Aired 29 April 2006
‘School Reunion’ is a testament to everything that Doctor Who can be, telling a clever tale in its own right while paying homage to what has come before it. The notion of the aftermath of a companion leaving the Doctor and the TARDIS was briefly touched on in ‘The Parting of the Ways’ when Rose pondered just how she would manage to get on with her previously normal everyday life, but ‘School Reunion’ delves into the ramifications of this inevitability straight on, doing so with arguably the most popular companion of them all in Elisabeth Sladen’s Sarah Jane Smith.
For her part, Sladen reprises her role effortlessly, though obviously a version more tempered by the passing decades, yet the amount of emotion she is able to imbue every line with is staggering. It would have been so easy for this story to have just relied on Sladen’s presence to tell a reminiscent and nostalgic tale, but it instead takes the reunion into much darker and emotional territory. Here is a woman who has been living her life without ever fully engaging in it lest the TARDIS return for her. And the breath leaving her as she finally does come upon the TARDIS is pitch perfect.
With this saddening revelation, it’s understandable that Sarah seeing Rose as the new companion would be upsetting and the grounds for jealousy and defensiveness both ways. Fortunately these two strong women are eventually able to get over their differences and form a friendship of sorts, at times going so far as to even poke fun at the Doctor and his mannerisms. In the end, though, Sarah’s refusal to rejoin the Doctor makes perfect sense for her character, finally receiving the closure of sorts that she needed all of this time even despite the overt implications that she has loved the Doctor all of this time. This may seem like catering to the modern audience, but it doesn’t seem to intrude on the great friendship she and the Third/Fourth Doctors had long ago.
‘School Reunion’ also affords David Tennant his best script yet, and he proves more than adept at bringing across the pain his character feels as he explains how difficult it is for him to get attached to a companion and then have to watch them age in front of them before they all leave him for various reasons. As a result of this and seeing Sarah, Rose gets all the confirmation she needs about how desolate life after the Doctor can be. In fact, her emotional change regarding Sarah and her circumstances in general from the story’s beginning to the end is very believable, and Billie Piper delivers each scene fantastically. There’s no denying at this point that Rose is falling for the Doctor and, perhaps for the first time in his long history given everything he has been through recently, the Doctor’s loneliness may open the door for a reciprocation of sorts.
The change in Doctors, shockingly, also allows for a change in Mickey who has become a very enjoyable character after a rough start. His dialogue is sparkling throughout, and with the relationship between the Doctor and he less antagonistic and confrontational than it was last series, it should be a great pleasure to have him aboard the TARDIS in the future. In rounding off returning characters, though, K-9 makes a triumphant return and, in truth, spurs Mickey’s decision to join the TARDIS after his realization that he is filling the role of ‘the tin dog.’ K-9 is used to great effect- if sparingly- throughout, and it’s thoroughly touching that Sarah Jane has held onto him for so long after leaving the Doctor.
The big issue with ‘School Reunion’ is that, even though its main storyline is decent in every respect, it just pales in comparison to the interpersonal relationship among the main characters. That said, Anthony Head is utterly amazing in his headmaster role, elevating the character’s menace to disturbing levels, and his scene when pitted directly against the Doctor is certainly one of the standouts. The Krillitanes, a composite race that take the best features of their prey, is an ingenious concept, and though the CGI lets their flying form down a bit in the end, hopefully they’ll come back to menace the Doctor at some point again.
‘School Reunion’ is the first stellar episode of this series, reaching into Doctor Who‘s past to not only give closure to one of the most beloved companions, but also to give the current companion a glimpse into what could be in store for her after the Doctor. The pure emotion throughout is immensely enjoyable, and though the actual science fiction story itself suffers from a predictable outcome and Anthony Head’s greatness is overshadowed by Sarah Jane, these minor quibbles fail to detract from the importance and quality of this story.