this revisit to Father’s Day

TV Sob. I’d expected to begin this revisit to Father’s Day with a thesis on the use of time travel in the episode, and that will come later, but it’s important first to remind ourselves of just how emotional the episode is, Paul Cornell’s tender writing spilling poignancy, heartbreak and tragedy across every minute. One of the key components of the spin-off fictions during the show’s television production break was the development of a much stronger emphasis on character over plot and how a companion's domesticity reflected on their time with the Doctor and even the Doctor's own past motivating his choices of destination.

When it came to writing this first season, Russell T Davies specifically asked his writers to create stories which tapped into the work they’d already been doing in the franchise which led Paul Cornell to produce an episode with a strong vibe of this spin-off trend in which the Doctor and especially Rose are the cause of the action, and in this case put us directly in the path of an emotional morris minor. We can absolutely understand why Rose couldn’t stand by and watch her daddy be run over but also, and this is a paradox as strong as any in the episode, take the Doctor’s view that she’s just another stupid ape for not considering the consequences.

Sob again. But what I’ve not noticed until this evening is how Cornell cunning shifts the timelord/companion relationship backwards in time slightly from making the Doctor a kind of love interest to the more traditional role of father figure. Which means that at the opening of the episode in saving, Pete, her own father, Rose loses her adopted father or at least his respect for her and despite their brief reconciliation the only way the proper order in her life can be repaired is if Pete sacrifices himself again. There’s a subliminal undercurrent, beneath this church under seige about Rose trying to regain the approval of her adopted father.

Blub. The scene which always hits me front and centre or at least was the beginning of the first wave tonight is when Stuart and Bev ask the Doctor if he can save them. Such incidents would become the hallmark of the Tenth Doctor’s era, and indeed an extended version appears on the bus during Planet of the Dead (“Chops and gravy”) but there’s something especially vivid yet absolutely mundane in series terms about how the couple first met, sharing a taxi home. Television, even in soap opera is inherently all about romances sparked through grand gestures, yet this is an experience we can all relate to.

Film director Richard Linklater (Slacker, Before Sunset) said once that he’s always tried to appreciate even small moments like a visit to the shop as being as important as perhaps those that could be considered life changing because there are more of the former than the latter and if we always seek the latter we’ll never be satisfied. Although there’s an element of “a pessimist is never disappointed” (cf, the audience), it pitches the Doctor as the exact opposite. If someone spends their life enjoying marvellous exciting adventures in marvellous exciting places with marvellous exciting people, they probably spend their life seeking small moments like a visit to the shop or sharing a taxi home.

We’re back to the role of the companion again, of course and their vicarious importance to the Doctor (“I can smell chips. I want chips…”) which I’ve already covered when talking about the non-deleted scenes from the fifth season box set. But you could speculate that one of the reasons the Doctor’s miffed with the Rose in this episode isn’t just that she destroyed the world, but that she broke out of her role of being his touchstone with the normal. But you could question why the Doctor so gleefully agrees to take her to such a sensitive point in time anyway. Was it perversely so that he could draw from her grief so that he didn’t feel quite so alone after destroying his own kind?

The wikipedia page for the episode ties itself in knots attempting to justify why the portrayal of this kind of reverse grandfather paradox and more specifically the appearance of the reapers contradicts similar time changing events seen before and later in the series. Despite being the one of the people who tweeted Blinovitch’s name in the aftermath of A Christmas Carol, I’ve never found Father’s Day that troubling because Cornell layers into the Doctor’s dialogue enough side notes to suggest this situation is simply different.

When Rose saves her Dad, the original version of her and the Doctor are obliterated from history, and since her action was as a result of her inaction the first time around, both she and the Doctor and the TARDIS became inexplicable, paradoxical occurrences. It’s that which makes this a sensitive point in history, why the Reapers appear to fix the wound, this already a paradox within a paradox. It’s also presumably why the TARDIS lost its extra-reality capabilities though it doesn’t explain the problems in audio and Mike Skinner making his first cameo in the series, though as we saw in The Big Bang, when the web of time is damaged, there also bits left over.

Plus and this looks backwards towards Aliens of London, as Philip Sandifer noted on his blog when reviewing Simon Guerrier's novel The Time Travellers (blog via Neil) each and every time the Doctor opens the doors of his TARDIS, he changes history and in doing so it means that the next time he lands its in a new and different version of the universe. Even after Pete introduces the concept of benevolent suicide to any kids watching, when the TARDIS team leave at the close of the episode, Rose has in fact got her original wish, her father doesn’t die alone. History has been changed, again, just in a more subtle, meaningful way and probably in a more subtle, meaningful way than usual.

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