Doctor Doctor Who Guide

“The missus and the ex. Welcome to every man’s worst nightmare!”

Mickey may have very succinctly put into words just exactly how the tenth Doctor feels about “School Reunion,” but as a long time fan of the series this episode is just about as far from a ‘nightmare’ as you can get. In his first contribution to the series, Toby Whithouse has written both a classic Doctor Who contemporary horror story and a cracking piece of emotional drama. “School Reunion” may bring back characters and dwell on certain events from the classic series, but this is no piece of fanw**k – this is a story that explores the relationship between the Doctor and Rose (and even to a certain extent Mickey) and that is the reason why we have Sarah Jane Smith and K-9 on board.

Like most people, I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw how little Elizabeth Sladen had aged. Her understated introduction into the story (being shown to the staff room by Mr. Finch) is beautifully written and performed, and succeeds in establishing the character of ‘Investigative Journalist’ Sarah Jane Smith for the benefit of those new to the series or those with appalling memory. I love the Doctor’s reaction to her; he is clearly overjoyed to see her but can’t say that he recognises her. I love the line “Oh good for you Sarah Jane Smith!” which is delivered with relish by David Tennant; he’s like a proud parent or teacher, over the moon that his star pupil is still doing what she does best.

As I watched Sarah come across the TARDIS I found myself right on the edge of my seat. James Hawes direction is absolutely superb; Sarah turns slowly to face her old friend and the penny finally drops. For the first time in the episode we see that this is not the same Sarah Jane Smith that the fourth Doctor abandoned in Croydon (well… Aberdeen) way back in “The Hand of Fear.” She’s grown up. She’s even become a little bitter. As Sarah herself puts it, “I got old.” The Doctor claims to have regenerated “half a dozen times” since they last met*, and he too has grown older and harder. The ‘President Flavia’ music (as Russell T. Davies calls it!) has become synonymous with pivotal, heart-wrenching Time Lordy moments in the new series and every time I hear it I end up struggling to prevent a single, manly tear trickling down the cheek. If anything I expected “School Reunion” to be a nostalgic, light-hearted romp but in fact I found it almost as sad as the closing moments of “The Parting of the Ways.”

“I thought you died. I waited for you and you didn’t come back and I thought you must’ve died.”

“I lived. Everyone else died.”

“What you do mean?”

“Everyone died Sarah.”

David Tennant’s voice sounds as if it as about to crack as he says “Everyone died Sarah,” and I can’t say exactly why but for some reason it seems so much more tragic for him to confess his loneliness to an old friend – a friend who knew him when there was a Gallifrey; a UNIT; a family - things for the Doctor that are all long gone. I also liked how the moment wasn’t dwelled on; the scene quickly moved on (thanks to a Mickey Smith scream!) and we were back into the action – even when it is at its ‘soapiest’ this show never slows.

“Did I do something wrong because you never came back for me? You just dumped me… you were my life.”

Sarah Jane is quite possibly the most recognisable of all the Doctor’s travelling companions (hence why Liz Sladen was invited to take part in this episode) and it is wonderfully to have her back for a week and to have the Doctor and Sarah to say their big goodbye, but the fact of the matter is that the real story of “School Reunion” lies with Rose. It is no longer 1976 it is 2006, and it is Rose, not Sarah Jane who we will be watching week in week out. Since “Rose” the relationship between the Doctor and his latest ‘companion’ has been shown as a strange sort of love story; a special, one-of-a-kind affair between a young human girl and centuries’ old alien bloke. “School Reunion” hammers the point home that this special, ‘one-of-a-kind’ affair is far from unique. Sarah Jane came before Rose, as did a great many others. One day Sarah was off fighting Daleks, Mummies and the Loch Ness monster, then the next she found herself lost in the middle of Aberdeen. How could she go back to lead a normal life after that? And more to the point, how will Rose be able to go back and lead a normal life after all her adventures with the Doctor? The thought of it terrified her in “The Parting of the Ways” as she cried to her Mother and Mickey “What do I do every day?” At least back then, Rose was under the illusion that what she has with the Doctor is somehow unique, and that in some way he would always remember her. Her jealous mocking of Sarah - “He’s never mentioned you” – soon comes back to haunt her as she realises that one day, she will be Sarah Jane. She will be the one who is never mentioned.

“As opposed to what?”

The Doctor finally asks the question that no one has ever dared to ask.

“I thought you and me were…”

“I don’t age. I regenerate. But humans decay. You whither and you die. Imagine watching that happen to someone who you… You can spend the rest of your life with me, but I can’t spend the rest of mine with you. I have to live on. Alone. That’s the curse of the Time Lords.”

It is still left open, although from the dialogue and the fantastic performances of both Tennant and Piper it is clear that they do love each other. The Doctor just manages to hold himself back from saying it; it’s on the tip of his tongue. I’m glad that he doesn’t actually say that he loves her – or that he has loved any of his companions for that matter – probably because of the whole eighth Doctor / Charley saga. That particular relationship was handled beautifully (“I love you’s” and all) through “Neverland” and “Zagreus,” then when Big Finish tried to ‘get out of it’ (for want of a better phrase) it just got a little bit too messy. More importantly, the words are not necessary. The audience isn’t dumb; and as it is the dialogue just sparkles and most people can reasonably infer what the Doctor is thinking and feeling.

“Oh my God. I’m the tin dog!”

With all the heavyweight drama going on in “School Reunion” it’s easy to forget Mr. Mickey Smith, who is going on an important character journey of his own. Ever since day one Mickey has been the comic relief, and although his bravery and his confidence are growing with each episode he is still the butt of all the jokes, and I dare say he forever will be. He either can’t find the Maths department or is being down told to sit in the car and “… leave the window open a crack.” However, a combination of clever writing and superb acting from Noel Clarke has slowly made me warm to the character more and more. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve never disliked the character - I’ve always found him amusing, even when he was just an irritating, selfish coward, but of late I’ve found myself actively championing Mickey. I want him to do well; I want him to save the day or get the girl – God knows he deserves it! Mr. “Safety Scissors and Glitter” brings something special to almost every scene he is in – even when he has no dialogue his facial expressions alone often have me cracking up! Thanks to a little help from K-9, Mickey really does get to be a hero in this episode – he bravely crashes his car into the school so that the fat bespectacled kid can escape, and even better, he frees all the children by simply unplugging their mind-controlling computers! Incidentally, that scene is another example of just how good James Hawes’ direction is – the way you can almost physically follow Mickey’s train of thought as he looks from the computers, to the floor, to the power cables to the socket is simply fantastic.

Of course, hidden behind the character story is a wonderfully chilling horror story waiting to get out, and although it suffers slightly from not having quite enough screen-time (I think “School Reunion” should have been a serious contender for a two-part slot), it is a damn good one. Landing Anthony Stewart Head for the role of Mr. Finch is a real coup for the show, and I couldn’t imagine anyone else on Earth being as suited to the role as he is. Head can exude evil but he can also lay on the charm; he can stand on top of the school and whisper “come to me” to one of the Krillitanes in one scene and then in the next be smoothly trying to turn the Doctor over to his cause. I was also impressed by Eugene Washington as Mr. Wagner – in many ways I found him far more scary and intense than even Mr. Finch! There is so much classic Doctor Who stuff crammed in forty-four minutes it’s hard to comment on it all, but stuff like the Krillitane flying in front of the moon, the zombie kids in front of their computers and the dinner lady immolation scene are absolutely classic Doctor Who ingredients. Even for those who aren’t into the more sort of ‘real life’ / ‘soap opera’ parts of the story, there is still a hell of a lot of fantastic sci-fi horror to be found in “School Reunion.”

In the beautifully shot ‘showdown’ at the swimming pool between Finch and the Doctor, almost every element is perfect. Writing; acting; lighting; music; direction. It’s just one of those scenes that make you go “WOW!” and for those out there who doubted that David Tennant might not have Christopher Eccleston’s weight, this scene – just like “The Christmas Invasion”’s ‘satsuma’ scene – put any fears to rest.

“I’m so old now. I used to have so much mercy. You get one warning.”

I know I see it in everything, but there is a real Palpatine / Anakin Skywalker thing going on with Finch and the Doctor. This “Scasis Paradigm” idea is heavy stuff for an episode already crammed to bursting point, but it works so well. Finch can offer the Doctor absolute power over everything – quite literally power over life and death – meaning that he can resurrect the Time Lords, Katarina, Adric, Roz and God knows who else. Whereas in that ‘Anakin Skywalker Crisis Moment’ on a weak day he may possibly have broken, Sarah Jane Smith is on hand to remind him exactly why he shouldn’t. It is only as she says the words - “No. The universe has to move forward… everything has its time and everything ends” (misquoting the ninth Doctor) – that she seems to realise what they mean and for the first time since the Doctor abandoned her to return to Gallifrey, she gains some measure of closure.

“You good dog.”

“Affirmative.”

K-9’s heroic sacrifice was something of an unexpected choker but like Sarah, I felt strange being saddened by the death of a “daft metal dog” (or as Finch brilliantly puts it, a “shooty dog thing”) but I suppose if you can get cut up over Data’s death in Star Trek: Nemesis then you can grieve for the third incarnation of a tin dog. I have to say though, I was annoyed at the Star Trek: Nemesis-style cop-out right at the end – how many K-9’s are there going to be? I know he’s getting his own spin-off series (again) but c’mon!

“Some things are worth getting your heart broken for.”

The episode’s ending is satisfying on so many levels. It’s nice to see the Doctor offer Sarah a chance to pick up where they left off, even though he knows that she’ll turn him down because she has a “..much bigger adventure ahead…” Sarah’s face is absolutely priceless when she hears Mickey ask, “Can I come?”, before she realises that he means with the Doctor and Rose, not with her! It’s interesting to see that Rose doesn’t seem to happy about her pseudo-boyfriend coming along for the trip of a lifetime…

Throughout “School Reunion” Murray Gold’s score is incredibly impressive; it reminds me very much of the epic soundtrack to last season’s Dalek episodes, giving the whole episode a real sense of gravity. A beautiful, soft, instrumental version “Song For Ten” contrasts the final scene of the episode with everything that has gone before it as the Sarah Jane makes the Doctor say Goodbye. That’s what really gets you. There’s not a dry eye in the house.

“Goodbye my Sarah Jane!”

As with last year’s much-hyped episode “Dalek”, the Bank Holiday weekend prevented me from watching this historic episode as it went out on Saturday evening (this year blame the Kaiser Chiefs in Millennium Square, Leeds!) but, as with “Dalek”, it was certainly worth the wait. Chilling scenes of horror, gut-wrenching character drama, fantastic dialogue (“Happy slapping hoodies with ASBOs and ringtones!”) and a retro robot dog mean that there is a little bit of something in “School Reunion” for everyone. A positive triumph in every possible respect. I honestly did not believe that the second series could be any better than the first, but the way things are going thus far…

* Probably best to either forget about “The Five Doctors”, or just say after she returned to her own time with the third Doctor, the Time Lords wiped Sarah’s memory! Sorted.

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