Wednesday, 13 January 2010

Series one #7: "The past is another country - 1987’s just the Isle of Wight"

Written by Paul Cornell, directed by Joe Ahearne, 2005

Father’s Day is a very good story, one of the most adult of this run, which feels like it should be a favourite – but somehow I always end up forgetting it. Paul Cornell's prose is, I find, much overrated, but he brings a welcome sophistication to the series here. Everything is a little less obvious and unflashy in this story compared to elsewhere, even down to reapers’ unusual design, which is a far cry from, say, the Slitheen. In fact, Father’s Day feels like nothing so much as a contracted New Adventure: it’s character driven, with an emphasis on the companion, and includes the Doctor’s apparent death and removal from the narrative.

Like Dalek, it also benefits from a tight focus, and its atypical, unsanitised eighties urban setting. It’s funny that this is a period Doctor Who was being filmed during, but which was only shown as a realistic contemporary environment once, in Survival. Partly because of the downplayed situation, the domestics also feel more believable here, while managing to avoid mawkishness, perhaps because there is a genuine – and universally – emotional core at the heart of the story.

This story in particular also makes me realise that one of the things I prize about series one over the rest of Davies’ oeuvre, is that the program hasn’t yet become monstrously self-involved. Much as I like that companions’ tenures have been made more fluid, with Donna returning after The Runaway Bride, or Martha appearing in The Sontaran Stratagem after leaving the TARDIS, the recurrence of certainly attendant characters like Jackie, Pete, et al, makes the Doctor Who world flabby and over-indulgent.

I would contest that the series is much stronger when given a simple basis of supporting characters; in this case, Rose, her mum, her kind-of boyfriend, and the one-off appearance of her father in this story. Complications like alt-Pete in series two are, I suppose, an unavoidable consequence of a science-fiction format, but Rose coming to be used as a totemic figure who pops up occasionally as a ratings-grabbing device does a disservice to this series’ directness.

I enjoy the self-contained feel of this season; it may have more supporting characters than at any other period outside of the UNIT era, but its straight-forward inclusiveness is a great strength.

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