"Boyfriend trouble?"

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On the face of it, this is an episode which should have fallen flat on its face. No, worse than that. It should have tripped over its time paradox, knocked itself out on its own sentimentality and lapsed into a terminal coma.

After all, it's setting itself up for failure. Take the time paradox stuff, for example: none of it makes a micrograin of sense. Where did the extra Doctor and Rose go? How come fixing one thing in the timestream is enough to keep the bad things at bay even though other things have changed? The TARDIS can re-form around the key? Which is glowing to show that the Doctor still has a connection with it, even though it never does that at any other time? (At least, we've never seen any smoke coming out of the Doctor's pockets.) And it's okay for someone to coexist with another version of themselves at the same moment, just so long as they don't touch? What possible difference could that make? (Don't cross the streams!)

Give your brain a rest from trying to bend itself around all that, and think instead about the Rose and her father plot. Could this have been any more cliched? It was obvious from the second Rose gave her father gravel rash that a non-sticky ending for him wasn't on the cards. After all, how else could he redeem himself in Rose's eyes, after her equally obvious discovery that he wasn't quite the saint her mother had described?

So, a squidgy bog of sentimentality, garnished with time paradox plot stupidity. Oh, yes, and the Doctor has no plan and gets chomped ten minutes before the end. Doesn't sound promising, does it?

And yet, it works. Despite the obvious time problems. Despite it never going in the darker direction we were hoping for, thundering instead down the road to heart-tugging redemption with relentless inevitability. We watched it twice, because that's our Duty, but we really didn't want to. We blubbed copiously the first time, and as we suspected, the second time had just the same flood quotient. We thought it worked superbly, but like with Logopolis, don't make us watch it again.

So how does it do it?

Well, you'd think we'd be the last people to cheer about going back to Earth (again) to see Rose's family (again). But in Father's Day the familiar scenario completely justifies its place, because it addresses one of the most basic questions in any story involving a big blue box (or reasonable facsimile) - why not go back and fix stuff? It's not as if this is the first time this has ever come up in Doctor Who - after all, it was memorably addressed in The Aztecs, so they didn't exactly dawdle around before getting to it, and it's popped up here and there since then too. Of course, as we said about The Aztecs: "The whole not one line thing does unfortunately expose the logical error at the heart of these stories - changing history only seems to be a concern when the history in question is in the past from the point of view of present-day Earth. Perfectly reasonable from the companions', not to mention the viewers', point of view, but given that the Doctor can and does go anywhere in time, it doesn't make a pixel of sense coming from him." We, er, couldn't have said it better ourselves.

Never mind, let's not think about that. La la la, can't hear you. So, we've seen it dealt with before, but what makes the difference here is that it's so personal. Rose has had more concentrated attention than any other companion - the balance of this series has so far been tilted much more towards her than towards the Doctor - and as a result her meeting her long-lost father has an impact you just wouldn't get if, say, Tegan went back in time to save Aunt Vanessa. Much as we like Rose, we can't say we entirely approve of Doctor Who sliding into The Rose Show, but there's no doubt that our investment in Rose gives this episode the ability to smack the viewer squarely between the eyes.

Then there's the writing. We hated Paul Cornell's Shadows Of Avalon, but the one thing we did love was the brilliant way he portrayed grief in it. Not surprising, then, that he's so expert at putting over the grief of Rose and her family here. We can't think of anyone better qualified to write this episode. On ya, mate.

There's also another ingredient that's absolutely vital: the quality of the performances. The episode works so well it's easy to forget that in shaky hands, Father's Day could well have come across as naffly drowning in soap. Billie Piper makes Rose's journey utterly believable and affecting without being schmaltzy, and that's important, but the key performance holding up the whole edifice is Shaun Dingwall's as Rose's father. He's bloody fantastic. Overplayed, the character could have been a sleazy Del Boy, but Dingwall's performance is so much more nuanced than that. He's a bit of a chancer with an eye for the laydeez, sure, but he's a decent bloke, a real human being, for all that. What's more, Dingwall gets across the character's obvious love for his family without ladling on dollops of mush, and it's this more than anything that makes the scenes where he realises who Rose is and what he has to do to put time right so powerful.

Sure, Father's Day is manipulative - it sets out with the clear goal of heartstring-tugging - but so what? All writers manipulate the audience, after all. You don't laugh, or get scared, or sniff by accident. And the obvious intention of this episode is totally justified by its overwhelming success. It's more obvious than we'd like, it's more heartwarming than we'd like, but dammit, it works.

And the Doctor? Oh, yeah, him. We'd sort of forgotten he was even in it. Not really a shock, then, that most of what's interesting here about him isn't about him per se but about his relationship with Rose. Despite all the yammering on about boyfriends and people thinking they're a couple, the Doctor's just not that straightforward. His relationship with Rose is a lot more complex than that, and Father's Day shows that in spades. We see an element of their relationship come to the surface that's been there from the beginning but hasn't been anywhere near so obvious before: the father-figure thing. From Rose's point of view, it's pretty inevitable, what with the idealised father she idolises being an obvious gap in her life and all. But it's by no means a one-way thing: the Doctor's very invested in being a powerful figure - no, the powerful figure - in Rose's life too. That's what all that "your wish is my command" stuff is about: not a lover wanting to give his beloved the moon, but a Time Lord showing his companion how much power he has at his disposal - and therefore showing her how much she needs him.

Boyfriends and potential boyfriends have cropped up, and the Doctor's response has been, well, a wee bit on the childish side. But here Rose's real father challenges the Doctor's position as the powerful figure in Rose's life, and this time the Doctor's response is very different. Not to put too fine a point on it, he's in a jealous rage.

Wait a minute. All that "stupid ape" stuff's because he's angry about the laws of time being broken, isn't it? Yeah, right: what's actually happening is that he's furious because Rose has disobeyed him and worse, abandoned him for her real father. Rose, for her part, doesn't really consciously grasp what's going on - we think she prefers not to think about her relationship with the Doctor at all for fear of what she might find out - but not acknowledging it doesn't mean she doesn't get it. When she tells the Doctor that for once he's not the most important man in her life, she's got him bang to rights.

There's no doubt the Doctor's emotionally involved with Rose - the way he takes her hand as they wait for her father's death doesn't leave that in much doubt - but he wants that very much on his terms, and he's not too pleased when she crosses him. The "stupid ape" speech is a very personal and ugly attack; he says he wouldn't have abandoned her, and that's probably true, but it's also true that at that moment he definitely wants to. Then there's that nasty little moment when he forces her to apologise: there's a hell of a lot going on for her, meeting her father for the first time, not to mention possibly causing the end of the world, and yet the Doctor's priority is making her say sorry. And it's only when she does apologise (which puts him back in control) that he hugs her.

Not that we're trying to say he's all bad. He gets over himself by the time he comes back, trying to make Rose's father stay saved and giving his life for the cause. Nevertheless, it's a relationship that's a long way from sweetness and light.

The Doctor, remembering that Rose only agreed to travel with him when he said he had a time machine, accuses Rose of planning to save her father all along. Is he right? We don't think so: we believe Rose when she denies it, although obviously the possibility's occurred to her since then. What's interesting, though, is the Doctor's paranoia: his need to have Rose looking up to him is so strong that it's a short step for him from thinking Rose has abandoned him for her father to thinking she was deceiving him all along. On the surface, he's the powerful one, but in fact he needs Rose a great deal more than she needs him.

Okay, so it's not just about the Doctor and Rose. He does have a bit more to do than that. Unfortunately, we weren't impressed by any of it. We're not particularly thrilled by the Doctor's planlessness, for a start. We know he's changed, but that much? The TARDIS re-forming stuff is moronic and pointless, as is the Doctor's death and his rather anti-climactic popping back to life at the end: all of that seemed shoehorned in in a desperate attempt to give the Doctor something to do. Oh, yes, and of course he had to warn Rose about touching the baby and carefully make sure he didn't carefully make sure she didn't. Feh. As for the Big Moment speech about the glory of ordinary people, it leaves us as cold as a hypothermic penguin. All the Doctor's oh-so-poignant wistfulness about never having had a life like that is totally undercut by the fact that that's his choice. Nobody's forcing you to go ping-ponging through the space-time continuum, Doctor, so stop yer whining.

What about the rest of it? The flying beasties, the circling car et al? The dragon things are reasonably well done, if insanely illogical, but they seemed a bit too familiar: a cross between Sapphire And Steel and Stephen King's Langoliers. The car makes no sense at all, but it's deeply creepy and we love it. Joe Ahearne's direction in general does a great job at getting over the apocalyptic atmosphere - that playground! - but marks off for the cliched shots of the spinning bicycle wheel and the child's shoe (if we said we'd like to have seen one of the monsters spitting the shoe out, does that make us evil?). The other characters are fine, including the dreaded Jackie, not that it makes us eager to see her again.

You know what it's trying to do, and it goes ahead and does it anyway. Magnificently. Hard work, but a classic.

MORAL: Look left. Look right. Look left again.



Rose's "There, for you, is the Bermuda Triangle" speech, followed by her Dad's "Blimey, you know how to flatter a bloke" is hilarious. Great writing + great acting = comedy classic.


There's some nice sleight of hand going on in the acting and writing with regard to Rose's parents figuring out who she is. Her Dad makes it seem completely natural that he guesses it when he does, and we scoff along with the script when Jackie takes longer, but of course in real life it would never have crossed either of their minds in a million years that their daughter had time-travelled from the future. Or ours either, no matter how much we sneer at Jackie here for being dense.


And in the middle of all this emotion, there's a fantastic SF moment when the Doctor opens the TARDIS doors. Utterly gobsmacking.

Buy this Dr Who DVD: UK Buy Doctor Who DVD at Amazon.co.uk US: DVD not available

Buy entire series DVD box set: UK Buy Doctor Who DVD at Amazon.co.uk Buy Doctor Who DVD at Amazon.com

Buy first and second seasons box set: UK: box set not available   US Buy Doctor Who DVD at Amazon.com

Download Doctor Who episodes at Amazon.com