Father's Day *****

Rose saves the life of the dad she never knew in this visceral, tearjerking classic

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Doctor Who story guide
Mark Braxton
Mark Braxton
Father's Day *****

Story 163 

Series 1 – Episode 8

“There’s a man alive in the world, who wasn’t alive before. An ordinary man. That’s the most important thing in creation. The whole world’s different because he’s alive” – the Doctor

Storyline
Rose asks the Doctor to take her back to a time when her father Pete Tyler was alive, and then to the day in 1987 when he was killed by a hit-and-run-driver, so that she can be with him as he’s dying. But when she actually saves his life, she triggers the appearance of flying creatures called Reapers, who sterilise the “wound” in time by consuming everyone within it. As the monsters lay siege to the church where Pete and Jackie Tyler and their baby daughter Rose are guests at a wedding, Pete slowly realises what must be done to rectify the situation…

First UK transmission
Saturday 14 May 2005

Production
Location: November 2004 at St Paul’s Church and streets in Grangetown, Cardiff; Loudoun Square, Butetown; and Ely
Studio: November 2004 at Unit Q2, Newport; HTV.

Cast
Doctor Who – Christopher Eccleston
Rose Tyler – Billie Piper
Jackie Tyler – Camille Coduri
Pete Tyler – Shaun Dingwall
Registrar – Robert Barton
Young Rose – Julia Joyce
Stuart – Christopher Llewellyn
Sonny – Frank Rozelaar-Green
Sarah – Natalie Jones
Bev – Eirlys Bellin
Suzie – Rhian James
Young Mickey – Casey Dyer

Crew
Writer – Paul Cornell
Director – Joe Ahearne
Designer – Edward Thomas
Incidental music – Murray Gold
Producer – Phil Collinson
Executive producers – Russell T Davies, Julie Gardner, Mal Young 

RT review by Mark Braxton
There were emotional moments in the classic series – more than people give it credit for – but they were usually reserved for departures and were often buttoned-down affairs. Paul Cornell’s powerful debut is the first time Doctor Who really goes for the emotional jugular, and leaves us gasping.

As well as underscoring Russell T Davies’s unwritten agenda about the heroism of ordinary lives, Father’s Day marks its card as a time-travel tale with immense heart, the story of one girl’s wish to be with the dad that she never knew.

It manipulates us in subtle, clever ways, too. At first we’re angry with Rose for saving Pete’s life, just like the disapproving Doctor, standing there with arms folded like a Les Dawson fishwife. We totally get why he’s annoyed because, well, you just don’t go messing with history like that, do you?

But then you put yourself in Rose’s shoes and you realise that, given the chance, you would do exactly the same thing, however much temporal paradox theory had been drummed into you.

Father’s Day works because it’s visceral, heart-on-sleeve writing, but also thanks to two unbelievably good performances from Billie Piper and Sean Dingwall.

Dingwall makes the most of his screen time. Pete Tyler could so easily have been a cut-price Del Boy, a stereotypical ducker and diver, but Dingwall makes him live and breathe. And Pete’s not stupid. Despite the impossible scenario that presents itself to him, he works it all out: what’s going on, who future-Rose is and what he needs to do to put things right. The moment of realisation is superbly captured, with a terrified Pete suddenly feeling trapped as he is viewed through the bars of a church window.

The direction is unshowy, but Joe Ahearne maximises the dramatic potential, arrowing in on all those excellent little two-handers, between the Doctor and Rose, Rose and Pete, Pete and Jackie.

Father’s Day was both Billie Piper and Christopher Eccleston’s favourite episode of the run, and it’s not hard to see why. It feels like a new, different kind of Doctor Who adventure. With a new dynamic. And there’s a lovely little skewed nursery-rhyme motif on the soundtrack, as if a stone-cold reality is trying to muscle in on a fairy tale.

But the one thing I really don’t buy is the monster. Father’s Day would work equally well if you scythed the Reapers from the script. With their vast but redundant wings they just seem to float, with no visible means of remaining airborne. For me, some sort of Inferno-like alternative reality would have been much scarier.

And talking of things that don’t ring true, there’s something painfully artificial about the hit-and-run incident; that rather robotic way the driver’s arm comes up to the face, the absence of emergency braking… Perhaps the stuntman is keeping up the fine tradition of terrible bit-part acting in the show (viz Pigbin Josh in The Claws of Axos).

The Doctor is an especially comforting presence here. Once he’s got Rose to acknowledge her error, he’s desperate for her to be his friend again, and to bring order out of chaos. He also comes across as a non-judgemental everyman, never once belittling about-to-be-weds Sarah and Stuart and their less-than-romantic back story (“Street corner... two in the morning... getting a taxi home... I've never had a life like that”).

It’s a stunning showreel of what the new show can do and, in his first stroke of the pen for the TV show, Paul Cornell has fashioned a cast-iron classic.

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