Your wish is my command. But be careful what you wish for.
And finally we got here. This is the moment when Series 1 gets really good again, after the two weaker stories (Aliens of London/World War III and The long game) and Dalek, which is highly regarded, but for some reason doesn’t work that well for me.
I won’t deny it – I like the more emotional Doctor Who episodes. And Father’s day is definitely the saddest story of Series 1 (and perhaps tied for “the most emotional” with the next one). And before anyone tells me that it doesn’t make much sense narratively – well of course it doesn’t, it’s Doctor Who! Maybe it’s a bit late to say that – this is the eighth episode I’m analysing here – but if you got this far in Doctor Who and on my weblog, you must be aware that Doctor Who is not about cohesive stories without plot holes. Technically, I would categorize it as a (modern) fairy tale, where the whole point is to tell a story with either a good life lesson, or good dialog, or likable characters, or all of the above. Some episodes are almost just strings of loosely coupled scenes, or “skits”, joined together with some sort of story which doesn’t really make much sense and is there only because the format of a tv series seems to require it. And that’s ok! Nobody who loves Doctor Who loves it for being hard sci-fi!
With that out of the way, let’s look at what we can learn from the Doctor, Rose, Pete and Jackie (yes, her too!) this time. But before we start with that, let’s tackle the most uncomfortable question.
Was Pete’s sacrifice actually a good thing?
As you know full well at this point, I stick very strongly to Catholic ethics. And if you don’t know it, let me tell you that suicide is a big taboo here. Taking your life is a grave sin, and for many centuries many Catholics were sure that it basically earned you damnation automatically. The stance is more nuanced nowadays, not because the Catholic teaching changed – it didn’t – but because we know more about psychology. As you may know, the two other conditions – apart from gravity of the matter – that must be satisfied for a sin to be mortal (which is the theological term meaning a sin so serious that it results of eternal damnation if not repented) are full knowledge and deliberate consent (see CCC 1857). It is thought that various psychological conditions which tend to be connected with suicidal tendencies may significantly decrease the ability to exercise deliberate consent (see CCC 2282), so there is a chance of salvation for people who killed themselves after all. Still, suicide – which is always a tragedy – is even sadder for us believers, since we are aware that the person deceased in this way may be in a very dire need of prayer. (Let’s put the discussion about the three possible states one may find oneself in after death for another time.)
Sacrifice, not suicide
But the main question is this: was Pete’s death actually a suicide? There is a fine distinction between a suicide and a sacrifice, and it is widely considered a very noble deed to sacrifice one’s life for someone. I have to admit that I do not regard myself as an expert on difficult ethical questions, so please take what I write with a grain of salt, but here is my take. Killing oneself because of some hardships, or lack of will to live, or to hurt someone, or to make a point definitely is very bad. On the other hand, giving one’s life “in exchange” for some higher value is probably what makes the difference. And even though what Pete did looked like a suicide, I think it was not. He did not jump in front of that car because he didn’t want to live – it was just because he wanted Rose (and I’m sure also Jackie) to live, and he figured that this is the only way he could make it happen. (And – within the confines of a Doctor Who story, of course – it seems that he was right.)
While Father’s Day is a very serious episode, it is not without its comedic moments. One of them is Rose’s realization that her parents’ marriage was not exactly what her mom used to tell her all her life. Well, it is actually a bit dark comedy, for obvious reasons. But it is also something that reminds me of an important piece of wisdom I already wrote about. It is so easy to forget to appreciate and be thankful for the people around us – even when they annoy us or do not meet our expectations – and then it’s too late when they are gone. Pete was definitely not the best husband. He probably wasn’t even a good husband. But I’d argue that he did love Jackie (even if his love was far from ideal), and she did love him back (also less than ideally, without any doubt). And it is clear that even in the original timeline, when Pete did not sacrifice his life for the others, Jackie remembered him with fondness. It is hard to say if she considered herself guilty for how she (mis)treated him – but even Jackie being Jackie, I think she did, somewhere inside her hard shell… And when I see someone feeling guilty for their past deeds, I can treat it as a warning to myself: do I want this to be my future? And if not, what should I do to avoid it? And if this means being more loving, more forgiving, sometimes also more demanding (after all, if I love someone, I am responsible for their growth as a person, and how else make them grow if not by setting high expectations?), why not give them these things now instead of regretting not doing that in the future? Is it really so hard? (Well, yes, it is. But it’s worth doing as much as you can. And it also works, even if not immediately. I really believe that people change for the better when they know they are loved.)
Perfect love? Far from it. True love? Yes.
The Doctor and Rose
At this moment we know how much the Doctor cares for Rose, but that is even reinforced in this episode. For example, when Rose sees her father on the day of is death, she is shocked, and the Doctor gently takes her hand. When she says “It’s too late now”, the Doctor’s face screams “I told you so!”, but he doesn’t say that. Nine, usually harsh, is extra compassionate here. (Maybe because he knows so well what it means to lose one’s family…) Now, it’s utterly fascinating to watch how they deal with a situation which is very hard for them. There are a lot of harsh words in this episode, from both sides. This should be familiar for anyone living in a serious relationship of any kind – be it a marriage, a friendship, or even a business partnership. We all know how easy it is to say a bit too much, and how hard it is to patch up what has been broken. How do you cope with hearing that “for once, you’re not the most important man in my life”? What do you do when you are called “another stupid ape”? I’m not claiming that either the Doctor or Rose behaved well when they fighted (even if the Doctor was correct to call Rose out for what she has done), but I love how they made it up for each other afterwards. First thing, they started to talk. Calmly. Then, the Doctor apologized. Even though Rose was the first to do wrong, even though they both said things they probably regretted instantly – he didn’t say “I’ll apologize if you do, too”, he just said that he was sorry. This is a powerful lesson for me. I’m not a saint (yet – of course, I intend to become one when I die, like everyone should!), and I need to apologize to my wife pretty often, but for an apology to be real, it should be unconditional. Of course, it’s a risk – when you say you’re sorry, and you mean it, it’s always a possibility that the other person won’t say the same thing. But this is how love works. Love implies many things, and one of them is taking the risk of trusting the other person, accepting the possibility that they will hurt you, and forgiving them anyway.
And you are forgiven. Always and completely forgiven – spoiler for series 6The Eleventh Doctor.
Of course, the Doctor still expects – even asks! – Rose to apologize, too – and he has every right to do that. That is also interesting. He clearly sees Rose is devastated and torn – she saved her dad only to bring about the end of the world and death of everyone, including her father. To be fair, him asking Rose to say she was sorry seemed a bit harsh – she obviously regretted what she had done – but notice that he still tried really hard to be delicate. When they talked in the church, he didn’t make accusations, he didn’t repeat what he already said (and what Rose was well aware of). He just explained – matter-of-factly but softly – how grave the situation is. And if I ever make a list of most heartbreaking moments in Series 1 (and this is more or less what I intend to do in about 3 months on this very weblog), the time when Rose had to apologize for saving her dad’s life will surely make that list.
One more thing I’d like to mention about the crisis between the Doctor and Rose is that it is similar and different at the same time to what happened previously. Last time, the Doctor also had to deal with a companion disappointing him, and he did it in a pretty cold and cruel way. This time it is much different, and we can legitimately ask why. Well, the answer seems rather obvious – while Adam was only seeking personal gain, Rose acted out of compassion. Imagine, though, that Adam tried to get the information about future technology in order to find a cure for his terminally ill father – in fact, this is exactly what early versions of the script of The long game said, and the topic is explored in Doctor Who comics. Then, the similarity between the two stories is particularly striking! Had that been a case, would he be treated so harshly by the Doctor anyway? My conjecture is that yes, because the real reason for Adam’s expulsion from the T.A.R.D.I.S. was that he neither admitted to his wrongdoings nor repented, which Rose did.
That poses yet another interesting question. The theme of forgiveness will not really take off until much later (spoiler for series 2being slightly hinted at in New Earth and continuing in The idiot’s lantern, spoiler for series 3again touched upon (and beautifully so!) in 42, reaching a climax in spoiler for series 3Last of the Time Lords and further explored in later series), but I would argue that it already starts in Series 1. Did the Doctor forgive Rose? Obviously. Did he forgive Adam? I think yes. Then, why he punished him? Here’s my take: forgiving does not negate punishment. Punishment is often seen as a kind of revenge, which it is not (or at least should not be). Punishment is about justice. As every parent can confirm, it is fully possible to forgive your child for doing something wrong and punish them anyway. In fact, the ideal punishment is simply letting them suffer the consequences of their own actions. This is how you teach a youngling making right moral choices.
It would be impossible to write any analysis of this episode without looking at the dynamics between Pete and other characters – especially Rose, but also Jackie and the Doctor. Of course, this is usually the first thing that comes to mind when thinking about Father’s day, and obvious things are obvious, so I don’t want to reiterate things like the fact that Rose got disillusioned with her father (which was a good thing, even if it was difficult for her).
Peter Alan Tyler
Instead, let me point out a few slightly less obvious things about Pete (in no particular order).
Firstly, he is clever, and a very rational person. Not educated, maybe not even extremely intelligent – but still pretty clever and quick to connect the dots. His business schemes are ridiculous, yes, but he can think outside the box. When he met Rose, he clearly saw that something was off, and when he got enough information, everything clicked and he guessed the truth about Rose’s identity. In a similar vein, he figured why she came to this exact day, and what he needs to do. None of that was very difficult for us, viewers, but his thinking could have been clouded by emotions, and it still didn’t prevent him from reaching the correct conclusion.
Even better, when he was fed lies about how good he was as a dad – he had the courage to admit to himself that he couldn’t live to that, and that Rose must have been lying. Being able to admit to himself – and to his daughter! – that he was a flawed father required a lot of courage and humility. And he accepted his fate and sacrificed himself with calmness and dignity (well, save for that quick drink in the background, but let’s not mention that, ok?).
Also, I feel slightly bad for it, but the whole premise of this episode makes me chuckle – because of Pete. Do you know why? It is no secret that Russell T. Davies has rather left-wing views. (And I make it no secret that I strongly disagree with them.) In The end of the world he gave us the obscenely rich and unscrupulous Cassandra. (To be fair, there was also Jabe, another upper-class and very wealthy person who turned out to be quite the opposite.) In Aliens of London and World War III we saw ruthless and ugly farting capitalists. In Dalek we had the cold-blooded Henry van Statten, who basically swam in money and prevented humanity from benefitting from the technology he hoarded. In The long game there was a mention of a consortium of banks. In other words, the show seems to repeatedly tell us that making money is immoral (which it isn’t). And here we have a clever and righteous (well, sort of) man who saves the world in an act of selfless sacrifice, and while not exactly rich, he is – of all things! – a businessman. Good job, R.T.D.;-)!
The other father
One of the episode central themes is of course the relationship between Rose and Pete. It is worth noting, however, that Pete is not the only father in this episode. Sonny Hoskins, the father of Stuart Hoskins, the groom, is just a cameo role, but even from the few short scenes he’s in, we can say a thing or two about him. While Pete is portrayed as flawed but sympathetic figure, Sonny is anything but. He treats his son with disrespect, both when he talks about him and even when he talks to him. In fact, he earned the dubious distinction of saying the most terrible line in the entire episode. When he berates Stuart (we can only assume not for the first time) for deciding to marry Sarah, he tells his son this: “Live in sin for a bit”. I can only imagine that if my child were living in grave sin, risking the pearl of eternal happiness for a trinket of pleasure, I would do my best to encourage them to change their ways. And yes, in case of rebellious youngsters (which Stuart is obviously not, I’m generalizing here) that might mean specifically not trying to preach (which could have the exact opposite effect), but definitely not enticing them to sin more, either (even if ironically). (I can’t help but think of Saint Monica, by the way, and if you haven’t heard her story, do yourself a favor and read up on her). While marrying in a hurry when one’s fiancée is pregnant is not necessarily a good idea, continuing to live like a husband and wife is even a worse one.
Coming back to Stuart’s father – normally I wouldn’t like to spend much time discussing a flat tertiary character, but what captured my attention was how Stuart treated him. The guy was plainly abusive towards his son, yet despite being rather meek, Stuart clearly did not let the dad manipulate him. Even more importantly, he seemed to respond with love and respect. It could be seen in the way he speaks of him, and especially in his brief moment of joy when it seemed that it was the battery from his dad’s mobile phone that was going to help the Doctor save the day. And I think this is exactly how one should treat abusive parents. Keep a healthy distance, but care for them, respect them and love them – even if from afar.
Don’t be like him
There is a well-known (even if unwritten) rule that the Doctor never says “I love you” to his companions. That rule is bent sometimes, but as far as I know, hasn’t been explicitly broken as of yet. spoiler for series 6Some of the moments where the show was closest to breaking it were in A good man goes to war, when Eleven basically told someone else that he loves Amy, Rory and River, and Closing time, when he says “I love you” to Craig, but he’s clearly not serious. spoiler for series 2Not to mention Doomsday, of course. However, this episode is another moment where we get an almost confession of love from the Doctor. “Your wish is my command”, he says to Rose, which is as close to “as you wish” (which, as everyone knows, means “I love you”) as you can get.
Also, this episode contains one of the most hilarious things in all New Who. It is very easy to miss, but when Pete drives with Rose (and before her phone and his radio start going crazy), guess what is playing on the radio? Of all things, Never gonna give you up! This makes absolutely perfect sense – the song was released in July 1987, it became the number one hit in the UK within months, and Pete died in November 1987. Now, this episode aired in 2005, and rickrolling was invented in 2007. In other words, we have a rickroll – in a tv show about time travel – two years before rickrolling was even invented! It never fails to crack me up (and yes, I am singing that sentence in my mind while writing this;-)).
Another thing which is pure cuteness is when the T.A.R.D.I.S. starts to appear in the church. The Doctor looks at it and – just for a moment – starts hopping, of all things. We don’t even see his face, but the pure joy emanating from this scene is adorable.
The Doctor berating Jackie (“Jackie Tyler, do as I say!”) – and her instantly obeying him (“Yes, sir.”) is fantastic. It is also a good lesson about how to behave properly in an emergency, like when you witness a car accident or a fire. When it happens to you (and I hope not!), never say something like “Someone call 112” – choose one of the bystanders, point your finger at them and tell them to do it, personally and explicitly. And no, you don’t have to ask them their name (or know it beforehand) – just make sure you address your command to a particular person and that they are aware of it.
Jackie Tyler, do as I say!
And for the last of these tidbits, I find it great – fantastic, even – that the place which is the safest one, and where the Doctor tells everyone to gather to save their lifes, is a church. (Technically, it’s not what I believe to be a “real” one, since I assume it’s an Anglican church, not a Catholic one. As much as I love my Anglican brothers and sisters, I do believe that the true Church Jesus founded is the One, Holy, Apostolic Roman Catholic Church. But – to be clear – that does not mean that millions of Anglicans are not loved by God, and I am conviced that if they sincerely offer their prayers, services and faith, they can get closer and closer to Him – even without the tremendous help of Holy Sacraments. That said, their full conversion to the Catholic faith would be great news, and not without a precedent, by the way.) The idea of a church (a building) – and also the Church (the community) – being a safe haven in the midst of danger is one close to my heart, and deserving more than a brief mention. I’ll try to get back to this in the future, since this is not the only case like this in Doctor Who.
Last but not least
This episode is probably the first one (at least in New Who) where the Doctor explicitly states how important ordinary people are to him. We already saw glimpses of it, even as early as in Rose (when we saw a picture of the Doctor saving some family who almost boarded the Titanic), then (sort of) in End of the world, when Rose treated Raffalo with respect, then in Unquiet dead, when it was Gwyneth who saved the world from the Gelth, then in World War III, when the Doctor asked about the name of the secretary… But here he says it plain and simple, and two times. First, he says that Pete is “an ordinary man. That's the most important thing in creation”. Later, he asks Stuart and Sarah rhetorically, “Who said you're not important?” The respect for every life, however mundane, small or (apparently) insignificant, is one of the defining characteristics of the Doctor, and one of the reasons I love Doctor Who.
Even better, when the Doctor says “I've never had a life like that”, it’s clear that he sort of envies them – but not in a bad way. It’s not really envy, I just don’t know a word which would describe his attitude well. He is aware that their way of life is completely unavailable to him, and sincerely wishes them the best. And he must be seeing something valuable in their life, too, since what he says next is “Yes, I'll try and save you”. Last time I mentioned how the writers of Doctor Who make the Doctor – often consciously, sometimes perhaps not so – a God-like figure. Here we have this again. I think this is what happens when God sees our efforts at love (which is, ultimately, the thing that matters the most in the universe). Even if these efforts are tainted by sin (and since we’re humans, they always are) – which in this case is represented by the fact that Sarah is pregnant before their wedding – God looks at us sinners and says, “I’ll save you”.
– I don’t know what this is all about, and I know we’re not
– Who said you’re not important?