School Reunion.



"Ain't nothin' to do
But to set down and sing
And rock about my Sarah Jane."
-- Bob Dylan.

TV A photograph appeared in both Radio Times and Doctor Who Magazine of The Doctor embracing Sarah Jane Smith and to meet it felt like for the first time the old and new shows were joining together, that the past and present would finally become one continuity, with new fans and viewers being given a reason to revisit those old stories. It felt right. It felt good. Then I saw tonight's episode and I still can't believe just how right, and how good, this adventure would be.

I suppose once they'd decided to bring back Sarah Jane and K9, that the biggest problem was going to be creating a story that could possibly take the weight. Oddly, the resulting plot was more than a little reminiscent of the old vhs fan spin-off Downtime which equally featured Sarah investigating an alien intelligence using a school to bring about some new age. Then it all seemed a bit ponderous and the only scenes which really worked were those which tried to address the one man who was missing. 

Here it worked brilliantly well, with just the right amount of sinister goings on and in-fact, predictably I think this is as close as the series has got so far to Buffy: The Vampire Slayer. Was this a satirical swipe at Academies of Excellence? I suppose if the episode had been longer, more might have been made of the children, although the one heroic kid worked pretty well. It even had Tony 'Giles' Head and well, The Headmaster in a brilliantly sinister turn, very akin to that old librarian when he's taken a turn for The Ripper. Can we conclusively say that he died in the explosion because it would be good to have him back?

With that kind of firepower it's great to see David Tennant offering his best performance so far. This was filmed before New Earth -- which is wierd because then he still seemed to be bedding in there whereas here he's in full flow, fitting the silohette perfectly. Whether it was the presence of some of the icons of all our childhoods creating a different vibe I'm not sure but here he was The Doctor, copper bottom, unbeatable, that man, that timelord. For the first time I could see the eyes of those nine other men looking through his and felt a shiver when he said 'I'm so old ... I used to have more mercy ...'

But it was that kind of episode -- Noel Clarke gave his best work ever too (I'm actually pleased he's become a real companion which is something I would not have imagined this time last year) -- in a recent interview for Doctor Who Magazine he was a bit hard on himself for the work he's given in the past but here he's worked things out, his approach to material. The man can do comedy. It's almost as though he was channeling Nicholas 'Xander' Brendan. Billie Piper too was as amazing as ever in an episode during which she was required to be overshadowed by a visiting soul, able to continue into words all of those jealous looks over Lynda in The Parting Of The Ways.

The unknown quantity for many fans in this episode was going to be the writing of Toby Whitehouse. The first writer on the series who hasn't previous written an adventure for The Doctor in any medium, I wasn't sure if, even with all of his other tv successes, he was the man to write what would undoubtedly be a continuity fest. Again, surprised and delighted. Some of the dialogue just crackled. The bitch fest over monsters met between Sarah and Rose was perfect as was the confrontation between Mr Finch and The Doctor in the swimming pool.

Whitehouse's work perfectly captured the audience's regard for the icons of the series and, bless him, didn't completely screw up spin-off continuity. True the continuity cops will be stressing their noodles over why Sarah-Jane appears not have met The Doctor since the Fourth, even though she was in The Five Doctors, and spin-offs with Seven and Eight, but the rest of it, the short stories, the Big Finish Audios and Downtime, none of it was needlessly disregarded, their presence even gaining import because they're part of the story of a woman coping with a great loss and trying to carry on the work that she started in other times and places.

Sarah-Jane and K9's appearance here is the series first overt reference to the earlier series, which sounds silly given the dalek army last year, but it was the first time that something which happened twenty-years ago was being paid off now. The choice of this pair as the returning companions for this story was perfect. It's been said over and over that 'for people of a certain age she was definitive' and even though I'm a product of the late nineties Who I still have a place in my heart for her. Maddeningly, there will be people expressing surprise at just how good Lis Sladen was here. They'll be the people who haven't seen or heard her sterling work in keeping the character alive in countless spin-offs and radio plays over the years. She's said over and over that she didn't want this to be a cameo because she really cares about the character, and that was evident right here, in the continuity of performance, Lis delivered.

No other companion would have brought that same melancholy because he kicked her out. Not because she'd done wrong, like Adam, but because of a call from the timelords. There was no reason (other than television production issues) that he couldn't have returned and picked her up and started anew. She'd been hurt and in this new series she was allowed to show these wounds as never before.

But then there was the material concerning Rose's realisation that she wasn't the first and won't be the last. The BBC Eighth Doctor novel, Paul Leonard's Genocide covered some of the same territory with Sam Jones meeting Jo Grant, but then the resonance disipated because that adventure had other concerns. Here it was perfectly handled with The Doctor finally having to explain why he would leave these people, whom he called his best friend behind, never to be spoken of again. When The Doctor said she could travel with him for the rest of her life, the long term fan knew that he didn't mean it, that he said that to all the girls from Vicki to Charlie, then he said why. I don't know about you, but my heart broke.

And it broke again at the end with the death of K9. I knew this was gong to happen after the sodding tabloids broke the story late last year but it didn't make it any more heartbreaking, especially after he returned, not just for a cameo as a coffee table or whatever, but dramatically saving the day as he always has. After we lost one during the final Big Finish Gallifrey play last year, to lose another and again in such a heroic fashion was terrible. But then the TARDIS dematerialised and there was another. Does that make him up to K9 Mark IV?

James Hawes direction was yet again inspired in places and for the second episode running Murray Gold's score didn't intrude and actaully worked with rather than against the drama, the introduction of the theme to introduce the TARDIS back to Sarah-Jane and the showdown in swimming pool being examples of perfectly capturing the mood. The creature effects were superb too -- I think we've seen the last of the rubber/cg mix that stunted the slitheen for the last time.

I'm going overboard with bliss. This may have been a perfect episode.

And you know - I didn't cry -- until that final embrace, then Sarah and her robot dog walking into the sunset.

Buckets.

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