Doctor Who #728: School Reunion

"The missus and the ex. Welcome to every man's worst nightmare."
TECHNICAL SPECS: First aired Apr.29 2006.

IN THIS ONE... Sarah Jane Smith and K9 are back!

REVIEW: The first classic companions return and it's the second episode in a row to more or less set up a spin-off series. Is that why none of Series 2's episodes have been definite hits yet? Is Davies perhaps a bit too concerned with developing the Doctor Who brand? It probably only feels like it in retrospect. If I'm disappointed, it's not because of Lis Sladen's return to the series, quite the opposite. It's the plot (again). Monsters in school is a good idea for Who and resonates with the very first episode (in fact, one of super-smart kids gets asked a question Susan was asked by Ian in An Unearthly Child), and I do like putting the kids to work on breaking the God Code, which ties into Terminus' conception of the universe as something that can be altered by consciousness. The rest of it a bunch of plot holes, however, and the Krillitanes feel plugged into a story not their own. They've got their own intriguing modus operandi, and then also this God Code thing that has nothing to do with it, really. And they're really obvious monsters, appearing in their natural forms in front of Kenny, the loser whose mom won't let him eat brain-enhancing chips, and they play the bit in which a lunch lady blows up for laughs, in front of human beings. What's the deal with their being allergic to their own secretions? How can such a species survive if it's toxic to itself? And why is Torchwood blocking Mickey's efforts to look in on the school? Are they working with the Krillitanes, or planning to take their oil or computers? Why does everyone cheer for Kenny at the end when so far as they know, the school staff WEREN'T monsters? And tonally, it's this big comedy with well-animated but cartoony CG monsters that eat children and adults alike, which is just a shade too gruesome. Shoddy, shoddy, shoddy.

It's really the guest stars who save it. Anthony Head is a worthy opponent for Tennant's Doctor, eerily precise and lizard-like in his movements, something only the male of the species needs to do, if we go by the various Krillitanes in human guise we see. Too bad he has to utter terrible lines like "the shooty dog thing". His confrontation with the Doctor at the pool is a highlight, and for once, there's a species who knows of the Time Lords, but not of the Time War, or else the dialog about them being peaceful to the point of indolence - true of the old days - would be nonsense. His subsequent attempt at seducing the Doctor with the power to rewrite history almost works, but Sarah Jane breaks the spell by accepting her own mortality and that of her relationship to the Doctor. She's the voice of reason, and completely worthy of the attention the BBC will lavish on her later. So yes, Lis Sladen. Sarah Jane. Wow. When the Doctor first lays eyes on her, it's a moment informed by David Tennant's fanboy crush, one many fans of the classic era empathize with, and it's a moment that's only become more poignant with Sladen's passing. An actress who lets every little nuance play on her face, she correctly identifies Sarah's resentment at having been left behind, at her replacement by Rose (better not tell her about all the intervening assistants), her bittersweet ambivalence at leading a life inspired by the Doctor's, and the veteran's wisdom that allows her to become friends with Rose (though the script doesn't quite avoid being cheesy now and again).

Controversially, her relationship to the 3rd and 4th Doctors is a bit of a retcon. Sarah wasn't exactly "dumped" at the end of a great journey. She was special among companions in that she was frequently dropped off on Earth, because her life WASN'T the Doctor. She was investigating all manner of weirdness on her own, as a journalist, even when he wasn't around. She had her own adventures and intermittently went off with the Doctor. But perhaps she remembers it wrong, hurt that the wait between trips took way too long between The Hand of Fear and School Reunion (she doesn't seem to remember The Five Doctors). But what's perhaps most controversial is the way the episode treats their relationship as a romantic one, just like the one he enjoys with Rose. For comedy's sake, yes, that's how it plays, the girls getting catty, then friendly and giggling at their "boyfriend"'s little quirks. However, since on the show there was never a hint of anything more than a friendship - say, like Doc10 and Donna's - so I'm easily able to read it as jealousy about who gets to have these wild adventures and see the whole of time and space. Rose, of course, is jealous for other reasons, because it makes her feel less special and her feelings ARE romantic (so she may think there was always romance in the TARDIS - still, better not tell her about Romana or Grace or Charley). She has a reason to be jealous too, because not only is she relegated to going undercover as a lunch lady while the Doctor enjoys the comforts of the teachers' lounge, as soon as Sarah Jane shows up, SHE'S the companion and Rose has very little to do. Inviting Sarah aboard after they reconcile could have been a miscalculation on her part, seeing as the writers are already unsure what to so with her. She might have been sidelined entirely. Still, I do like the way Sarah becomes an older sister to her, leaving her with an invitation to one day come and find her.

School Reunion's subplot is about the tin dogs, characters only there as technical support, and it's amusing to see Mickey realize he's New Who's equivalent of K9, a character that's not required in every story, and then only really used to do techie stuff and made jokes about. It's a coming of age for Mickey though. He's now comfortable enough with having lost Rose to the Doctor that he can joke about it with the two of them. He's a pal, not a lover, and he's fine with that, but not above giving Rose a taste of her own cruel medicine. Between that and having helped saved the world a couple times, he's now ready to join the crew of the TARDIS. Before, he might have come to get Rose back, now it's about controlling his own destiny. The Doctor had invited him before, so he readily accepts, but Rose isn't so happy about it. He's spoiling her fun. The next episode seems to forget this reaction, so maybe it's more about Sarah's refusal and not getting her way. Because really, would it have been any less awkward trying to romance the Doctor with Sarah Jane there? The other tin dog sacrifices himself, etc., but almost immediately returns, so you'll excuse me for not shedding a tear. Let's just say I'm not particularly nostalgic for K9.

VERSIONS: Deleted scenes on the DVD include an expanded role for Kenny (mostly that he has a bully and his working out verbally how to distress the Krillitanes with the fire alarm. There's also more "comedy" about the Krillitanes chowing down on humans.

In the TARDISode, Mickey is looking at UFOs online when a big Torchwood pop-up blocks his access (that is very dumb of a secret organization), so he calls Rose on her superphone.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium-High - The plot's nonsense, but the return of Lis Sladen as Sarah Jane Smith alone makes this one to watch.


Toby'c said...

I wonder if the line about the Doctor regenerating "half a dozen times" since they last saw each other and the contradiction with The Five Doctors was the impetus for the reveals in The Name of the Doctor and The Night of the Doctor.

snell said...

"Why does everyone cheer for Kenny at the end when so far as they know, the school staff WEREN'T monsters?"

I think that children at any school would cheer for the person who blew up their school/"prison"--monsters or not.

Presumably Sarah Jane (and the other non-Time Lords) had their memories wiped after The Five Doctors...

Siskoid said...

Toby: Probably not, because as Snell says, the ppl involved in The Five Doctors likely got their memories wiped by the Time Lords (or else she'd know he had continued to travel with other companions like Tegan). But it certainly fits!

Snell: Maybe, though since no teachers or staff made it out, and all these kids were over-achievers who presumably liked school (thanks to the chips, but still), it seems a strange caricature. Like many plot holes, it could have been fixed with a single line of dialog, perhaps about how the kids snap out of some mind control caused by the computers/oil.

Timothy S. Brannan said...

I'll admit it. I squealed like a little kid when I saw K9.

Unknown said...

Sarah Jane Smith is my absolute favourite companion of all time.
Loved the banter between her and Rose, and Loved K9!

Pedro Cabezuelo said...

I'm not going to lie, I cried like four times throughout this episode. And yes, purely for nostalgia reasons as the story itself is a bit mundane. But damn was it good to see Sarah Jane again, and K9 (funnily, I was never a huge fan of his but his reappearance here thrilled me to no end and his sacrifice still brings a lump to my throat - despite his resurrection).

From a character perspective, I think Sarah's hurt feelings may come from the fact that it wasn't her choice to leave the TARDIS in the Hand of Fear. In the past she would have taken time off from the Doctor on her terms - in this case it was good-bye without a definite 'I'll be back.' Also, I had a girlfriend in the early 90s who watched Who and was convinced the Doctor and Sarah were a couple. Guess she was ahead of her time.

Siskoid said...

It was arguably on her terms, because she's the one that huffs and puffs and wants to leave and has had enough... until the Doctor says he's got to go to Gallifrey alone and she makes an about-face and says it was all a joke. In the end, she didn't want to go, but y'know, be careful what you wish for.

And they were no more boyfriend and girlfriend than Steed and Mrs. Peel. Ok, I see what you mean.

Bill D. said...

Every time I've rewatched this since Lis Sladen passed away I always find myself crying a little at the end when she finally makes the Doctor say goodbye. Hell, it was tear-inducing enough when it first aired and she was still alive!

Siskoid said...

For me, it's the very first moment the Doctor sees her. Puts my heart in a vise.

jdh417 said...

One of my favorite episodes. Even before Liz passed away, I'd get choked up at the end. "My Sarah Jane," Tennant earned the role if for no other reason, than his reading of that line.

Unfortunately, this episode also featured one of the worst wastes of a guest star. Anthony Stewart Head did a great job as the headmaster. How much better how it have been if he'd been The Master?

Siskoid said...

I think he would have been up for it too.

Jeremy Patrick said...

On the point about Torchwood being not-so-good at secrecy. I always liked how their SUV is branded with the name of the organization!

Siskoid said...

TW Cardiff certainly isn't very secret. Could anything run by Captain Jack ever be?


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