My thoughts on “Single Father” (David Tennant mini-series)

I can’t remember who recommended I watch “Single Father“, a four episode BBC television drama from 2010, and I don’t know if I want to thank them or yell at them for it! I really enjoyed watching it, but I don’t think I’ve sobbed so much since my cat was run over when I was a kid. It’s emotionally harrowing, probably more so now that I’m a parent than it would have been when I was young (and I won’t lie, probably because David Tennant is heartbroken – who can resist a heartbroken David Tennant?). I finished watching it late last night, with a smile on my face and a tear in my eye, and thinking I really enjoyed it. But I woke up this morning feeling a bit differently, after the emotional rollercoaster had worn off a little. Don’t get me wrong, I still loved it, and I recommend it to anyone with the emotional fortitude to withstand the heartbreak, but with a teeny bit of distance, I’ve started thinking about the flaws that I overlooked through the tears.

SPOILERS BELOW!!!

You’ve been warned, here be spoilers!

Of all the things about the show, the fact that Dave and Sarah fall in love with each other so quickly after Rita’s death is the one thing that I found wholly believable. I thought Sarah’s relationship was set up well enough that the viewer understood that she wasn’t happy in it, and while Rita and Dave clearly WERE happy, in a very realistic way that included disagreements about parenting and all, the fact is, people who lose a partner they were very happy with are more likely to seek love, and happiness, again. Dave and Sarah were already good friends – Sarah was a rock when Rita died, and when one thing led to another, they both felt guilty about it, but also realised there was more to their friendship. I didn’t ever feel as if it was, “Oh, man on his own with four kids and a business simply can’t cope with it and must have woman to help him.” Dave (and yes, that IS the character’s name!) was clearly competent, although grief-stricken, and was lucky enough to have family and friends to help through the worst time (even sister-in-law Anna, who I loved despite her very forthright (rude) nature!). I thought it was interesting we didn’t see any of Dave’s family, though I think he spoke on the phone to his father at one point, but all of Rita’s.

The family situation was fascinating – Rita was adopted (I don’t think it was clear if Anna was too); Dave had previously been married (young!) and had a daughter (who got pregnant at 15 and so had a 3 year old at 18!); Rita had a daughter from an unknown (in the beginning) father, and then they had the three children together, but never married. I liked that this unfolded gradually, with little clues rather than expository dialogue and thought it was well done.

So, what DID I have a problem with? Not much, in the first couple of episodes – my issues arose later in the story. The biggest one I had was to do with the whole mystery about Lucy’s (Rita’s eldest daughter) father. Okay, so it was a little simple for Dave to track down who he was, and yeah, he seemed a bit too good to be true really, in lots of ways, but what I didn’t get, and I don’t think was ever explained, was exactly WHY Rita kept him a secret from Dave. They were together for 12 years, had three kids together, were clearly happy, and yet she didn’t feel she could tell him this quite important bit of information? What possible purpose (other than for plot) could keeping this secret serve? The guy was a nice enough, successful fellow, not a criminal or shadowy underground figure, or a complete tosser. He was content to stay out of their lives, so why keep him secret from Dave? PARTICULARLY if she WASN’T having random sex with him at various intervals! In terms of the suspense and emotion of the plot, it worked, but I really wanted there to come to light a genuine, purposeful reason Rita kept this secret from Dave.

Some smaller things: Tanya (Dave’s daughter from his first marriage) opens an email from the solicitors that says Dave may not have any legal claim to the children because he and Rita weren’t married. a) what a load of bunkum. b) this is NEVER MENTIONED AGAIN! Not even when Dave thinks the kids might not be his!!

Again related to Tanya, and this really troubled me in the end, because Dave is built to be a genuinely good bloke who cares for his family (his distance from Tanya, his eldest, is bothersome, but possibly understandable – the first wife does say that Dave didn’t have much to do with Tanya until Rita made it happen). However, after Tanya lashes out at him about Sarah, in front of the kids, after Sarah’s ex sleeps with her as a way to get back at Sarah, he promises Tanya that until he sorts himself out and is a better dad, it’s just him and the kids. AND THEN WE NEVER SEE TANYA AGAIN! Of ALL the kids, SHE is the one he made this promise to, yet she is the ONLY ONE he doesn’t talk to when he makes the decision to have Sarah in their lives! I actually think this is the biggest problem with the show, because it paints Dave in a completely different light to that which we’re meant to think of him. It shows, without any sugar coating, that actually he’s a selfish bastard who doesn’t really think of Tanya as part of (or at least, not an important part of) his family. I don’t think the writers actually MEANT to do that – early on we do see Dave’s lack of care for Tanya, but I think we’re supposed to have seen him grow as a person, and a father. Unfortunately, this omission destroys that illusion!

And finally, I am in two minds about Dave’s reaction to Sarah’s revelation at the end. Not that she WAS pregnant, because I predicted that, but that after all he’d been through – finding out that Rita deliberately fell pregnant with Lucy in a quite cold-blooded selection process of the father, and then was hiding things from him their whole relationship – he was just happy she was pregnant, and not at all concerned that she did this quite deliberately, without consultation, and well before there was any real indication that there might be a relationship for them afterwards.

So, in the end, I did actually find this program a bit problematic. However, the acting and characterisation, the sheer power of the emotion of the story, really were standouts, making it something I would recommend to others. I loved the little touches – the way Paul, the older son, discovered religion, and how that was handled; the sibling relationships; Lucy’s journey of discovery about father vs dad; the relationship between Anna and her husband Robin – these all worked really well for me. And as I said, I sobbed throughout – it was powerful.

In all, I think it’s well worth watching. I’m just a little sad that some elements weren’t better “finished off” by the writers. And if you DO decide to watch it (after all my spoilers), make sure you keep your tissues handy!

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