“School Reunion” is something of an unprecedented Classic Who reunion. When Doctor Who returned to television in 2005, with Christopher Eccleston and Billie Piper leading it, it blindsided Britain and was an unexpected hit. But for a long while, people weren’t really sure if it was supposed to be a reboot or an actual continuation of the classic series, especially since the Doctor now had an edgy backstory about the time lords being nuked off-screen at some point. In “School Reunion”, the show fully anchors its connection to its previous incarnation and confirms that NuWho and Classic Who are meant to be set in the continuity. In this installment, the Doctor reunites with Sarah Jane Smith, a long-running, fan favorite companion from the classic series, and the pair reminiscence about the time the Doctor left her in Abordeen. “School Reunion” also marks the writing debut of Toby Whithouse, a guest writer who would turn in a good many episodes for Doctor Who over the years, as well as spearhead his own supernatural series, “Being Human”, eventually. From what I recall, “Being Human” was a really good, charismatic show, while his writing style tends to have more mixed results on Doctor Who. His batting average isn’t nearly as inconsistent as Mark Gatiss’, but his dialogue for the show tends to be quite dry and is usually elevated by the actors’ quality performances. Looking back, I think he wrote best episodes for the Eleventh Doctor, like “The God Complex” and “A Town Called Mercy”, while he turned in his worst script for the Twelfth Doctor, “The Lie Of The Land”. His first story, “School Reunion”, feels like a good, sentimental episode, if not an especially memorable one. I like Sarah Jane’s return and the scenes she shares with the Doctor, while the rest of the episode’s plot lands around the average range.
For the last couple of episodes, the audience has been privy to the Tenth Doctor’s youthful exuberance about his new regeneration, enjoying having a fresh start. It’s almost been easy to forget that the Doctor is already nine hundred years old, but “School Reunion” is one of those episodes where the mask drops and the Doctor lets his true age show underneath David Tennant’s perky looks. We’re shown again that he never sits still for more than a day, and he purposely never looks back once he closes a chapter in his life. As a time lord, the Doctor is pretty close to being immortal, while humans have a good hundred years in them at most. Once he drops his friends off at home for good, he lets them get on with their lives – he doesn’t write, he doesn’t visit, he doesn’t offer to take them on any more adventures, because he doesn’t want to experience them growing old and dying like mayflies. In that regard, from an understandable place of pain, he’s actually a pretty bad friend, which Rose, Sarah Jane, and the episode itself calls him out on. The large number of friends the Doctor has cycled through has been a part of the series since it’s conception, so it’s nice to see “School Reunion” touch on that. “The God Complex” would also comment on the Doctor’s relationship with his companions, and that episode would pull even less punches about his shortcomings. There’s also an interesting scene where Mr. Finch offers the Doctor your usual villainous spiel about how he should cross over to the dark side, so they can reshape reality and become gods, and the Doctor actually seems way more tempted by it than he ought to be. One of the Tenth Doctor’s primary character flaws is that he has a god complex, and this is our first glimpse of it. As the last time lord in existence, a part of him is always tempted to buck the natural order and ignore the limitations of what he can do, reshape the cruel parts of the cosmos and his own history. So the Tenth Doctor has the potential to fall to the dark side from his own temptations. Keep that in mind for future episodes like “The Water Of Mars” and “The End Of Time”.
Elisabeth Sladen reprises her role as Sarah Jane Smith in this episode, an old long-running companion from the classic series, accompanied by her plucky (and surprisingly cute) robot dog, K9. So naturally, her subplot has more impact with context, though the classic series is hardly required viewing. The Doctor and Sarah Jane have some unfinished business to discuss, namely how they parted ways. The Doctor changed her life, he showed her amazing things and an entirely different way of living, and then he dropped her back home with little fanfare and cut off contact for decades, so she’s been feeling a bit restless all this time. With Rose and Sarah Jane, “School Reunion” is mostly an episode about the companions, the role they play in the franchise, and the lives they could have after their tenure is over. Because it’s an interesting conundrum for the series to contemplate. After spending some of the best years of their lives as a thrill-seeking daredevil every week, how could someone actually adjust to ordinary, everyday life on Earth again? The idea of life after the Doctor was one NuWho would explore several times over. Nearly all the Moffat era companions have arcs that end with them outgrowing the Doctor and embarking on their own. After they had been growing apart for quite some time, Amy finally said goodbye to the Doctor for good so she could live a full life with Rory. After she had been emulating the Doctor and following in his footsteps for several seasons, Clara struck on out her own as her own heroine in her last appearance. Bill wasn’t ready yet to see the vast expanse of the universe when it was first offered to her, but after being tutored by the Doctor for a whole season and experiencing all sorts of pain and loss, she was more than ready for her own adventure. Through the events of “School Reunion”, Sarah Jane realizes the importance of moving on with her life and finally receives the closure she needed to live fully in the present, making a heartwarming and poignant departure at the end with K9. She even received her own spin-off show.
Rose does not have a fun time in this episode. She starts the case feeling surly and frustrated that she’s back to frying chips, posing as a cafeteria worker, and then things get worse when Sarah Jane enters the picture. Rose and Sarah Jane spend most of the episode trading barbs and cheap shots out of mutual jealousy, and since Sarah was the one who fired the first shot, she clearly had no idea she was picking a fight she couldn’t win when it came to being catty. Truthfully, Rose feels hurt and insecure by the knowledge that she’s just one notch in a long line of companions, and she wonders if it makes her connection to the Doctor, which she’s recently started to accept as a loving one, feel less special and meaningful. From an external point of view, “School Reunion” exists to educate the audience and prepare them for the finale. For any viewers who started with the revival, Rose is the POV character, but this episode confirms that she’s not only far from the first companion, she also won’t be the last. Billie Piper won’t be around forever. In fact, she only has ten more episodes under her belt before she bows out. The reality of their different lifespans is also an important sign that as much as Ten and Rose feel strongly about each other, any relationship they might have ultimately won’t work out in the long run. Meanwhile, Mickey Smith (Noel Clarke) continues to develop nicely as a side character. After being burned several times in Series 1, Mickey really enjoys the Doctor and Rose’s lover spat in this episode, and you’re right there with him. At this point, Mickey is starting to come into his own as a sidekick who can be brave and helpful when he needs to be, and he’s trying to live down his increasingly inaccurate reputation as ‘Mickey as the idiot’. As the man back home, he’s been feeling aimless and bored for a while now. He wasn’t ready to see the universe the previous season, when Rose offered it to him, but he’s ready now, to try to find his purpose in life. He still won’t find it being an awkward third wheel in the TARDIS, between his ex-girlfriend and her new beau, but he’s made a good step forward.
Easily the weakest aspect of “School Reunion” is the subplot devoted to the villains, the Krillatine. The Krillatine are a chimera race of conquerors and invaders who (currently) resemble giant bats. Anthony Head portrays their leader, Mr. Finch, and he is rather unsettling. Mainly because any “Buffy” fans will notice Anthony plays the headmaster exactly like what a twisted, evil version of Giles would probably be like (based on the super shady moments Rupert had on that show): he’s calm and reserved with a false geniality that belies malice and utter contempt for everyone around him. Mr. Head’s guest appearance in this episode makes sense when you consider that RTD freely admits that “Buffy The Vampire Slayer” was a large influence in how he structured his era of Doctor Who, and “School Reunion” was a chance to pay homage to that series. The Krillatine actors incorporate stiff, animal-like movements into their performances, even before the reveal, and I find it absolutely hilarious how Anthony Head just goes wild with his expressions in the last act, screeching like a banshee as Mr. Finch becomes more and more unhinged. The reason I singled out the Krillatines as the weakest link in the episode isn’t just because the CGI for their bat forms is really bad, but because their master plan kind of boggles the mind. The villains in the previous episodes have been delightfully absurd (like a talking skin flap, some cat nuns, a social-climbing werewolf and some werewolf worshiping monks), but somehow it’s the Krillatines who threaten my suspension of disbelief. Basically, they’ve hijacked a grade school and have made the kids super intelligent so they can utilize their collective knowledge and solve an equation that will (somehow) allow them to warp reality and become gods. Both the Doctor and the episode take this plan completely seriously as a threat to all life. I have to say, between Rose looking into the time vortex and getting her goddess on a few episodes ago, and the Krillatine’s rather simple plot, becoming a god in the Doctor Who universe is surprisingly easy.
James Hawes once again steps up to direct “School Reunion” (he’s been busy this season, hasn’t he?), and he does a fine job injecting some life into the proceedings with some shots I really enjoy, like the drawn out tracking shot of Ten standing behind Sarah Jane in the hallway, waiting for her to notice him, or the off-kilter dutch angles of Ten and Mr. Finch locking eyes in the stairwell, or the one and done pan down where the Krillatine bats fly down a staircase and their human forms emerge at the end. “School Reunion” is not one of Doctor Who’s better days when it comes to the series’ CGI. Some of the special effects in this episode look fine, and some of them rank alongside the carnivorous wheelie bin and the Nestene Consciousness in “Rose” when it comes to being incredibly dodgy. In particular, there’s this one shot of Mr. Finch and one of his Krillatine brothers standing on the school roof at night, spying on the Doctor, except the green screen proportions are way off for some reasons and it looks hilariously fake, but the episode keeps cutting back to it, making me chuckle every time. “School Reunion” boasts one of Murray Gold’s better scores for Series 2, which makes me sad that all of it is unreleased. Series 1 and Series 2 really should have received their own soundtrack releases, instead of being lumped together on one album. Standout tracks included the ominous choir music that’s used throughout the entire climax, during the students’ ‘study session’, and the instrumental variation of “Song For Ten” (the peppy, beach holiday song from “The Christmas Invasion” that fits Ten so well) during Ten and Sarah Jane’s final heartfelt goodbye.
“School Reunion” has it’s faults, mostly when it comes to the villains, but as a proud celebration of the show’s past and a proper send-off for Sarah Jane Smith and K-9, this episode is a fun and heartwarming addition to the NuWho canon.
* Elisabeth Sladen passed away in 2011; may she rest in peace.
* “I thought there’d be happy slapping hoodies. Happy slapping hoodies with ASBOs. Happy slapping hoodies with ASBOs and ringtones!”
* “This isn’t your classroom, Kenny. Now run along!”
* “All right, team. Oh, I hate people who say ‘team’. Er, gang. Er, comrades. Ugh, anyway!”
* The verbal sparring in Rose vs Sarah Jane is brutal, and I love it.
* “Ho, ho, mate. The missus and the ex. Welcome to every man’s worst nightmare!”
* “You see, what’s impressive is that it’s been nearly an hour since we met her and I still haven’t said I told you so. Although, I have prepared a little ‘I was right’ dance that I can show you later. All this time you’ve been giving it, he’s different, when the truth is, he’s just like any other bloke” “You don’t know what you’re talking about” “Maybe not. But if I were you I’d go easy on the chips” Hot damn, Mickey.
* “I don’t age. I regenerate. But humans decay. You wither and you die. Imagine watching that happen to someone who you-” “What, Doctor?” “You can spend the rest of your life with me, but I can’t spend the rest of mine with you. I have to live on. Alone. That’s the curse of the Time Lords”.
* “Fascinating. Your people were peaceful to the point of indolence. You seem to be something new. Would you declare war on us, Doctor?” “I’m so old now. I used to have so much mercy. You get one warning. That was it” Another appearance of edgy Ten.
* “Ugh, forget the shooty dog thing!”.
* “Oh my God. Kenny blew up the school! It was Kenny!” “Yeah! Kenny! Kenny! Kenny! Kenny!” Something tells me Kenny won’t enjoy his new reputation as an arsonist when the law gets eventually. The Doctor does love leaving other people to clean up his mess.
* It’s kind of fascinating to see how much Rose’s character has changed in just one season. Rose was the one who wanted Mickey to come along in “World War Three“, but ever since she and the Doctor had a relationship upgrade in “The Parting Of Ways“, she’s been feeling a lot more possessive of her time with the Doctor. She wraps her head around her ex-boyfriend hanging around all the time, cramping her and the Doctor’s style, and all she can think is ‘ugh’.