Sunday, May 15, 2005

Doctor Who - Father's Day

Well I wasn't expecting that ... One of the things that Doctor Who has always done is to subvert expectations. Just as you think you might have the show worked out, along comes a story like The Celestial Toymaker or The Mind Robber ... Warriors' Gate or even Battlefield ... and you're plunged into a different world and a different take on events. Father's Day, for me at least, fell into this category. Thinking about it afterwards, it is very surprising that Doctor Who has never done a story like this before, where the implications of changing past events become very apparent to those involved. Previously we have heard a lot of talk about the fact that you can't change history (The Aztecs, Earthshock/Time-Flight) and a couple of tentative attempts to explore it (in particular Mawdryn Undead) but nothing of the richness or complexity of Father's Day. But the whole changing time thing does bother me a little. Rose says at one point in the episode that it's OK for the Doctor to wade in and change things but not for her, and the Doctor replies by saying that he knows what he's doing ... but there are complex issues here which aren't really explored by Paul Cornell's accomplished teleplay. If Rose's changing history by saving the life of her dad causes a 'wound in time', then why hasn't this ever happened before when the Doctor or any of his companions did something to change history - which is pretty much in every story ever transmitted, right from giving the cavemen the secret of fire up to defeating the Jagrafess the previous week. From the Doctor's comment, it implies that perhaps history is fixed, it is immutable and cannot be changed, and so when the Doctor arrives somewhere, all his actions (and by association, the actions of his companions) already form a part of history ... in other words, they are destined to do whatever they do so that history can remain on track ... and yet in stories like Day of the Daleks, the Doctor actually does change history, likewise in Pyramids of Mars we see the results if he doesn't get involved ... ... and what about the other time travelling races like the Daleks? How does time work then? I can hardly see the Daleks taking care over making sure they know when and how to interfere. Cornell handles all this by, for the most part, ignoring it. Which is perhaps for the best, because otherwise the episode would have degenerated into incomprehensibility. What we get instead, is a love story about Rose finding her dad, realising that he is not the hero she wanted him to be, but who ends up saving the world anyway. There are so many great moments in Father's Day, but all the plaudits and praise from me go to Billie Piper. Her performance here us awesome. Emotionally rich and demanding, totally believable (with one scripted slip up) and bringing the audience along with her. The one scene which didn't work for me was where her dad, Pete, said she was pretty and she launches off into a rambling tirade about 'not going there' ending with her offering him her arm as she leaves the flat ... Pete even comments that this is a 'mixed message' and it so totally is ... Apart from this, Piper makes Rose come alive in a way that I don't think I have ever seen on TV before. Her performance was so well judged that it made the tears flow freely, and the overall emotional impact of this episode was unlike any other I can recall. The only time I can remember crying at Doctor Who before was at the end of Earthshock, but this surpassed that earlier milestone. The rest of the cast were pretty good, perhaps with the exception of Camille Coduri as Jackie Tyler, who a) didn't look young enough and b) was too lippy and demeaning of Pete - they would never have got together I feel, and their bickering was both realistic (plaudits to the writer) but also embarrassing to watch. I liked Shaun Dingwell's Pete Tyler immensely - a man well aware of his own shortcomings and who knows that Rose is lying to him about his future as he cannot recognise himself in the person she describes. Even the minor parts of Stuart (Christopher Llewellyn) and Sarah (Natalie Jones) were well realised, and the scene with them and the Doctor is beautifully played - showing that the Doctor's values on human life are somewhat different to ours, and that every life is special, even those which seem simple and happy rather than complex and significant. The incidental music is brilliant. It complements every scene, and I loved the wavering notes as the time distortions started to happen. There's a couple of snatches of other music as well - with 'Never Can Say Goodbye' by The Communards playing at the start as Rose and the Doctor first arrive in 1987, and then, I think it was 'Don't Mug Yourself' by The Streets (aka Mike Skinner) on the car radio as time starts to go awry (of course this is a track from a 2002 album). On the Doctor Who Confidential show afterwards, they talked about the design of the Reapers and how they didn't want to go for something like a more traditional spectral figure ... I have to say I think this was a mistake. The Reapers were passable ... but more and more I'm wanting to see real monsters and not CGI ones. In common with many CGI created monsters, they moved too fast to really see them in detail and work out what you were seeing in the first place, and the combination of flying mantis/eagle/dragon didn't work for me and looked too derivative of other things. I would have liked to have seen something original and alien ... or just hellishly scary. I feel that silent, slow, hooded figures approaching people and then snatching them away in the folds of their cloaks would have been far more terrifying than giant monster birds ... but that's just my opinion. Overall this episode was simply awesome. It hit all the right emotions and made me cry like a baby at the end. The script was accomplished and clever, with only a few avenues of slight confusion along the way (like the TARDIS interior vanishing, why the car which was meant to hit Pete was still circling in a time loop and so on). It's hard to say whether this is my favourite episode to date, as they have all been so good in different ways. However I think that along with The Unquiet Dead and Dalek, this episode sets the bar for the future of the show. ... and from the trailer, next week's episode looks like something which might just raise the bar still further.

4 comments:

The Co-ordinator said...

Billie Piper's performance was indeed a tour-de-force David, and the growing talk of BAFTA nominations is not out of place.

It is undoubtedly best to ignore the Blinovitch Limitation issues, and instead take onboard the emotional impact of "Father's Day."

I do however think it is important that the production team remember that Doctor Who is a sci-fi fantasy series: occasional stories that are a radical departure are fine, but they must not become the norm, otherwise Who will become little more than a soap.

Penelopecat said...

As usual, David, I agree with almost everything you say, with only a few comments:

1) If you felt that the interaction between Pete and Jackie was too shrill to make it believable that they'd be together, I'm afraid you've just been lucky enough to only be exposed to a better class of people.

2) While it's a judgment call as to whether hooded, cloaked figures might have worked better than the creatures we saw, it's possible Doctor Who wanted to avoid any comparisons to Harry Potter's Dementors...

3) You really cried at the end of Earthshock? :)

And while this is certainly David's page, I have to ask the co-ordinator if a story about the monsters from beyond time who devour the population of the planet after being unleashed by changes to history wrought by a time traveler isn't sci-fi/fantasy, then what is?

David said...

1) If you felt that the interaction between Pete and Jackie was too shrill to make it believable that they'd be together, I'm afraid you've just been lucky enough to only be exposed to a better class of people.
Hmmm ... good point. I just thought she was a little too shrill. One thing I forgot to mention was that she constantly reminded me of Frank Spencer's 'Betty' as well, which sort of took a little of the drama out of it for me :)


2) While it's a judgment call as to whether hooded, cloaked figures might have worked better than the creatures we saw, it's possible Doctor Who wanted to avoid any comparisons to Harry Potter's Dementors...
And I guess the RingWraiths from LOTR ... good point, but sometimes a tried and tested formula can work better than something which ends up being just noisy, fast, and somewhat incomprehensible.

3) You really cried at the end of Earthshock? :)
Yes ... didn't everyone?

Thanks for the notes. Appreciated.

The Co-ordinator said...

If I may reply to Penelopecat, my interpretation of "Father's Day" is that it is ultimately a very moving drama about the relationship between a father and daughter, that is set within a science fiction / fantasy series.

Now, as David pointed out, of course the great strength of Doctor Who has always been the fact that within its broad umbrella many different types of storyline can be accomodated.

However as the season now moves inexorably towards its conclusion, alongside the likely dramatic turn of events, I personally would really love to see some great escapism and fantasy as well!