New Who in conversation: School Reunion (S02E03)

Watching New Who – in conversation with David McDonald, Tansy Rayner Roberts and Tehani Wessely
David is coming to New Who for the first time, having loved Classic Who as a kid. Tehani is a recent convert, and ploughed through Seasons 1 to 6 (so far) in just a few weeks after becoming addicted thanks to Matt Smith – she’s rewatching to keep up with David! Tansy is the expert in the team, with a history in Doctor Who fandom that goes WAY back, and a passion for Doctor Who that inspires us all. We’re going to work our way through New Who, using season openers and closers, and Hugo shortlisted episodes, as our blogging points. Just for fun! We have already talked about:
“Rose”, S01E01
“Dalek”, S01E06
“Father’s Day”, S01E08
“The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances”, S01E09/10
“Bad Wolf/The Parting of the Ways”, S01E12/13
Season One Report Card – DavidTansyTehani
“The Christmas Invasion”, 2005 Christmas Special
“New Earth”, S02E01

“School Reunion” – Season two, episode three
The Doctor – David Tennant
Rose Tyler – Billie Piper
Sarah Jane – Elisabeth Sladen

TEHANI:

We only skip one episode (the werewolf-ish “Tooth and Claw”) before we get to the first of Season Two’s Hugo nominees, “School Reunion”. I think it’s pretty obvious why this one got the fan nod. Not only does it have Giles (Anthony Stewart Head) of BTVS (My fandoms! They cross over!) but of course, we see here the return of Sarah Jane and K9! Fan heads all over the world must have exploded Tansy!

I do want to say one thing about “Tooth and Claw” – I loved how Tennant’s Scottish was showing in that one – listen hard, you’ll hear it :)

TANSY:

I don’t think you have to listen too hard, he’s outright doing his own accent for most of the episode! I am a little wistful they wouldn’t let him be Scottish as the Doctor generally. He has a beautiful voice.

DAVID:

Other than the last five minutes, I thought “Tooth and Claw” was an excellent episode, I really enjoyed it. Had a nice nod to Classic Who, some great character acting and an awesome fight scene!

TANSY:

Heh it’s amazing how many stories of this era are brilliant until the last five minutes. But let’s leap ahead to the head-explodey “School Reunion”!

TEHANI:

Rose as dinner lady – she does fit the role… That was mean, wasn’t it? Nice to see Mickey in this though, and being quite cool with the sniffing out of the problem and all (in the beginning at least – and he gets his chance to be a hero near the end, which is nice). I also like that he didn’t play to Rose’s half-flirting.

DAVID:

I thought Rose had some excellent moments in this show. The look of loathing that she shot the Doctor during the canteen scene said it all, and her reaction to Sarah Jane and the Doctor’s history was exactly what I would have expected from her. She needs to decide how she feels about Mickey though, just a few mixed signals there!

TANSY:

I like the awkward reshuffling as Rose and Mickey try to settle in as just friends instead of trying to hang on to the ghost of their old relationship – and instantly Mickey is so much more fun to be around. I love how he teases her, sibling-style, and is actively a part of the adventure. Also the classic double act with K9 – his “I’m the tin dog” reaction, the marvellous “we are in a car” sequence, and so on. I would totally watch an episode which was just Mickey and K9.

DAVID:

Mickey was great in this episode, and yes, I loved the dynamic between him and K9! It was wonderful to see K9 back, as well, he was always a favourite of mine. Who didn’t dream of having a dog like K9 when they were a child (or even now)?

TANSY:

My daughter just built her own K9 out of egg boxes, so I’m going to say yes to that one. I adore K9, always have. John Leeson’s voice has lifted him from gimmick to real character and I love the dry humour that comes through that tinny little voice.

DAVID:

I was really happy at the end when Mickey asks to come along because I think he adds something to the show. I’ve always liked the Doctor-female companion-male companion dynamic, and I cant help but recall the episodes where Harry and Sarah Jane accompanied the Fourth Doctor.

TANSY:

Me too! It’s a nice combination and something we see done several times in New Who. Mickey has grown a lot as a character to feel ready to face his fears and the universe as a whole. I like that he seems to have chosen to come for his own reasons, and not for anything to do with Rose. I also think she’s quite human in her reaction, being so disgruntled at having to share the Doctor, and the TARDIS, instead of being the exotic one who goes swanning off.

TEHANI:

Ten’s reaction to seeing Sarah Jane is fascinating – he’s astounded and delighted, which is very sweet, but a little sad. After all, in all the long years that have passed since Sarah Jane left the show, has he ever visited her? Thought about her? When I first watched this episode, I thought it was lovely, but as the seasons passed and the issue of what happens to companions left behind becomes quite prominent (the examination certainly starts in this episode), I come back to it with a different perspective. I’ll be interested to hear what you two think of it, with a much stronger Classic Who background.

TANSY:

For the most part I love this episode and the return of Sarah Jane (there are a couple of major problems I’ll mention later). The scene where the Doctor sees her for the first time and she has no idea who he is … it has me in pieces every time. The wave of nostalgia and connection, and pride: there she is, doing the same thing she always has, letting her nose for a story drag her into trouble. And the opposite scene where she sees the TARDIS for the first time and the reality that he’s here crashes in over her. Wonderful stuff.

DAVID:

I have spoken a couple of times about how waiting so long to watch New Who has robbed some scenes of a bit of their emotional impact because I know a little of what follows (ie Jack’s “death”). This was a case of the complete reverse, seeing Sarah Jane was quite moving (and K9 too, though obviously not to the same extent). To me Sarah Jane will always be THE companion, just as Tom Baker is THE Doctor so I loved her return in this, because it took me back. And, with Elisabeth Sladen’s sad passing this year there was also a sense of melancholy about it.

TANSY:

Yes, rewatching this so soon after her death was very sad! An emotional rollercoaster all around – but at least the characters are on one too, if that makes sense. And how extraordinary that she got to do this, that they actually brought back a companion 25 years later and brought her into the story.

DAVID:

I found the conversation between the Doctor and Sarah Jane very interesting. Her feelings of abandonment are completely understandable, but I can also understand the Doctor not wanting to watch his companions age, and wanting to remember them as they were. Like I have heard others comment before, I don’t really like the idea that she put her life on hold after the Doctor, though, I much prefer the Sarah Jane who became a top investigative journalist and whose journeys with Doctor spurred her on to greater heights rather than them being something that held her back.

TEHANI:

But I guess we don’t know, in this episode at least, that she HASN’T become a top investigative journalist – she tells the Headmaster that she’s doing a piece for the Sunday Times. That doesn’t have to be a lie, no? We do know she never met a man who could live up to the Doctor, but, well, fair enough really…

TANSY:

Of course it’s not a lie! She’s a real journalist, always has been.

There are two ideas in this episode I hate with a passion: one, the implication that there was a romantic connection between Sarah Jane and the Doctor in the old days, which squicks me out completely (Tom Baker, ew) and is too much of a revisionist attitude for me. Some Doctor-companion combinations, sure. Sarah and Four? Impossible. I have no problem with them being attracted to each other now, because whoa, he got hot, but that chemistry simply wasn’t there in the 70’s (or indeed, 1980). I also hate, hate, hate the lines that suggest she put her life on hold for him, waiting for him to come back. It’s not true to Sarah Jane in any sense.

Rewatching the episode, there are actually only two appalling lines in the final scene which are the worst offenders, and the rest of it is fine as is. And yes, one of them is the bit about not being able to find a partner who could live up to the Doctor. It made me want to kick both of them, but mostly the writers. How hard would it have been to pull that out and have her say ‘no kids, actually, I was too busy.’ Sarah Jane was not just one of the most popular companions of Classic Who, she was a feminist and a career woman. The Doctor ditched her, and it is important she got to have it out with him in this episode, but I think they pushed the analogue to Rose way too far.

DAVID:

I do think that this episode gives the impression that she didn’t achieve much at all after the Doctor left her in Aberdeen. We know different, that she was, in fact, a top investigative journalist, but that is despite this episode, not because of it. So, I’m glad to hear that is treated a bit better in her future appearances, because that was one aspect I found really disappointing.

TEHANI:

Sarah Jane: You can tell you’re getting older, your assistants are getting younger.

HA! Onya Sarah Jane.

She really calls him on his behaviour, how he deserts his companions – is this the first time someone does this? It’s really sad here.

TANSY:

I think it is the first time, as it isn’t really a feature of the classic series. Something that goes hand in hand with David Tennant’s Doctor is definitely an in-narrative meta critique of the Doctor’s behaviour, which I think mitigates his problematic behaviour in a lot of ways. This is by no means the last time that someone is going to kick Ten’s butt for having his head in it.

TEHANI

Rose gets quite a shock too – so soon after the “honeymoon period” of “New Earth”, it actually hits home that maybe she’s just not all that special to the Doctor…

DAVID:

But that’s Rose thinking in human terms, surely? That someone else being special to the Doctor means she couldn’t be, like there is a finite amount of him to go around? I do think Rose reads more into her relationship with the Doctor than there is, and I think this is a bit of a wake up call for her.

TANSY:

It is absolutely a wake up call, and it’s a revelation for Mickey too, who enjoys it a little too much. I think it’s one of the episodes where Rose’s immaturity is shown as being a problem for her relationship with the Doctor. As soon as Sarah Jane turns up, he is off with her being grown up investigators, and Rose and Mickey are left at the kid’s table. I have to say it is interesting that as soon as other companions enter the mix, the Doctor and Rose’s relationship looks a lot less romantic and intimate.

DAVID:

This is where maybe I am being a little naive, but I refuse to the see the Doctor’s bond with the companions as anything other than platonic. That’s why the whole acting like exes thing is amusing, rather than just being nasty.

TEHANI:

Hmmm, I best not say too much here, for fear of spoilers! Rose is pretty conflicted in this episode – she’s half flirting with Mickey on one hand (and behaves very badly when he asks to come travelling at the end!), but snarky and jealous over Sarah Jane on the other. Your typical nineteen year old really…

I wasn’t convinced that the Doctor was tempted in this episode, but I loved that Sarah Jane had the rationale to save them – she knew what to say, which buttons to press – perfect!

DAVID:

I can see that this would be one of the few things that could really come close to tempting the Doctor. Even though Ten doesn’t wear it on his sleeve like Nine did, we can see that he is deeply broken by the Time War and a chance to make things right, and rescue those he loves, must be deeply tempting. And, I hate to turn this into a sort of metageek thing, but it is like when Gandalf is offered the Ring, the Doctor would be all the more terrible given that power because he would do it from the best of motives, not for power or glory, but to do the right thing.

And, it’s lovely how it is Sarah Jane who gives that poignant speech about all things having their time. At their best, that is what the Companions always did for the Doctor, just as he gave them something beyond the stars, they humanised him and grounded him, in the best sense of the term.

TANSY:

It’s so strong for her, such a wonderful moment that she turns him down, because of course she does. She has a life. But it’s nice that he does ask her. Especially as her leaving story was one where – she didn’t leave to fall in love, or by choice, he dropped her home to get her out of the way when he went off to do a Thing, and never came back. And he didn’t even drop her in the right place. But it’s worth noting that unlike most of his companions, Sarah was one he hadn’t forgotten – in a doomed pilot for spin off series K9 and Company, he sent her K9, who hadn’t been a part of her travels. And they had also seen each other in the Five Doctors – her (most recent) Doctor wasn’t there, and she couldn’t exactly smack Three around for what Four had done to her, but Five was there and there was none of the emotional resolution that meeting deserved. Then again, he didn’t get to enjoy being reunited with his grand-daughter (whom he also ditched) either – that story was done in such a by the numbers way!

TEHANI:

Huh, there’s quite a lot of “Smiths” in this episode… And I LOVED K9! I do remember him from the olden days :)

The end is sad – brought a tear even on the second time around. When Sarah Jane says to K9, “He replaced you with a brand new model … he does that,” (*sniff*) it was totally true and a punch to the heart. I gather this is the prelude to The Sarah Jane Adventures though?

TANSY:

The story is the reason that The Sarah Jane Adventures happened, but no one had thought of it until Elisabeth Sladen came in and did such a bang up job. It’s a brilliant show, with a lot more of the sensibilities of Classic Who than New, and it became such a phenomenon. I mean, a science fiction kids show with a 60+ heroine in the lead. How awesome is that? Not that she ever looked 60… Also she gets a family, and we see her balancing that with active work, not only as a journalist but also cleaning up the alien messes that are too minor or ‘domestic’ for the Doctor to bother with. I can recommend the show, not only as something to watch with your kids, but also because it tidies up the most problematic aspects of this episode.

Heh so we’ve come this far without mentioning the head villain, or the plot, which says a lot, I think about the priorities of this episode. Any thoughts on the actual story?

TEHANI:

Oh yeah, there was a plot! I loved Giles in this (sorry, I know, he’s Mr Finch, the Headmaster, but he’ll ALWAYS be Giles!) – he was predatory and amoral and awesome. The effects of the Krillitane are not as good as those of the cat nuns in “New Earth”, but they were suitably creepy. The idea behind the episode kind of slipped off me both times I watched it though – using Krillitane oil (which just happened to be toxic to themselves? How do they produce it then!) to make kids smarter then networking them into some kind of super computer… Surely that’s why we have the internet?

TANSY:

It was so weird to see him as a villain back when this first screened, but now after three years of King Uther in Merlin, it’s not a problem for me! He does make a brilliant villain. The Krillitane are a lot like the Slitheen in that they’re a monster likely to appeal to the kid viewers rather than the adults – teachers sleeping at school! Less stinky, though.

DAVID:

Well, let’s be honest here. Even if this had been a terrible episode I still would have loved it, simply because of the nostalgia value. But, I think it holds up as an episode really well. Despite the fact that I can’t help but see Anthony Stewart Head as either Giles or the Prime Minister, he was a suitably creepy villain, and I enjoyed the plot. It also gave plenty of room for great performances by Tennant as an insane teacher that we would have loved to have and Billie Piper as a very surly lunchroom lady. It was nice to see Mickey getting a bit of camera time as well, he was the sort of comic relief that you enjoy, not the sort you just want to punch (Looking at YOU, Jar Jar).

TEHANI:

I had to look up which show ASH was Prime Minister in! (It’s Little Britain, for others similarly challenged).

TANSY:

Ha yes, it’s actually a good, solid story with a lot going for it, crunchy thematic issues side by side with some great dialogue and comedy. And a few scares. Sarah Jane is what lifts it into something truly special but there are great moments for all of them, and so many memorable scenes. I really liked that they started the story with the Doctor and Rose already undercover, and unpeeled it from there.

DAVID:

I liked the Krillitane too, the special effects were quite reasonable, and they appealed to that part of us that believes teachers are, in fact, terrible monsters in disguise The idea of using the creative minds of children as a computer is hardly new (in fact one of the Eighth Doctor Adventures has a very similar concept), but it was well executed and managed to drive the episode sufficiently.

But, really, all of that is secondary to the main attraction, and that is the return of Sarah Jane. After everything that has been said I am very keen to watch the spin off. At what point in watching New Who would you recommend that a viewer start watching The Sarah Jane Adventures?

TANSY:

I’d say that you would want to have seen at least a few episodes of SJA before the season finale of Season Four Doctor Who, but I won’t say why! Any time between now and then would be fine. Season 3 of SJA has a proper appearance by the Tenth Doctor, and Season 4 has the Eleventh (I haven’t seen season 4 yet, for some reason it takes a year for them to get the DVDs out!) but there’s no particular obligation to fit those episodes into Doctor Who continuity. Oh, and the Brig appears in Season 2, I think, in Nicholas Courtney’s last filmed appearance as Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart!

SJA is a great TV show, with the proviso that it’s firmly aimed at kids – there’s a reason it quickly became the most successful BBC Children’s show, and it’s not just because of the Doctor Who connection. But as well as having a very contemporary tone, there’s much that is reminiscent of Old Who, as well – the format, and a lot of factory-lost-aliens-and-quarry stories. Plus, of course, the wonderful Elisabeth Sladen, in fabulous clothes and an adorable little car.

DAVID:

Aimed at kids or not, it sounds like my sort of show!

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26 responses to “New Who in conversation: School Reunion (S02E03)

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