Doctor Doctor Who Guide

I suppose I should start with the problems and the plot. The Krillitane storyline has been criticized by some for being ‘uncomplicated’ (read: stooopid), and it’s true it does have some problems. I’ve been disappointed to see how quickly Russell T. Davies’s Doctor Who, at times so wary of imitating the classic series, has begun to imitate *itself* instead. Already this season we’ve had another gothic monster story in which the Doctor meets a giant of the Victorian Era (‘Tooth and Claw’), and now we get a kind of fat-free remix of the Slitheen scenario (though minus the ‘laughs,’ thank god). And not only is the story unoriginal, it's unbelievable as well, as we are asked to swallow that beings whom the Doctor identifies as an incredibly grave threat to the universe would a) allow two complete unknowns to be placed on staff within their undercover operation, and b) let a member of the *press* wander around their HQ with an open invitation! "Imagine how bad things could possibly get," indeed – these Krillitanes do everything to give themselves away short of buying a full-page ad in ‘Time Out.’ And the concept of the aliens as composite monsters that take on the characteristics of consumed races is a great one, yet it is hardly borne out by their appearance, unless of course the Krillitanes spent many campaigns conquering one species of giant bat after another. (Seriously, one wonders whether the designer even read that bit of the script).

But let's move on to the good. The story’s guest star, Anthony Stewart Head, can probably be mentioned up front as well; Finch is a bit undercharacterized on paper, but Head’s acting is nicely plummy in the old style, and it’s sort of a shame he didn’t turn out to be playing the Master after all. But that would have sent the already dangerously over-percolating Nostalg-O-Meter off the charts, and there just isn’t room for this to be the Master’s story.

Sarah Jane Smith, having been one of the longer-running companions and having accompanied two of the most popular Doctors, seems like the only choice for a story that mainly leaves the monsters to the kiddies and offers the grown-ups in the audience the long-term implications of companion life instead, via a walk down Fan Memory Lane. And, somewhat surprisingly, ‘School Reunion’ does this about as well as could be hoped, especially given the constraints of the 45-min. format. Toby Whithouse’s screenplay doesn’t manage the depth or wit or poetry of, say, ‘Father’s Day,’ but it does communicate its sentimental subject matter directly and believably, without lapsing into the heavy-handedness that marred the last big attempt to wrestle with series past (‘Dalek’). Sarah’s bittersweet future is well conceived, and believably played out; and while it’s true that her spontaneous scratchfest with Rose seems a touch forced, there’s genuine emotion behind it, and each woman’s emotional response to the ‘other companion’ seems real.

A sidebar: now, some have suggested that the story projects a love relationship onto the Doctor and Sarah that was never there to begin with. One can make such an argument, I suppose, but I don’t think this script ever makes that explicit: when Sarah says “You *were* my life,” it seems like a reflection not of Love-With-a-Capital-L, but of the lost “splendor” of travel and adventure. How could an earthbound life compare after her years in the TARDIS? And even if the script implies that the young Sarah, after being unceremoniously ‘dumped’ – in Aberdeen, hilariously – developed a retroactive crush on her friend and teacher, well, is that really so hard to believe or accept? She was one of the few companions to leave the TARDIS unwillingly, and her pain at finding herself replaced and unmentioned feels authentic with or without the supposed love angle, so I guess it doesn’t bother me either way.

And as for Rose, whose take on the situation as (expectedly) less mature, she is also quite sympathetic as she realizes that maybe ‘her’ Doctor isn’t quite so lonely as he’s let her on to be. If there has been a love story between Rose and the Doctor, it’s been a one-sided one to this point, and the knowledge we have of Rose’s puppyish crush helps us to feel for her, and to see how her character grows here. Mickey grows as well – after a whole season of not knowing what to do with him, the production team have finally begun to develop him into interesting companion material. His self-comparison to K9 is funny and fitting – how often did K9 find himself stuck behind while the Doctor and Leela or Romana went rock-climbing or whatever? And as for K9 himself, he isn’t given much to do – whether this was simply because of time restrictions, or whether it was a bone thrown to all those fans who despise him, is hard to say. Still, I thought John Leeson sounded great – 25 years have not deteriorated his voice in the way they have, say, Anthony Daniels’s. (But that’s another story.)

Four episodes in, I’m still not sure I like David Tennant’s Doctor – fast-talking, repetitions, and other silly verbal tics aside, I don’t really get a sense of his personality yet. Oh, he *acts* a lot – his half-smile and obvious agitation when the Doctor sees Sarah can hardly fail to please – but I’m not sure the actor has really established who this Doctor is yet, beyond being a sort of lanky, blathering goof. The dark, damaged, preoccupied Eccleston seems long gone, and when this Doctor considers using the Krillitanes’ power to undo the Time War, it’s an odd, out-of-tune moment. Does this silly Doctor even remember or care about that?

Now, fans have also complained, as fans must, about the continuity problems created by the script ignoring Sarah’s role in ‘The Five Doctors’ and ‘K9 and Company.’ It also irked me how the script worked to insinuate that the Doctor’s call home in ‘The Hand of Fear’ had something to do with the Time War (“Everyone died, Sarah” – whatever, Doc). But the continuity patrollers will simply have to work those questions out, and besides, the ‘dueling companions’ monster catalogue scene goes along way towards validating the continuity of the old series in relation to the new, and that should be enough to make most fans very happy.

All in all a thoughtful, if not quite inspired, attempt to reconcile this show’s past and future. And Elisabeth Sladen is just marvelous.

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