One first approaches the new Doctor Who episode, School Reunion as a love letter to fans of the original series. With that framework in mind, one wonders how much of a risk the series’ producers are taking here, with fans of the new series who may not have seen or remembered much of the old. But School Reunion has plenty to offer all of its viewers, new fans and old alike.
The Doctor and Rose have been called back to present day Earth by Rose’s boyfriend Mickey. There’s strange going’s on at a nearby school; UFO reports, dramatically improving test results, and teachers going missing. The new headmaster, instantly recognizable as Anthony Stewart Head (Giles from Buffy: the Vampire Slayer) and his new band of teachers and cleaning staff obviously have something to hide.
But the Doctor’s investigation runs up against a similar investigation by journalist Sarah Jane Smith, who travelled with the Doctor six regenerations ago. Now in her late fifties, Sarah is a bitter reminder of the Doctor’s near immortality. Rose faces up against uncomfortable questions about how humans and Time Lords can possibly interact, and her egotistical belief that she’s someone special in the Doctor’s life takes a significant hit. (Truth is, she is someone very special in the Doctor’s life; she’s just not the first, not by a long chalk)
With Sarah comes K-9, a robot dog that graced Doctor Who’s screens from 1977 to 1981. K-9 in particular seems out of place in a series that has taken on more modern storytelling sensibilities; fewer monsters in rubber suits and cheap effects. Fans of the original series might appreciate the throwbacks (I know I did), but how do new fans fare?
Quite well, I think, because writer Toby Whithouse uses these old elements to weave an impressive story exploring the nature of the Doctor’s near immortality, the fundamental contradiction of his relationships with short-lived humans, and what happens to the individuals he leaves behind. Too often, the series has glossed over what happens in the Doctor’s wake.
The exploration of what life after the Doctor is like is interesting, as is Rose’s obvious discomfort over the realization that the same thing is going to happen to her. Consider: Rose is twenty. In the past year, she has seen so much that has swept her boring life away. How is she going to come down from that? What happens if she has forty or fifty years or “normal” life to face after the Doctor goes away? And yet, come down she must. If the Doctor could let Sarah Jane go, he’s certainly going to have to let her go as well.
As for the Doctor, brought face to face with this fundamental difference between himself and his companions, the temptation to hold on to the ones he loves proves hard to overcome. And it is great that Sarah provides the emotional resolution for him: everything changes, and there is a time for beginnings and endings, joy and mourning, be it the rise and fall of civilizations, or relationships. This storyline is told and resolved in a neat package that gives School Reunion considerable depth that both old fans and new fans can appreciate.
On top of this is a funny, lightweight storyline about an alien invasion of a school and the aliens’ devious plan for the students. Anthony Stewart Head milks his evil Giles persona as the headmaster, and is given a number of wonderful exchanges with the Doctor. James Hawes offers tight direction, and Mickey offers good comic relief, as well as good character development. I love the fact that he transforms his frustration over being the fifth wheel of all of the Doctor’s relationships into a desire to expand his horizons and see the Universe as Rose sees it.
There are a number of little touches within School Reunion that offer considerable delight, such as K-9 and Mickey’s interactions (“how do we break down those doors?” / “we’re in a car”), and young Kenny’s rise from social outcast to the quick thinking individual that helps the Doctor at key moments and ends up getting credited for blowing up the school (“School’s out for summer!” I quipped).
School Reunion was the first episode of this season that I was wholly satisfied with, meshing elements of the old series and the new in ways that can be enjoyed both on the surface and in depth. Elisabeth Sladen provides an excellent performance, with just the right touch of tragedy. This is the sort of bread and butter that makes the new series worth watching, regardless of whether or not elements of the old series get mined.
The next episode, The Girl in the Fireplace, promises clockwork robots and 18th century France. It should be interesting, but you’ll have to wait two weeks before it debuts. Doctor Who will be pre-empted on Monday, October 30th due to a special showing of the mini-series Above and Beyond.
In Other News
Yesterday was our eighth wedding anniversary. We had my parents over for tea, and then they took Vivian away for the evening, and Erin and I spent our free time getting in a good bout of… sleep.
Says it all, really. As does the fact that both of us forgot that our anniversary was coming up until two weeks before the event. Our minds have been occupied by a different approaching anniversary.
And before I forget, you should check out the latest Bloggers Hotstove, in its spiffy new home. Jason Cherniak, Damien Penny and I engage in quite a dogfight, and then lynch Greg Staples because of his overuse of puns.