Review: School Reunion

Last Alteration: Monday 08 May 2006

"Give Sarah Jane Smith my fondest love. Tell her I shall remember her always." - K-9, in "K-9 and Company", 1981.

"School Reunion" was an extraordinary episode, worthy of both old and new Who. It served as a smart, well-paced adventure that didn't require an understanding of the Doctor's past to appreciate the pathos, fun and seriousness of a "missus meeting the ex" scenario.

It was also a nostalgic trip for fans of Sarah Jane and her trusty tin friend which, sensitively written and acted, added weight to the enigma that is The Doctor.

Whereas we're used to the love story of Doctor Nine/Ten and Rose Tyler, this was about a different, classic series love, rekindled after three decades.

But rather than resorting to a fanw*nky continuity-laden script, bogged down by references to Harry and the Brigadier (bless them) or the second Kraal from the left in 4J, the script was filled with easy-to-follow mentions which served as foundation stones for the situation.

Toby Whithouse's script buzzed; there were crisp one-liners; jousts of claims and counter-claims: "The Loch Ness Monster.... Seriously?"; in-jokes: "You can keep K-9 company......"; and wonderfully considered, touching moments of dialogue ensuring that that this fan blubbed like a baby or laughed out loud through most of the 45 minutes.

The adventure is a well-executed and darn good yarn in itself, but is simple enough not to become more important than the emotional drama unfolding around it.

The actual concept is a good one: alien cherry-pickers invade a secondary school for galactic/dimensional domination by means of children's souls. Far-fetched, but typical, wonderful Who.

The special effects are magnificent, with the Krillitanes very well realised and almost provided light relief between the emotional bits! But they would surely be scary for the young, and if would-be secondary schoolers aren't just a little bit concerned about what lies in store for them, I'd be surprised.

Murray Gold's use of the orchestra and choir complemented the action admirably, and his use of the Song for Ten was insightful.

The supporting cast are great in this episode, with Tony Head excelling particularly, dripping malevolence from the pre-titles onwards, as he eats young children and staff for lunch.

James Hawes is my favourite director of the new series; his style is pacy and cinematic, and his direction adapts to each different type of story . Here he achieves a lot with a single shot or a well-lit camera angle - a sudden view of a blue box that shocks Sarah Jane into realising her old travelling companion is nearby, a lone tin dog appearing beyond the wheezing and groaning of a disappearing TARDIS, a hug between departing friends.

Hawes' direction of the scene where they acknowledge each other is an electric moment for Doctor Who and is truly magnificent television.

The Doctor's reaction is wonderful as he slowly realises Sarah is back. He's seen his friend, whom he probably thought he'd never seen again. He's surprised, and very, very happy. "Oh good for you, Sarah Jane Smith." "My Sarah Jane", back from the companion junkyard of Croydon (near Aberdeen).

And Lis Sladen. What can be said? Always a favourite companion, it was very clever to bring her back alongside the established Rose. One of the few truly self-sufficient companions, SJS was still the same, even in her late fifties. In a moment echoing the Genesis of the Daleks "You must do it" scene, it is Sarah who tries to convince the slightly-tempted Doctor that he mustn't fall in with Finch's plans, as "Everything has its time, and everything ends".

In what should be her swansong, Lis picked up the role she knows so well and gave one of her best ever performances. She was the best thing in "School Reunion", and the good use of her character in terms of emotional development (for her, the Doctor and for Rose) was pure genius.

This is a memorable conclusion for Sarah Jane's story in Who, and at same time managed to deliver real development - after 43 years! - of the Doctor's character.

We get to understand why the other Doctors have sometimes seemed detached. The Doctor cares, but his feelings are compromised by the reality that he lives for hundreds of years. Loved ones will grow old, but he will not:

"I lived. Everyone died."

And Rose's story. After all, we can't have an episode of Who without a Rose story!

I'm sure her jealousy will develop throughout the series as she comes to terms with the fact that she's not as unique as she may have thought. She initially distrusts SJS' intentions, perhaps believing that,"with the big sad eyes and the robot dog" she will try to take the Doctor away from her. But by the end, they understand each other, with Sarah even suggesting that, post-Doctor, Rose would be welcome to find her. She also offers advice: "Some things are worth getting your heart broken for."

And the nostalgia continued with another truly iconic blast from the past. K-9 was as endearing as ever. He was, indeed, so very "disco", but my affection him has never waned over the years, and I shed another tear or two at the sadness of his demise. But he had been well used, and played an important and amusing role in this episode. He managed to save the day again, giving Mickey a reason to travel in the TARDIS. Now Mickey will need to prove that he's more top dog than tin dog.

All in all, "School Reunion" was in my view the best of the Tennant stories so far. It appealed to new and old viewers alike, and was one of the very strongest of stories emotionally since the series returned.

Andy KM