First thing to say is that if you are the least bit soppy, make sure you stock up with Kleenex before seeing “Single Father.” A full box. Every promotional preview for this show is absolutely true. And if you’ve ever lost anyone yourself, expect to feel like you’ve been punched in the stomach a few times.
This first episode of a four-part drama starring David Tennant as Dave, a father of four and stepfather of one who loses his partner in a bicycle accident, is not easy to watch. Not the least because they show the collision between Dave’s partner Rita and a speeding police car very explicitly, and twice. It’s shockingly graphic. But that very much fits with the rest of the show, which does not gloss over or romanticize anything about the experiences of Dave, his children and his wife’s best friend (and Dave’s obvious future love interest) Sarah.
The next time anyone says anything about Tennant overacting horribly in “Doctor Who”, he should have this episode available on an iPad to play for them posthaste. This is a role where he could have easily chewed much scenery in loud and dramatic grief, but the most notable thing about Dave is how silent he is. With pain etched over his face and clearly visible anger just under the surface through most of the show (especially in a scene where he is very unfortunately pulled over by traffic police just hours after another one of their colleagues killed Rita) he remains largely silent whilst almost everyone else acts out around him. It’s admirably restrained and very powerful acting.
Not only do the children (especially Rita’s daughter Lucy, who doesn’t know who her biological father is and thus reacts to being effectively orphaned in typical teenagerish fashion) cause conflict, but Rita’s extraordinarily unlikeable sister Anna, her husband and Dave’s solicitor, and various public officials make life more difficult for the overwhelmed Dave. His situation is complicated by the fact that he wasn’t married to Rita, making his claim to others to rebuild his life with his kids in peace and independently more tenuous. Only Sarah is there for unconditional support when Dave finally breaks down under the strain, which makes it much more understandable when her comfort morphs into a natural emotional embrace.
The death of Rita does feel every bit as tragic as it should as her relationship with Dave and her children is shown during a flashback to the last day of her life. But a lot of credit should be given that she is not portrayed as some sort of faultless saint. In fact, she is shown to be a bit manipulative herself, and previews show that she’s got some skeletons that are about to come out to make life even more difficult for Dave.
In all, it’s all very well written and acted and is probably a better first post-DW outing for Tennant than “Rex Is Not Your Lawyer” would have ever been. It’s definitely not something one should expect to watch just to see the 10th Doctor again. There are no traces of Ten anywhere in this performance. It’s a true reintroduction of Tennant as a serious actor beyond the TARDIS. And despite not being easy to watch in the least, it’s definitely enough to keep watching for the next three weeks.