Tuesday, 12 January 2010

Doctor Who: School Reunion

“Oh, mate! The missus and the ex… welcome to every man’s worst nightmare!”

Nice pre-credits teaser, with Tony Head being suitably dastardly and the surprise of seeing the Doctor taking a class. And then the credits remind me of Toby Whithouse, who has of course since become famous for Being Human. Must get round to watching them when I start watching television fully again after the Marathon!

There are odd goings-on, and the Doctor and Rose have gone undercover as a teacher and dinner lady respectively. For the first time we join the story in the middle of the action, giving the whole thing a sense of pace and cutting out unnecessary and tiresome exposition. Of course, the plot is little more than a perfunctory Demon Headmaster type thing, but in this story more than other the plot is just something chugging away in the background while we concentrate on the character stuff, so I have no problem with that. We’ve only got 42 minutes, after all.

In the context of the Marathon it’s such a big, big thing so see Sarah again (I refuse to call her Sarah Jane) and Tennant’s face when she walks into the room is extraordinary. But the scene where the two of them come face to face besides the TARDIS is electric. The whole thing’s perfect, and Lis Sladen is great. I love the cattiness between Sarah and Rose, too. In fact, the next few minutes are pure joy, as we get to see K9 again (yay!) and the boot’s finally on the other foot as Mickey takes great delight at Rose’s discomfort with the Doctor and Sarah (“If I were you, I’d go easy on those chips”).

We get the sort of conversation between the Doctor and Sarah which we never would have got back in the old days, and it throws a whole new dimension on to their relationship, in a good way. Sarah says that the Doctor “dumped” her, and demands to know why he doesn’t return. Interestingly, his reply, that he has such a long life compared to those he travels with, is simultaneously genuinely deep and tragic yet completely dodging the question. It’s all summed up in one exchange as the Doctor protests “You didn’t need me! You were getting on with your life,” to which Sarah simply replies “You were my life”.

And we get the brilliant revelation that the Doctor left her in Aberdeen, not South Croydon! But even this is topped mere seconds later by Mickey’s realisation that he’s the tin dog.

Next we get a conversation between Rose and the Doctor which parallels the earlier one between him and Sarah; Rose now realises she’s only the latest of many to travel with him and wonders if one day she’ll get the push too. The Doctor’s reply is more insistent and more heartfelt but really no more honest. And it’s Sarah who he instinctively gives the sonic screwdriver to.

We switch to the conversation between the Doctor and Finch, a scene relating to the actual plot which, almost uniquely, is probably worth mentioning. There are echoes of the “No second chances” line from The Christmas Invasion as the Doctor gives him just one warning; there’s a hard edge to this new Doctor.

The monster competition between Sarah and Rose is fanwank heaven, and it’s the fact that the Loch Ness Monster just can’t be trumped that breaks the ice and allows them to bond. This scene is a significant one in post-2005 Who; ever since Rose the programme has been cagey about explicit references to specific past events for fear of alienating new fans, with even the creation of the Daleks being alluded to only in vague terms. This episode marks a sudden shift, with continuity references everywhere. At last the programme can embrace its past.

It turns out that the Krillitane want to solve some ultimate equation type thingy to somehow gain power over reality. It’s only on this viewing that I realised the significance in their all being maths teachers! Interestingly, we never see whether the Doctor is ultimately tempted or not by Finch’s offer of power as it’s Sarah who decides for him, assuming the Doctorish role at that point.

Finch says “forget the shooty dog thing”- so that’s where the phrase comes from! And then the plot comes to an end with K9’s sacrifice and Mickey, er, pulling the plug. The coda’s great; Sarah declines the offer to come aboard the TARDIS again, finally getting a proper goodbye from the Doctor, and advises Rose that “Some things are worth getting your heart broken for.” We end with the revelation that the Doctor’s made her a new K9.

And Mickey finally joins the TARDIS crew (yay), to Rose’s apparent annoyance…

Utterly wonderful. The plot was by-the-numbers, of course, but rightly so; we wouldn’t want it to overshadow the important stuff, in the same way no one ever criticised the works of Jimi Hendrix for the so-so vocals. Easily a 5/5.

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