We open with a flashback to Rose’s childhood. Jackie is telling her about how wonderful Rose’s father, Pete, was, and how he would have liked to have seen her. Little Rose is listening seriously, as children will do . . . for maybe forty seconds . . . before they start fixating on some minor detail or return to playing Pokemon. Seriously, though, this adds a bit to the history of the bond between Jackie and Rose.
Back in the present day, Rose convinces the Doctor to take her to see her father. The Doctor asks if she’s up to it emotionally, then cheerfully starts the TARDIS off with the warning to be careful what she wishes for.
They end up at Rose’s parents’ wedding, where Pete steps in it by forgetting his bride’s middle name. Jackie and Rose both give him the kind of look you don’t want a woman giving you. The Doctor thinks it’s funny, while Rose protests that “I thought he’d be taller.” Fitting, because throughout the episode, Peter Allan Tyler is going to repeatedly come up short in Rose’s estimation.
We return to the flashback to find Jackie is now reminiscing about Pete’s death. Someone ran him over and left him to die alone. Guess where we’re headed next.
They step out into 1987, home to Margaret Thatcher, Sylvester McCoy, and Wesley Crusher. One out of three isn’t bad in baseball. Rose again comments that everything seems so normal for the day her father dies. She narrates events as Pete gets out of his car with a vahhz, only to get rammed by the Murder Car. The Doctor squeezes her hand and tells her to run to Pete, but caught in the shock of the moment, Rose can’t do it. So, now behind a building out of sight, she asks the Doctor if she can try again.
The Doctor cautions Rose against attracting their previous selves’ attention — wait until our old selves leave before you run out there — and it’s notable that he takes it for granted that she understands. Much as when he asked earlier if she’d be all right seeing her father die, the Doctor is treating Rose as very nearly a peer, someone he doesn’t need to get all camera-zoom and emphatic with. In short, the Doctor now trusts Rose.
The deadly car turns the corner, and Rose breaks. She rushes out of hiding — crossing in front of their old selves, no less — and saves the vase, and also incidentally her father. The old D&R look at each other in bewilderment and vanish into nothingness.
Rose tells her father her name, clearly expecting him to recognize it, but naturally he doesn’t recognize her as the baby he has at home. Rose invites herself along to the wedding Pete’s attending, while the Doctor glares and the camera switches to a red, distorted overhead shot of London with discordant noises.
Pete takes them back home and prattles about milk. The Doctor nods and smiles politely while Rose enjoys every word out of Pete’s mouth. Left alone, the Doctor crosses his arms and glares at Rose, who puts her best reality-ignoring shields up and chatters satisfiedly about Pete’s trophies being out on display instead of tucked in the attic.
It’s noteworthy that Pete juuust missed out on advancing to the next tier of the bowling tournament. Pete does not look good for most of this episode. He hits on Rose while being married, he blusters, his inventions are dubious, he argues with his wife. The obvious view to come away with is that Pete may have had his quirks, but overall he was nobody special, maybe even a loser who struggled through life doing odd jobs. Jackie was simply cherry-picking her memories and not telling little Rose about all his faults, whether because she didn’t want Rose to think her father was a loser or because she didn’t want to face them herself. But between this, Pete’s intuition, and his decision at the end, maybe the intention was that Pete simply had hard luck and a weak character. Maybe there was something there, past the weaknesses, something substantial and good, that never found its place in the world.
Anyway, Rose finally pays attention to the Doctor’s glare and he spits out that she’s “just another stupid ape”, like Adam and (previously) Mickey. Rose protests that saving her dad was safe, that one person couldn’t make all that much difference. The Doctor replies that one single living person makes all the difference in the world. He changes history, yes, but he has the experience and knowledge to know what is safe to change and what is not. Rose, inexplicably, thinks the Doctor is jealous of Pete getting Rose’s attention, and the Doctor takes his TARDIS key back and leaves in a mutual huff. He finds that the TARDIS greenscreen has been deactivated and now it’s just the empty prop.
Meanwhile, whatever is viewing London in Red Insectoid Vision starts descending on people and making them drop whatever they’re holding. This could have come across as unintentionally hilarious, I’m just saying.
As they’re driving to the wedding, Rose tells Pete that Jackie calls him “the most fantastic man in the world”. Pete brushes that off with “Must be a different Jackie then.” Rose’s FutureFone beeps, and she pulls it out to hear the first message ever sent by telephone. Presumably, history has changed backwards so that no other message is allowed to be transmitted telephonically. As they turn a corner, the Murder Car following them keeps going and vanishes. Then it tries to ram them head-on as they pull up in front of the church. Then Jackie tells Pete off and accuses Rose of being “another” of Pete’s too-friendly friends, but the biggest shock for Rose is that Jackie’s hair is in curls. Jackie rails against all the “rubbish” that Pete brings home and denounces him as a failure. Poor Rose finally yells at them to behave.
A little boy who suddenly finds himself alone in a playground runs past them into the church, yelling about aliens. Then an alien runs up to Rose, yelling at her to get in the church herself. Rose smiles fondly when she sees it’s the Doctor, but then a monster bat with a mouth for a stomach appears out of thin air, and it and its buddies start squishy-crunching everybody in sight. You know it’s serious when the monsters are confident enough to stop sneaking around. Everyone bundles into the sanctuary of the church, where there is a large stained-glass window of Jesus on the cross that totally isn’t foreshadowing anything.
The Doctor covers the question of “why don’t they just teleport inside?” by saying that the church is old and therefore strong. I guess they time-travel to get around obstacles by going to a point in time when the obstacle didn’t exist? Maybe? What happens if that window was just installed last month? He relishes shouting Jackie down, then says that the scary bat things are sterilizing a wound in time, and nothing in the universe can hurt them. The Murder Car goes by, and when Pete asks about it, the Doctor tells him to pay it no mind. I have to think the Doctor knows that Pete getting himself properly killed might set things straight, but, even in this situation and as dark as this incarnation can get, he isn’t going to tell Pete to give himself up.
Pete has pieced enough together to make the leap to confront Rose as his daughter, and they get to know each other more frankly. Meanwhile, the Doctor reassures the bride and groom that they are important, that he’ll do his best to save their lives, and comments that he’s never lived a life quite like theirs. This could have been just filler, but wound up reinforcing the idea of “common” lives being valuable. Maybe in another episode, the Doctor could have told Pete to buck up and get himself killed, but not this one. Well, he probably wouldn’t say that to the father of any of his companions in any episode, but you know what I’m getting at.
The Doctor moves on to telling baby Rose that she mustn’t destroy the world. Whether he can speak Baby yet is uncertain, but Baby Rose just looks at him frightened. He warns grown-up Rose not to touch Baby Rose because that would be a “paradox”. Presumably that’s the Human concept that gets nearest whatever the Time Lord understanding is, because I can touch myself right now and that doesn’t create a paradox. The Doctor didn’t warn Rose not to breathe on her second try earlier, because that would change the air currents around her earlier self and create a paradox. I’d rather he just said something about an energy discharge if a person overlaps herself in time and space, if this has to be a plot point. I’m pretty sure this rule isn’t adhered to in the future anyway.
The Doctor and Rose start arguing again, but the Doctor apologizes (and Rose soon follows suit). He has no idea what to do: aside from a few buildings here and there, all of humanity has been wiped out by now. It’s a grim moment, made grimmer by the reminder that the Time Lords are wiped out too. Fortunately the TARDIS key is discovered to be glowing, so the Doctor takes the pulpit (inevitably) and tells everyone that he can use the shiny thing to regain access to his time machine and everyone will be saved from the huge bat monsters. The groom’s father’s portable phone comes in now as a power source, having served a previous purpose by letting the Doctor listen in on A.G. Bell’s first phone call. I approve of plot devices that don’t look like plot devices.
Rose tries to invent a future life for Pete’s pleasure. If I had to guess, she’s drawing on what she wanted as a child to have from her father. Saturday picnics are a bit specific, and she stresses the “being there to be relied upon” thing. Pete simply says that he isn’t who Rose describes. He catches on that he should be dead, but that Rose saved his life and wrecked reality and has been trying to hide it from him. “I’m so useless I can’t even die properly”, he says bitterly. Rose insists she’s to blame, but he responds, “I’m your dad. It’s my job for it to be my fault.” That’s leadership quality right there. Unfortunately, Jackie overhears, events eventuate, and baby Rose ends up in Rose’s arms (why did Pete put her there? baby Rose’s hair and eyes haven’t even changed yet) just long enough to allow a monster to make its entrance. The Doctor gets himself eaten up, and the monster promptly collides with the materializing TARDIS. Both disappear, leaving the key behind. Despite the Doctor having warned everyone not to touch it, Rose picks the key up and finds it cold.
The Doctor had said his fix would keep Pete alive. With that hope gone, Pete now sees there’s nothing left but for him to get run over. He has a last touching word with Rose and Jackie, this time agreeing with Rose’s belief that he would have been there for her. Pete then grabs the innocent vase and heads out, to be Rose’s dad, to be one ordinary man who makes all the difference in the world, to have a death that isn’t useless. The monsters disappear, humanity reappears, and Rose gets to be with her father at the end after all. There’s a flashback with Jackie narrating the revised events, to give the viewers a chance to get all those bits of dust out of their eyes before the next episode’s preview.
One is reminded of the bit in “Vincent and the Doctor” about a life being a heap of good things and a heap of bad things. Rose adds to her father’s heap of good things, even if the opportunity here came about through a moment of foolishness.
Rating: 3 time-fixing monster bat freaks
Favorite dialogue: Rose: But it’s not like I’ve changed history. Not much. […]
The Doctor: Rose, there’s a man alive in the world who wasn’t alive before. An ordinary man. That’s the most important thing in Creation.
Useless Fact: It turns out that the “paradox” is, in fact, supposed to be a release of energy. Okay then.
Fun Fact: This was KJ’s first modern Who episode, she was hooked, and so I started watching because she was, and now here we are.