In the eighth episode of the first series of Doctor Who, Rose asks the Doctor to travel back to the moment her father died so she may accompany him before death. When she decides to intervene, she sets in motion a terrifying reality as the universe attempts to clean up her mess. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Doctor Who.
YOU GUYS WERE NOT JOKING AROUND. Holy shit, best episode of series one? Like, okâ€¦you all were aware, if you followed me during Mark Reads Harry Potter, that during the Time Turner scenes of Prisoner of Azkaban, I basically had a heart attack because I LOVE TIME TRAVEL MORE THAN MOST THINGS. While this show is certainly about that, it’s never really been a focus of any of the episodes. The writers have always focused on interpersonal relationships, satire, political thought, and historical nerdery.
Finally, we get an episode that deals with the mechanics of time travel. I’m certain this wasn’t the first one in the history of the show, but it was certainly the first I’d seen. First of all, a major high five to writer Paul Cornell, who knocked this story out of the park. It’s not an original idea to have a person try to change the past via time travel and I think we’ve all seen it attempted at some point. So where Cornell succeeds is by going straight for the heart and the mind at the same time.
It’s clear that the Doctor is very hesitant to satisfy Rose’s idea, and for good reason. The potential for paradox is far too great; at this point, we don’t know how one deals with a paradox if it happens, but we learn later exactly why he’s so serious about it.
Emotionally, Cornell sets us up to be happy for Rose when she intervenes during her second chance and saves her father, Pete, from being the victim of a hit-and-run. That moment of happiness at seeing the joy on Rose’s face, knowing she’ll get to learn about her father, lasts all of five minutes. And maybe that.
The strangeness starts happening almost immediately. I imagined that the universe was basically cracking at the seams due to the Butterfly Effect of keeping Pete alive. And then those THINGS. We don’t see them at first, but people start disappearing, including quite a few people who are supposed to be at the wedding that Pete was heading to.
But the most damning detail of it all is when the Doctor finds that the TARDIS is no longer a TARDIS. It’s an ordinary police box. WHAT IS GOING ON I DON’T LIKE ANY OF THIS.
The real treat of the way this episode is set up is that we know the Doctor will find out a way to reset time and fix all of this, so it allows Cornell to do literally anything he pleases with these characters, including kill them off. When the unnamed beasts descend upon the people in town, I expected a lot of screaming and running and not WINGED BEASTS EATING VICARS WHOLE. Like HOLY SHIT WHAT IS HAPPENING. And seriously, the CGI on those things was some of the best we’ve seen yet in the new series. They were completely terrifying and more so because there was no rhyme or reason to whom they attacked. The Doctor described them as a sort of “bacteria” who were trying to sterilize “the wound in time” that Rose had created. It’s here we learn exactly why the Doctor was so worried about Rose’s actions doing just this. His race, the Time Lords, actually had the power to fix paradoxes in time. And now he’s the last one, all by himself, and unable to repair the paradox.
Oh man, this is fucked.
After already losing it upon learning more about the Time Lords, I was surprised how much I continued to like other moments in this episode. That was a huge moment for me, since I know so little about Doctor Who, and yet Cornell is still able to make all the interactions between Pete and Rose just as fascinating. Their reunion ends happily, but doesn’t start off that way. In fact, Rose gets to see Pete and her mother, Jackie (OMG I LOVE YOU FOREVER JACKIE) fight fiercely outside the church. It ruins the idea she was always given of her father; I’m glad Cornell went there, despite how difficult it is to watch Rose’s heart break all over again. In a way, it all suggests that maybe Rose should never have gone to this place at all, that perhaps time was best left undamaged and unchanged.
When Pete realizes that somehow Rose is his daughter, it’s neat how readily he accepts it. (Though the fact that are flying monsters eating people outside is decidedly more strange than this, so whatever.) It was goddamn sad to see Rose unable to tell Pete the truth about what sort of father he was and I wondered if she would ever tell him before the past was reverted back to it’s normal state.
All that talk of paradox ended up being a bit useless, as it was Pete, not Rose, who ended up doing something to invite another monster inside. A bit about the Doctor’s anger: this is now the second time we’ve seen the Doctor furious with his companion. Two in a row, really. His comments about how typical this is of humans makes me wonder who else in Doctor Who history screwed things up as a companion to the Doctor.
Despite all this, it’s the Doctor who sacrifices himself to save those in the church (or at least to buy them more time). When the TARDIS and the Doctor disappeared, I actually feared this would be a double-episode. How on earth were they going to be saved without the Doctor? That falls on Pete, who notices something we’d been seeing the whole episode: the car that was supposed to kill him keeps re-appearing and disappearing outside the church. He puts together that he was always supposed to die and that dying now is the only thing left to repair time.
The end of this episode isn’t particularly surprising and it was hinted pretty heavily that Pete needed to die by the car. But that’s why Cornell makes it so awesome: the teary goodbye he has with Rose and Jackie totally seals the deal and you don’t care that you saw it coming all along. It was a nice touch that the flashback of Rose’s now changes to reflect that a mysterious young woman stayed with Pete until he died. He no longer died alone.
- Omg TODDLER VERSION OF MICKEY. So cute!
- I’m now so obsessed with this Bad Wolf stuff that I immediately noticed it on the rave poster. WHAT IS IT OH GOD STUPID MYSTERIES
- The Doctor’s theme of every person being important is so wonderful. It’s almost like this super positive form of existentialism. I dig it.
- “I know what you’re saying, and we’re not going there. At no point are we going anywhere near there. You aren’t even aware that “there” exists. I don’t even want to think about “there,” and believe me, neither do you. “There,” for you, is likeâ€¦pfft, it’s like the Bermuda Triangle.