Father’s Day is an emotional rollercoaster that showcases Billie Piper’s Rose
Starring Christopher Eccleston and Billie Piper
Father’s Day, retrospectively, is such an obvious choice of story for a time travel series. In fact, it’s remarkable that the series had never thought to do a story like it before. Always concerned with matters of travelling around to different planets and histories, companions have never sought to investigate their own past before. That’s doubtless because the primary focus in the Classic Series was upon the adventure. It was about seeing as much in the universe as humanly possible. Towards the end of that series, however, it started to be more about the people undergoing the journey. Ace (Sophie Aldred) as a companion was fleshed out considerably more than companions in the 60s and 70s, who were broadly narrative props.
Here, Davies uses the opportunity of time travel to craft an immensely personal and relatable time travel tale. This is most certainly one of the gems of the first series (which is a considerable accolade with many of the other exceptional episodes that form this collection) and cements Rose as a character in the audience’s hearts. Of course, Rose has hardly suffered for screen time up until this point. Already enjoying far more narrative focus than companions did normally, Rose has repeatedly proved her worth as the Doctor’s companion. She is brave, she is capable, she is resilient, but she has also shown herself to be capricious, headstrong and cheeky. “Father’s Day” brings her flaws to the fore, showing a major disagreement with the Doctor, but it stems from a very character-driven, understandable place.
Begging the Doctor (Christopher Eccleston) to take her to the day that her father Pete (Shaun Dingwall) dies, so that he isn’t alone when it happens, Rose (Billie Piper) finds herself overcome witnessing the event she had heard about so many times before from mother Jackie (Camille Coduri). Crossing over their own timeline to visit the event again, Rose impulsively saves Pete’s life, causing massive damage to time and summoning dangerous Reapers who come to eliminate the time paradox by consuming all of those involved in it.
Placing the companion at the centre of the narrative like this is a highly rare move for the programme. Very few companions have had much in the way of a backstory, with the exception of the duplicitous Turlough, Nyssa – whose backstory the audience only really knows because she was never intended to be a companion, and remains remarkably cavalier about repeatedly running into the reanimated, possessed corpse of her father – and Ace (who is commonly thought of as the first modern companion because of her increased focus within the narrative).
What’s more, this episode trusts its performances and characters enough to add conflict to the Doctor and Rose’s dynamic. While conflict between the Doctor and their companions isn’t exactly rare (The Fifth Doctor and Tegan, and Peri and the Sixth Doctor argued almost continually), it trusts its narrative enough to temporarily disgrace Rose. The disappointment that the Doctor levies at her, criticising her for using time travel for her own ends truly could have been the start of Rose’s fall from grace, like Adam’s in only the previous episode. Yet, it holds firm in its trust in Piper’s performance and Rose’s relatability for the audience to continue to sympathise with her despite this quarrel and the Doctor’s anger at her. That argument truly brings out the worst in both of them, but also demonstrates the closeness of their relationship that they are able to hurt each other so completely and effectively.
Billie Piper is simply astounding here. She displays the full gamut of human emotion, from pitiful, flaccid desperation, to giddying, childlike glee, to confused disillusionment and to grief-stricken child. The entire story is about Rose desperately trying to cling onto the idea of her father that was sold to her by Jackie, only to discover that that father figure does not truly exist. She has to dispense with all of her idealistic notions of who her father is. It’s almost as if she loses him twice. First, the version of him who has existed within her head since a child, and then the man she ultimately gets to know who, in his own way, manages to live up to her expectations in the ways that he can do. Throughout, Piper remains the perfect vessel for the story, making every emotional beat feel earned and truthful.
The “companion episode” would ultimately prove to be somewhat of a trend during Davies’ tenure. Donna’s “Turn Left” in particular springs to mind, truly demonstrating the strength and the power of the Doctor’s companions in his absence, while “Human Nature / The Family of Blood” successfully showcases Freema Agyeman’s Martha.
Once again, “Father’s Day” demonstrates Davies’ commitment to giving an anchor to the more outlandish, unbound craziness of the limitless sci-fi that Doctor Who offers, by grounding it in relatable, human emotion. Rose feels like she makes the same decisions that the audience themselves would do, even if it is a little selfish, but ultimately comes back to a recurring theme that Davies would return to throughout his run: that every life is important, even the most seemingly ordinary, unassuming being has a significant impact on the universe. Davies delights in highlighting the extraordinary within the everyday.