“School Reunion” has an interesting if quickly resolved story, new aliens with a suitably grand goal and a creative way of achieving that goal, and some good performances from all involved. I do have some issues with characterization, but I’ll come to those in a moment.
I think this is the first time the 45 minute format really seemed too short to me. So many ideas and story threads are crammed into this episode, but it’s not as though they aren’t dealt with. It’s just that every little plot idea is shown and resolved so rapidly that the episode really does feel rushed. There’s no dramatic process of discovery, where events proceed and I as the audience have time to think about and mentally digest the latest plot revelation before the next one comes along. Everything is thrown at the audience at a break-neck pace. This approach doesn’t derail the story by any means, but it’s just not as emotionally satisfying as I would like.
That being said, at least the story isn’t dull. The Doctor is already in place and investigating when the story opens, which is new ground for the series, and also indicative of the generally rushed pace of events. It’s hilarious that Rose is working in the school kitchen and that she’s clearly resentful of that fact! It doesn’t take long figure out that something is amiss in the school, as demonstrated by the genius kid in the Doctor’s physics class and the odd cooking oil in the kitchen.
Then during the chat in the teacher’s lounge one of my favorite companions is added to the mix: Sarah Jane Smith. I’ve been looking forward to this episode ever since I heard that Elisabeth Sladen would been guest starring. And John Leeson is back voicing K9 as well! And while it’s wonderful to see the two characters again, the characterization of Sarah is the part of this episode that bothers me. I don’t want to criticize said characterization, since apparently Mrs. Sladen felt that the writers had treated Sarah well, but it’s just sad to think that she had pined away for the Doctor for thirty years. That’s not the strong independent Sarah Jane I remember. I imagine it would be very difficult to go back to an ordinary life after all those experiences and adventures she’d had, but to have denied herself a family and a life of her own is just sad, and frankly a little tough to believe. I’d rather they hadn’t gone that route with her story. Especially when it’s patently obvious that Sarah is being treated in part as an object lesson for Rose as much as a character in her own right. That isn’t sad, it’s downright irritating.
The first meeting between the Doctor and Sarah where he knows her but she doesn’t recognize him is lovely, as he’s clearly delighted to see her again, and as proud as he can be of her. David Tennant just does an outstanding job in that scene. Later on when they meet in the school and head down to the diner, he’s clearly enjoying her company, though Rose is not. Now here I have to say that though I’ve generally liked Rose up to this point, her little jealous fits are becoming very irritating. So much so that I’d just as soon she left the show than put up with having to watch them over and over. It’s bad enough when she’s throwing the evil eye at Lynda with a y, but when she starts criticizing Sarah Jane it’s too much. Grow up and get over it already. In this fan’s view, if it comes down to a choice between Rose and Sarah Jane, Sarah wins every time.
Is it me, or is “The Five Doctors” pretty much ignored? It’s odd with all the continuity that’s on display that Sarah pretty much acts as if she hasn’t seen the Doctor since he dropped her off in what turned out to be Aberdeen. I suppose that in “The FIve Doctors” she did spend the majority of her time with the third Doctor, who of course hadn’t been the one who dropped her off and left, but she did meet the fifth briefly. Perhaps we could rationalize it away by saying that she didn’t realize he was the ‘successor’ to her Doctor. But then there’s the presence of K9, who the Doctor obviously left for her some time after he dropped her off, so she would have known he hadn’t died. I think that in order to write the story he wanted to, Toby Whithouse had to ignore the fact that Sarah had already had some closure, and had to play fast and loose with the old series in order to make something more out of the ‘best friends’ that the fourth Doctor and Sarah were. I get the feeling that like so many people today, the writers of this show have a hard time conceiving of a close friendship that doesn’t involve romance and sex, which shows a lack of imagination on their part, to say the least. As I said before, turning Sarah into the victim of unrequited love so she can be a sad old spinster and a object lesson to Rose is certainly not respectful of the character, or faithful to the past.
All of that being said, Sarah is still one of my all-time favorites, and the use of her character, above complaints excepted, is good enough that I still enjoyed her inclusion in the episode tremendously. And the ‘real goodbye’ at the end is touching, and I’m glad to see she finally got that goodbye.
Poor K9 is all rusty and not working well. But Sarah is still carrying him around, and the Doctor is happy to see him again, and Tennant just does so well in expressing his delight that it’s infectious. The little dog is as endearing as ever, though he doesn’t get a lot of time on screen, he is crucial to resolving the plot and ending the Krillitane threat. He’s a brave little fellow, and I’m glad I knew he was coming back at the end of the episode, or I’d have been really unhappy when he sacrificed himself to blow up the school. As it is, he gets some of the best lines, telling Mickey several times “We are in a car”, and his smug little “Affirmative” to the Headmaster’s “You bad dog!” I was just grinning like a little kid again when he comes to the rescue in the cafeteria and starts shooting down Krillitane.
I really enjoyed Anthony Head’s performance as well. I remember him from the Excelis audios that Big Finish released a few years back, where he was quite good as Lord Grayvorn. He’s just as good here, with his distinctive voice and restrained mannerisms. Then he gets angry and looks rather fiendish, and clearly seems to be having fun in the part of an evil alien school headmaster who eats students. He’s a good strong bit of casting which I think was certainly needed in a story with so much going on. A less distinctive actor might well have been lost in the shuffle or just outshone by Sarah and K9’s return.
The coda at the end is welcome, as Sarah gets to see the TARDIS and comment that she ‘preferred the old one’, and turn down an offer to travel again. It’s good to see the Doctor express his affection for her so openly. Most of the time I prefer the Doctor to be reserved, but not in this case. Sarah’s obvious happiness at seeing K9 again is well performed, and the scene elicited a bit “awwwww” out of my wife, who didn’t know it was coming.
As for David Tennant, he put in another fine performance. His acting is first rate from start to finish. As is the episode itself. It’s not perfect by any means, and I have other minor nitpicks besides the characterization of Sarah, but generally speaking the story is good and works quite well. One of my favorites of the new season.