Sunday, May 26, 2013

School Reunion - *Lunch lady screams, explodes in a puff of smoke* "It's fine. She does that."

School Reunion (Doctor Who) - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Series 2, Story 3 (Overall Series Story #170)

Sarah Jane!?
It really is Sarah Jane!!
If you've read any of my classic series write-ups of the 3rd and 4th Doctor stories that featured Sarah Jane Smith as a companion, you've got a pretty good idea what to expect here. The way 13-year-old girls squee over Matt Smith and David Tennant, I am virtually incapable of any reaction other than unalloyed admiration of Elisabeth Sladen's Sarah Jane Smith. So, to prevent this from descending into hagiography, I'm going to try my hardest to be critical of this episode in any way I can muster, including looking for any flaws in the use or portrayal of Sarah Jane in this story. Full on Devil's Advocate mode will be engaged.

Further complicating this effort to be dispassionate and prosecutorial is the guest-starring turn of Anthony Head. Not only did they bring back Ms. Sladen, they just happened have one of the stars of Buffy the Vampire Slayer able to step in as a villain in the same episode. Maybe we can start by criticizing this one for being overloaded with talent ...

Whether you consider "Shooty dog thing," a dialogue triumph or disaster,
there's no disputing  Mr. Head  was fantastically villainous.

It's a safe bet that you can criticize any episode of Doctor Who on the basis of sort of continuity error, either the typical nitpicking of the positioning of props ("The coffee mug is on the left side of the desk in the first two-shot, but after the close-up the coffee cup has moved to right side of the desk!") or the broader continuity of Doctor Who. The Discontinuity Guide does a great job documenting these. I'll add what I consider to be the main "goof," the conceit that jacking a bunch human school kids into a computer will give you super-duper processing engine and the imaginative genius that will enable you to solve this version of the God-Maker equation (here called the Skasis Paradigm) and allow you to control reality. Forget for a moment that wiring a bunch of pre-teen school kids together is likely to get you nothing but an engine that produces absolutely clueless pornography and schemes to acquire candy and video games; that aside, if this was a practical plan, then this problem could very easily have been solved already by some other nefarious group of villains. It's not like the Paradigm was unknown and human children were hard to come buy for any number of alien threats.

Bat-shaped Krillitane on the right just did a little jump back when it heard "Time Lord."

Mickey called Rose and Sarah Jane the "missus and the ex," and it was a little too close to home. Perhaps for the Doctor, but maybe even for us, the viewers? It's made pretty explicit that Rose is romantically interested in the Doctor, but it feels a bit odd for Sarah Jane to express those same feelings in the context of regret. She's from an era of the show where that was never really discussed, so it feels like a bit of retcon to bring it up now. It would have stood out less had it been Lalla Wards's Romana II coming back. The Doctor positively lit up when he was flirting with her, but that sort of flirtatious vibe wasn't there with Sarah Jane, was it?

Sarah Jane had to come to grips emotionally with two losses in this story. Finding the Doctor again opened the you-left-me-behind-and-never-came-back wound, and later she lost her K-9, whom the Doctor had just restored for her. Her heart was on her sleeve in both cases and I can't imagine anyone not wanting to put an arm around her say something encouraging like, "Brave heart, Sarah Jane."

The best thing about the villainous scheme in this story was that it could truly tempt the Doctor. The Krillitane were offering him the chance to undo the Time War, to bring back his people, to save civilizations he couldn't save before. Sarah Jane is the one who reminds him that pain and loss help to define us, and that temptation, to absolute power, must be forsworn. The scene is played with relative subtlety given the magnitude of the situation, no wild camera swoops, no symphonic bombast from the soundtrack, and it works. It's on the actors to make it work and they do.

The strength of the performances of all the leads is what grounds this story and makes every decision point compelling. Even at the end when Sarah Jane encourages Mickey to join the TARDIS crew, Rose's disgust, and Mickey's obliviousness to it, speak volumes.

"Tony, let's have that scenery chewing face again and  ... action!"

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