New Who in conversation: Father’s Day (S01E08)

Watching New Who – in conversation with David McDonald, Tansy Rayner Roberts and Tehani Wessely

David is coming to New Who for the first time, having loved Classic Who as a kid. Tehani is a recent convert, and ploughed through Seasons 1 to 6 (so far) in just a few weeks after becoming addicted thanks to Matt Smith – she’s rewatching to keep up with David! Tansy is the expert in the team, with a history in Doctor Who fandom that goes WAY back, and a passion for Doctor Who that inspires us all. We’re going to work our way through New Who, using season openers and closers, and Hugo shortlisted episodes, as our blogging points. Just for fun! We have already talked about:

“Rose”, S01E01 

“Dalek”, S01E06 

FATHER’S DAY – Season one, episode eight
The Doctor – Christopher Eccleston
Rose Tyler – Billie Piper

DAVID:

Perhaps I should have waited a little bit before writing this, because I am actually a little teary. That would have to be one of the most well crafted Doctor Who story lines I can remember, and it had everything that made me fall in love with Doctor Who to begin with. What a crunchy story, we get so many layers! Rose’s relationship with the Doctor, the paradoxes and dangers of time travel,(but no mention of the Blinovitch Limitation Effect!) and of course the foundation of it all, Rose’s relationship with her father. Episodes like this can fall in the trap of laying on the emotion too thick, but they got it just right here.

TEHANI:

It shocked me a bit, seeing Rose and the Doctor being nasty to each other early in the episode. I mean, the Doctor is clearly very angry with Rose for saving her father, but the way they really aim at each other’s weak points, with Rose throwing the Doctor’s loneliness in his face – eep.

DAVID:

It’s sadly accurate, the better we know someone, the more effectively we can hurt them. But, this gives us an interesting insight, I don’t remember the Doctor ever being quite as vulnerable with one of his companions. Sure, there have been some (in)famous dummy spits (my favourite probably being Tegan’s great line “Call yourself a Time Lord? A broken clock keeps better time than you do, at least it is right twice a day!”) but there has always been a sense of the Doctor being a little bit above letting himself really get hurt by the things his companions have said. But, here the Doctor does have that air of loneliness, we really do get the impression that he is adrift and alone and that he needs Rose in his life, maybe even more than she needs him.

TANSY:

I like the fact that we see the Doctor and Rose’s relationship develop. On the surface they have looked all along like the usual ‘hooray we’re travelling’ pair, but there have been fractures and niggly bits all along to show that actually, they don’t completely trust or love each other yet. This story is almost the row they had to have, to become a more united team. The Doctor’s suspicion that Rose only changed her mind because of time travel, and she might have been using him for that all along, was really interesting, and I don’t think we ever really know if that was true. It’s also important because of what happened with the Adam storyline back in “The Long Game” where we learned that some people aren’t cut out to be companions, and the Doctor won’t forgive anyone who tries to use his gift selfishly.

TEHANI:

The Doctor seems so sad in this episode. When he lashes out at Rose, calling her a “another stupid ape”, it feels like a lot of pent up sadness flows out, and stays out throughout the episode. He marvels at the ordinary people, and it feels like he wishes he was one.

TANSY:

That speech to the bride and groom about how they met, and how a story like that is wondrous to the Doctor because that’s not the kind of life he has, is just lovely. I think there’s a theme threading through this whole season about the Doctor’s changing relationship with the human race. He’s so angry at the start, I think because they’re still here and his old world has gone. And Rose is slowly teaching him to respect humans again, to appreciate them as he used to (though he always had a love-hate relationship with the apes, especially the ones in uniform!). Ultimately of course we are going to end up with a Doctor who is ridiculously in love with the human race, but we’re not there yet.

Humanity, however, is providing the Doctor with regular opportunities to save people, which is pretty much his therapy right now. Father’s Day shows us how important that is to him.

DAVID:

There is a powerful line in that speech, which is brilliant, where the Doctor says, “Who said you’re not important?” To me, growing up, one of the defining characteristics of the Doctor was that he valued people on an individual level, not just as causes, and that he considered everyone important. He didn’t really deal in the idea that the end justified the means, or that it was okay to sacrifice a smaller number of people to save a greater number. I think towards the end of the original series, as they sought to create a darker, grittier tone that they might have lost sight of that a little – the Doctor could be quite ruthless. In this episode we really see a return to the idea of the Doctor as not willing to compromise this ideal. At no point does the Doctor even seem to suggest that sacrificing Pete would be a neat solution, and not only save the people in the church, but the whole world. I think that is very important.

TANSY:

Yes, I agree with this very much – there’s a theory in fandom that has come across very clearly in the narratives written for the Doctor by Big Finish Audio that the Doctor, either consciously or sub-consciously, shapes the identity of his next incarnation by compensating (and, usually, over-compensating) for perceived flaws in the current model. The Seventh Doctor is very much someone who looked at the big picture of the universe, and would be more likely to sacrifice an individual to save many more. The Eighth Doctor, in the various stories explored through the audio plays, will absolutely risk the whole of time, space and the cosmos to protect one person, at the beginning of his run, but it’s implied they might be pushing him towards different choices later on, and he’s certainly suffered enough that you can see the beginnings of the Ninth Doctor in him. There are some moments in the series they did with Sheridan Smith’s Lucie Miller where he is actually called on his priorities by another companion, who can’t understand why on earth he wouldn’t sacrifice one person to save, for instance, a whole world.

TEHANI:

Your insight into the changes in the Doctors themselves is great to have Tansy. I’ve only got three Doctors to consider in this aspect (I loved Tom Baker, but have next to no recollection of his actual character in the show!) and they are all distinct within themselves – those changes in what is in essence the same person is part of what keeps the story alive, yeah?

TANSY:

And of course the Time War itself, which we will never see, has birthed this new, angry, lonely version of the man we thought we knew. He basically had to make that choice, to sacrifice his own people to save the universe, or so it is implied, and now is determined never to be that person again. I love that we get character progression still in a protagonist who is over 900 years old!

TEHANI:

The portrayal of Jackie here was interesting. We talked earlier about her, and Rose has this image of her dad from Jackie that paints him as a saint, but the actuality is pretty different. Which leads into another episode later on I guess, of what would have happened between Jackie and Pete had he not died. Having said that, it was pretty funny to see the Doctor rouse on Jackie and her say, “Yes sir.”

TANSY:

This story is hugely sympathetic towards Jackie, and humanises her rather more. She has officially stopped being a caricature, and we can see exactly where she comes from, and why Rose’s Most Exciting Adventure is actually something of a tragedy for her mother.

TEHANI:

It demonstrates somewhat the self-centredness of the young – Rose is really only thinking of herself. I don’t suppose it ever occurred to her to think how Jackie was affected by the loss of her husband.

DAVID:

The scenes with her and young Rose completely changed my perception of Jackie.

Another one of the themes running through the episode that I thought was handled well was how it examined the way that we tend to sugar coat the past, and look back at people and events in an often unrealistic way. It’s fascinating to watch Rose come to the realisation that her parents’ relationship, and her father, were not exactly how Jackie had portrayed hem, you can almost see Rose’s whole world view shifting. And, of course, that discovery that our parents are people too, with their own “story”, is something that we all go through as some point.

I realise I may have gotten a bit philosophical in this post, but that is why this such a powerful episode, it tackles some pretty deep themes, and does it so very well.

TANSY:

It is a very deep episode, absolutely. It’s rare to see the idea of an unreliable narrator played with so effectively in television, and it’s done very well here. It reminds us too, I think, how young Rose is, and how uncynical she is, compared to the Doctor or even Jackie, for all her tough talk at times. And (looking ahead) I am very happy that she and Jackie have a conversation later on this season which addresses this episode, and what Rose learned about her Dad.

TEHANI:

In the end, I think Pete proved himself to be the Pete of Jackie’s memories, rather than of her present. He sacrificed himself, not just for Jackie and Rose, but for everyone. He was pretty smart too, not wasting time flustering but figuring it out for himself, mostly.

And I should have noted too, that Pete isn’t the only one who sacrifices himself – the Doctor does it too, putting everyone behind him and stepping forward in a last ditch attempt to save them.

TANSY:

I love Pete as a character. You can see how he and Jackie fit together as a couple, for all their flaws, and you can see parts of him in Rose. He feels very real – the storyline of the heroine’s dead father sacrificing himself again to save everyone could have been completely naff, but it’s amazingly touching because he feels like an ordinary bloke caught up in utter weirdness.

Also, I’ve got to say, Rose was raised without a Dad? Gee, I wonder what the appeal of the DOCTOR could be? Oh damn, I just squicked myself out.

DAVID:

Tansy, I don’t think it gets to a squicky level, but there is definitely a hint that the Doctor is filling a void in Rose’s life that her father’s absence left.

TEHANI:

Just wait, David!

TANSY:

It’s squickier if you’ve seen season 2, hehehe. But how awesome to have actual character motivations for a companion choosing to run into the TARDIS rather than just “oh, I just lost a female one, but here’s this convenient Trojan handmaiden, let’s take her.” Which is, by the way, Tehani, a real thing that happened.

TEHANI:

Classic Who reference! I really must get to them :)

DAVID:

Pete is easily the strongest”supporting” character of the season so far, and there are two reasons. Firstly, Paul Cornell has written him brilliantly, creating a truly convincing character who feels “real”, because he has all the flaws and strengths of a real person. We see this ordinary guy who has drifted through life trying to make something of himself, and frankly hasn’t really done a good job of it, and who just wants to be a good dad. He is not some “hero”, but in the end he does something truly noble and heroic, and we believe it.

Secondly, Shaun Dingwall deserves a huge amount of praise for his performance in this episode, I thought he was simply magnificent. It gives a lie to the idea that genre TV is some how a lesser art form than other types, I challenge anyone to find much better than his acting here. He walks the line between serious and humour perfectly. Billie Piper also impressed me, I have to admit I thought she was just another teen idol type pseudo celeb but she was brilliant in this, I owe her an apology! I thought all the main actors walked away with a lot to be proud of, really.

TANSY:

This is only the beginning! The work done in this season and the success of it meant a huge array of really good actors coming into the show. There will be many great supporting roles to come. But I agree that Shaun Dingwall and Pete are something special and (spoilers spoilers!) so glad that this isn’t the last that we see of him. Which is of course the best thing about Doctor Who – you can always find a timey wimey way to bring back beloved characters.

TEHANI:

And we really should mention that in the intervening episode between “Dalek” and “Father’s Day”, we had Simon Pegg! I can’t help but wonder if some of the great actors they get come on the show at reduced rates, just because they’re fans!

DAVID:

The dialogue in this episode is sparkling as well, there are lots of times it could have been cliched or clunky, but Cornell has done a great job. There were two lines of dialogue that stood out for me in particular in this episode because of their context (one is the Doctor’s I have already mentioned), the other is when Pete says “No, love. I’m your dad. It’s my job for it to be my fault.” I am not ashamed to admit that I found a lot of this episode really powerful emotionally, to the point of having to blink very rapidly more than once!

TEHANI:

You would have to be made of stone to not have the ending affect you. I’ll say it again, not a Rose fan, but this episode really gave her a good showing.

TANSY:

Pete is a gorgeous Dad, he really is. And even though some aspects of his personality and life were an initial disappointment to Rose, when Jackie’s fictional version of Pete conflicted with the real bloke, it’s very cool to see that he would have been excellent at the actual Dad stuff. Though of course that makes it more sad – being an awesome Dad might well have been the making of Pete, and they never got the chance to find that out about him, in the original timeline.

Sniff. I think I have something in my eye.

32 Comments

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32 responses to “New Who in conversation: Father’s Day (S01E08)

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