“School Reunion” – Review: Redux

The Doctor “Hello, Sarah-Jane”

School Reunion

When I first heard that Liz Sladen was to reprise her role as Sarah Jane Smith I have to confess that I doubted the wisdom of the decision. It’s been 30 years since she was regularly on our screens and travelling with Jon Pertwee and Tom Baker’s 3rd and 4th Doctors, so how many of the much discussed eight million viewers were going to remember her and what kind of relevance would her presence bring to the story other than to kow-tow to us die-hard fans. It was that kind of indulgent, self-reverencial attitude that some argue led to the show being put on ice all those years ago. My recollection of her character was from the exact time I fell in love with Doctor Who, from all those years ago when the fan in me was born, from another time. Fine, bring back Doctor Who for a new generation, speed it up, smarten it up, sharpen it up and make it a 21st century success story, but don’t go messing with it and especially don’t go messing with the bits from my childhood.

I should never have doubted. Here we start with a simple coincidence, the Doctor and Rose were called by Mickey to investigate the strange goings on at Deffry Vale High School. It is interesting to recall that each of the second series episodes had its own ‘Tardisode’ to go with it. Whoever came up with the idea to call these things ‘Tardisodes’ should be ashamed of themselves: it’s a terrible name for what was simply a mini scene serving as a prequel to its appropriate story. They were in no way in the same scale of the Children in Need special but a lovely idea anyway (and easy to find on YouTube, if you’ve never seen them). It’s just a shame that they never made it on to the DVD boxset. Anyway, the Tardisode here showed Mickey making his call to Rose requesting help from her and the Doctor, and the coincidence is that it’s the same strange goings on that also attracted the attention of investigative journalist, Sarah-Jane Smith. It’s such a simple idea that I’m surprised they haven’t bumped into each other before. Just for good measure she brought K9 along for the ride, making it a five-strong Scooby gang to investigate the sinister Mr Finch, adroitly portrayed by Anthony Head in a role that oozed malevolence. So the ensemble was in place, but the question was “Could they deliver?”

Of course they could, and just for good measure they delivered one of the great Doctor Who stories. The plot was, to put it mildly, simple… alien bat people take over a school to use the childrens’ brains to solve a mathmatical problem that will give them great power. They are thwarted and blown up. Told you it was simple. However, this was merely a backdrop to the emotional development and interplay of the five main characters. A witty and quotable script from Toby Whitehouse flowed seamlessly between action and fun, sorrow and loss, jealousy and anger, and good and evil. Sarah-Jane got some closure after being abandoned in Aberdeen in 1976, Mickey came to realise a little more about himself, Rose got a glimpse of the future life of a companion, the Doctor got a glimpse of the past, and even K-9 got an overhaul in the end.

I will remember “School Reunion” for a long time: the confrontation between Mr Finch and The Doctor by the swimming pool; the cracking dialogue (“You can spend the rest of your life with me, but I can’t spend the rest of mine with you.”); finally realising that K-9 is not so useless after all; and the feeling that we’ve got to the middle of Rose’s journey now that she’s seen where her relationship with the Doctor may end. But it’s not those things that I will remember most of all…. it was Lis Sladen’s return. This beautifully observed love letter to Doctor Who’s past was so much more than a nod to all of us die-hard fans, it was the blossoming of a new lease of life for Elizabeth Sladen who went on to make five series of the Sarah Jane Adventures before her life was so tragically cut short. She was my Sarah-Jane too.

Highlight: Liz

Lowlight: The Skasis Paradigm

Talking Point: Did “School Reunion” successfully bridge the gap between Classic and New Who?

Demon’s Run Rating: 17 out of 20

Original BBC1 Broadcast: 29th April 2006

Marathon Status: 17 days gone?! Is that all?

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