2.3 – “School Reunion”
After a tip-off from Mickey, The Doctor and Rose head undercover to investigate a school in which pupils are displaying intelligence far beyond their capabilities. With the help of former companion Sarah Jane Smith and sidekick K-9, the gang discover that several teachers, including the school’s headmaster Mr Finch, aren’t as human as they appear…
It’s always good to see The Doctor in a “normal” setting; in many ways, he’s never more alien than when posing as a human and although we don’t see as much of him pretending to be regular John Smith in this episode as we do in others, the glimpses we get are enjoyable. There’s something additionally unsettling about the action taking place in a school too. Alien planets and trips back in time are fantastic, but when the show takes a location that is familiar to everyone watching and manages to make it scary and unfamiliar, it only serves to remind the viewer just how clever Doctor Who can be.
The concept of the episode is a good one; the idea of a school where the pupils are unnervingly well-behaved and impossibly bright, rather than being “happy slapping hoodies with ASBOs and ringtones” is eerily sinister. Of course the clues are there right from the start, when a dinner lady informs the Doctor and Rose that the school’s menu “has been designed by the headmaster to improve concentration and performance” and later, when a barrel of cooking oil is spilt, it appears that one of the dinner ladies is a goner after getting splashed by the stuff. There’s enough intrigue at play to keep you guessing for a while as to what’s really going on. Whilst there may not be the horror of a Dalek Fleet to have you hiding behind the sofa, there are certainly plenty of tense moments and the sight of dozens of children plugged into their school computers, tapping away like zombies, is genuinely unnerving.
Of course, the episode’s emotional heart is found with the return of Sarah Jane Smith. Ever the inquisitive journalist, Sarah Jane is also investigating the goings-on at Deffry Vale and Lis Sladen’s reappearance in the show is enough to delight any fan. The Doctor’s reaction as Mr Finch introduces Sarah Jane in the staff room is beautifully understated from David Tennant, who manages to convey a whole range of emotions without speaking a single word. As he and Sarah Jane shake hands, The Doctor is clearly delighted to see his former companion and the way Tennant’s voice cracks with barely disguised feeling is lovely. Lis, always a great actress as well as a much-loved companion, portrays Sarah Jane’s shock at seeing the TARDIS and realising that “John Smith” is The Doctor wonderfully. There appears to be a genuine chemistry between Sladen and Tennant, which fits the tone of the episode perfectly. Although The Doctor has regenerated since Sarah Jane last saw him, their interactions show that, at his heart(s), he’s the same man he has always been.
Having such a popular classic companion appear in the modern incarnation of the show gives us the chance to answer questions that many Whovians have long asked themselves; what happens to the companions once their time with the Doctor is through? Does he remember them? What would happen if two of them were to meet? Rose and Sarah Jane take an immediate dislike to one another, providing some comic relief to the deep emotional content. The scene in which The Doctor’s former companion and his current sidekick attempt to outdo each other in terms of the adventures they’ve had is a great piece of writing and, indeed, a brilliant bit of acting from Lis Sladen and Billie Piper. When the two women finally realise their common bond, the friendship they forge appears genuine, albeit occasionally at The Doctor’s expense.
Meeting Sarah Jane also gives Rose a chance to analyse her own relationship with The Doctor. This leads to an exchange between the two that has become an almost immediate classic, The Doctor telling her that she can spend her whole life travelling with him, but he can’t do the same with her. It’s loaded with emotion and offers us a glimpse of what life is like for The Doctor; often surrounded by people but, ultimately, always alone.
K-9’s appearance in the episode is yet another nod to the classic era and it’s hard not to be touched when our favourite tin dog sacrifices himself for his master (but don’t phone the RSPCA just yet, The Doctor does fix him at the end of the episode).
While the emotional content takes centre stage, the drama doesn’t suffer for it. Once The Doctor realises that he’s dealing with Krillitanes, he gets straight down to the business of stopping them in their tracks. The Krillitanes are using the pupils of Deffrey Vale in an effort to solve the “Skasis Paradigm” – the theory of everything. Cracking the code will allow them to become Gods and we get an interesting confrontation between Mr Finch and The Doctor, in which Finch tries to tempt The Doctor into joining the Krillitanes with the promise of saving the Time Lords and eradicating human mortality. We see that The Doctor is tempted and, yet again, Tennant shows us a flash of his loneliness and the difficulty he faces being the last of his kind. Sarah Jane’s pleas to him are bittersweet – she’s begging him not to do something that would enable her to be young and to travel with him forever.
Again, the emotion is tempered with several minutes of high-tempo action as the Krillitane are defeated, saving the episode from ever becoming schmaltzy. Even Sarah Jane’s final goodbye to The Doctor, as she turns down his invitation to join him, Rose and Mickey aboard the TARDIS is played perfectly – sad, beautiful, but never OTT. A fitting farewell to a much-loved companion and the ideal starting point for the hugely successful Sarah Jane Adventures. We also get a nice touch of foreshadowing for the end of the season, when Sarah Jane tells Rose to stay with The Doctor, because “some things are worth getting your heart broken for.”
This episode was about more than just scary monsters and The Doctor swooping in to save the day. It was a poignant reference to The Doctor’s past and indeed his future, with two companions examining their relationship with him and accepting how he has changed their lives. The balance between emotion and drama was just about spot on too. For that reason alone, it deserves a high score. I’m giving it a solid 8/10.
Written and edited by Emma Tofi