Wednesday, 12 February 2014

Father’s Day written by Paul Cornell and directed by Joe Ahearne

This story in a nutshell: Rose is a very naughty girl…

Northern Adventurer: Looking back at series one now is a real curiosity. In many ways the series has never been as exciting as it was in that initial season when everything was new and we lapped every second of screen time. Nothing was taken for granted. In other ways you can see how the series hasn’t quite hit its stride yet but is constantly trying new things to see what sticks. I never had a problem with Christopher Eccleston’s Doctor aside from the fact that the actor isn’t a naturally cheerful performer so making him act the goon at times is clearly a painful operation for him. His Doctor is also something of a curio because without the benefit of the Big Finish audios (which the other, shorter run Doctors) all we have to judge him on is his condensed run of episodes. For the most part I thought he acquitted himself very well (and I still maintain that the show needed someone this attention grabbing in the part to capture a large audience) and he plays the darker moments of the season (the bruised man haunted by the Time War) with real aplomb. However, Father’s Day is probably the furthest away from ‘the Doctor’ that I recognise that any actor has ever taken the part (although to be fair it is almost entirely down to Paul Cornell’s script – Eccleston is just performing what he has been given). So much so that I may as well be watching a different show altogether. Running around in his Debenhams jumper, making ridiculous mistakes, indulging in childish melodrama and lacking any ability whatsoever, he’s a complete anathema.

Why the Doctor would ever indulge his companion in taking her back to the site of her fathers death is beyond me. It's inexplicably cruel that he would agree to such a thing and it's soliciting for the most dangerous of consequences. Why he would take her back again (when its clear that she means to intervene this time – it’s the only reason why she would ask to see the events again) is utterly demented. The fact that he has the nerve to blame her for the way events transpire melted my brain. As the ‘designated driver’ he is entirely responsible for everything that occurs in this story and should be clamped for the sheer lunacy of his decisions. I also have a real problem with the Doctor stating ‘I can do anything’ which seems to be as much a declaration to the audience than Rose when that is precisely the sort of nonsense that lead to the drippy hero worship of the character that got way out of hand in later seasons. The way the Doctor scrutinizes Rose observing her father is akin to a scientist studying a lab rat, consciously cruel and dispassionate. It reminds me of McCoy’s Doctor in all the worst ways of which I know Cornell is a big fan. It's strange how pre-2005, the Doctor and his companion never got mistaken for lovers. Now it happens with alarming frequency. For the Doctor to make such a reckless decision and then toss racist remarks at his companion when she exploits the situation doesn’t make him a flawed character, it makes him a complete asswipe. The spat between the Doctor and Rose marks a new low point for Doctor/companion relationships (the previously held title came when Tegan Jovanka was an incumbent of the Ship), they both come across as vindictive, irrational and childish. Its horrible to watch. He stomps off back to the TARDIS like a kid whose had his toys taken away. I think the Doctor telling Jackie off is supposed to be a moment of triumph but she’s only ever been seen as a normal person trying to cope with extraordinary circumstances. Why she should be condemned for that baffles me. The Doctor speaks longingly about the life of dreary chavs heading home in a taxi after a night out on the town – are you having a laugh with me? He’s dreaming of their life? He travels through time and space and righting wrongs! I think it should be the other way around. Some writers (and Cornell is more guilty then others) just love dragging the Doctor down to Earth and flirting with the idea of giving him a ‘normal life.’ What they fail to realise is that they would be reducing the show to that of any other drama (mind you he really proved me wrong in Human Nature in that regard but that was a thrilling one off that can never be repeated). The scene in the church where the Doctor talks down to both baby Rose and adult Rose (‘don’t touch the baby!’) sees Eccleston abandoning his art and playing the role as a hectoring bully. Why should Rose have to say that she’s sorry? And more to the point why doesn’t he apologise for being such a patronising fuckwit? And why does he suddenly start beaming at her like she’s a special needs child and giving her exaggerated reassurance? Have I stepped into a world where suddenly nothing makes sense? This Doctor seems to have a real suicide complex, choosing to give up far more than he chooses to fight (The Unquiet Dead, Dalek, Father’s Day, The Parting of the Ways) and in most other cases getting people to make sacrifices for him. Playing the martyr is touching if it happens once a lifetime but constantly throwing yourself in front of a train loses its impact and begins to feel like giving up. To be fair this is one of the few stories this season where the Doctor doesn’t get somebody else to fight his battles but that is only because he has thrown himself in the path of a Reaper long before the climax, proving how superfluous he is to events. The Doctor being devoured by a Reaper felt like divine retribution for his abhorrent handling – I was actually applauding rather than horrified. And that should never be your natural reaction when the Doctor is seen to be killed. Cornell's characterisation is often praised in this adventure but I think it is about as bad as it gets. 

Chavvy Chick: I love Rose in series one. I thought that Russell T Davies pretty much got her spot on from the outset and I remember falling in love with her more and more right up to The Parting of the Ways. I remember watching the first episode though and fearing that this show (with its focus on the domestic and council estates) was going to turn into Eastenders and by the time we had reached Father’s Day all of my fears were pleasingly allayed. Oh dear. Along comes this script which is so saturated in the crass melodrama and syrupy sweet cloyness that I regularly associate with soap operas it was like I had wandered into an appalling nightmare world where Doctor Who featured a bitching pair of stereotypes (the angry father and the rebellious child) as its main stars. Billie Piper is trying so hard to connect with her audience that she overdoes the honeyed emotion and winds up overdosing them with syrup. Doctor Who is not a naturally introspective show and allowing the companion to indulge quite this much is really harmful to the integrity of both the show and the character. Of course Rose was going to wind up saving her dad. Any sane person would. Pete on the verge of flirting with his own daughter is a grey area that Doctor Who should avoid at all costs. There’s something very nasty about crushing a little girls image of her father, dragging him down from a pedestal and kicking him into the mud. Rose slowly realising that her father isn’t the man she thought him to be but a regular jack the lad who fools about the side and fails to provide for his family makes for loathsome viewing. Oddly the one character beat that felt right was decidedly sexist and old school – Rose actually screams when she sees a Reaper which to me felt like a perfectly natural reaction.

The Tylers: Pete getting Jackie’s name wrong during their wedding is one of the few positive reactions I had to this episode. Can you imagine getting that detail wrong when you are about to be betrothed to your sweetheart? It would cast a doubt over the whole proceedings. Pete was stupid for bring Rose along to the wedding but Jackie’s abrasive attitude bubbling over on someone else’s happy day also feels untrue. Is she so unsubtle that she wouldn’t try and put a poker face on for her friend (that, frankly, would be much more painful viewing but the script plumps for the most obviously melodramatic choice).

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘I’m so useless I couldn’t even die properly.’

The Good: Despite myself, the vicar being gobbled up by a Reaper made me chuckle. Pete being given the gift of a few extra hours with his daughter is rather a touching concept. Shame it had to be with them facing imminent death and drowning in tears. Had this been a regular Doctor Who adventure where he had to choose to return to his death afterwards it would have been far more tolerable. And probably much more touching for not straining the emotion to bursting point. Considering some of the nauseating things he has to say, somehow Shaun Dingwell escapes this episode with his dignity intact. He’s quite likable despite the wealth of issues working against him.

The Bad:
  • I was just having a discussion with a friend about Murray Gold’s music last night where I found myself in a position defending his work but watching this episode I don’t know why I bothered. From the outset it's one of the most predictable and corny soundtracks that has been slapped on Doctor Who material. Because this is supposed to be tearing your heart out and stamping on it the piano is omnipresent and the violins are never far away. It makes the soundtracks of the Original Series of Star Trek look subtle in comparison.
  • Rarely is Doctor Who as predictable as this. The dramatic close up on Pete Tyler’s photograph before the credits tells you everything that you need to know about the episode that is about to transpire. Things are going to go very wrong indeed. There’s no element of mystery involved and it is hardly gripping foreshadowing. It's says prepare yourself for 45 minutes worth of overly sentimental soap opera. At least it doesn’t have any pretensions to the contrary.
  • I understand that there is supposed to be a funereal tone to the episode but the look and feel of the scenes in the 70s is really grim. Pastel colours, mundane locations and dreary close ups. It's not particularly pleasant to look at at any point in the episode.
  • Considering that the whole episode is built around the moment where Pete Tyler is mown down by a car the realisation of that moment is awkwardly handled. The approaching car barely seems to be moving and the cut to the vase smashing is badly timed and nowhere near as dramatic as it should be as a metaphor for his body shattering under the impact. With the absence of any blood      (naturally given the shyness of the New Series at this stage), it feels like slap on the wrist rather than ram raid. The POV shots of the Reapers are effective but again the resulting cuts to the shears and the bottle of pop falling to the ground fail to convince. It's strangely ineffective from the same director that packed Dalek full of memorable imagery the previous week and would go on to stage a rivetting Dalek invasion in the two part finale. Pete’s sacrifice at the climax is even more bizarre – the car approaches him at a hell of a lick this time but the director chooses to cut to an overlong reaction shot that fails to take into account that he would have been floored about three seconds earlier. Rather strangely the driver stands there in mute shock whilst the witness to his crime grabs the Doctor's hand and walks into a police box. That strikes me as an odd reaction, you would want to keep tabs on the person who has just witnessed you accidentally murder a man but no-one seems to notice them leaving.
  • The inconsistencies, illogical moments, unexplained mysteries and bizarre choices that make up Father’s Day are a very rare thing - a Doctor Who story that makes absolutely no sense whatsoever. On its most basic level you can see what Paul Cornell is trying to do emotionally (mostly because it is rammed down your throat with irritating frequency) but if you start to pick this script to pieces it unravels as the ill thought out, co-incidence based and horrendously plotted nonsense that it is. For the Doctor to take Rose back to the point of Rose’s fathers death twice is      extremely irresponsible. I refuse to believe that the Doctor ‘knows what he’s doing’ wherever he visits and knows precisely who should be alive and who should die – if that is the case (as seems to be suggested here) then pretty much every reaction to someone’s death he has had in the series to this point has been faked. What rot. Why does the TARDIS turn into a normal police box? Who would have the power to do that and why does saving Pete’s life have that effect? Is it a punishment of the Time Lords for the Doctor’s complete lack of discretion? Why is modern day music pumping through Pete’s car stereo? Where did the first phone call come from? Saying ‘oh something has gone wrong with time’ just doesn’t cut it I'm afraid. You can’t just toss in a load of unexplained mysteries and try and excuse them all with a temporal waffle wave of the hand. It feels like a mass of ‘wouldn't it be cool if…’ moments were tossed about in a pitch meeting and they all made it into the script with no idea of how to explain their presence. The general impression seems to be that because the Time Lords aren't about time has gone good and loopy but surely we would see more evidence of that beyond this story in that case (plus if you want to see how that concept can be done controversially and yet still make logical sense check out the BBC books The Adventuress of Henrietta Street and Anachrophobia). Why does the TARDIS key start glowing and form the ship around it? ‘Just leave it be and everything will be fine’ seems to be the explanation. Thanks for that. I don’t understand how two Rose’s can be in the same vicinity as each other and its fine but as soon as they touch the universe explodes – or something. But that stretches beyond this story and into Mawdryn Undead, The Five Doctors and many others. Why is the car going round and round in circles? Who is making that happen? Why is nothing explained adequately? Because we are supposed to be distracted by the heartbreak and drama, that's why. 
  • The characterisation of the guest characters lacks any subtlety as well. You've got the grooms father who constantly reminds his son that he could pull out at any time (as though anybody would behave like that on what is supposed to be the happiest day of their child's life). And then there is the happy couple themselves who in a scene that is trying so hard to melt your heart reveals how they met in the most mundane of circumstances. It's so overemphasised (Cornell exposing his New Adventures roots) it loses any kind of emotional truth and strays into over-sentimentality. Nobody stands out as particularly memorable (I can’t remember any of their names) beyond being sketchy stereotypes.
  • The idea of the Reapers is great - phantom creatures that cauterise wounds in time. They had the potential to be as memorable and far reaching as the Weeping Angels (although if we had to suffer more episodes of this nature…) but something went a amiss in their realisation. Instead of the Doctor Who equivalent of the Dementors from Harry Potter what makes it to the screen is an evidently supplemented effect, unimaginatively derived from a bat and a spider. The fact that their abilities are as obscure as the rest of the story really doesn't help. 
  • Back in the day a decent base under siege story would feature mutant seaweed pouring forth from ventilator grills and filling the set, forcing the characters to cower away as red shirts were consumed by vicious tendrils. It was edge of the seat claustrophobia. Now it is an excuse for a girl to fall in love with her daddy over again and for him to become the hero she always imagined him to be. Oh vomit. This is not a shift in the series’ favour. It's telling that the show never tried to push the weepy drama genre to quite this extent ever again (Davies seemed to learn restraint from this experience). 
  • The Mickey cameo as a kid could have been cute but once again the script overemphasises the moment with ‘God help his girlfriend if he ever gets one.’ It's like subtle implication has been replaced by spade in the face at every turn.
  • ‘I’m your dad, its my job for it to be my fault’ – what an ugly inference. Plus mentions of underage sex for a cheap gag is another no-no. I just don't want Doctor Who making these kind of inferences. Imagine the conversation you would have to have with a child who flagged these points up? 
  • Come the third or forth scene in the church featuring Rose and Pete getting to know each other I was screaming ‘for heavens sake just throw yourself in front of the car and get on with it!’ which probably wasn't the effect that Cornell was going for. It’s the most protracted episode ever, stuffed with sentimental padding. All the weird temporal shit and sequences in church could have been avoided if the Doctor had just grabbed Pete and thrown him in front of the car. It would have been the kindest thing all round, especially on the audience. Suicide has never felt so laboured.
  • Russell T Davies stole the idea of a climax featuring a much loved character tossing themselves in front of a car in order to set reality back on track. Turn Left is the antithesis of Father’s Day, its superlative alter ego.
  • There’s a great deal of relief to Pete finally being run over (again probably not the desired reaction) but it has the adverse effect of pushing the giant Voyager reset button and everything going back to normal. And those endings really bug me. On no level is the plotting of this narrative gratifying. Even down to the replay of the same scene at the beginning with the added bonus of Rose being mentioned. I don’t understand why if she was there that wasn’t the original tale that was spun.
Result: Be careful what you wish for indeed. For me this exposes why so many of the New Adventures simply did not work. It is gimmicky, overly sentimental, illogical and turns the show into a depressing melodrama. Father’s Day isn’t completely without merit because Joe Ahearne is directing and manages to salvage the shoddy script with some stylish directorial flourishes but it's probably the closest the New Series has come to being as far away from what I would want to recognise as Doctor Who (Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS and Nightmare in Silver are recent examples of abominable adventures but at least they are still recognisably Doctor Who). It’s an ugly, twisted hollow piece of drama that lacks even basic competence in the areas of plotting and character. The show has toyed with episodes that highlight the emotions of the characters since this (Turn Left, The Girl Who Waited) but this is the only time where it has been harmfully detrimental to the story. The dialogue is crass and obvious and it's one of the very few times when both the Doctor and his companion come across as being thoroughly despicable (one who makes really bad choices and projects those mistakes on others and the other who spends far too much time obsessing over herself). I desperately wanted the Doctor to stop getting angry with people for no reason and Rose to stop pouting and staring off into the distance lost in her thoughts…and for them both to get on with something far more interesting. What’s irritating is that this almost convinced me that the New Series had completely perverted Doctor Who and I came close to giving up but in respect of tone, plotting, characterisation and a general sense of adventure the series was about to show you precisely how it should be done in the very next tale. Juxtaposing the two stories simply leaves Father’s Day looking even more inadequate than it already does on its own terms. How this came from the same pen that produced Human Nature/The Family of Blood bewilders me. But then what do I know? I have never had a great relationship with my dad so perhaps I was not the target audience: 2/10 


Audrey the Leviathan Vampire Girl said...

I can't say I dislike this story as much a you do. Give me this story over anything in series 7.

RTD did a lot of the rewriting on the Human Nature two parter, for it 'tis brilliant.

Buslady said...

He was a real ass in that eppie....

Anonymous said...

I saw this as a New Who version of the Azteks. The Doctor tells his companion not to change history but she feals compelled to do so. He then explodes at her. It just has more emotional resonence because it is so personal. As for the why the Doc took rose to see her father, I think it's another of those the Doc is an alien moments. A timelord could watch and understand not to interfere but he still doesn't understand humans. He can travel with them but he is still not human.

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David Pirtle said...

You should have posted this score in the form of an Unpopular Opinion Puffin meme. I have never known anyone to really hate this story. You are absolutely right to call it a gimmicky, overly sentimental, illogical, and, at times, depressing melodrama. It certainly isn't what I want the show to be on a regular basis (and there are times later in the revived program where I worried that this was threatening to happen), but I still cannot help liking it. Maybe I am just a sucker for sad stories.

What is most uncomfortable about it, again as you point out, is the characterization of the Doctor and Rose's relationship, the way he treats her like a misbehaving pet rather than a friend. Sure he shows remorse for exploding at her, just like you might feel bad after yelling at your dog for getting into the garbage you neglected to take out, but it seems ridiculous that, given such a dynamic, they'd basically be in a relationship seven or so episodes down the road.