In light of the tragedy that recently befell Matt and his family, it seems strange writing about the latest Doctor Who episode, "Father’s Day", which ranked very high on my list of the season one episodes. It’s most certainly my favorite standalone installment of the season, topped only (possibly) by the forthcoming two-parter.
My sci-fi buddy Tom (Teafran) is a big fan of the Farscape episode “...Different Destinations” and it’s possible “Father’s Day” is the DW equivalent of that benchmark sci-fi installment: The problems associated with time travel, and what happens when a time traveler makes what appears, at first, to be a simple mistake, and the disastrous consequences that follow when trying to fix the mistake.
In all fairness to Farscape, “...Different Destinations” is likely the more compelling piece, because the problems are only exacerbated through the attempted fix, whereas “Father’s Day” offers up a fairly tidy solution – but not without putting its characters through hell first.
You would think that throughout 26 years of TV time travel, Doctor Who would have done this sort of thing before, and on certain levels it has, but never as emotionally as what we’re shown here. In many ways, this is the Doctor Who episode I waited my entire life to see.
It’s an important episode for Rose on many obvious levels, but mostly it’s important because up until now she’s been unable to truly conceive of precisely the sort of life she’s been leading with the Doctor - here's where the fun and games come to a screeching halt. “Father’s Day” not only introduces her to the father she never knew, but it also allows her to save him from a death she’d grown up knowing as finality, and then forces her to watch him die that death not once, but two different times, under two different circumstances.
Writer Paul Cornell is no stranger to Doctor Who. He’s been responsible for what are widely considered the most lauded DW novels over the past decade, and given the chance to finally make a go of it onscreen, he passes the test with flying reapers...I mean colors.
This is not to say it’s without a few faults. The Reapers seem somewhat shoehorned into the storyline, as if they’re there because the series must always have a monster of the week. The story could likely have been told more or less the same way without the creatures. Also, the various supporting players and extras reacted rather laconically to the entire situation – frankly, there just wasn’t enough freaking out. I don’t think the story would necessarily have worked better had there been, but it seems a bit odd to have people practically falling asleep in the pews of a church as their world caves in around them.
Lastly, how is it that Jackie Tyler actually looks older in 1987 than she does in 2005? Bad, bad make-up people! This would be less bothersome had I not been rather lusty towards actress Camille Coduri back in the early 90’s when she smoked the hell out of the movie screen in both Nuns on the Run and King Ralph and she was much closer to the age she's supposed to be in the story.
But in the grand scheme, these complaints are minor. It’s an emotional ringer that grants its viewers a simple notion we all think at some point in our lives: If I could save the life of someone I knew was going to die, I would do it, and the world would be a better and more right place for it.
And that person, in "Father’s Day", is Pete Tyler (Shaun Dingwall) - the writing of whom is a major high point in this episode. What I primarily love about Pete is that he’s no idiot. Pete figures out what’s going on long before anyone else, save for Rose and the Doctor. In most other sci-fi fare, he’d drift through being none the wiser until it came time for him to be sacrificed. The writing of the character justifies the entire story, as we too see that Pete Tyler was a father worth saving and risking the world over. In the end, he was in fact such a good man, that he was willing to save the world and his daughter by simply doing the right thing, and in the process, he does indeed become the most important person in Rose's life.