THIS EPISODE TAKES
PLACE BETWEEN THE
NOVEL "THE FEAST OF
THE DROWNED" AND
THE TV EPISODE "THE
GIRL IN THE FIREPLACE."
'THE COMPLETE SECOND
SERIES' CYBERMAN HEAD
AMAZON EXCLUSIVE DVD
BOX SET (BBCDVD2122)
RELEASED IN NOVEMBER
THE DOCTOR MEETS AN
OLD FRIEND, SARAH
JANE SMITH, AND ROSE
DISCOVERS THE LEGACY
OF BEING A TIME LORD'S
29TH APRIL 2006
“The missus and the ex. Welcome to every man’s worst nightmare!”
Mickey may have put the Doctor’s position in School Reunion into words very succinctly,
but for any long standing fan of the series this episode is about as far from a nightmare as you can get. Indeed, Toby Whithouse’s first script for the series manages to work as both
a modern-day Doctor Who horror story and a cracking piece of emotional drama. School Reunion may bring back characters and dwell on certain events from the show’s past, but
it is far from being gratuitous fan service – this is a story that explores the relationship bet-ween the Doctor and Rose (and even, to a certain extent, Mickey) with real finesse and it
is with a view to this exploration that Sarah Jane Smith and K-9 have been brought back.
“Oh good for you, Sarah Jane Smith!”
Like most viewers, I could not
believe my eyes when I saw how
little Elisabeth Sladen had aged.
Her understated introduction into
the episode is delightfully written
and performed, and succeeds in quickly establishing the character of dogged ‘Investigative Journalist’ Sarah Jane Smith for the benefit of those new to Doctor Who. I love the Doctor’s initial reaction to her; he is clearly overjoyed to see her, but obviously can’t give away that he recognises her. I love the line “oh good for you, Sarah Jane Smith!” which is delivered with suitable 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 now that she’s all grown up.
As I watched Sarah happen upon the TARDIS I found myself right on the edge of my seat. James Hawes’ direction is absolutely fantastic - Sarah turns slowly to face ‘Mr John Smith’ and the penny finally drops. It’s the Doctor. And 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, it seems) way back in The Hand of Fear. She’s grown up. She’s even become a little astringent. As Sarah herself puts it, “I got old.” The Doctor claims to have regenerated “half a dozen times” since they last met (best not to think too hard about when that actually was, given the events of The Five Doctors etc), and he too has grown older and harder.
“I thought you died. I waited for you and you didn’t come back and I thought you must’ve died.”
Tennant’s voice sounds as if it as about to crack as tells Sarah that “everyone died”. And though we’ve heard his sad tale before, it feels all the more tragic this time around as the Doctor is telling it to an old friend; a friend who knew him back when there was a Gallifrey and a UNIT family, things for the Doctor that are now distant memories. The dour moment
is not dwelt upon though; in typical Doctor Who style, the scene suddenly turns to action courtesy of a Mickey Smith scream. Even when at its ‘soapiest’, this show never slows.
However, whereas Sarah Jane is most probably the most recognisable of all the Doctor’s travelling companions and it’s a real joy to see her return, the real story of School Reunion lies with Rose. It’s no longer 1976, it’s 2006 (…ish. The series is supposedly running a year or so ahead of the real world), and it’s Rose, not Sarah Jane, who we are watching week-in week-out.
“Did I do something wrong because you never came back for me? You just dumped me.”
Since Rose the relationship between the Doctor and his ‘companion’ has been portrayed
as a strange sort of love story; a special, one of a kind affair between a young human girl and centuries’ old alien being. School Reunion, however, hammers home the idea that this 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, and then the next she found herself lost in the middle of Aberdeen. How could she go back and lead a normal life after that? And more to the point, how will Rose be able to go back once her adventures with the Doctor come to an end? 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?”, but at least back then, Rose was under the illusion that what she has with the Doctor is somehow exclusive, and that in some way he would always remember her as being spcial. Her resentful 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 never gets a mention.
Whithouse deals with this delicate subject matter with outstanding poise. Though everything is understated, somehow it feels like it’s out in the open. When having it out with Rose, the Doctor manages to hold himself back from saying that pivotal word, though it was patently
on the tip of his tongue. But with actors like David Tennant and Billie Piper, that word isn’t necessary. The dialogue sparkles as it is and most people can reasonably infer what the Doctor is thinking and feeling.
“...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.”
But with all the heavyweight drama going on in School Reunion, it’s easy to forget about Mickey Smith, who is going on an important character journey of his own. Ever since day
one Mickey has been the comic relief in the show, and though his self-confidence is visibly growing with each episode he remains the butt of all the jokes. 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 intelligent writing and superb acting from Noel Clarke has made me warm to the character more and more. Don’t get me wrong, I have never disliked the character – I’ve always found him amusing, even when he was a selfish coward - but of late I’ve found myself actively championing him. I want him to do well; I want him to save the day or get the girl. Mr “Safety Scissors and Glitter” brings something special to every scene that he is in; even when he has no dialogue, his facial expressions alone often have me cracking up. And, 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.
“Oh my God. I’m the tin dog!”
Of course, hidden behind the compelling character-driven story is a suitably chilling horror tale, 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
all the same. We have Krillitane flying in front of the moon; zombified children enslaved to their computers (very Business Unusual!); dinner ladies being immolated... and then on
top of all that, the peerless Anthony Head (Little Britain, Doctor Who: Excelis) as Krillitane headmaster Mr Finch.
Now Head can exude evil like the best of them, but unlike most he is able to successfully combine it with seductive charm - he can stand on top of the school and iniquitously whisper “come to me” to one of the Krillitanes in one scene, and then in the next slickly try to turn the Doctor to his cause. That said, I was also impressed by Eugene Washington as Mr Wagner – in many ways I found him even more chilling than Mr Finch.
“I’m so old now. I used to have so much mercy. You get one warning.”
In the beautifully shot ‘western showdown’ at the swimming pool almost every element is perfect - writing, acting, lighting, music, direction; you name it. And for those out there who doubted that Tennant might not have Christopher Eccleston’s gravitas, this scene – just like the now-infamous ‘satsuma’ scene from The Christmas Invasion – must surely put paid to any such fears.
However, what really impressed me about the scene (and indeed, the episode thereafter) was how it managed to sew a lingering seed of doubt in the mind of the viewers about the Doctor. By using the school’s children to crack the “Skasas Paradigm”, Finch can offer the Doctor absolute power over everything; quite literally power over life and death. He could resurrect the Time Lords, not to mention all the companions that he’s lost over the centuries.
“No. The universe has to move forward. Everything has its time and everything ends”
However, whereas if he were on his own in that definite ‘Anakin Skywalker’ crisis moment the Doctor might have broken and gone all Valeyard on us (after all, the Krillitane plot isn’t evil per se…), here Sarah Jane is on hand to remind him exactly why he shouldn’t. Why he can’t. And it‘s only as she says the words - “The universe has to move forward. Everything has its time and everything ends” (misquoting the ninth Doctor) – that she seems to realise what they actually mean and thus, for the first time since the Doctor abandoned her to return to Gallifrey, Sarah Jane gains some measure of closure.
“You good dog.”
K-9’s heroic sacrifice was something of an unexpected choker; but like Sarah Jane, I felt strange being saddened by the death of the “daft metal dog” (or as Finch brilliantly put it, the “shooty dog thing”). That said, I suppose if you can get cut up over the android Data’s death in Star Trek: Nemesis, then you can reasonably grieve for the third incarnation of a tin dog. I have to say though, I was annoyed at the Nemesis-style cop-out right at the end – how many K-9’s are there going to be?
“Some things are worth getting your heart broken for.”
Resurrections notwithstanding, this episode’s ending is gratifying on so many levels. It is nice to see the Doctor offer Sarah Jane a chance to pick up where they left off, even though he knows that she will turn him down because she has a “bigger adventure ahead”, and the look on Sarah Jane’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! Incidentally, it’s interesting that Rose doesn’t seem too happy about her pseudo-boyfriend signing up for
the trip of a lifetime. As they say, three’s a crowd…
On a final note, throughout School Reunion I found Murray Gold’s score to be incredibly commanding; it reminds me a lot of the epic soundtrack to last season’s Dalek episodes, affording the episode a real sense of gravity. Further, a beautiful, soft, instrumental version Song for Ten contrasts the final scene of the episode with everything that has gone before
it as Sarah Jane forces the Doctor to say goodbye to her this time. There’s not a dry eye in the house.
“Goodbye my Sarah Jane!”
As was the case with last year’s much-hyped episode Dalek, the Bank Holiday weekend prevented me from watching this historic episode as it went out live on Saturday evening (this year blame the Kaiser Chiefs in Leeds’ Millennium Square) but, as with Dalek, it was certainly worth the wait. Chilling scenes of horror, affecting character drama, truly fantastic dialogue (“happy slapping hoodies with ASBOs and ringtones!”) and even a retro robot dog mean that there is a little bit of something for everyone in School Reunion.
Copyright © E.G. Wolverson 2006
E.G. Wolverson has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988 to be identified as the author of this work.
A good old fashioned continuity quagmire:-
The dialogue in this story suggests that Sarah has forgotten the events of The Five Doctors, Interference and Bullet Time (which she evidently survived).
Sarah having forgotten the events of the The Five Doctors is plausible given the naturally-secretive Time Lords’ involvement in that particular story (though it does beg the question as to why she was so cordial towards the Doctor(s) on that occasion, when here she is demonstrably furious about being abandoned at the end of The Hand of Fear) and the events of Interference were later retconned rather neatly by the Doctor erasing Faction Paradox (and thus the events of Interference) from history in The Ancestor Cell.
Bullet Time is ostensibly a little trickier to reconcile, however Sarah’s survival in itself proves that she didn’t perish at the end of that novel (as the author strongly implied, and I would imagine intended). It is therefore reasonable to speculate that the trauma of her near-death experience in that story caused a sort of memory blank / fugue, and given the Doctor’s behaviour in that story he’s hardly likely to go reminding Sarah of it.
When is now? This episode takes place between The Christmas Invasion (Christmas 2006) and Rise of the Cybermen (Saturday 6th January 2007), during the first week of January 2007. This is a squeeze but, slave-drivers or no, the local EA wouldn’t have let the Krillitanes open a school over the Christmas holidays!
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