Doctor Who: The RTD Years Vol. 1 - Revisiting FATHER'S DAY - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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Doctor Who: The RTD Years Vol. 1 - Revisiting FATHER'S DAY

Tony says to hell with the Blinovitch Limitation Effect!
Back in 2005, one of the key differences that Russell T Davies introduced to Doctor Who was consequences. Baggage from the past carried into the present. For the first seven episodes, that was mostly evident in the somewhat damaged nature of the Time Lord himself as a survivor of the most epic war in the history of the universe, with his people, his planet, and everything he believed about himself in ages past eradicated, left behind because there was no option.

Enter formidable writer Paul Cornell, to rebalance the Time Lord angstfest. Jackie Tyler and Mickey Smith had been Rose’s most tangible support network until the day she met the Doctor. But the one clear absence was her dad, Pete – who died when she was just a baby.

Father’s Day deals with perhaps the most grown-up theme so far in the 2005 series – human grief, and an insatiable human curiosity to meet people we feel should have been there, people we love, who for one reason or another, we weren’t able to have in our lives.

But it also deals with the differences between the softened versions of people we invent once they’re dead, and the real-world, every day versions of them we sometimes give no quarter while they’re here, because they make life harder than it feels like it should be, or don’t pick up their washing, or put anchovies on their pizza so you can’t have any of theirs and you have to get your own…

Rose wants to see her dad, and the Doctor, while suspicious of her motives, gives in to her slightly passive aggressive demands. They watch Pete and Jackie get married, and even then, there’s a sense that Pete is a disappointment to both Jackie and Rose, as he mixes up Jackie’s names at the altar, and Rose imagines he’d be taller than he is.

But they don’t interact on that day. Instead, driven by Rose’s nagging ache that Pete dies on the road, the victim of a hit and run driver and utterly alone on the day of a friend’s wedding, the Doctor and Rose arrive just as Pete is about to die.

There’s a very grown-up lesson in the fact that although she wants to comfort him as he dies, Rose is immobilised, unable even to watch the moment of his passing, and so misses her chance, even with the aid of a time machine. We can all identify with that “missed it” moment, when even with everything going our way, a crucial opportunity goes by in a breathless moment where time stands still.

That’s where things get tricky, because she pleads to have another go, to get his ending right, for his sake and her own.

Much is later made, and by the Doctor of all people, of the idea that what follows is all Rose’s fault, but really, as he also points out, he knows how time travel works, he knows how life and death works, and after all this time, he also knows how human beings work, so if there’s anyone to blame, really it’s the Doctor, trying to indulge a friend in pain because he knows the pain of loss and wants to ease it.

They have a second try, and two sets of them together in the same space and time, not to mention two iterations of the same Tardis, barely minutes apart in time and space, create a weak point in the space-time continuum.

When Rose, this time, runs out and actually saves her dad from the hit and run driver, Cornell has all he needs to give us probably the most chilling adventure New Doctor Who had given us to date. Within the confines of a paradox, things can work in a different way to how they usually operate in the Doctor Who universe, and Pete Tyler being alive when he’s not “supposed” to be is given significant extra danger by the weakened fabric of space-time created by Rose’s need and the Doctor’s indulgence.

We’re in a pocket universe immediately, a “wound in time” that needs to be sterilised – and the Reapers are coming to do the job.

A word about the Reapers. They’re never actually called that on-screen, not even by the Doctor. And while their clumpy feet look a little odd in 2023, they still remain a ghastly, terrifying idea. Flying demon-like creatures who are non-verbal and implacable, from whom ultimately there is no escape, they are effectively avenging angels, clearing away the temporal mistake by the horrifying expedient of eating everyone.

And the grown-up theme continues into the human drama, too – we realise that Jackie and Pete are not the especially happy couple that Rose has always been led to believe they were, and that Pete, far from being a brilliant businessman is a fly-by-night chancer, ready to try and make money out of any scheme, irrespective of whether they stand a chance of success or not.

There are even some especially harsh words between the Doctor and Rose. He calls her a stupid ape, almost putting her in the same category as the lately unlamented Adam Mitchell – “it’s never about showing you the universe, it’s about the universe doing something for you.” These are words from a grown-up, damaged place, and they’re also, in Rose’s case, particularly unfair. But when the Doctor, hotheaded and angry, strops off to the Tardis for at the very least a cool down, the Tardis isn’t there any more. The insides have been flung out of the “wound,” leaving him with just a wooden box and no way out.

The way in which the Reapers are used to build tension and terror in Father’s Day is masterly in its application of the old adage about not showing the monster straight away. Instead, we see the local area from their vantage-point – red, and seemingly cracked, as they swoop on their first feasts.

Once that’s begun, things take a turn for the urgent, as the Reapers begin to attack the Stuart Hoskins/Sarah Clark wedding party, in particular, eating Stuart’s dad outside the church. The Doctor hustles everyone inside the old building, hoping that the age of the stones, windows and doors will buy them thinking time.

It’s possibly the oddest rendition of a base under siege story in the programme’s long history, but it works excellently well as a space in which to give characters the time to have meaningful conversations.

While the car that “should” have killed Pete Tyler is caught in a loop going round a corner outside, we see the Doctor realize that the easiest way to solve the problem would be to force Pete to meet his destiny – but he won’t, because then he’d probably lose Rose’s affection forever. There are more harsh words between Rose and the Doctor, and a neat non-reference to the Blinovitch Limitation Effect, with the potential for chaos in the event that Rose touches Baby Rose. And most of all, we see Pete Tyler cotton on to who Rose is, and their conversations and desperate hugs are genuinely affecting – especially to anyone who’s lost a parent, or never had the chance to love one.

Perhaps the best thing in Father’s Day though is that Cornell and Davies cook up what, in a thousand other episodes, would be a typical “Doctor Saves The Day” plot – the Tardis key pulling the actual Tardis into the bubble of the temporal wound. But an accidental Blinovitch moment pulls the Reapers inside the church, and the Doctor can do nothing but stand before them, as the oldest thing left in the building, and subsequently get eaten to death.

That’s the joy of Father’s Day – the Doctor does what he can, and stands, and falls, just like any other member of the wedding party.

That means it’s for Pete Tyler to save this day, knowing that the Doctor worked out the way he could do it long ago, but was trying to protect him, for the sake of Pete, of Rose, and of his own conscience.

This time – this third time, when Pete Tyler meets his four-wheeled fate, Rose is able to do what she’s always wanted to do, and be with him when his eyes close. And when she does, it’s better than it would ever have been without this little bubble of time spent getting to really know one another, because it matters that the daughter and her daddy recognise one another in those final moments of Pete’s life.

While it’s possible to look at the Reapers nearly two decades on and take some issue with their CGI, it would be intensely churlish to do so when face to face with such emotional storytelling and such an exquisitely paced piece of drama.

It’s no exaggeration to say that Shaun Dingwall as Pete Tyler quietly dominates the episode, bringing both the slightly hopeless energy of the Pete Tyler Rose never knew, and the potential for brightness and success that could (in another dimension, say) see him become a massive success. Yes, the episode is written and structured to offer him that opportunity, but Dingwall is extraordinary in the way he delivers the different, transforming energies of a man on borrowed time, and the sheer potential of a man who’s never yet lived up to it.

He's more than enough of a foil for Camille Coduri’s younger Jackie, conflicted as she is between the exhausted, exasperated stress of living through uncertain times, and the love she obviously still feels for her husband.

And what of Father’s Day 18 years on?

Father’s Day stands up – and stands out – as properly grown-up, heavily consequential human-grounded science fiction that blew the doors off the show when it was first broadcast, and has lost very little, if any, of its power over the years between then and now.

While the first seven stories each gave New Who a chunk of its personality that would endure for decades, Father’s Day is exactly what it claims to be, a bubble of time outside the norm, in which terrifying, dangerous, and wonderful things happen. It’s a diamond of a piece, and it’s worth pulling out every now and again, to appreciate how it shines.

Tony Fyler lives in a concrete cave, somewhere on the edge of the sea, with his wife, who exists, and the Fictional People In His Head, who don't as yet. A journalist and editor by day, he has written Some Books, and is more or less always writing another. One day, he may even get around to showing them to people. In the meantime, he's Script Editor and occasional Executive Producer at Third Time Lucky Productions, and a proud watcher of things no-one remembers they remember until they remember.

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