Celebrating Father’s Day with Doctor Who

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There was really only ever going to be one article I could write today, no?

Father’s Day was the eighth episode of Doctor Who’s triumphant first series in 2005. We’d spent the past two months getting to know Rose and meeting her family; the one figure we’d never seen was her father. Pete Tyler (Shaun Dingwall) had died when Rose was just a baby, and she’d never had the chance to get to know him - now, travelling through time with the Doctor, she had the opportunity to do just that. To make sure he didn’t die alone.

But then she changed time, and saved her father.

It gives Rose an opportunity to genuinely get to know her father for the first time; having grown up on stories about him her whole life, Rose had built Pete up to be the perfect father. A successful entrepreneur and In her mind, she’d idealised him and put him on a pedestal - but it was an image he could never live up to.

Brilliantly, but perhaps also obviously, Pete isn’t anything like Rose expected. He’s not the wonderful man in the perfect marriage that Rose was always told about; Pete is fallible. More than that, he’s already failing. His marriage is strained, his business non-existent. Rose gets to know her father as he is, not as he was remembered. It’s really compelling drama; we’re seeing Rose build a relationship with a person, not with an idea, all while having to confront her preconceptions about her father.

At the same time, though, it’s an almost heartbreaking realisation - not just for Rose, but also for Pete. There’s a moment that’s always stuck with me, where Pete asks Rose what sort of father he was, and she tells him about picnics and bedtime stories - and that’s when he knows he wasn’t there for her, because that just isn’t the man he was. It’s absolutely note perfect, and one of the most poignant and impactful scenes of the episode.

Billie Piper gives what is quite possibly her best performance as Rose in this episode, and Shaun Dingwall easily cements himself as the best guest star of Doctor Who’s first series. The pair of them have a real chemistry together, and every scene they share is utterly fantastic. If you’ve not seen the episode in a while, or indeed at all, I’d really recommend giving it a watch - it’s really difficult for me to do justice to their performance simply by describing it. It’s very much something you have to see for yourself - and it’s absolutely worth it when you do.

Paul Cornell, similarly, writes one of his best Doctor Who stories here, with an intimate, emotional tale that genuinely resonates. I read something he wrote about this episode once, which I’ve always remembered; he said that for him, Doctor Who was always about “big emotions”. It’s fair to say that Father’s Day is very much about those same “big emotions” - I find it to be one of the most heartfelt and moving episodes of the Russell T Davies era, and certainly one of the highlights of Christopher Eccleston’s tenure.

Ultimately, the episode is about one ordinary man - “the most important thing in creation”, as the Doctor puts it. It’s about how you don’t have to be perfect, you just have to be good enough. But also that being just good enough is perfect in it’s own way - after in all, even though Pete was never able to read bedtime stories or take Rose on picnics, he still stepped up, took responsibility, and saved Rose. Saved everyone. He was the Doctor - he was the hero. Which is, all things considered, pretty apt for today.

And a very happy father’s day, to all of you at home.

Related:

A Tribute to Christopher Eccleston’s Fantastic Ninth Doctor

Ten Years of the Tenth Doctor Reviews

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