Tuesday, 5 January 2010

Doctor Who: Father's Day

“The past is another country. 1987 is just the Isle of Wight.”

Oddly enough for an episode which I might as well admit I think is fab from the outset, it doesn’t get off to the best of starts. The opening dialogue from Jackie and Rose feels overly artificial, too obviously a framing device, and doesn’t feel at all naturalistic, which feels wrong for something rooted in the world of Jackie and the Powell Estate. Fortunately, though, everything else about this story is great.

Paul Cornell gives us a story completely unlike anything which Doctor Who has ever given us before, a drama which essentially focuses on relationships in a domestic setting and where the sci-fi elements, though important, are there to serve this. The result is something wonderful but also brave given the possible reaction.

We’re back in the Powell Estate, and it’s 1987. Wisely, the production team haven’t gone overboard with the ‘80s-ness as this would have distracted from the tone. The early scenes are brilliant; at first unable to move as she watches her father die, Rose convinces the Doctor to let her have another try, and I can’t help thinking of Day of the Daleks as they watch their earlier selves.

Rose does the inevitable, and the expression on Christopher Eccleston’s face is priceless. And the fact he proceeds to say nothing for ages speaks volumes, adding extra weight to his eventual outburst, questioning whether Rose is any different from Adam in The Long Game, using time travel for her own purposes. But the difference here is not only that Rose’s motives are rather different but that this is just as much the Doctor’s fault as hers, if not more.

The Doctor takes Rose’s key and goes to the TARDIS as though about to leave without her. We know he won’t actually do it, of course, but it’s quite effectively shocking when we discover he can’t. Rose’s messing with time will have consequences. Admittedly I haven’t a clue why the TARDIS should go all Wheel in Space, or why the phones and Pete’s radio behave as they do, but for once that sort of thing hardly seems to matter.

Before we get to the meat of the episode we get our first sight of the car that was to have killed Pete driving around like a ghost, and we get a scene in a park which seems strangely unlike the sort of thing I remember from the ‘80s. No woodchip or modern play equipment for us; every swing and every roundabout was a potential deathtrap, but we were happy. No trip to the park was complete without an exchange of gossip with the other kids about the last time someone had “cracked their head open”. Halcyon days.

Er, where was I? Yes, the meat. For a start, there’s Jackie’s hair. But there’s also Rose getting to understand that her parents’ relationship was never quite what she’d been led to believe it was. But perhaps it’s not quite as bad as it appears at first glance here either.

Suddenly, we get our first glimpse of the CGI bat thing, and the consequences of Rose’s act are looking very bad indeed. The CGI doesn’t exactly look that good by more recent standards, but that’s another thing which hardly seems to matter.

Everyone rushes inside the church for safety, and it’s not long before Rose and Pete have their inevitable chat. You can tell instantly that he’s worked out he’s Rose’s dad, and from this point it’s inevitable that before long he’ll realise exactly what’s going on. Shaun Woodward is brilliant here, but so’s the script. And it again demonstrates its brilliance very soon afterwards in the Doctor’s speech to the newlyweds-to-be.

Mickey as a kid gives us some comic relief, but things look very grim. The creatures have “sterilised” the whole planet apart from themselves and other small besieged communities, and the Doctor hasn’t even got a plan. The Time Lords would have been able to prevent this sort of thing but now there’s no one to do there job- a nice, subtle use of the season arc. But Rose says she’s sorry, and the Doctor forgives her. So he should; it’s as much his fault as hers.

The climax is perfect; Pete knows he’d been fated to die as soon as Rose tries to claim that he was always there for her: “That’s not me.” And then, catastrophe: just as the Doctor’s about to save everyone, Rose goes up to her younger self and, er, crosses the streams. And a Dad’s gotta do what a Dad’s gotta do.

5/5 again. Even I cried, dammit.

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