Monday, May 15, 2006

REVIEW: Doctor Who - Father's Day

[Review written for Gallifrey One: 2005]

“Father's Day” is very much a rollercoaster. The drama starts off light and simple and then twists and turns through a variety of emotional loops, each getting more and more intense.

This episode offers a very simple premise: What if you could stop a tragedy in your personal history? It's a simple idea, and surprisingly, for something so obvious to time travel, not one that Doctor Who has really dealt with before. It's certainly not a premise that has been taken to it's full emotional potential. Here we see Rose taking a course of action that is so utterly wrong yet so utterly understandable for anyone in her situation; Rose saves her dead father and the Doctor didn't see it coming.

Father's Day works on many levels thanks to its strong character progressions. First and most obvious is Rose, who quite frankly, hasn't had the spotlight I expected her to have throughout the season. The story intelligently takes her through an emotional drama, which, despite it's highly theoretical scenario, feels real. Considering the extent of unearthly circumstances her father has to comprehend in no more than 45 minutes, his character's introduction and evolution works very well.

This is where the story scores so well. It leaves the time techno babble largely to the side and allows the script to deal with the effects of temporal damage has on the main characters. There's a lot to cover if the writing is to convince the viewer that the characters are acting realistically in such a bizarre circumstance, and Paul Cornell really does pull it off.

Shaun Dingwell does a great job as Rose's father, Pete. He breathes the humanity and realism into the character. If Pete had been miscast, the whole scenario would have fallen apart. Piper gets to show off her own emotional skills and does a fine job as always. Eccleston also delivers a solid role; however the events of the episode do somewhat weaken his strength in the lead role as the Doctor.

The Doctor is changing, and that amount is clear. One of the more subtle storylines in this episode is his isolation from humanity. It doesn't seem to occur to him that Rose might try and save her father and this seems surprisingly naive for the character. His isolation is something that Rose has noticed, and in one of her less endearing moments (but certainly one of the most realistic portrayals of a teenager on TV) she makes it clear she knows he'll never leave her and he'll be back like a lost puppy. He needs the emotional human contact she gives him, envies that gift of humanity which he never had with his people and even what he did have is now gone. In someway, it's a very touching perspective, but it does weaken both his character and mystery. Somehow it feels wrong for a 19 year old to have such power over him.

Perhaps that's one of the biggest mistakes of the new series. The creators seem insistent that Rose and the Doctor are equal. Some say that she is more than the Doctor, and that doesn't really come across. Certainly she's not so world weary, but that comes from 900 years of experience, but she doesn't quite seem the gem of humanity the writers and the Doctor see. She comes across as a teenager. Strangely, that’s a compliment as there are few dramas that can write a teenager well, however there is a little that makes her seem much more than the average teenager. I don't feel that comes across in the stories as being so special - regardless of Ms Piper's constantly solid acting. She certainly has tough competition to prove her worth too. Ian Chesterton, Sarah Jane Smith, Jamie McCrimmon, Jo Grant, Barbara Wright to name a few.

Overall “Father’s Day” is a very good episode. Some small niggles get in the way. There is the occasional cringe worthy time cliché. For instance when kid Mickey, Rose's future boyfriend, is focused upon; there are some remarks about how much he'll cling to his future girlfriend. There is the old "I'm sure I know you from somewhere" line between father and future daughter. These are small, superfluous script gags that were acceptable twenty, thirty years ago, but now actually bring down dialogue quality.

The music is a little over indulgent. The haunting melody that accompanies every sad moment in the episode has no subtlety in its choice of instrumentation or how it's actioned. You can almost punctuate to the second when it's about to pop in and when it does, it just feels overtly artificial.

Aside from some dubious CG and a rather predictable resolution, this episode is very good. After all, the effects, the plot and the music are backseat to the emotional drama. The drama is lead performer in this story and it performs immensely well.

It's wonderful to see this series try so many different styles of drama and pretty much hit each style bang on. Great stuff. Now, go watch it again.

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