Doctor Doctor Who Guide

Good old Russell T Davies!

Surprised?

Well, first things first, I have to accept that my review of Tooth and Claw was unduly negative; looking back, I appear to be one of those moaning minnies, criticised in some of the other reviewers’ comments, who simply cannot accept RTD’s vision of the series. By and large that’s true, but it must be said that ‘Tooth and Claw’ was very good by any standards, and it was simply the grating nature of some of the regulars’ characterisation that spoiled it for me; in the review I concentrated too much on that, at the expense of what was, objectively, at least average and possibly superior Doctor Who.

But that isn’t what my surprising statement was about, oh no. I was giving Russell credit for something else entirely; in this case, for something he didn’t do – and that is, not writing ‘School Reunion’. Russell has been quite good at this throughout – although he couldn’t restrain himself from doing the series finales, he has – as other people have already noted – given a lot of the best material to other writers. Victorian Cardiff and zombies. The Blitz. The Dalek. And the return of Sarah Jane Smith and K9 had classic written all over it from the start – my honest opinion is that Russell would not have done it as well as the writer who in the end got the job has done it. Whoever Toby Whitehouse is, he really came up trumps here. So well done Russell.

With all that out of the way, the very first thing to say is well done, Elisabeth Sladen. What a consummate actress. What a performer. What a star. We love you, Lis.

I was prepared for this to be dreadful, I had to be, or else I couldn’t have stood it had it been. But even I never thought that Lis Sladen could let us down! Well done, Elisabeth Sladen. What a consummate actress. What a performer. What…

…oops, repeating myself. But Lis’ contribution to the programme was superlative. Whitehouse has done a wonderful job with the returning guests, getting Sarah Jane’s characterisation close to ‘bang on the nose’ – what quibbles there were, for example the initial unpleasantness between Sarah and Rose, and Sarah’s implied sexual attraction to the Doctor, Elisabeth’s performance ironed out, because with her you can believe it. K9 was even better, in terms of being true to the original, that is (those nose lasers! Sweet.) Even Mickey was less irritating than usual, and he had a couple of good scenes saving the kids. The more I look back over it, the more incredible it seems that Whitehouse has juggled so many elements so well.

Not all the credit can go to him, however (it’s alright though, there’s a lot of credit to go around). James Hawes deserves a round of applause (hey, that nearly rhymes). His direction is in the very best tradition of TV directing – you don’t notice it, but if it wasn’t there, and if it wasn’t so skilful… you’d know. And as for the performances! It would have been very hard for a writer to fail with Elisabeth Sladen, Anthony Stewart Head, John Leeson and David Tennant on the team. Leeson – as fabulous as he ever was… his “Master”-s must have brought a tear to every eye. Good old K9. Good dog. And Head, playing the Head, was also utterly wonderful. We were treated to an old-school “join us, Doctor, and all this can be yours” scene from the lead villain, and he played it so well, part of me was actually taken outside the story, to the point of saying, “what acting!” – while the rest of me goggled. What’s more, you could see David Tennant reacting to it, pushing himself – the Doctor, visibly, is actually considering it. How nice that it was Sarah who talked him through it, just like in Genesis of the Daleks.

And that’s another thing. HOW GOOD was David Tennant in this? From his Clint Eastwood-style confrontation with the Headmaster to his first sight of Sarah Jane, and right up to their goodbye – “Goodbye… my Sarah Jane.” Even the scenes that he could have overplayed he nailed; I’m thinking of the “no, everybody else died” scene, and in particular the “if I don’t like it, it will stop” scene. Totally in character for this more merciless Doctor (he used to have so much… the third Doctor would never have even thought of behaving the way the tenth has, that at least is certainly true), but nicely played nonetheless. The Doctor losing his defining mercy with the passage of time is truly disturbing. I don’t like it at all; it makes him a different person. But this is a review of ‘School Reunion’, and in the context of this story… well, while it didn’t add anything, it didn’t harm the story, as such.

We also see this Doctor’s cruelty again in his scenes with Mickey at the beginning and the end, although it can now be interpreted as just a crazy male-bonding ritual they always go through. And, in another welcome moment, Sarah Jane says she prefers the console room how it was before, when she was travelling with the Doctor – you and me both, Sarah!

Good joke about the Doctor thinking of a comprehensive school which produces clever children as being worthy of investigation in itself! And, surprisingly for a show with left-liberal politics, they even mentioned how it ought to have been swarming with hoodies with ASBOs, although the Doctor didn’t seem to take it very seriously. Shame they had to blow it up; even if the staff were evil bat-winged aliens with delusions of godhood! Possible plot hole, though; how come, if it’s been three months or so, nobody else has noticed the weirdness? Like, the gobbled-up children’s social workers? Or UNIT/Torchwood? And why was only Milo clever in Dr Smith’s class when the Krillitanes seemed to be using all the pupils by the end? Oh well.

The dialogue was mostly excellent, and that is something you can solely accredit Toby Whitehouse with. And probably the wealth of continuity is his too; Time Lords, the Skarasen, The Invisible Enemy and the year 5000 when “disco” was the in-thing! Thank you, thank you, thank you – I love continuity!! And all of it right!! Except the references to them not having met for years and years, when in fact they last met in 1996, if not sooner (novel, Interference, Lawrence Miles – “if not sooner” means possibly1997, in Bullet Time). But never mind! It hardly matters, in fact emotionally the script is far stronger for it, and what’s more I think that if ever we’ve been obliged to cut a writer some slack, this is the time. This could even have been the best in the series.

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