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Sunday, 30 April 2006 - Reviewed by Steve Manfred

In thinking of the story of "School Reunion," I am imagining a garden theme park that is populated with the most amazing and beautifully grown varieties of roses and chrysanthemums and tulips and daisies and carnations that you've ever laid eyes on, and being pushed to run through it all at breakneck speed by a relentless tour guide. I would gladly have stopped to smell any of these ideas or to study how well they bloomed, but no, there's too much to see and too little time to see it.

It's as though we've got two really good episodes trying to be told on top of each other. One of these is about companionship with the Doctor, and what that did to Sarah, what it is doing to Rose, and what not doing it is doing to Mickey and what he should do about that. The other story is about Anthony Head as the leader of a horde of bat aliens that have taken over a school to harness the imaginative powers of the children there to crack the computer code that runs the universe. Either one of these is perfect for an episode all by itself. The two at once leaves too little time for either to fully develop the way I would've liked to have seen. This is not to say that "School Reunion" should have been a two-parter. I'd rather think the ideas should have been decoupled entirely and told in two different stories.

An example of the "not enough time" problem I have is in the scene where Rose and Sarah Jane are at first one-upping each other about what monsters they've seen and then that degenerates into them talking about annoying things that the Doctor does... a grand total of two annoying things (one said by each of them) that then somehow makes them laugh hysterically when the Doctor enters the room. This really needs a laundry list to sell just how hysterical they get, and two items does not a full load make. On the other side, we are given two scenes of the Doctor and Mr. Finch sparring with each other, and_ very_ good those are too, but there's only two! It's _Anthony_flippin'_Head_ you've got here to go against David Tennant, and they only really lock horns in two scenes! And then we have Mickey making the big leap from being the guy who last season (and very wisely if you ask me) knew he couldn't deal with the Doctor's lifestyle what with all the fear there is in it to the guy who's going to bite the bullet and stay in that dangerous time-ship and travel with Rose and the Doctor... because of one moment he shares with K9 in Sarah's car. That's all it takes for him? Apparently so, because meanwhile the mathematical code that runs the entire universe is being cracked by a school full of kids with PCs and we really need to get back to them and the fruit-bat people that are running them, people who absorb physical bits of the alien cultures they conquer... except we don't ever get to see them actually doing any of that... because now we need to get back to K9 saving the day and sacrificing himself... and I would say "and so on" except that the episode ends shortly after this because it's out of time.

This has the smell about it of a script that was drafted and redrafted at least five too many times, and pared not just to the bone but actually well into the bone, and some of the marrow leaks out in the form of some plot holes that go unexplained. For example, why, when she had no reason to think that teacher John Smith was actually the Doctor (yet) did Sarah bring a totally non-functional K9 with her in her car to the school when she returned that night? Why were there vacuum-packed rats in that one closet? (presumably they were something to do with the aliens' eating habits, but we never are actually told) Why is Mr. Finch seemingly unaffected by the oil that's sprayed on him and the other Krillitane at the end? Why is there a time delay between when K9 shot the oil barrel and when it blew up the school? Why did the Krillitane pick a human school to run this hacking-the-universe experiment of theirs, and why that school in particular? Why, when after they hear the Doctor say he's a Time Lord, does that one swoop down at him from the roof, almost shout "boo," and then fly well away again when it could've just grabbed him and saved itself the whole getting-defeated-by-the-Doctor bit later on? OK, so they wanted him to join them at first, but still, it could've grabbed him there and got on with the convincing right then. And if it thought that wasn't the best way to try to convince him, I return to my original question and ask why did it swoop at him in the first place?

I will say it was nice to see that some of the more well thought-out "what it means to be a companion" material that we've seen all throughout the wilderness years in the books and the audios be mined and used here with Rose being forced to realize that she isn't his first and won't be his last (assuming he's not killed), and the reverse of that where the Doctor tells her why he's always dumping people after a time, since she can "spend the rest of your life with me, but I can't spend the rest of mine with you." Dumping humans like he does and moving on to the next one is the only way he can cope. It's not done to hurt the people he travelled with but rather to protect his own hearts. As Chris Eccleston once said, "the Doctor has two hearts. Does that mean he cares twice as much?"

On the production side of things, I can't find any faults at all, and in fact I really did quite like (cough-sorry-choking-a-bit-here) Murray Gold's score this week, particularly his "kids computing" music, and his callback to the theme he used for Rose when she was first discovering the Doctor and the TARDIS back in "Rose" (the episode) for the scene where Sarah goes to visit them in that park at the end. The Krillitane were all very well realized, and I liked the detail of the darker-skinned (and very well-dressed) man turning into a similarly darker-skinned Krillitane. It was also great to hear the sound designers using all of K9's old sound effects, and they even brought back some of the older sonic screwdriver sound effects when Sarah was around it. That was cute. And it was of course great to have John Leeson back as the voice of the old mutt. He couldn't have come back any other way.

On the acting front, the regulars were on their usual top form... I think I've already sung Anthony Head's praises a bit, but I'll sing them some more. I love the way he moves his body and can almost seem to glide as he walks and darts his eyes around and squeezes the fingers in his right hand and so on, and I especially love the little moves he does with looking out of the door in the opening scene when he takes the little girl into his office for "lunch". Elisabeth Sladen seemed to step back into Sarah Jane Smith like she's never been away (and in fact, she's never been away for very long what with all the parts sent Sarah's way during the wilderness years both on video and on audio), and it was really quite moving at times to see her back in the swing of things. At other times, she seemed just a _bit_ off, but I think that's because she's not got that never-bettered chemistry that she developed with Tom Baker going here. In the little time she has here, that just wasn't going to happen with the Tenth Doctor. I'm not even going to call this a complaint, since there's nothing anyone could've done about it. Come to think of it, it was more like seeing her with the Third Doctor, as their chemistry was never as good as it became with the Fourth.

And while I'm thinking of numbers, there seems to have been an inadvertent mistake made in the dialogue which will have fans speculating for years whether or not David Tennant is playing the Tenth Doctor, or if in fact he's actually the _Eleventh_. This is because in the scene where Sarah meets the Doctor in the school and realizes it's the Doctor for the first time, he tells her he's regenerated "half a dozen times since we last met," which would be the right number if the last time he's met her from his point of view was "The Hand of Fear" (when he had to leave her back on Earth), but in fact the last time he did meet her was in his Fifth body in "The Five Doctors," which would mean he's now in his eleventh body. Oops. And they thought they were being clever in avoiding the whole UNIT dating continuity fiasco... hah!

All in all then, there's too much material here competing for the attention of the 44 minutes the episode had. As enjoyable as this is as it is, it could have and should have been twice as much better. I'll say 5 out of 10 for "School Reunion."