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Doctor Who - The New Series

2.03: "SCHOOL REUNION"

TX: 28 April 2006

Written by: Toby Whithouse

Directed by: James Hawes

Running time: 44' 11"

Location: Deffrey Vale, England

Date: 2006 AD

Monsters and villains: The Krillitanes (shapeshifting aliens), Mr Finch (leader of the Krillitanes), Mr Wagner (the second in command).

Tardisode Synopsis: Sitting in a cybercafe, Mickey looks up various different UFO sightings over London, then puts through a call to Rose to tell her he's found something...

Plot Synopsis: Child-munching monsters, dinnerlady-melting oil and supiciously smart pupils at a local school - something is awry in the London borough of Deffrey Vale and only two people can solve the problem... Sarah Jane Smith and K-9?

Smug Warning: Fairly low, this episode. Hurrah! Not a fan of the Mickey bullying, mind.

"I'm sorry. I'm so sorry": Not used.

Torchwood spotting: Torchwood blocks Mickey's access to the UFO information both during the episode and in the Tardisode.

Trivia: (1) Prior to the episode's screening, four websites were set up by the BBC at www.deffryvaleschool.org.uk, www.deffryvale.co.uk, www.cheapserve.co.uk/members/7974/ and www.cheapserve.co.uk/members/09032/. A spoof ISP was also set up at www.cheapserve.co.uk.

(2) This is Sarah Jane's first appearance in Doctor Who proper since "The Five Doctors" in 1983, although she did appear in the Children in Need special "Dimensions in Time", which was a crossover with the soap opera Eastenders, and in various spin-off audio plays and books.

(4) The K-9 that appears in this episode is the Mark III, which was also last seen in "The Five Doctors" and "Dimensions in Time". Mark I was left with Leela, a former companion of The Fourth Doctor, in "The Invasion of Time" and Mark II was left behind in E-Space with another companion, Romana, in "Warriors' Gate".

(5) Sarah Jane proved popular enough with the show's audience to warrant a spin-off, The Sarah Jane Adventures. The pilot was shown on New Year's Day 2007, and the resulting series ran on CBBC, the BBC's afternoon chlidren's slot. She had previously appeared with K-9 in the ill-fated spinoff K-9 and Company, of which only a pilot episode was made.

(6) The episode was originally set in an army base, hence the working title of "Black Ops". Russell T. Davies suggested the change to a school.

(7) Noel Clarke broke the K-9 model when filming his scenes in the car. The prop was the same one used in the original series story "The Invisible Enemy".

(8) During production, leaks about Anthony Head playing a headmaster led some to believe that he would be playing The Master, The Doctor's arch-nemesis.

(9) The music in the cafe is Joy Division's "Love Will Tear Us Apart".

(10) Mr Wagner says at one point that Milo has "failed him" - this is a reference to a cut scene which showed Milo collapsing after the alien computers shorted his brain out. This would have ended with The Doctor taking him to the school nurse, also a Krillitane.

(11) Sarah Jane tells The Doctor that he left her in Aberdeen instead of South Croydon when she left him before - this was seen in the Fourth Doctor serial "The Brain of Morbius".

(12) The encounters that Sarah Jane lists are as follows: The Daleks ("Death to the Daleks" and "Genesis of the Daleks"), mummies ("Pyramids of Mars"), lots of robots (various, including "Robot" and "The Android Invasion"), anti-matter monsters ("Planet of Evil"), dinosaurs ("Invasion of the Dinosaurs") and the Loch Ness Monster ("Terror of the Zygons").

(13) Sarah Jane's last line is "we've got work to do", which was also the last line of the original Doctor Who series, said by The Seventh Doctor to Ace.

(14) The plot element of modified school dinners improving the children's brain power reflected public concerns around that time that school dinners were of generally poor quality.

(15) Originally the confrontation between Mr Finch and The Doctor was to take place in the school's gym, but director James Hawes moved it to the swimming pool.

(16) Anthony Head had originally auditioned for the part of The Eighth Doctor in the 1996 TV movie.

(17) The Doctor's line in the teaser, "are you sitting comfortably?", is a reference to the phrase "are you sitting comfortably? Then I'll begin," which was used regularly in the BBC radio series Listen With Mother.

Spoiler Synopsis: Deffrey Vale High School, day: a young girl sits outside the office of the Headmaster, Mr Finch, claiming that she is ill. He asks her why she wasn't sent home and she explains that she is an orphan. Realising this, he invites her into his office and devours her. Elsewhere in the school, The Doctor - under the alias John Smith - is teaching physics and notices that one of the chlidren, a boy called Milo, is somehow able to answer incredibly difficult questions, including how to travel faster than the speed of light.

At lunch, The Doctor tells Rose, who is pretending to be a dinnerlady, that Mickey was right - something strange is happening at the school. The children are too intelligent and the chips taste strange. Rose says that the meals were devised by the headmaster to improve the kids' performance. Across the hall, the sinister Mr Wagner tells some children that they will be joining the top class - but he refuses to choose Kenny, whose mother won't let him eat the chips. The children are taken to the maths classroom, where they put on headphones and begin to be hypnotised by a strange computer program.

Back in the kitchen, Rose is in a mobile phone conversation with Mickey; she tells him that all of the kitchen staff were replaced three months ago. Just then, a large barrel being moved into the kitchen falls over, covering one of the dinnerladies in oil. Smoke begins to pour from her body and she screams in agony as the other dinnerladies move her out of sight. Rose offers to call an ambulance but the head dinnerlady tells her that everything is all right. The screams from off camera, however, suggest this is not the case.

Later, Mr Finch escorts a journalist through the school. She claims to be writing a report on his regieme at the school, which includes free but compulsory school dinners. They enter the staff room, where she is introduced to The Doctor. He recognises her as Sarah Jane Smith, a former companion of his. He keeps his true identity from her, but is pleased to discover that she is still doing adventuring of her own.

Night falls and The Doctor, Mickey and Rose break into the school - unbeknownst to them, Sarah Jane does likewise. The Doctor goes to check the headmaster's office while Mickey investigates the maths room and Rose goes to collect some oil. Sarah Jane, meanwhile, heads for a storeroom, where she finds the TARDIS and, close behind her, The Doctor. Their reunion is shortened, however, by the sound of someone screaming. They run off to find the source, meeting Rose along the way. Rose, on hearing about Sarah Jane, becomes jealous.

The screamer turns out to be Mickey, who opened a cupboard to find vacuum-sealed labrats inside. The Doctor guesses that they are used for food and the group head to Mr Finch's office, where they see a group of bat-like monsters hanging from the ceiling. One of them wakes and the group run outside. The Doctor says that he needs the TARDIS to analyse the oil, but Sarah Jane offers the robot dog K-9, which she has kept in the boot of her car since he broke down one day.

Finch and some fellow monsters secretly follow the group to a local cafe, where The Doctor gets to work fixing K-9. Sarah asks why The Doctor didn't come back for her and he says that he thought she was getting on with her life. She presses for more, but he clams up. Suddenly, K-9 comes back to life. The Doctor gets him to analyse the oil and the dog says that it is 'Krillitane oil'. The Doctor says that Krillitanes are constantly evolving, taking elements from the creatures they encounter, which is why he didn't recognise them before.

They leave the cafe and Rose asks if she'll be left behind like Sarah Jane - The Doctor says that he won't leave her behind, but that it's painful for him to watch his friends grow old and die around him. Mr Finch overhears The Doctor refer to himself as a Time Lord and sends some of his minions after the group, but they fly off when The Doctor raises his Krillitane-oil-stained hand.

The next day, Mickey hangs back in the car with K-9 - much to the boy's annoyance - while The Doctor, Rose and Sarah Jane enter the school.The Doctor confronts Mr Finch, who promises that The Doctor will join his cause. Meanwhile, Rose and Sarah Jane manage to put aside their bickering and start to compare notes on The Doctor, who walks in to find them laughing at him.

Mr Finch tells his fellow Krillitanes to begin the final phase of their plan and calls all staff to the staff room and all pupils back to class. As the Krillitanes cast off their illusory human forms and devour the remaining staff, the children begin to work at their hypnotic computers. The Doctor enters one of the computing rooms and discovers that they have been sealed against his Sonic Screwdriver. Mr Wagner locks down the whole school and Kenny - the boy whose mother wouldn't let him eat the chips - hammers on the door to attract Mickey's attention. Mickey drives the car through the doors of the school, while the rest of the gang meet up in an empty computer room.

There, The Doctor tells them that the super-intelligent children are being used to unlock the Skasas Paradigm, which would allow the Krillitanes to control the building blocks of the universe. Mr Finch arrives and offers to let The Doctor join him, saying that his wisdom can guide them and he will be able to give immortality to Rose and Sarah Jane, and bring back his dead planet.

The Doctor almost agrees, until Sarah Jane points out that death and aging are what define life and youth, and that everything needs to end some time. The Doctor smashes the largest computer screen with a chair and tells them to run. Finch summons the other Krillitanes to chase the group, who run into Mickey and Kenny on the way.

The team make it to the dinner hall, where K-9 runs interference with his stun laser until his power supply fails and he shuts down. The team are pushed back to the physics labs, where The Doctor realises why the Krillitanes had to feed the oil to the children instead of themselves - they'd changed so much that it is now fatal to them. He sends Mickey off to save the children, while the rest head to the kitchens, where the oil is kept.

Kenny buys them some time by setting off the fire alarm, which affects the Krillitanes' sensitive ears and they move to the kitchen. However, the barrels cannot be opened using the Sonic Screwdriver. Luckily, K-9 is back online with his remaining power reserves and while everyone else runs outside, the little robot dog uses the last of his energy to detonate the barrels, sacrificing itself to kill the Krillitanes. Outside, the children cheer as the school explodes.

Much later on, Sarah is in the TARDIS with Mickey, Rose and The Doctor. The Doctor offers her a place with him, but she refuses saying that she needs to move on. However, Mickey says that he would like to join - much to Rose's annoyance - and The Doctor accepts.

Outside, The Doctor says his last goodbye to Sarah Jane. As the TARDIS dematerialises, however, Sarah Jane sees a newly refurbished K-9 stood behind it. It explains that it is now Mark IV, fixed up and improved by The Doctor. He and Sarah walk off into the sunset, knowing that they have more adventures ahead of them.

Review: After last episode's fairly simple action story, "School Reunion" brings a pleasing dose of serious characterisation and sheds a fascinating light on the Doctor/companion relationship.

The idea of showing a darker side to The Doctor's Peter Pan-esque character is actually a very brave thing to do, considering that the companion is the audience identification character and, for many, the one that they wish they could be. To show the emotional reality of being a friend to someone whose lifespan is likely to be more than ten times your own, and the effect that has on both parties, has the danger of turning kids off the show just a wee bit.

Thankfully writer Whithouse, whose other screenplay credits include hospital drama No Angels and one of the few competent episodes of Torchwood's first season, has the good sense to include lots of fun monsters, some exciting chases and an ending that emphasises the importance of living life while you have it. Having Mickey step up to the plate and become a proper member of the TARDIS crew emphasises this and gives the lad a bit of credit that he was sorely lacking through the first series.

Having said that, the welcome inclusion of Mickey is offset by his relationship with Rose and The Doctor. Rose leaving him behind in 1.01 "Rose" never sat right with me, so I wasn't an enormous fan of The Ninth Doctor's dismissive attitute towards him in 1.04, "Aliens of London" or 1.05, "World War Three". Even when he briefly became part of the team in 1.11, "Boom Town", there was a sense that he wasn't a true part of the clique like Captain Jack.

That dynamic is returned to here as Mickey is closed out of the little circle formed by The Doctor, Rose and Sarah Jane and relgated - as he memorably puts it - to 'the tin dog'. This would be fine if there were a reason for it, but aside from the writers' occasional attempts to make him a bumbling idiot (see his conversation with K-9 here or his pratfalls in 1.11, "Boom Town") he generally proves himself to be an intelligent, competent and loyal hero and worthy of just as much respect as Rose (possibly more - he never got humanity eaten by giant bugs). But what we get is some uncalled-for and thoroughly unfair jabs at a likeable and empathetic character.

If I'm starting to sound like a mental slashfic writer then please bear with me - my real problem isn't about the treatment of Mickey but about what it does to the characters of Rose and The Doctor. Rose has always been horrible to Mickey, of course - it's one of the aspects of her character that I loathe - but The Doctor had come to respect Mickey by the end of season one and really should have stuck up for him here, if only to set a good example to the kids.

Instead, what we get is our two ostensible heroes - the aspirational characters in the series - participating in bullying and elitism and that's something that I would personally not want kids to copy. Of course, kids are all a bunch of vindictive, bullying arseholes anyway but it would have been nice for The Doctor (who is, let's remember 1,000+ years old) to be past this a little bit.

I'll cut that rant short there because I'll be repeating it in much more vitriolic form over the next three episodes. Instead, I'll head back to praising this superlative episode, which is up there with the best of the original series. Certainly, the careful handling of the two plots puts 2.01, "New Earth", to shame, but it's the fact that Whithouse has managed to take a character with 33 years of baggage and craft a memorable, accessible episode around her without losing any poignancy that is truly impressive.

Of course, the episode would be nothing without Elisabeth Sladen, whose return to the role of Sarah Jane Smith is so comfortable, you'd think she never went away. Not only has she aged exceptionally well (plenty of dads falling back in love with her, I'll bet), but she turns in a performance that's actually better than almost anything she put forward in the original series. Granted, she's played the character on and off in the intervening years, but it's still a splendid performance.

A nod of the head, too, to Billie Piper, who plays Rose's fear, jealousy and humour with the confidence and ability that we've come to expect by now. And a big shout-out to Anthony Head who's so deliciously nasty that he was wasted as a one-off baddie.

All in all a marvellous episode that will, I'm sure, stand the test of time.

9/10

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Sources:

http://www.gallifreyone.com - Outpost Gallifrey http://www.physics.mun.ca/~sps/9doc.html - A Brief History of (Time) Travel

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