselves around a street corner is enough to make you sit up in your chair, but then Rose rushes past her earlier self to save her father’s life – her father who should be dead. Father’s Day is packed with such mind-blowing moments as this, culminating in Rose taking hold of herself as a baby. At this stage meddling with time is such a rarity and a big deal that it calls forth monsters. Later it will become almost commonplace, with the Reapers forgotten.
Rose’s actions here are clearly set up as a comparison and contrast to Adam’s selfishness and rejection the previous week. But this is a very different set of circumstances. Adam’s motivation was personal financial gain, but Rose just wants the chance to have a life with her father. She wants to save somebody. Importantly, she has not been portrayed as having an upbringing that is in any way inferior due to the lack of her father, but that does not stop her feeling the pain of his absence, which is a mature approach to writing drama. The Doctor’s reaction is less successful:
I did it again. I picked another stupid ape.
This verges uncomfortably on racism (“speciesism”?) and also seems harsh considering Rose cannot really be blamed for the way she acts. The need to save the life of her own father is obviously going to be an overwhelming emotion for her, and the Doctor has allowed things to get to the point where that can happen.
But their relationship is shown to be complex and unique here. This is completely new territory for a Doctor Who companion. Despite the ‘boyfriend’ banter, the Doctor takes on the role of surrogate father to Rose (as the Doctor often does with his companions) and there are (presumably deliberate) parallels between their relationship and the relationship between Rose and Pete. Here’s an example: the Doctor asks Rose to “just tell me you’re sorry” and then she says “I am, I’m sorry” – if you need more evidence of the father/daughter vibe, just look at what the Doctor does next, gently touching the side of Rose’s face, in exactly the same way as Pete did in a previous scene.
It’s all a bit possessive, but the Doctor’s slight mishandling of the complexities of his relationship with Rose is a natural development from his lack of family experiences, at least for a very long time. He says “my entire planet died, my whole family”, which is a very rare mention of the Doctor’s family. Only his granddaughter Susan has ever appeared in Doctor Who, and he may have had a daughter called Tilly (The Android Invasion), but that’s about all we know at this point. So he is not a natural at dealing with this kind of thing. It all feeds beautifully into the theme of the Doctor’s loneliness:
Street corner, two in the morning, getting a taxi home. I’ve never had a life like that.
There are so many amazing moments in Father’s Day: Rose meeting Mickey as a child, Pete’s self-sacrifice, the Doctor standing in front of everyone as a Reaper attacks and then getting eaten (!), but one in particular stands out from all the rest – the TARDIS reduced to just a police box. Sometimes the simplest ideas can make the greatest impact. There are some artistic flourishes from the director, such as Rose’s face silhouetted against the background of the dimly lit church. The simple shots of a pram on its side, a bike and a child’s shoe, tell a horrific story without overstepping the bounds of family television. The whole thing is structured as a base-under-siege, with the confined space of the church interior and the monsters constantly attacking. But ultimately this is an episode that is all about family, and the blurred lines of the Doctor and Rose’s relationship. It is probably the most compelling and insightful exploration of these themes we have ever seen in Doctor Who. RP
The view from across the pond:
I have an awesome life. I’ve had my share of mistakes, sure, but there’s not a lot I regret because everything that I did lead me to where I am now, and it’s a happy place. If I had a time machine, I’d want to go see many things, but I don’t know that I’d change much. Although perhaps there is one thing…
When I first viewed Father’s Day, my father was still alive. Watching this episode in 2005 was touching. By April of 2016 when my son and I were coming to the end of our mega-marathon of Doctor Who, my dad had passed 2 years earlier, which made this episode… well, let’s just say I was grateful for the darkened room.
Time travel is magnificent but now and then there is something dark to it. It has a gory undercurrent that, not unlike the classic tale The Monkey’s Paw, hides the fact that sometimes getting a wish fulfilled is not all it was cracked up to be. Rose gets a firsthand dose of how tragic that can be in this magnificent story. But first, a few comments. The production crew do an outstanding job recreating the 1980s. Jackie looks fantastic with her 80s hair and there are subtle nuances to the outdoors (like the signs on poles and the cars) that bring the time period to life. Also worthy of comment is the music. There is a xylophonic piece that plays that has “baby” written all over it, but towards its end, it goes dark, downbeat. The music has personality and it creates the impression of a childhood turning into a nightmare. It’s creepy and disturbing and perfect for this story.
This is Rose’s story and Billie Piper is outstanding in it. She conveys such hurt at the loss of her dad right from the beginning that she ignores how much has potentially gone wrong by saving him. Her emotional display throughout the episode keeps this in very familiar territory and adds to the horror of what she is going through. The Doctor is a catalyst, but beyond that does little for the story; it’s carried by Pete who becomes the hero of the hour. The Doctor is actually the reason everything goes wrong. First, he displays a total lack of understanding humanity when he allows Rose to see her dad again on the day he dies. If one wants to see their lost loved one again, I totally get that but let it be from afar and where there is no chance of changing history. (Not 10 feet from the man before he’s run down by a car! Traumatizing much?) The Doctor then goes on to call Rose the “stupid ape” even though he was the one who allowed her access to that very event. In that way, it’s clear that he is not like us no matter how much he may look like one of us. But through all of that, it’s Rose who acknowledges how sad he is, partly because he doesn’t know what to do and partly that his own people are gone! It’s a very human scene which brings up the point that this isn’t a science fiction story; this story is a distinctly human drama unfolding through a science fiction trope. How do we cope with the loss of a loved one?
And speaking of Pete, maybe it’s also a very human thing to do to make those we love appear like heroes. Maybe it’s easier to remember them that way (I wouldn’t know because my dad actually was a hero, but then perhaps that’s the point). But Peter Allan Tyler also proves to be the hero Rose always imagined when he is willing to die to save his daughter. He says “that’s not me” earlier in the episode when Rose tells him that in the future he’s such a great dad, but in the end he is that; he lives up to the image. After he makes the connection that this girl he’s been talking to is his daughter from the future, he makes the stand to be the dad she always imagined. He saves Daddy’s little girl, as he always would have. He becomes the hero she needed.
Doctor Who can tackle this very deep and serious subject but thankfully, there are little bits of humor to ease the pain. As Rose berates Pete, he asks “You’re not related to my wife by any chance, are you?” Little does he know… Jackie’s comments about feeling bad for little Mickey’s girlfriend ends up being ironic but in reality, he ends up being so loyal that Jackie should feel sorry for him. More ironic is Jackie telling her husband that he’ll be late to his own funeral which, in fact, is the very reason for this unfolding drama.
Now, I am a bit of a stickler for little things and did take issue with some minor points. How come Rose notices the heat from the TARDIS key through the exterior of the Doctor’s jacket considering she is wearing her own layers too, but the Doctor doesn’t even though the key is in the inside pocket of his own jacket? And I realize Paul Cornell, the writer, needed some way to keep the Reapers at bay, but how can a stone building keep something out when it is capable of moving between dimensions? The change of location doesn’t seem to bother the reapers that much; Pete died in a totally different place to where the story started; shouldn’t those reapers be chomping at the bit to correct that?
On the other hand, there’s more of that nearly-magical writing that has found its way into Doctor Who for decades. It seems the Doctor can’t fly the TARDIS correctly nine times out of ten (Aliens of London, The Unquiet Dead…) but this time he gets it right twice in a row. In reality, it’s a means of telling the story, but internally, is the TARDIS really responsible, perhaps planting the seeds for the whole “Bad Wolf” scenario to unfold?
I believe Doctor Who is at its best when it tackles big topics. This is a fantastic piece of human drama. It is one of the highlight moments of season 1.
But I admit, if only I had a time machine to go back to June of 2014… ML
Read next in the Junkyard… The Empty Child