Father s Day

Reaper

Most Time Travel stories in ???Doctor Who??? use it as a kind of magic-door device to move from one adventure to the next. Father???s Day is the only one in ???Doctor Who??? that I can think of (excepting the Big Finish audio adventure ???Flip Flop???) in which a Time ???Paradox occurs. (Please contradict me if you know better, my memory isn???t what it was).

???Doctor Who??? has been careful to avoid paradoxes by weaving the actions of the Doctor and his companions into the events of known history, the implication being that our experience of history is no different since we can know no other. Some good examples are the great fire of Rome, when the crew of the TARDIS accidentally inspire Nero to burn the city (The Romans, 1965) and the Great Fire Of London (The Visitation, 1982) when the fire is started in a climactic battle between the alien villain and the Doctor. In one story at least (Pyramids of Mars,1975) the implication is that the future (our present) will be destroyed by the Doctor???s inaction.

So why isn???t there a paradox every time the Doctor interferes in the events of a typical episode? Well it???s quite simple really, we???re all in the Doctor???s future, and so he can???t therefore be changing his past.

That???s not to say that there was never at least a reference to time-paradoxes in ???Doctor Who??? The problem only seems to arise because of the companions the Doctor takes along with him. For example when Barbara, ignoring the Doctor???s warnings, attempts to banish the practise of human sacrifice in ???The Aztecs???. Presumably the Time Paradoxes become more serious the closer to one comes to one???s own timeline. Which is of course the case in ???Father???s Day???.

The most often used illustration of a time travel paradox is the ???If I went back in time and killed my own father/grandfather???? ???Father???s Day??? is merely the negative of this often-asked question ???What would happen if I stopped my father from dying???? The trouble is that it is a rather complex question to be asking for a 45 minute time slot and the story has to resort to the contrivance of the ??? vortex reapers??? to represent the negative consequences of causing a time-paradox.

In the past science fiction writers have addressed this question dealing with a time-paradox in a variety of ways. In Alfred Bester’s “The Men who Murdered Mohammed” (1958), for example, a personnel continuum is crated for each individual involved. Another idea is the use of some form of “time police,??? such as Isaac Asimov’s ???The End of Eternity??? (1955) or Poul Anderson’s ???Time Patrol??? series. These organisations try to protect the time-space from temporal fractures. In Father???s Day, the Doctor mentions that the Time-Lords (before they were destroyed by the Daleks in the great Time War) acted as a form of time police.

Inevitably time-paradox stories become circular (as symbolized by the car fading in and out of reality as it circles the besieged church) or so horrendously complex that the story gets increasingly tied up in knots. Robert Heinlein???s notable time-paradox tale “All You Zombies” (1959) actually makes a virtue of this and ties the story up into a nice decorative bow as the protagonists is revealed to be his own mother, father and mentor, but it???s not a trick that can be copied too often.

Personally I found ???Father???s Day??? incredibly predictable despite the best attempts of the reapers to distract us from what was the obvious end of the story. In fact I could see little other reason for them being there, since their most logical function would have been to remove Rose???s anomalous father from the space-time continuum rather than the entire human race. And at what point would they have stopped? Would other species and races touched by humanity have to be ???cleaned??? also?

This episode had good effects, was well acted and directed, but suffered from a weak, possibly unsuitable, story.



9 comments


    neil hook

    May 15, 2005

    It seems to me that generally Dr Who has taken a similar approach to time travel as Poul Anderson … ???the continuum were a mesh of tough rubber bands. It isn???t easy to distort it; the tendency is always for it to snap back to its, uh, former shape??? (Time Patrol p14). This is referred to by Karen Hellekson in her excellent book (an incidentally the set text for level 3 module ‘Quantum Worlds’) ‘Alternative History’ as ‘Anti-Alternate History’. To take an example from Bradbury … you wouldn’t change history just by stepping on one butterfly – but if you napalmed the whole field then who knows!

    p.s. I thought the reaper tails as little scythes was an excellent touch

    p.p.s I used to work at the church in grangetown where it was set

    Simon Bromley

    May 15, 2005

    I have to say that it was my least favourite episode so far. Now, as you all know, I love a good time paradox, but I just wasn’t gripped by this; I too found it a bit predictable. After reading that it was Eccles’ favourite episode, and being familiar with writer Paul Cornell’s work, I found it a tad disappointing.
    Mind you, I watched it again this morning, and I enjoyed it a little more on the second viewing. I’ll put that down to my noticing the Bad Wolf reference this time round…

    Carnus

    May 15, 2005

    Bizarrely I’ve actually been to a wedding in that same church in
    Grangetown, though in 1997 rather than 1987, and I don’t recall
    the good vicar being set upon by rampant flying woodlice.

    Gripes apart, I thought the episode was a reasonable example of
    the sort of way in which SF can be used to examine the human
    condition; in this case, one of loss, longing, and the need to
    idealise those who are no longer with us. The stark reality may
    have been rudely divergent; Che Guevra may have been a twat to
    live with, for example

    Robert Andrews

    May 15, 2005

    Tom says “”best plot, worst effects””:http://www.plasticbag.org/
    archives/2005/05/links_for_20050515.shtml#comments

    Pete Grehan

    May 15, 2005

    According to “Doctor Who Confidential”:http://www.bbc.co.uk/doctorwho/confidential/ the original reapers were going to be the traditional hooded skeletal guys with scythes and then evolved into something more alien. The scythe tails are the only part of the original idea that remain.

    Timothy Farr

    May 15, 2005

    I agree the resolution was obvious, but I think this episode was more about the emotional journey. The emotional content is what will connect it to the family audience. Consider any number of Star Trek TNG/DS9/Voyager episodes with a similar paradox that aren’t nearly so successful at connecting with the wider audience. I like it far more than I expected to.

    Pete Grehan

    May 15, 2005

    It does seem that Science Fiction for the new millenium has to have a significant soap element in order to connect to an audience that has been brought up on reality TV and Eastenders et al.

    Sam Seeley

    May 15, 2005

    So Rose has “time traveller’s DNA” from
    having travelled in the TARDIS on a few
    occasions. Pull the other plunger!

    Wouldn’t it be more likely that Rose is part
    Time Lord (or Lady) already herself. Perhaps
    the Time Lord knowing of the impending Time
    War dangers ahead would scatter some of
    their people throughout time and space.

    Which might explain the Doctor’s instinctive
    attraction towards her. And the possibility that
    her own father was a Time Lord, in disguise,
    seeking a “normal” life on Earth.

    But, of course, Rose only has got one heart,
    hasn’t she..?

    markbanerji

    May 15, 2005

    This series of DR Who continues to cause controversy not least for film censors who have rated the episode “DALEK”:http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/entertainment/tv_and_radio/4550967.stm cert 12 for DVD release.
    This was due to the Dalek tortue scene that they state might encourage kids to see violence as the only solution to resolve disputes. Nanny state gone mad!

    A hilarious sketch on Dead Ringers had the news reader state that a helpline would be available after the show for any Daleks distressed by the subject matter.

    Im not sure anyone can say how theyd react if they met a real Dalek..Invite them round for tea?

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