Series 28 Episode 3 – School Reunion, by Toby Whithouse

May 8, 2008

review by Martin Odoni

This is better.

I’m always suspicious, when I love a nostalgic episode of anything, that I’m confusing nostalgia with quality. No danger of that here, because even when separating off the nostalgia from the rest of the story, I found there was still a fair bit to admire. Adding the nostalgia on top of it made it quite special; this episode was comfortably the outstanding one of the season so far, though still a distance short of Dalek in the RTD era as a whole.

Anthony Stewart Head was splendid as the Krillitane leader. He managed to make ‘Mr Finch’ insidious and frightening, and yet also managed to convey a very dignified and sympathetic side to it; it implies a commendable yearning to understand the concepts of goodness and wisdom, and appeals to the Doctor to provide them, and what it offers in return presents a serious moral dilemma for a man who has seen his world destroyed and now sees an opportunity to revive it.

The concept of the Krillitanes as a whole is quite a clever but leery one, in the best traditions of Dr Who. They’re not all that scary to look at, but the description of them sounds like vampires, only with a much more methodical, practical and tidy way of feeding on their prey. The fact that the practise of taking bits of other life-forms and incorporating them into themselves seems to have a wholesome quality to it actually makes the concept even more scary on reflection.

Mickey was a little annoying and ‘Townie’-ish when he first appeared in the series, but the character is growing enormously and as he gets more adventurous and 3D, he becomes much more likeable. Nod of approval for him finally finding the resolve to join the TARDIS crew more permanently. It’s also neat that he does the most spectacular deed of the episode by smashing a car, Terminator-style, through the front of a public building. Got a cheer from me!

The friction between Sarah Jane and Rose was well-written and convincing, although I was a little surprised that Rose, jealous or not, should be quite so vicious about it. (The ‘Dark Ages’ gag was itself thought up back in the Dark Ages, or at least it feels lke it, and it’s a shame the writer couldn’t think up a more original taunt.) I quite liked the bit when they made friends though, and then had the Doctor’s eyes darting back and forth in paranoia when he couldn’t figure out what they were laughing at.

In fact, Rose gives us a number of reminders here that she’s still very young and not completely mature – reminders we probably need from time to time. Her fear that one day she’ll get left behind and forgotten like so many past companions is understandable, but also a little unfair. A man who has lived and quested through space for nine centuries is bound to have known a lot of people in his time, and for him to talk about specific ones with any frequency would imply favouritism, as well as make newer companions feel they have a previous standard to live up to.

Blimey, Sarah Jane hasn’t changed at all has she? She still looks terrific for her age, but more to the point, she still just loves getting into trouble. And when there isn’t any trouble to be had, she always finds a way of getting up people’s noses enough to make some; suspicion alone justifies breaking-and-entering in her book (but then it’s not just her of course). I sometimes think that, if there were no newspapers, they’d have to invent one just for her to be investigative for. I think it was a good move that the episode was made though, simply because there was something about Sarah Jane’s story that felt like it had been left ‘hanging in the air’ for a long time, and this finally gave her some real closure. (Possible error; neither she nor the Doctor show any memory of the events in The Five Doctors, as they both seem to imply that the last time they met was when she was dropped off in Aberdeen. Oh, and er, Aberdeen? The red-brick architecture where Sarah Jane was dropped off in The Hand Of Fear back in ’76 looked distinctly like some place near Luton to me.)

K-9 is as loveably kickable as ever – that is a compliment, don’t worry – although I wasn’t too choked up when he got blown to bits because we all know the Doctor can always build a new one at the drop of a hat; and sure enough, K-9 mk IV rolls off the assembly line right at the end.

There are a few things in the episode that have irked me; –

First, the ‘skecis paradigm’ thingummy, whatever it was called, is a throwaway deus ex plot device, the sort of thing Deep Thought was looking for in The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. And using pre-pubescent school-kids from the London suburbs to look for it on Pentium IV’s sounds too twee and primitive an approach to be plausible.

Furthermore, the repetitive, unsubtle plugs for Torchwood that are being dropped in episode after episode are really beginning to grate, and are starting to border on the shameless kind of product-placement that is supposed to be illegal on the BBC.

“Exact-a-mundo!” was a line that really had me going “Ouch!”

I also feel that, while the moral dilemma that the Doctor faces is very intelligently set up, the final decision he makes is rushed; in the face of such an enormous choice, he doesn’t spend enough time agonising over it. (One of the reasons why I thought they could have fleshed the story out to a two-parter.)

It’s a nice touch though, and fitting, that it’s Sarah Jane who helps him make the right decision in the end, and in so doing, she realises a very important truth about herself and the years that she’s wasted dwelling on the past. At last she accepts that her time with the Doctor really is over and that she should merely remember it instead of try to revive it. This makes it easier for her to make a right decision of her own at the end – she’s quite right not to go with the others as she isn’t really up to that kind of life anymore – and this also helps her and Rose to come to terms.

And yes, sentimental old buffer that I am, I had a tear in my eye when she and the Doctor said goodbye, properly this time, at the end.

Superior to the previous episode in most respects, it just suffers from a lack of balance, prioritising Sarah Jane’s return over the full development of the plot itself. Even so, I give it 8/10. Would’ve been 9 if they’d made it a two-parter, giving room to develop the plot with the Krillitanes more fully.


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