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May 03, 2006

The Ex-Factor

I must admit that I wasn’t particularly looking forward to this episode when it was announced. I have bad memories of K9 & Company and I just thought that it would probably be more like a retread of that.

I also wasn’t sure whether bringing back, not just one, but two, former companions of the Doctor would be such a good idea only two series in to the revamped series.

Yes, they had Daleks and Autons in the previous season but they were just monsters. It is different bringing back characters rather than just monsters and sometimes there is not a good enough reason to have them there. They are just in there as a nod to the fans, but the general public who may have never seen the series before are going to be none the wiser. Step forward the Brigadier in Mawdryn Undead.

However, with this episode there was enough of a reason to warrant having Sarah Jane back in the series and it didn’t feel like she was just put in there as an afterthought. I am not sure about K9 however. There was very little reason for K9 to be there, if I am being honest, but it was nice to see him back. Not too sure what the kids who had never seen K9 before would have thought but, as a fan, it was a nice touch.

Now, for an episode that was written by someone who was not a self confessed fan there was a lot of references to the series past which will either confuse the hell of the average viewer or just pass them by as a bit of background on Sarah’s character.

Some of it was quite good and wasn’t too gratuitous (Sarah saying that she wasn’t in fact dropped off in South Croydon but in Aberdeen; the rather bitchy exchange of what monsters they had encountered between Rose and Sarah).

The plot was quite good and pretty inventive even if the school itself was a little to perfect to believe (for instance how the hell did both Rose and the Doctor manage to get a job in a school so quickly? I mean you have to get through all those checks with the CRB first? I am sure it would take a little more than a quick flash of the psychic paper. And if it doesn’t I could really do with some of that pronto.),

I mean a school with a full set of computers in every classroom (god I don’t envy the technician in that school), which can also get turned off simply by switching a plug socket off. Please.

Another reason why the school was to good to believe was that the school dinners were free, and that the children were being actively encourage to eat chips, chips and more chips (I always knew that chips were good for you!). What would Jamie Oliver think?

I did think that the Doctor was a little bit sidelined in this adventure what with having Rose, Mickey, Sarah and K9 present. I know that was something that people had a problem with last season but here the Doctor is rather ineffectual and doesn’t save the day, ok he is quite instrumental in it but it isn’t him who actually does the saving. In this case it was K9.

I also felt that Tennant was completely out acted by Anthony Head, most notably in that confrontation scene near the swimming pool. There was no doubt about who was in control in that scene and it wasn’t the Doctor. Just watch Anthony Head in this scene and he is just simply perfect. Watching it I did feel that Tennant’s was dwarfed in this scene.

To be honest the rest of the guest cast in this story apart from Sarah and K9 really had little to do and were left with little more than cameo appearances.

The only performance of a teacher of any note was that of Eugene Washington who was suitably menacing throughout.

After the reference to Balamory last week I was quite amused when one of the children in the school was called Milo. I half expected a Jake, Fizz and Bella to be present also.

It was also nice to see that it was the chubby kid who was the hero of the piece, and he was the only one who wasn’t eating the chips.

One of the major things that I want to know after watching that episode is this: has Sarah been driving around with K9 in the boot of her car ever since he broke down? If so, why? It would be rather a strange thing for her to do, I would have thought.

James Hawes’ direction was very good and there were some really good moments such as the bit when Sarah ran through the doors and saw the TARDIS then retreated back into another room, where a pull back shot revealed the Doctor. That was a good scene as was the confrontation between the Doctor and Finch near the swimming pool.

Elisabeth Sladen slipped effortlessly back into her role as though she had never been away. She even looks great. She is 58 for heavens sake! Older than my mother! I am sure that is wrong somehow.

Anthony Head was excellent in this episode and oozed malevolence from the moment he first appeared in this episode. That is how a Doctor Who baddie should behave and, also, how a headmaster should be. Aren’t you supposed to be scared of your headmaster? If I were a pupil at that school I certainly would be!

I am still a little unsure of David Tennant after this episode. Sure he was good enough and was a lot more settled in the role and wasn’t as flippant as he was last week but there is still something about him as the Doctor that I just don’t get. I think it is that he just doesn’t have that much of a screen presence and opposite certain actors (for example Anthony Head) he doesn’t seem to have the upper hand, which the Doctor really should do.

In the scene when he first meets Sarah it was like watching a fan meeting Elisabeth Sladen rather than the Doctor meeting a former companion. I half expected him to ask her to sign his entire Target novelisation collection.

It was nice to, for once, show the effect the Doctor has on somebody’s life and how they cope in real life after travelling with the Doctor. Apart from a couple of the books this has never really been explored before and it was very well handled as was the jealously of Rose as she came to terms with the fact that there was someone else who had known the Doctor like she did.

Also did anyone notice Rose’s face at the end when the Doctor said Mickey could travel with him or her? I am sure she mouthed ‘no’ to the Doctor. Or perhaps I just imagined that.

The episode was very enjoyable by all accounts and was quite poignant in places most notably in the closing scenes between Sarah and the Doctor.

Out of the episodes shown show far I would rate this one as second best of the season so far. It was great for the fans but I am not too sure what someone who had never seen the show before would have made of all the continuity references.

 

Comments

"Also did anyone notice Rose’s face at the end when the Doctor said Mickey could travel with him or her? I am sure she mouthed ‘no’ to the Doctor. Or perhaps I just imagined that."

I'm sure everyone noticed - I'm surprised Mickey didn't, she was so blatently unhappy about him coming along.

Most emotional episode they've done. Now Sarah Jane Smith isn't amongst my favourite companions, but it was definately the episode I've been waiting for this season.

I was cacking myself from the start with the so cliche but well done, "You poor.....thin girl" to "I'm the tin dog" this episode was a corker. It would have been a lot scarier if the trailer didn't reveal the bat creatures, just had menacing tuck shop ladies and headmasters.

I quite enjoy David Tennant's Doctor. Easily better than Eccleston. However, David Tennant, like Eccleston, lacks depth. He has no gravitas. He doesn't act like he's 1000 years old. I don't think it's just because he looks and acts like a uni student. I think it's to do with different acting techniques than previous generations used, the way he moves, the way he speaks, his facial expressions and his voice which isn't deep enough.

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