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Wednesday, May 18, 2005
Doctor Who: Father's Day
At some point in our lives, every one has written the basic time travel story. I wrote my first one back in elementary school and it went something like this—somehow time travel is invented and I use whatever the device to journey back in time to visit my grandfather (or some such relative). I see him on the street, see some kind of imminent danger and shove him out of harm’s way. Because of this, I create a set of circumstances in which I no longer exist and start to fade out of existence. I must then go back in time again and stop myself from doing whatever it is I’ve done and putting the universe back on track.

With “Father’s Day” Paul Cornell takes this basic story and applies it to the universe of Doctor Who.

We find out in the teaser that Rose’s father was killed in a car wreck and that Rose never knew him. Rose asks for a change to visit him on his last day, to ensure he doesn’t die alone. The Doctor agrees, taking Rose to the scene of the crime. Rose sees her dad run down by a car but is powerless to move and go to him. She asks the Doctor to take her back one more time so she can be ready and go to him in his final moments. Despite knowing how dangerous this could be, the Doctor agrees. Rose and the Doctor arrive again and see themselves watching the accident. At the last second, Rose runs out, saves her father and unleashes a time paradox. Before you know it, big ugly CGI Time Reaper monsters are descending upon London and killing everyone in site.

Why?

Turns out Rose’s actions created a paradox—a wound in the space/time continuum. The Reapers have come to sterilize the wound. But sterilizing the wound means that all life on Earth will be destroyed.

Oops.

And somehow, the Doctor isn’t quite sure how to stop them. Indeed, at one point, he laments that all the Time Lords are gone since his people could have stepped in and cleared all this time paradox up, quickly and simply.

I’ll give Cornell a lot of credit. He takes a simple germ of a what if idea and expands on it. The story is more than just the standard what if I changed an event in the life of a family member via time travel. And Cornell gets a lot of mileage out of the story in terms of the characterization. Cornell’s script is one of the more character driven of the new series. We have long segments that do little to advance the plot, but instead give us a bit more insight into the characters.

It starts early with the Doctor accusing Rose of using him, of having an ulterior motive for agreeing to join him on his travels. To hear the Doctor reference his initial invitation and point out that Rose only agreed to join him after he said the TARDIS could travel in time was a nice touch. It also showed that the series is taking a long-term, arc approach to the storytelling—one that is clearly influenced by such shows as Babylon Five and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. All I can say is—if you’re going to give us a good pay off, then I’m all for it. It also gives me a lot of hope for the “bad wolf” thread that has been running through most of this season.

The disagreement between the Doctor and Rose harkens back to the Doctor and Ace’s argument in “Curse of Fenric” in terms of addressing things that need to be addressed in loud voices. Seeing this, I can only think that the bond between the Doctor and Rose has now somehow changed and I’m intrigued to see where they will take it from here.

It was interesting the gamut run by the Doctor here. From the initial fury at Rose to his panic when the interior of the TARDIS is gone (never really explained, though I wonder if it was some kind of defense mechanism for a time ship in case history did get that off course so as to not make it worse. Or to keep the offender in a time zone so when the Time Lords did show up, they could punish said offender) to the scenes in the church. Hearing the Doctor agree to save the married couple because they were going to have adventures he never could was a nice moment for the show. And Eccleston once again carries of a quiet moment with grace and dignity.

Also, along the way, we get some nice back-story for Rose and her family. We meet her father and see her interact with him. We also see a bit more of what Jackie was like when Rose was younger. And while I guessed that Rose’s dad wouldn’t quite be the saint Jackie said he was in the flashbacks of the young Rose listening to Jackie talk about her father, I honestly wished it had been a bit less clichéd. Rose’s dad is running around on her mother, he’s not got a steady job, etc. These are all a bit too predictable for my liking. I’m not sure what I was looking for here, but I wanted a nugget more than just the standard “bad husband/father” clichés.

I will also say I saw the ending coming a mile away. Pretty much from the first time we saw the Reapers, I figured out what Rose’s dad had to do to save the Earth. I did like the character arc that led to his figuring out what he needed to do and why he had to do it. But again, it was a bit too predictable in the overall arc of the story.

I also found the “Quantum Leap” moment of Rose meets a younger Mickey to be a bit off as well.

Indeed, I will say that I felt that “Father’s Day” was the shortest on plot of all the episodes so far. Maybe part of that was that last week’s previews gave away what the Reapers looked like, thus eliminating the suspense of much of the first 15 or so minutes of the story as we see things from the POV of this week’s monster.

From reading all that, you might think and out and out didn’t like this week’s Who. I didn’t hate it, but I didn’t love it either. I will give “Father’s Day” credit—it was far more engaging that last week’s “The Long Game.” But that is kind of a damning by faint praise really. There was a decent story here and some good ideas, but I found myself drawing comparisons to the first season of audio stories featuring Paul McGann. Those stories showed the effects of time travel and the unraveling of the web of time a bit better than what we got here. And the implications of that. Of course, that was a story told over a series of six or so audio adventures and I will bet the vast majority of casual fans tuning in had no awareness of it. But as the complete fan-boy that I am, I am aware of it and found it far better done there.

And give “Father’s Day” some credit—it had a lot of nice homages to the history of Who from the POV shots by the monster to the base under siege mentality of the Troughton years. It also had a sprinkling of the new Who sensibility with the emphasis on character development. But it lacked a good balance—at times the plot ground to a halt for character stuff to happen. Also, while the show did take a chance by killing off the Doctor mid-way through, we all knew he’d not stay dead long. Or without the TARDIS. You can’t have Doctor Who without those.

So, all in all, I give “Father’s Day” a lot of credit. It’s certainly not the disappointment that “The Long Game” was but I’m not as over the moon for it as I was for “Dalek”. It was a decent enough story that asked some interesting questions, but I’m not sure if it really answered all those questions.

posted by Michael Hickerson at 5/18/2005 03:41:00 PM | |
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