25 April 2016

School Reunion

Series 2006+10
A lesson in combining new and old Doctor Who in one irresistible package.

`School Reunion` sounds like an overdose of nostalgia as not only Sarah Jane Smith but K9 as well re-appear in an old fashioned sort of plot involving creatures taking over a school. You can sort of imagine it being done back in Sarah’s day. Yet by combining this with the ongoing Doctor story; his survivor’s guilt mingled with the acts he undertook in the Time War and also his lifestyle you end up with something that seems as modern as anything else did in the season at the time. 

Toby Whithouse with, you suspect, more than a little assist from Russell T Davies uses the theme of replacement and moving on across all aspects of the episode. The reunion with Sarah triggers Rose’s insecurity that she, too, will one day be similarly abandoned while Sarah’s own description of life after the Doctor is a rarely explored angle that probably deserves an episode all to itself one day. Cleverly the Krillitanes are a race who replace their body parts and end up looking completely different after each conquest thus mirroring the emotional plot line.

The Doctor’s own behaviour is discussed too as he puts into words the reason why he is so eager to skip away at the end of every relationship. It’s interesting that this is mentioned because the modern series Doctor has been much more prone to self- promotion; Matt Smith’s Doctor virtually concocts an advert for himself at the end of `The Eleventh Hour`. This episode is more in keeping with the Doctor of old who would sneak off rather than wait around to be feted or offered the planet. 
An extra bonus is David Tennant’s own fan history which clearly feeds into his performance here. When he and Sarah meet, first in the staff room and then in the store room when she sees the TARDIS, his reaction is not far from that of every older fan who first saw this ten years ago. It feels like our own past pouring out in front of us and it’s difficult not to be moved by the sincerity of Tennant in these scenes not least because Elisabeth Sladen is spot on with her portrayal of Sarah. So many characters who return to the series become a little like an impression of their old selves but Lis Sladen pitches an older, seemingly brittle but also steely Sarah clearly still the same yet showing the passing of time. How many of us were shouting at the screen; “Say yes!” when she’s offered the opportunity too once again travel in the TARDIS at the end of the episode?

That she declines, and the way she does and what she says are gorgeous notes in a story peppered with carefully composed scenes. I’d never noticed before by the way that when Rose is simmering in the café watching the Doctor and Sarah chatting away `Love will Tear us Apart` is playing in the background. The episode is so well observed throughout especially the initial catty reactions of “the missus and the ex”.

Take the Doctor and Finch’s confrontation. This is actually a rare thing to see in this or any other series because normal convention is for the antagonist to somehow trick, capture or lure the hero into a one to one from which the latter has to somehow escape or be rescued. Here, Toby Whithouse has them take part in the equivalent of a boxing weigh in where the combatants don’t lay a finger on each other but psyche their opponents out. In fact the way its set up it might be more like two tigers circling each other; notice how both are rarely still. It’s a brutal little story to; for all its rosy nostalgia there are a number of fatalities that go almost unnoticed even by the Doctor and co. Just like the old days in fact..

Tardisode: This show Mickey (in an Internet café!) finding the information online which causes the Doctor and Rose to end up undercover in the school. Like last week’s episode they also show us the monster. This is definitely different from the old series when they liked to keep the monsters hidden till the end of episode 1. With less time per story and also as a promotional puller they seem to like to show them up front nowadays.

Factette: Two Welsh High Schools were used for filming of this episode - Duffryn and Fitzalan. This September Duffryn will be changing its name to John Foster High School in honour of one of Newport’s most well known historical figures. John Foster was the leader of the 1839 Chartist Rising which demanded the right to vote, an event which resulted in 22 protesters being killed. Foster himself was arrested and initially sentenced to death, but this was later lowered to transportation for life. 

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