Shiny Shelf

Doctor Who: Father’s Day

By Mark Clapham on 17 May 2005

WARNING! Contains spoilers!

This new series of ‘Doctor Who’ is both perfect kids’ entertainment and more grown-up than ‘Doctor Who’ has ever previously been.

That isn’t the contradiction it may seem to be. The best drama for children has no room for the turgid misunderstandings and convoluted contrivances that plague a lot of ostensibly ‘adult’ drama and gets straight to the point.

So it is with ‘Father’s Day’, the story of which is razor-sharp in its simplicity – Rose goes back to 1987 and saves her father from the death history had laid out for him, but history fights back. ‘Reapers’, bat-winged antibodies that heal gaps in time, wreak destruction as they try and fix the wound left by the paradoxical survival of Rose’s father. There’s only one way this can end – the audience knows it from the start, as does the Doctor, the tragedy comes from awareness creeping over father and daughter as the story goes on.

This series loves its martyrs – someone’s heroically sacrificed their life to save the day in about half the episodes so far. That kind of noble gesture was a common event in the old ‘Doctor Who’, but usually involved a minor character jumping on a bomb for a speedy plot resolution. These sacrifices rarely had the emotional weight to similar incidents in ‘Buffy’ or ‘Angel’, series which were both about lead characters who struggled and sacrificed to do right. Under the eye of Executive Producer and big time Whedon fan Russell T Davies, these incidents have a similar high impact in the new ‘Who’.

‘Father’s Day’ writer Paul Cornell puts this heroic ideal at the centre of his story. All three lead characters in the episode – the Doctor, Rose and Rose’s father – put everything on the line in this episode. Rose jeopardizes everything to save her father. The Doctor actually dies trying to save the world while protecting Rose from losing her father again. In the end, only one sacrifice can set things right, only Rose’s father can save the world where the Doctor has already failed. One man, seemingly nothing special, can make a difference where the last Time Lord couldn’t.

It’s a simple story and, in spite of being about time paradoxes, mercifully free of technobabble. Cornell’s script is aided by a brilliant, sympathetic performance by Shaun Dingwall as Rose’s father, and tight direction from Joe Ahearne. Following on from similarly excellent work on ‘Dalek’, Ahearne again keeps his camera moving smoothly between the large scale action and the tight, emotional close-ups. He’s also proficient in working around CGI, shooting in a way that keeps the Reapers mostly in the kind of high contrast shots that allows effects to be dropped in cleanly.

As an external threat the Reapers are only really there to add pressure to the central emotional narrative. ‘Father’s Day’ is a genuinely heartfelt and grown-up story for both adults and kids, demonstrating the kind of universal appeal television isn’t supposed to be able to achieve any more.

Can this series get any better? Well, the trailer for next week’s has Billie falling off a Zeppelin, so…

Next Episode: ‘The Empty Child’

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By Mark Clapham

Mark Clapham is a Devon-based writer and editor. You can find out more about him at the egotistically named

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