At the risk of sounding like Paul Whitehouse’s dim witted teen from the Fast Show, nearly everything in this episode was just brilliant. Sarah Jane Smith, now there’s a name that summons up memories from my childhood. As much as Tom Baker was my Doctor, she was my companion and I remember the terrible sadness I felt when the Doctor left her in ‘Croydon’ after being summoned to Gallifrey to stop an assassin so deadly. Now Elisabeth Sladen can finally put to rest her Mum’s Gone To Iceland image and once again adopt her rightful place and the best companion that ever was. This surely was the new series episode for the golden age fans. Yeah sure the kids will love the idea of teachers turning into bats and blowing up the school ala Buffy, but for me, this wasn’t about those explosive and scary moments, it was about reminiscing, about reconciliation and about the value of past friendships. Hold on, sorry I’m starting to sound like a party political broadcast here, I apologise.
This was human interest at its very Doctor Who best. Like the Reapers of Father’s Day and the Autons in Rose, the plot and the Krillitanes were just eye candy, never getting in the way of the wonderful inter play between Sarah Jane and the Doctor, or Sarah Jane and Rose, or Sarah Jane and any damn scene she shared with anyone or was in.
Sladen was superb as “my Sarah Jane”, but not so much from the performance as from the script and her interaction with the Doctor and Rose. I adored the one-upmanship and the fact that the new series doesn’t simply revisit the original show, but it challenges it, forces it to confront the problems that were ignored or swept under the TARDIS carpet. It’s bringing the Doctor and the original series to task, posing adult questions for childhood fans who have grown up with the show and delight in picking each episode apart. And it does this without ever interfering with the virgin audience. It doesn’t matter if new fans have never met her before, it’s all in Tennant’s glorious performance, from the glazing over of the eyes at his first sight of SJS, to the final goodbye. I love these moments in Doctor Who, when you realise that this man for all his regenerations and different character traits, is the same person. He is the Doctor and this is my show, the one I fell in love with all those years ago. It’s partly for this reason that I blubbed like a baby at the end of the episode. I loved K9 as a child, I loved SJS and I loved the series. Those final few minutes transported me back to more innocent times, to being thrilled by a television programme and experiencing the show as only a child can, with wonder, with belief in the events and not the mechanics behind how the programme is made. When the Doctor finally says goodbye to her, it seemed as if he were closing a chapter not only for Sarah Jane, but for the child still within me. Seeing K9 mark IV was just the icing on the cake. It couldn’t have ended on a cynical note. We can’t be allowed to grow up too soon and accept the death of a much loved (and yes, for some much hated) companion, even if he is tin. Will we see them again? Should we? Well I hope so, but perhaps not in Doctor Who… wait a minute, what’s that I hear about a spin-off?
It’s also interesting that Rose seems to be much more on the periphery, not only in this episode but also Tooth and Claw. Rose and the Doctor aren’t stuck together like toffee as in series one and it’s as it should be. This Doctor just doesn’t seem to fancy her as much, and while he gives her that wonderful speech about never growing old, that forced distance is all too apparent. Oh I love this show. It will be interesting to see how the Doctor pushes Rose out in the next episode, especially now that the TARDIS dynamic has been disrupted yet again by poor old Mickey.
Anthony Head was superbly arch and sinister, maintaining a very fine line between ham and evil, overstepping it only when that bad dog was vexing him. Let’s face it, K9 does seem to bring out the very worst (or is that best) in pantomime villainy (see The Ribos Operation). And I don’t care what anyone says, not even RTD. Head was the Master, not the headmaster. Let me live out my fantasy. Of course RTD was playing with our expectations, he likes his games. We’re given two old characters so why not a third for this reunion? He even has Finch stood against the door revealing only the “ad master”. Genius. And did you know that finch is Latin for Master? In fact if you rearrange the letters in Finch, that spell out Chinf which is the first word uttered by Roger Delgado when he was a baby. Strange but oh so true. I also have this notion that if Finch could take part of the Doctor, wouldn’t he be part Time Lord, wouldn’t he grow a beard and wear black a lot?
The story was an enjoyable romp, moving too quickly to highlight any cracks and implausible moments (and I know there were many, as the Sofa reviews testify) but let’s face it, if you start picking away at the minutiae you may as well say that Jaws was a bad film because of the fake shark. It’s amusing to consider that in School Reunion there is a concerted effort to undermine and deride Jamie Oliver’s crusade into banishing chips from the school lunch menu. It seems that all our friendly fried potatoes can do is increase our intelligence – ah, but at what price? OK Jamie maybe you have got a point, although what real harm was it doing to the kids? They got to sit in front of computers all day playing Boggle Extreme.
Sarah Jane Smith I salute you - you and your tin dog. You've made me forget all about New Earth and have set a vert high standard for the rest of the series. You've reminded me that Doctor Who is a magical show and that big boys do cry.