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New Series Review #8 – Father’s Day

“Time’s been damaged, and they’ve come to sterilise the wound…”

“Watson, come here – I need you!”

Tell a tale that is fantastic in concept, revolutionary in the genre and modernistic in sensibility and you’re open to criticism, hoisted by your own desire to enhance the level of story telling in that genre, and open to all kinds of attacks (such as those from IT technicians posing as writers…). However, tell a tale that is firmly within the perceived boundaries and notions of the genre, give the main characters some sensible dialogue and interaction and take away the desire to be revolutionary and replace it with the desire to tell a good, appropriate and fitting story, and you open yourself to nothing more than gushing compliments.

So far in this series we’ve had stories by Russell T Davies which all hit the same mark with satirical comment, social comment, and his particular tone of humour. We’ve had Mark Gatiss and his deliciously dark overtones in a thrilling tale in the 19th century, and we’ve had Robert Shearman attempt to repeat the audio adventure success of Jubilee on television. For all the latter’s vaunted emotional energy, it pales in significance with the episode Father’s Day shown on BBC1 last night. Paul Cornell’s script had me on the edge of my seat. It had me caring for two bystanders, it had me close to tears when Rose’s father Pete (a superbly cast Shaun Dingwall) realised he should no longer be alive, and it had my heart pounding when the Doctor was swallowed up by the time monsters.

Totally gripping stuff, but I have a little confession to make.

I’m a massive fan of Paul Cornell’s Doctor Who novels – Human Nature, Timewyrm: Revelation, Love and War – all fantastic tales with excellent characters. Even Cornell’s admitted least favourite of his novels No Future I consider to be far superior to those of some of his contemporaries. Set in the late 1970s, Cornell superbly evokes the period within the first two pages. Last night we were in the 1980s the moment we saw Rose and the Doctor watching her parents marry.

The story is full of nice touches – the interior of the TARDIS vanishing, the voice of Alexander Graham Bell on every telephone, the Doctor’s attempt to get the TARDIS back and the shock that the little boy who ran into the church was Mickey…

So obviously I’ve made it clear what I think of Cornell as a writer of books – why do I then assume you’re all coming with me on the quality of this episode? Paul Cornell has been doing television drama writing for several years, in particular “Casualty”. He can do characters, he can make you care. That’s why the incidental characters Stuart Hoskins and Sarah Clark worked so well – the Doctor spoke to them for two minutes tops and at the end we learned what kind of couple they are as well as learning the Doctor “never had that kind of life”. There was envy in his voice, an unfulfilled desire to settle down…

There were however a couple of downsides to the plotting – it is possible that the purpose of the repeated appearance of the car that killed Pete could have been verbally explained rather than implied… and while the “wound” in time was healed by the eventual death of Pete Tyler, time has still been altered by Rose’s presence…

The creatures themselves, although unnamed on-screen were nevertheless fearsome and uncompromising. They were also well-designed and succeeded in not looking anything like a hospital case (a big hello to The Mighty Jagrafess of the Holy Hadrojassic Maxarodenfoe from last week’s The Long Game). Also a delight to behold was the general mise-en-scene; Camille Coduri’s makeup for one. The team took literally 18 years off her, and she looked better as a young Jackie than she did in “Nuns on the Run”. The use of the cars too – the three door gold Vauxhall Chevette and the green three door escort – were perfectly picked for the time.

As for the ongoing tone of the series, we escaped direct mention of the Time War and there was no mention of Bad Wolf – until I checked back this morning and found it on a poster 3 minutes into the episode…

Billie Piper has with this episode silenced her critics once and for all with a performance full of emotion and hurt and loss; if anyone required further proof that the girl can act, this is it. Meanwhile, our hero the Doctor was again superb. Was there an unspoken bridge between Dalek and The Long Game? Something has happened to Eccleston’s performances since the halfway point of the series. He’s gone from being known as a very capable actor playing everyone’s favourite Time Lord into being everyone’s favourite Time Lord. And I loved the simmering anger he fought to keep down when Rose saved her fathers life…

If any episode of Doctor Who deserves to be nominated for a BAFTA at next years awards, you watched it at 7pm Saturday 14th May…

…and just a reminder to you all. We have five weeks left of Doctor Who.


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