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Sunday, 30 April 2006 - Reviewed by Billy Higgins

Sifting through the line-up for Series 2 before it began, two stories stood out for me as likely high spots – the impending Cybermen two-parter and School Reunion, and I was really excited about seeing both. The problem with such great expectations – in my experience anyway – is that the event itself rarely lives up to the anticipation. However, there are always exceptions and, I’m happy to report, School Reunion was one great exception!

There were so many memorable moments crammed into 45 minutes, it’s difficult to know where to start. How about the beginning, that’s a very good place to start . . .

As I noted in a previous review, “New Who” (for want of a better expression) doesn’t mess around with foreplay – and, in School Reunion, this was never better illustrated. Before the opening titles have rolled, we find ourselves in a school, have encountered a wonderfully-malevolent headteacher played by Anthony Head, of whom more superlatives – though I won’t have nearly enough – later. Plus we’ve witnessed a schoolgirl meeting with an audibly-horrible end. And a bespectacled Doctor already on the scene as a teacher.

Another promising start, and the episode built on that encouraging opening. Rose’s appearance as a reluctant dinnerlady (Billie Piper does “sulky” particularly well!) and the suggestion that there were strange goings-on in the school (and in the chips) would certainly have grabbed any floating viewers’ attention.

And then there was a trio of reunions in the school (incidentally, although this was an obvious episode title, it was no less a brilliant one). Mickey Smith was back – OK, he’d only been away for a couple of episodes, so we’d barely had time to miss him. But it had been considerably longer away for Miss Sarah Jane Smith and K9 – although you’d never have guessed, so smoothly did they fit into their roles.

Sarah’s story – of what happens to a companion post-TARDIS – was a fascinating subtext to the main tale of schoolkids being cultivated by a shape-shifting alien race for lunch – and for control of Creation! With a new “dream team” of Doctor, K9, Mickey, Rose and Sarah, there was no doubt they were going to be a match for the Krillitanes and, of course, they were. There was something in the chips – the oil – and that, together with a sacrificial robot dog, made it another successful episode for the good guys!

So that was School Reunion in a nutshell – but just why was it so good?

Firstly, the setting. Perhaps because the very first episode of the original series in 1963 began in a school, the series is synonymous with the classroom? Whatever, it all tied into the theme of reunions – and it just “felt” so right.

As did the return of Sarah Jane Smith. She may have “got old”, but nothing like 30 years older – Lis Sladen still looks terrific, those wide eyes and trademark lip quiver which are SO Sarah Jane were still there, and the script contained everything fans could have hoped for – and more.

The tension between Sarah and Rose (La Piper does jealousy really well, as we saw in Boom Town and The Parting Of The Ways) is something which wouldn’t have been expanded upon too much in years gone by, but this sort of emotional byplay is an important ingredient of 21st-century Doctor Who.

“The missus and the ex” were essentially fighting over who loved The Doctor – and who The Doctor loved – more. Their “my monsters were bigger than your monsters” scene was superb, but it was pleasing that they found common ground by the end, and wouldn’t it have been fun if Sarah had stayed aboard the TARDIS?

The scenes between Sarah and The Doctor were Father’s Day-esque in their intensity. Sarah’s bitterness at being so unceremoniously dumped was evident – and it was nice to see David Tennant run through a range of emotions, including his desperate loneliness, which linked him to his predecessor more than in previous episodes.

There may have been a pedantic continuity issue with the old series – Sarah did meet several Doctors in The Five Doctors and did, in theory, get a chance to vent her emotions then. But I prefer to explain that away by suggesting that her memory of that adventure was wiped when she was returned to her time stream. Russell T Davies obviously likes his continuity, though – Sarah’s line about “the spaceship flying overhead at Christmas” was a nice touch.

And, this time, Sarah did get her “closure” at the end of the episode – a really emotional goodbye and hug - and a new, shiny, pet robot dog!

It was fun to see K9 again, too – complete with rust, which was an amusing twist, as was Rose and Mickey’s dismissal of him as rather low-tech. He does seem rather low-tech compared to the The Mill’s creations – what would they have made of K9 from scratch? - but he did save the Universe, so there! And, of course, it was no great shock that The Doctor was able to produce a Mark 4 (albeit very quickly!).

Great as everyone else in the cast was, maybe just top of the class was Anthony Head as Mr Finch. If there is such a thing as quiet malevolence, he delivered it superbly. A wonderful two-hander between Finch and The Doctor over the swimming pool was a high-scoring draw between the two protagonists. Perhaps the most-terrifying thing about Finch wasn’t so much that he had designs on shaping the Universe in his image, it was that he would nonchalantly eat you for lunch afterwards!

The Krillitanes themselves were Reaper-like in appearance, but equally effective. Obviously, they couldn’t be shown to be devouring small children – but the clear inference was enough to earn them a high fear-factor rating. Yet another visual-effects triumph.

And then there was Mickey Smith. A character who has grown enormously in stature since his introduction in Rose. Then, he was basically a one-dimensional wimp who was little more than a bit-part player – now, after improving steadily throughout last season, we have a rounded character full of humour and plenty of depth. If not quite an all-action superhero in his own right, Mickey’s certainly a welcome addition to the TARDIS crew. It’s an added dimension which can only increase the fun . . .

Noel Clarke actually had the pick of the one-liners here, which was quite an achievement in a sparkling script peppered with sharp, witty dialogue (as one might expect of Toby Whithouse, the principal writer of the excellent No Angels) and he delivered them with aplomb.

The gleeful observation to The Doctor about “the missus and the ex” is likely to go down in Doctor Who folklore, but his witty aside to Rose about “watching the chips” when comparing her to Sarah was a laugh-out-loud moment. Mickey’s realisation that “I’m the tin dog” also brought a hearty chuckle.

And who’d have thought it would be The Doctor rather than Rose who was the happier to have Mickey join the crew? Another nice twist. After meeting Sarah, Rose now has extra insecurities about what her relationship with The Doctor is, and this can only make for more tensions as the series progresses.

Great story, wonderful script (what a Doctor Who debut from Whitehouse), terrific performances from the cast, stunning visual effects and, for me, the best score Murray Gold has delivered – I often wish background music was just that, rather than an in-yer-ears full operatic performance. However, the music here just accentuated the script perfectly.

Series 2 may have started slowly with New Earth, but it gathered pace with Tooth and Claw, and is now into full stride with School Reunion. Hard to believe it gets much better than this, but what a treat if it does.

FILTER: - Television - Series 2/28 - Tenth Doctor

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Sunday, 30 April 2006 - Reviewed by A.D. Morrison

Before my review proper of the latest episode, I’d just like to take this opportunity to say that after a second viewing of Tooth and Claw, I think I might have been a little bit stingy in my rating (6/10); it is one of the only RTD episodes which stands up to re-visiting (bar perhaps The Long Game, Boom Town and Parting of the Ways), but for its vast improvement on all his former efforts, indeed for the fact that it stands head and shoulders overall of them, and is a generally well-conceived and directed story with a script and atmosphere likely to endure, it deserves a more impressive 8/10 in my books (and that’s a rating in the classic series sense; it ranks alongside Father’s Day, Dalek, The Unquiet Dead and parts of The Empty Child as a virtual classic in the old vein, and I sincerely hope is a pointer to the shape of things to come).

Comparatively I felt that School Reunion was something of a come down from the gothic heights of the Victorian highlands story. However, it is still an episode far superior to the callow New Earth and the one-dimensional Christmas Invasion.

Essentially School Reunion has many of the traditional ingredients of classic Who, the most notable being its extra-terrestrial subversion of a mundane, familiar setting, in this case being a comprehensive school in contemporary England. It’s a far cry from the public school Boys Own Paper-style scenario of Mawdryn Undead (another big nostalgia story with the Brigadier’s return after a seven year absence), in which the then-Doctor Peter Davison indulged his school prefect-style persona; it is on the other hand not a far cry from the shenanigans of Remembrance of the Daleks, also set in a state school and involving juveniles taken over by alien technology, and as with McCoy’s story, shares a similarly implausible tempo and comic strip pace, equally laced with palpable nostalgia and continuity. School Reunion has the excuse of being limited to only 45 minutes and considering this, it works reasonably well, at least, on all surface levels.

Sarah Jane’s return aside (for the moment), the storyline is very traditional Who, and in that sense is well-structured, exudes ‘background’, and has its loose ends tied up at the end by the Doctor; the computerized labours of the hypnotized school children (by far the best directed scenes in the episode, replete with a suitably distinctive score) and the purposes and nature of the Krillitanes is well-substantiated and rather tantalizing: this is a new alien race who take on the physical appearances of the races they infiltrate, which leaves the door open for limitlessly manifest returns in the future (not too unlike the plastic-manipulating Autons). What a pity then that this race is depicted as one uncannily similar in look to the Reapers of Father’s Day. They are well realized (considering its CGI again) as were the Reapers, but for me they just resembled them too much, and one wonders whether the current production team are running out of ideas for new alien races. I also felt the CGI grizzlies, filmic incidental music and school setting, replete with – portly – bespectacled pupil, was all very Harry Potter, not a good thing in my books; and I still don’t like this type of misty, American-style camera that’s used, notably inferior to Tooth and Claw’s grainer tones. The shot of the Krillitanes hanging upside down like bats in a darkened school room was a nice, vampiric touch, and well shot, but I couldn’t help being reminded of the – admittedly infinitely inferior – Tetraps of the horrific Time and the Rani; at least, it is the same principle of physiology anyway. There are also shades of Survival with the contemporary Earth setting, Mr Finch’s rather Anthony Ainley-esque vampiric performance and spates of electric guitar incidental music.

The initial scene of the Doctor posing as a Physics Teacher was a nice idea, and I suppose a fairly logical one if he needs to infiltrate a secondary school – but the comical repetition of the word ‘physics’ was a bit over-done I thought and one does sometimes feel Tennant is a repressed comedian in many ways, as these sorts of scenes feel ad-libbed a little bit from comic instinct. Nevertheless, this scene finally proved pivotal as he quizzed a pupil on highly complicated physics theory and received rapid, correct answers from a disturbingly astute young man (reminiscent of the subtly affecting children’s series of the 80s, Chocky, in which an alien possesses a young school boy, transforming him into a prodigy). This was a strongly realized emphasis for the Doctor’s undercover presence at the school. Having the companion posing undercover also was quite a good stroke and gave Ms Piper an opportunity to wear something other than the Peacock teen range.

It’s ironic but in many ways I think Tennant’s Doctor looks like an investigative journalist, particularly when donning his square glasses. I suppose this is at least a fresh interpretation of the character. And talking of journalists, well, of course it was genuinely really good to see Elizabeth Sladen reprise her role again (after a whopping 23 years), and I have to admit in a fairly convincing sense: rumours of an alien visitation at a state school is bound to lure in an investigative journalist after all (I was initially worried that she might have hit on hard times and ended up working as a dinner lady!). Sladen acts with the same grounded subtlety of her original days and plays her part convincingly and evenly, still very much the same Sarah Jane of old, albeit older and wiser. Her performance is first rate, and although she has some affecting passages of dialogue, she also manages to get through the slacker and more canonically intrusive sections of script in a way that makes them palatable and not seriously injurious to the legacy of her character, even if these elements on paper threaten as much.

Toby Whithouse said in the Radio Times this week when talking of how he approached writing for the programme and the central, traditionally asexual character: ‘You always have to reduce it to a human level, and that situation for the Doctor, it’s the current girlfriend meeting the ex-wife. Once you start thinking like that, it becomes easier to write’. Well now, this is very telling. Surely to write for Who is a challenge a writer should embrace? Instead Mr Whithouse clearly admits that he’d rather take the easier option, completely ignore the series’ stylistic cannon of the sexually indifferent alien wanderer, rip up the foundations laid painstakingly before him for 26 years and rapidly and clumsily inject some terrestrial testosterone into the Timelord in order to slot his script into the mould of his usual projects such as the deplorably crass soap No Angels (which has about as much to do with nursing as The Royal). I know it is RTD who has allowed this sexualisation (or ‘sexing up’) of the central alien character and his human companion, but in this episode particularly Whithouse distils this recurring solecism at potential detriment to the enduring uniqueness of the programme. It’s tantamount to implying that Sherlock Holmes slept with Dr Watson (and bar Billy Wilder’s funny but rather pointless The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes, consciously intended as a pastiche and not part of the cannon, this was never pursued in any other interpretation of that literary format).

Firstly, why does Whithouse assume one has to reduce Who to a human level when the the central character is an alien? This makes absolutely no sense whatsoever and suggests he is a writer lacking imagination, who cannot stretch beyond the format of his usual projects. Why on earth then was he commissioned at all? Well, who knows? Suffice to say the – arguably inevitable – juxtaposition of the old fatherly Doctor and daughterly assistant mould of old into something of an ex-boyfriend and ex-girlfriend scenario is the one really jarring – and sadly pivotal – element to this otherwise reasonably good episode.

Of course it’s perfectly understandable that a young girl whisked off in the Tardis by a charismatic Timelord might have in some sense become ‘infatuated’ with her cerebral knight in shining armour, but this ‘attraction’ was always previously portrayed in a purely platonic way, as if the companion idolised the Doctor on an intellectual and moral level. This is understandable and not necessarily in contradiction of the style of the original series. Where it does begin to get a bit worrying is when somehow the Doctor himself seems to be reciprocating this sentiment in the context continually referred to throughout this episode as ‘a relationship’. Well maybe it is a relationship of sorts, but what’s wrong with just ‘friendship’? Why the obsession with intensifying these semantics to imply something more romantic than platonic?

What is most annoying though is not so much the obvious torch-carrying of Sarah for the most memorable man in her life, but the now palpably romantic attachment that Rose has for the Doctor. Whithouse has managed to go even further than RTD in showing quite clearly that Rose is in love with the Doctor, not to mention fancies him. How else can one interpret her blatant jealousy regarding Sarah’s former ‘relationship’ with him and the fact that she is just one in a long line of ‘companions’ – cue such crass soap-opera lines such as ‘why didn’t you mention her before?’ and ‘I thought we were…?’ The only consolation for the latter line is that it prompts the Doctor to, albeit ambiguously, explode into an almost McCoy-esque tirade of existential isolationism, by far the best piece of script in the episode, with brutal lines such as ‘you will wither and you will die…’ For this speech alone I genuinely applaud Whithouse for re-emphasizing the solitary, unattached nature of the Doctor, ironic in that for the most of the episode around this he seems to do his level best to imply the opposite. Mr Finch’s observation of the Doctor’s timeless, bereavement-afflicted existence is also very well scripted and reminds the viewer of the necessarily solipsistic element to the central character’s emotional makeup. Nevertheless, the manipulation of Sarah’s return as personifying an ex- to threaten Rose’s current ‘relationship’ with the Doctor was an easy, cop-out gimmick, but one which ultimately and thankfully Tennant and Sladen managed to somehow skirt around, providing us with a genuinely touching and platonic goodbye scene.

Talking of Anthony Head, he puts in a solid performance and delivers his lines with resonant aplomb. Even his vampiric hissing in the Krillitane scenes is passable, though slightly hammy. All said this is a convincing new enemy, at least conceptually, and the revelation about the cooking oil as a conductor is a nice, cod-scientific touch to the plot reminiscent of the neo-science of the old days.

K-9 was nicely utilised and made a heroic last stand. It was great to have John Leeson providing the voice again (remember those terrible days in Season Seventeen when K-9 sounded like he had congenital laryngitis, courtesy of a stand-in voice?). And it was nice to see Sarah reunited with K-9 Mark IV at the end. That’s just it though, it was nice. This episode certainly panders to the old fans, which is refreshing in a way amid a re-vamping which generally undermines much of the series’ history; and it is, for this very reason, seemingly necessary as well, more so than the nostalgia-loaded Season Twenty, which sat oddly with its returning companions and enemies as scripturally and conceptually it was one of the most imaginative and innovative seasons ever (Snakedance, Enlightenment and the uniquely dissected character of companion Turlough).

Inevitably in only 45 minutes, with the return of probably the two most iconic companions of the series’ history, the actual storyline will suffer. Considering the restraints imposed on this story by its heavily nostalgic ingredients, its plot does come off quite well with, as I mentioned earlier, a conceptually unusual enemy and all the loose ends neatly tied up. Quite why Micky was present however remains a quandary as he was frankly superfluous to everything. And he’s certainly no tin dog – the tin dog has more intellect for a start!

This is a fairly respectable episode, slightly ludicrous in places though thankfully any humour present is generally underplayed; one might even read in to it some element of ‘satire’ in this school’s emphasis on IT – that Blairite infatuation. It would be interesting to know if this is one of these new-fangled grant-maintained schools.

Tennant’s portrayal is strong in places, especially regarding the ‘wither and die’ speech – this is a classic moment in the series. However, I am still not completely convinced by his incarnation. He has the eccentricity, the quirkiness, the unpredictability – but I want more gravitas, of the kind epitomised by Patrick Troughton and Tom Baker. I have to say I preferred Tennant the Scot in Tooth and Claw. How ironic that inexplicably Eccleston was directed to speak in his Salford accent, which continually jarred with the role, and yet equally inexplicably, Tennant is directed to impersonate a slightly wishy-washy English accent, instead of his native Scottish. Considering Tennant has a slightly high-pitched voice, I think the more rugged, windswept injection of the rolling Scottish intonation adds gravitas to his delivery; something I wouldn’t really have thought about had it not been for the less impressive regional accent of his predecessor (an actor perfectly capable of the old RP as shown in films such as 28 Days Later and Shallow Grave, appalling thought they are as films).

The less said for Rose the better, again. Piper is obviously quite a good actress, I don’t doubt that, but her character is getting on my nerves and has been for some time. And unfortunately, I’m not convinced that Micky will compensate for this; another reasonable actor, but sadly again, a dull and rather pointless character.

School Reunion is, largely thanks to Elizabeth Sladen, a good episode, thought nothing more than good. A couple of rungs down from Tooth and Claw, it nestles at a fair 6/10 in my books. Whithouse shows some potential as a Who writer, but he needs to realise that writing for Who is not about putting the ‘human’ in, but the ‘alien’.

FILTER: - Television - Series 2/28 - Tenth Doctor

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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."

FILTER: - Television - Series 2/28 - Tenth Doctor

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Sunday, 30 April 2006 - Reviewed by Paul Clarke

‘School Reunion’ was one of the most highly anticipated episodes of Series Two, featuring as it does the return of Sarah Jane Smith, one of the most popular Doctor Who companions of all time, and children’s’ favourite K9. In fact, despite appearances thus far in the new Doctor Who by Autons, UNIT and Daleks, as well as references to Time Lords, ‘School Reunion’ is the first episode that heavily references the classic series, with blatant references to a handful of specific stories. At the same time, it tries to place Sarah Jane and K9 within the context of the new series, and the end result is a bit… odd.

‘School Reunion’ focuses primarily on the character interaction between the Doctor’s companions, which I’ll come to shortly, but does so against the backdrop of a plot that can best be described as functional. With the Krilitanes having invaded a school so that they can use the imagination of children to crack the “cosmic code” and thus become omnipotent, the Doctor and his friends are forced to stop them in a way that tends to involve running around corridors, and ends with a rushed ending in which the school explodes. I’ll be generous and assume that the Krilitane oil is flammable, but it feels very gratuitous. In the midst of this rather pedestrian plot, there are flashes of potential, for example the nature of the Krilitanes as a composite race, but there is not time for this to be explored, so it ends up as window dressing.

Ironically, ‘School Reunion’ marks the first time since ‘Rose’ that the series has seen the Doctor (and in this case companion) already in place and investigating events when the episode begins, which is quite novel for the series, but rather less so if you’ve read the New Adventures, especially when one notes that the Doctor has rather manipulatively arranged for the teacher he replaces to win the lottery. And because of my familiarity with Doctor Who in other media, quite a lot of the aspects of this story that might seem potentially interesting feel derivative, even though in this case it is almost certainly a coincidence, especially given writer Toby Whithouse’s apparent unfamiliarity with the series. Thus, the most interesting idea hinted at here, the Stasis Paradigm, not only riffs off the idea of Block Transfer Computation first seen in ‘Logopolis’ and developed throughout the novels (most memorably in ‘Dead Romance’), it is also reminiscent of the idea of quantum mnemonics used by Craig Hinton in his novels ‘Millennial Rites’ and ‘The Quantum Archangel’. Oh, and the children sat at their alien computers with headphones is straight out of ‘Downtime’. None of which is a) intentional, and b) of any significance at all to the vast majority of viewers, but it did rather leave me feeling that I’d seen (or read) most of this before. Having said of all of that, I did like the amusingly silliness of all of that alien technology being plugged into a single overloaded electrical socket.

As for the monsters, the Krilitanes look far more effective than they did in the trailer at the end of ‘Tooth and Claw’ (c.f. the Werewolf), although the goofy teeth are perhaps a mistake. It is Anthony Stewart Head however who almost steals the show, with a slightly over-the-top performance as Mr. Finch that is never anything other than hugely watchable. Rumours abounded at one point that Head was to play the Master, and here he more or less does exactly that; he’s a gloating, well-dressed megalomaniac who gets to face off against the Doctor, and long time fans might note that if one imagines him as the Doctor’s old nemesis, Finch’s offer to share ultimate power with the Doctor isn’t a million miles away from the Master’s similar offer in Episode Six of ‘Colony in Space’.

The main focus of ‘School Reunion’ however is the return of Sarah Jane, but she reappears here as a part of an agenda. This isn’t just a happy reunion in which an old friend contacts the Doctor for tea and help, Sarah instead is used as a means of putting Rose’s relationship with the Doctor into perspective. The script does this by making Rose realize, for the first time, that she is just the latest in a long line of mostly female companions, but in order to do this it has to put Sarah and Rose on a level playing field. And the way in which it does this is… divisive. One of the most annoying aspects of the new Doctor Who, for me at least, is that Russell T. Davies has redefined the role of companion as that of a groupie; despite occasional concerns by some fans, there has not, as yet, been any “hanky-panky in the TARDIS”, and on the whole Rose’s seeming infatuation, rather than simple friendship, with the Doctor is unrequited. In order to rattle Rose’s assumptions about their relationship, the production team thus choose to retool Sarah Jane’s relationship with the Doctor (which for anyone who isn’t familiar with the classic series was usually defined as “best friends”) and the result veers widely between just about acceptable to cheapening the past.

It’s worth noting that despite the general impression that some fans have taken away from ‘School Reunion’, the episode opens with Sarah Jane investigating the school of her own accord with the sort of independence and competence exhibited by the older Sarah familiar to some fans from the Big Finish Sarah Jane Smith audio series and the novel ‘Bullet Time’. She tells Finch, “I can see everything Mr. Finch, quite clearly”, and when she’s fondly recalling her old friend “John Smith”, she gives the impression that she hasn’t thought of him in some time. It’s only when the sight of the TARDIS visibly shocks her that the script starts to try and hint that she has been pining for a lost lover for thirty years. And it does this purely for Rose’s benefit, creating a teeth-grinding situation best summed up by Mickey’s line, “The missus and the ex!” Rose is visibly shaken by the existence of Sarah, touchily snapping, “I’m not his assistant!” and telling him, “I thought you and me were… I obviously got it wrong.” This I can accept, as Rose’s infatuation with the Doctor is one of her characteristics, in much the same way that it was one of Sam’s in the Eighth Doctor novel range. Equally, I can cope with Sarah’s difficulty in coping with adjusting to her old life back on Earth after the Doctor, which is summed up nicely when she asks, “How could anything compare to that?” and there is a touching moment at the end when she tells him, “I haven’t ever thanked you for that time.” What did irritate me however is lines such as, “I know how intense a relationship with the Doctor can be”, “you never came back for me, just dumped me”, “some things are worth getting your heart broken for” and “you were my life”. Worst of all is the ghastly grandchildren exchange, which suggests that she’s spent a lonely three decades shunning other men because she’s yearning hopelessly for Time Lord cock. This might sound a tad blunt, but frankly I’d rather the Doctor weren’t effectively reduced to some lecherous old bastard who seduces young women and then swiftly replaces them when they either get tired of travelling with him or he dumps them somewhere. It makes him, I submit, seedy.

On the whole however, the return of Sarah Jane does work well. Even though her reaction to seeing the Doctor hinges on the assumption that she hasn’t seen the Doctor since ‘The Hand of Fear’, which ignores ‘The Five Doctors’ and also effectively ignores the evidence of K9 and Company, which establishes that the Doctor dropped K9 off after he left her behind and that she therefore must have known that he hadn’t died, at least not on Gallifrey. Such continuity issues won’t concern the vast majority of viewers, and nor should they, but given that we are talking about a script that specifies that this is K9 Mark III (and also makes specific references to ‘Pyramids of Mars’, ‘Planet of Evil’, ‘Death to the Daleks’, ‘Genesis of the Daleks’, ‘Terror of the Zygons’ and ‘The Deadly Assassin’, it does rather jar if you do notice such things. Nevertheless, Sarah gets some great moments, including her line, “You can tell you’re getting older, you’re assistants are getting younger” and her sparring with Rose over whose seen the most interesting things with the Doctor. Happily, Sarah wins on points, managing to startle Rose with “The Loch Ness Monster!” after which they stop bitching at one another, and their mutually laughter at the Doctor’s eccentricities is quite sweet, as too is Sarah’s indignation that the suburban street that we saw at the end of ‘The Hand of Fear’ was in Aberdeen. But mostly Sarah works because of Elizabeth Sladen; having reprised the role recently for Big Finish she knows full well how to step back into the character and despite my rant above, it is genuinely nice to see her again.

K9 meanwhile is present largely to appeal to the kids and nostalgic older viewers, and despite being largely knackered, it gets to save the day twice, firstly by zapping attacking Krilitanes out of the air and secondly by making the ultimate sacrifice in order to destroy the villains. It’s hard not to feel sad when he gets blown up at the end, although he does get a great last line, as Finch snarls, “You bad dog…” to which he smugly replies, “Affirmative.” Mind you, this is K9 we are talking about, and in time honoured tradition he gets to sound snooty and superior, especially when he patiently reminds Mickey “We are in a car” until the penny drops. John Leeson has also recently reprised his role (or rather, roles) for Big Finish and he too steps back into character with practiced ease. The poignancy of K9’s destruction is somewhat ruined by its replacement with K9 Mark IV, but it probably appeals to the kids. Otherwise, it just serves as an excuse for Sarah to sum up the previous forty-five with the sledgehammer subtle line, “He replaced you with a brand new model? Yeah, he does that…”

However, K9 also serves another function, as it puts Mickey’s relationship with the Doctor and Rose into perspective and he realises with horror, “Oh my god, I’m the tin dog!” This is significant because it leads to Mickey staying on board the TARDIS at the end of the episode, asking the Doctor, “Can I come? ‘Cause I’m not the tin dog, and I want to see what’s out there.” Since he’s more interesting by now than Rose this is more than welcome, especially when she looks jealous and petulant when the Doctor agrees. Whether or not Mickey’s new role as companion will prove an asset remains to be seen, but it’s a promising development.

As for David Tennant, he gets a good episode, even though he has to contend with such appalling dialogue as, “Physics. Physics, eh?”, “Correctomundo… a word I have never used before and hopefully never will again”, “Happy-slapping hoodies with ASBOs”. He actually delivers these better than might be expected. But he’s at his best when the Doctor meets Sarah again and looks utterly delightedly, babbling, “Nice to meet you! Yes, very nice. More than nice, brilliant!” and he does it again when he joyfully exclaims, “K9!” He also looks suitably haunted when he explains to Rose, “You can spend the rest of your life with me, but I can’t spend the rest of mine with you.” When Finch asks the Doctor to join him, Tennant makes him look first stunned and then extremely tempted as he whispers, “I could save everyone… I could stop the war”, and it seems to take Sarah to snap him out it. The earlier confrontation at the swimming pool is reasonably well staged, although the “If I don’t like it, then it will stop” and “I used to have so much mercy” lines smack again of the sort of “tell don’t show” more often seen in Russell T. Davies’ episodes. He also looks convincingly upset when he sadly says to K9, “Goodbye old friend” and it’s quite moving.

In the final analysis, and despite some strong criticisms, I largely enjoyed ‘School Reunion’ almost exclusively because of Sarah Jane and K9, but in spite of much of the script, not because of it. Ultimately, the end result is that the episode feels more like an important event within the wider context of something larger than a story in its own right, which is it’s definite weakness. One last thought: for those of you who took issue with Rose’s reaction to meeting Sarah Jane, just be glad it wasn’t Susan…

FILTER: - Television - Series 2/28 - Tenth Doctor

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Sunday, 30 April 2006 - Reviewed by Ed Martin

Okay then, in a nutshell…the Doctor meets an old companion resulting in much “you left me you cad” dialogue, all of which takes place in a school to get the kids interested, while a bunch of bat creatures try to take over the universe with super-enhanced chip-oil. Add to that a robot dog with a laser in its nose, and I’d be hard pressed to find a less enticing prospect for an episode. Actually School Reunion is okay, but rather than falling short of greatness like some other episodes do, “okay” is all this episode can ever hope to achieve. With Toby Whithouse not being a fan of the original series, it becomes a worrying sign of the way the series could go if more writers came along taking their inspiration solely from Russell T. Davies’s blueprint.

I write my reviews by going chronologically through the episode and highlighting anything interesting on the way; the first notable element is Anthony Stewart Head as Mr Finch, who immediately sees his character for what it is. Whether or not having the monsters led by a campy supervillain (apparently an “ironic” one, not that that necessarily makes a difference) detracts from their credibility, Head plays the role the only way that could possibly work: by hamming it up. It’s done with a lot of skill though, making it seem genuinely ironic (and therefore clever) rather than an attempt at it (and therefore smug). With every scene he’s in geared up to cater for his character’s cartoonish quality (“nearly time for lunch…”) he says in the pre-titles sequence, there really isn’t any other option.

Some of the Doctor’s lines are terrible (“physics, physics, physics, physics, physics, physics, physics, physics, etc”) and combined with David Tennant’s performance, which is growing increasingly irritating by this stage, the character becomes cringe-inducing. The creepy little kid with alien knowledge is contrastingly effective, and it speaks volumes when the series’s lead actor is outperformed by a twelve-year-old.

Having the episode start with the Doctor and Rose already two days into their investigations is a good use of the forty-five minute format, and throughout its length the pacing feels much more natural than with many other episodes. It isn’t structural problems that beset School Reunion. The problem is with the characters largely, and the Doctor’s line of “happy-slapping hoodies with ringtones” (or something like that) is unbearably self-conscious, the kind of pop culture reference that really needs toning down – especially with all the “eh? Eh?” stuff he gives it afterwards. Such relentless referencing of 2006 going to look so silly in years to come, you mark my words: how much would people laugh at the Jon Pertwee years if he went round with the latest Mud LP under his arm going on about greebos with flares and lapels, on space-hoppers? It’s followed by a tense scene where one of the Krillitanes gets burned by the oil – it’s only when they start cooking chips in it that it loses its allure as a science-fiction device.

It’s great to see Elisabeth Sladen again as she is a really wonderful actress and my favourite original series companion, but she shows up a flaw in the episode’s characterisation very early on: the Doctor (a complete stranger at this stage) only has to mention “John Smith” and suddenly she’s off down memory lane like somebody has flicked a switch.

Perhaps it seems odd because Sladen plays it so straight, while Anthony Stewart Ham, the Doctor’s wackiness and Mickey’s “where’s the Maths department” routine owe more of a debt to season 24. Sarah’s first sight of the TARDIS is possibly the episode’s best scene: it’s manipulative, like all the rest, but it gets away with it for being reasonably well-written and well directed by James Hawes (who still disappoints after the tour de force that was The Empty Child), although as usual Murray Gold overdoes the music. His scores for the new series are much easier on the ears than many early scores, but they can’t hope to just fade into the background, and nothing removes mystery more than having that ubiquitous “oooooooOOOOOOOOooooo” singing come floating out of nowhere whenever anything remotely enigmatic happens.

There’s yet another moment of self-referential metafiction, when Sarah responds with “okay, now I can believe it’s you” when she hears a scream. I tuned in to watch Doctor Who, not a programme about Doctor Who!

The vacuum-packed rats are a slight improvement in terms of imagery, and these little touches are what rescue the episode to an extent.

K9 makes for a large prod at my fanboy-nature but he was never my favourite original series creation.

Ordinarily the café scene would be one of those moments where the plot has to grind to a halt to allow for an emotional moment (a common fault of the new series), but it feels less obtrusive here; it takes place at night, when there’s a natural break in the narrative anyway, and the repairing of K9 gives it more of a sense of focus. However, all the “you were my life” moments are annoying, retconning the original series into line with the new series’s mawkish ethos.

I’m all for engaging with what happens to companions after they’ve left, but to have them miserable and pining is to remove all their dignity – not to mention spoiling Sarah’s wonderfully elegant departure at the end of The Hand Of Fear. It’s rescued by Mickey to a large degree, as Noel Clarke stakes a claim for the episode’s best actor. There’s some unusually crude exposition as the Doctor gives a mini lecture on the Krillitanes – a race that reshapes itself with parts of other species is a very nice idea, but since they’re sidelines for so much of the episode they can never be a classic monster and can only be relegated to the “could have been good with more care” bin.

The Doctor’s confrontation with Rose outside the café comes from an interesting perspective, asking the question “what do you do when he’s left you?” but it’s very badly handled with excessive “curse of the Time Lords” guff and the Doctor just breaking off his sentence before saying the word “love”. The are-they-aren’t-they aspect of the new series is one of its less mature features – who cares either way, where are the monsters?

The swimming pool scene, which surprisingly seems to have become one of the big set pieces of the entire second series, is a worthy moment in the episode; Head gets some interesting dialogue, and both performers do well with even Tennant quietening down for a moment.

By contrast, there’s more peculiar characterisation going on in the Maths lab: first of all the episode goes into complete continuity meltdown, referencing fourteen other episodes in the space of about half a minute, an excess to which John Nathan-Turner never stooped to even at his most insular. For some reason it triggers another random change in the characters as Rose and Sarah go from hating each other to being best friends in the space of a single line of dialogue.

School Reunion is an explicitly character driven episode, the series two equivalent of Father’s Day in that respect, and while that’s not necessarily a problem (I liked Father’s Day) it does mean that it’s a fairly basic requirement that the characters are convincing and you don’t get this by removing all trace of emotional development. What actually happens is that characters go from A to Z without ever passing through the rest of the alphabet, if you’ll pardon that horrendous analogy.

Okay, here’s a criticism that’s going to sound really unreasonable: the Scasis Paradigm is bad because it’s too interesting. That really sounds like I’m looking for things to criticise, but the reasoning is this: the thought of an equation that can unlock complete control of time and space is a massively compelling one. In fact, in the late 1970s an entire season was dedicated to a not-dissimilar concept. In this case though it serves merely as a platform for the characters to go on one emotional journey to another, and as such feels like a real wasted opportunity. What could be the best idea of the episode is thrown away.

However, it does lead to a great scene where the Doctor is tempted by the prospect of power…which is itself let down by Sarah suddenly changing her mind yet again, like she’s having a breakdown, and telling him in a great monologue (one of the new series’s trademark features) about the importance of change.

It’s quite fun watching K9 shoot at the Krillitanes and I suppose the simplicity of how the plot is resolves is proportional to how much prevalence that aspect of the episode had in the narrative anyway.

However, the children cheering as the school blows up puts the episode firmly in kids’-show territory. It finishes with a sugary-sweet ending scene where emotional dialogue, and the music to go with it, gets delivered by truck. I won’t dwell on it really as my opinion of this kind of thing is already well documented. One thing though: isn’t Sarah saying that she preferred the old TARDIS console room a bit of a v-sign at production designer Ed Thomas? Not that she’s wrong or anything.

School Reunion is one of those episodes that depends on my mood, and tonight I didn’t enjoy it that much. Looking at it more objectively I feel it just about squeaks an average rating, but only just. All I can say for it is that it doesn’t disappoint; where Tooth And Claw should have been a classic, School Reunion just settles into its furrow and stays there. A common complaint with many average episodes is that “it’s not as good as it could have been”; in this case I find myself thinking that it’s not as bad as it nearly is . The only thing I can’t work out is whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing.

FILTER: - Television - Series 2/28 - Tenth Doctor

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Sunday, 30 April 2006 - Reviewed by Eddy Wolverson

“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.”


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.

FILTER: - Television - Series 2/28 - Tenth Doctor