Friday, March 4, 2011

Father's Day

Father’s Day

[2005 - Season 27/Series 1, Episode 8]

The Broken Vase

Rose never knew her father -- Pete Tyler died when she was a baby, run over by a hit-and-run driver.  Her mother Jackie always said her dad was an inventor, always working on projects that never went anyway, and that he was a wonderful man who died young -- and alone.  Rose wants to go see him and, when he dies, go over to him just so he doesn't die alone.  The Doctor agrees with a slight reluctance.

But when the moment comes, instead of going to comfort a dying man, Rose hesitates and runs away.  She asks the Doctor for one more chance; he says one.  Now they stand there, watching themselves watching her dad approach his death.  She's supposed to wait until the original version of herself runs away, then go to comfort Pete.

But this time, she has the opposite impulse, and runs up and saves his life. 

The Vase Unbroken
In front of her past self.  Needless to say, this causes problems.

Their old selves disappear.  At first, the Doctor is just livid at her, but it soon becomes clear that she has caused damage to Time itself.  The Doctor, as a Time Lord, can totally solve the problem with the TARDIS.  There's only one problem:

So Time starts falling apart, and horrifying creatures fly from the sky trying to close the wound in time by devouring anyone close to where the wound happened.  The Doctor desperately tries to do something, anything to save the day, but without the TARDIS, even he might not be able to do much more than delay the deaths of untold numbers of people...

This, finally, is what made Doctor Who great once, and has made it great again: compelling and imaginative writing combined with superb performances. It's not perfect -- some of the minor supporting characters (particularly the father of the groom at the wedding) are rough caricatures, and there are a few moments that don't hold up to scrutiny.  But its emotional impact cannot be dismissed, nor the thought and complexity put into the three central characterizations.

Much of its power comes from what came before in the season -- these stories have been told through Rose's eyes, and she really is the central character.  Outside of a few rouge episodes here and there, the companions have never really been the central characters since Barbara and Ian in the first two series.  It's called Doctor Who, after all, not Assistants Of An Eccentric Alien Wanderer.  But Rose has been the center of all these stories.  Even Dalek, built around the antagonism of the Doctor and his greatest enemy, was from Rose's viewpoint; ultimately, the Doctor didn't resolve the plot, it just resolved itself with a little push from her.  While there are definitely downsides to this approach, here it pays off beautifully: we are deeply emotionally attached to Rose, and writer Paul Cornell uses this to his best advantage.

It's a genuinely sad, moving, and creepy story, full of great little touches.  There's a special attention to detail in the dialogue.  When Rose talks to her Father, her awkwardness at attempting to act normal is perfect; it's obvious to him that something about her is a little off, but he rolls with it anyway.

In particular, the dialogue develops the relationship between the Doctor and his companion with great subtlety and care.

 The Doctor chews Rose out for changing history angrily, but it's clear that it's not really violating the Laws of Time he's upset about, but that he feels jealous.  He wants to be the powerful authority in Rose's life, and while he could easily swat away boyfriends and suitors, he can't do that to her father.  The dialogue in this scene is exactly what it's like when someone is angry at a friend for selfish reasons, but tears into them for legitimate reasons they don't care about.  But, of course, the second the Doctor knows she really has created danger, his first thought is to save her.

When he runs to her, calling her name, she smiles first, and turns to see him. And they way her smile drops when she realizes he's serious is perfect.

But more touching and meaningful is the little moment at the beginning when they first witness Pete's death.

While it's been there before, the intensity of their relationship is emphasized.  While the Doctor never expresses romantic feelings on the surface, there's certainly something bubbling underneath, but it's effective even seen as a deep friendship.  None of the previous Doctor-Companion relationships have been so deep and complex except with Sarah Jane, and that was kept much further under the surface.

I have to say, thinking about it, the Ninth Doctor may be the least-likable Doctor, but Eccleston makes him so compelling that he's magnetic and intriguing anyway.  But going through this season, much as I like Eccleston's performances, I can't wait to get to Tennant.

Regardless, however, Eccleston is at the top of his game here.  Nine may not accomplish too much in the episode, but it isn't for lack of trying: for all his flaws, he's heroic and proactive.  Eccleston plays everything with an incredible power.

Billie Piper is the emotional center of the story, of course, and she is astounding, surpassing everything she's done before.  She shows an incredible depth of emotion, but also holds back perfectly, making it all the more moving.

But the finest performance here comes from Shaun Dingwall as Pete.  Pete turns out to be much less than the man Jackie built him up to be -- in fact, they are at each other's throats constantly.  Pete's a bit of a player, Jackie is pretty abrasive, all of which leads to rather a rough relationship.  He doesn't seem like the most likable guy when you look at him on the surface, but Dingwall makes him not just real, but incredibly likable -- a nice guy who makes mistakes.

His performance in the dramatic scenes couldn't be more perfect -- deeply personal and emotional, but under the surface and reserved correctly.  It's a masterful portrayal, and adds immensely to the story's considerable emotional impact.

Director Joe Aherne creates a deep sense of dread and fear as the end of the world approaches.  Murray Gold's music is restrained and soft, and makes everything all the more devastating.

Father's Day is everything that makes Doctor Who great: it's an imaginative sci-fi yarn with great monsters and ambitious themes, but it's also a powerful, character-driven tale that digs deep into the heart and the mind.  Sad, complex, moving, yet also, in a small way, uplifting.  It's not just great fantasy: it's great drama.

Time Healed


* * * ½

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