?chool Reunion? where the wider mythology of the old DOCTOR WHO series collides headlong with the bright, shiny world of the new, could have been a cheesy, creaky, corny load of old sentimental tosh. No, it really could. Dragging back tired old faces from the past was the recipe for disaster which ultimately over-cooked the original DOCTOR WHO and in some ways it was alarming to hear that, in its second season, this fresh new series was wandering down the same potential dead-end.
Fortunately we can all breathe long sighs of relief because ?chool Reunion?pulls it off and puts the emotion ?so far alarmingly missing from the second run ?back in DOCTOR WHO. I? sure no-one watching this episode who had fond memories of the show? 1970s hey-day and its indomitable pairing of Tom Baker? iconic curly-haired Doctor and his feisty assistant Sarah Jane Smith (Sladen) would have been disappointed by the reappearance of an older and not-necessarily wiser Sarah as she comes into contact with her old friend, thirty years down the line.
Superficially ?chool Reunion?is another invasion Earth story. This time the threat comes from the Krillitanes, culture-absorbing creatures which have infiltrated a London school so they can use the souls and imaginations of a bunch of school kids to solve the riddle of creation, the so-called ?kasis paradigm?which will enable them to shape creation and alter the course of history. In their natural form the Krillitanes are shrieking bat-like creatures (the show? best CGI yet) and their leader is the oily new headmaster Mr Finch (Head). Exciting stuff, if a bit perfunctory. In reality, ?chool Reunion?is about two old friends meeting up after far too long apart ?and how one of those friends comes to terms with her own mortality when confronted with a man who just won? die.
?chool Reunion?belongs to David Tennant and Elisabeth Sladen. Here the former finally and absolutely grasps the mantle of the character and makes it completely his own. The script allows the Doctor a few reflective moments and it? here that we see that the angst and loneliness which characterised Christopher Eccleston? portrayal is still just below Tennant? often-clownish exterior. There can barely have been a dry eye in the house when the Doctor meets up with Sarah for the first time in thirty of her years ?firstly in the staff room and later in the electric sequence in the corridors of the school. In a beautifully performed and lit scene, Sarah discovers the TARDIS hidden in a storeroom. Aghast, she backs awayond the Doctor is standing behind her, wreathed in shadow, hands deep in his pockets. The exchange between them here is heart-breaking ?Sarah has missed the Doctor, she thought he was long dead. The torment is written large on Tennant? face when the Doctor replies ?veryone else died, Sarah.?Later they discuss their relationship further and the viewer begins to realise that travelling with the Doctor is about much more than just being hypnotised and running away from monsters ?it? something life-defining, life-changing. It? something no-one can ever come to terms with, something no-one can adjust to once the journey? over. Rose? realisation that she? just the latest in a long line and the Doctor? despair in the fact that Rose could spend the rest of her life with him but he can never do the same with her are the sharpest, bitterest emotional pills the new series has ever had to swallow. Rose is unlikely ever to feel quite the same way about her relationship with the Doctor.
Liz Sladen last appeared in DOCTOR WHO in 1983 (and no, I? not counting ?imensions in Time? if it? all the same to you) and, if we ignore the massive continuity blunder which forgets that Sarah met the fifth Doctor (Peter Davison) and didn? seem to be loaded with the same anguish she carries now, we can concentrate on the fact that Lis has barely aged at all and that her performance as Sarah is as gutsy and powerful as it ever was. Tennant, given some serious emotional stuff to deal with for a change, takes his performance to a new level and his stand-off with Finch in the school? swimming pool was outstanding, hinting as some still-unresolved issues in the character and, as in the denouement to ?he Christmas Invasion? suggesting a new ruthlessness when he tells Finch ? used to have so much mercy.?
The chemistry between the Doctor and Sarah brings into sharp relief the status of Rose as the current girl-on-board. Rose has undergone a strange transformation this year. Last year she was this funny, wide-eyed former shop girl taken on the tip of a lifetime and loving every thrilling moment of it. In best DOCTOR WHO tradition she was our eyes and ears, the figure we identified with to experience the sights and sounds of travelling through Time and Space. This year though, whether by accident or design (and I prefer to hope the latter), she? become a bit of a pain. Rose has become moody, selfish, irreverent, bitchy?ust downright nasty. Her catfight with Sarah is a lot of fun but the whole jealousy angle just makes Rose seem even more irritating and self-obsessed and it was almost enjoyable to see her looking crest-fallen when she started to realise that she may have misinterpreted her relationship with the Doctor and that she too is just passing through his lives. Billie Piper is still delivering the goods, it? just that the material she? working with is currently making Rose a lot less pleasant to spend TV time with.
Sarah wasn? the only old face making a return appearance here. K9, the formidable old ?in dog?from the late 1970s, also trundled back onto the screen. Now, I was never a fan of K9 ?he was too much of a gimmick, aimed too squarely at the kids in the audience after a period which had seen the show come under fire for its graphic violence and, as a prop, he just didn? work well enough ?but he was typical of DOCTOR WHO? traditional reputation at trying to do far more than its budget could ever feasibly allow it to do. K9? appearance here is not really much more than a cameo ?he? out of action most of the time but at least he saves the day, zapping the swooping Krillitanes (in a superb FX sequence) and finally destroying the creatures totally, making the ultimate self-sacrifice. But K9 left me just as cold this time as he ever did, although even the hardest heart would have cheered a little as the TARDIS faded away and Sarah found herself with one final gift form her old friend ?a new and improved K9.
There? such a warmth and joy in ?chool Reunion?that it? easy to excuse the fact that the whole alien-infiltration storyline was very much a subplot to the reappearance of Sarah and K9 and the Doctor? reaction to meeting his past head-on. But even so there? much to enjoy in the details; Head? performance as Finch is as creepy as it gets, the FX are superb (particularly the afore-mentioned K9 gymnasium battle and especially the scene where the Doctor and his group escape from the Krillitanes under cover of the fire alarm), a great turn by Noel Clarke as Mickey (?hat now? Hold the coats??? who, much to Rose? annoyance, has now joined the TARDIS crew (albeit temporarily), a strident but not over-obtrusive Murray Gold score and some fine direction from the ever-reliable James Hawes who captured the slightly-melancholy mood of the piece superbly.
But at the end of it all this was about the Doctor and Sarah. By turns both heart-breaking and heart-warming, ?chool Reunion?was as much about loving DOCTOR WHO and learning to let go of its past as it was about the plight of its characters. DOCTOR WHO season two is starting to pick up a real head of steam now?n
Oh, and finally?he show really needs to get off Earth. The stories we?e had so far have been as wildly-imaginative and exciting as we could expect, but this reluctance to take us to other worlds is just becoming a little bit too noticable ?]>