Sunday, January 23, 2011

"School Reunion"

It's astounding how drastically a different writer was changing the tone of this era three episodes into the second series. Toby Whithouse's script for "School Reunion" is a much more subtle and nuanced piece of writing than those we've seen from RTD around this time and it's a relief to know that the return of Sarah Jane was placed in more capable hands. As an episode, "School Reunion" is not without its faults and makes the same mistakes as almost every story from around this time - thinking that character driven narrative can preclude the need for a meaningful or intelligent plot - but nonetheless it's an episode which I enjoy and probably one of the best tales from the Tennant tenure.
It's most important for addressing some of the awkward points raised by the Doctor-companion relationship but it's also notable for having a story that makes virtually no sense. There are lots of scenes of doors being closed to hide Krillitanes unpleasantly devouring people for essentially no reason (I thought they wanted to adapt the body parts? How does that work?) and Anthony Stewart Head, despite a cracking performance, is totally wasted in the relatively unimportant role of Lassar, the Krillitane leader. He's menacing but you feel like putting him in an episode where the attention would inevitably be focused on Sarah Jane is a bit of a waste. There's also the whole issue of the Krillitane plan. Apparently adults don't have imaginations so they are using children souped up on an oil which makes people more intelligent. This too is something we're supposed to take for granted and no genuine explanation for how the Krillitane oil became toxic to Krillitanes is given. If it's deadly, how do they have so much of it? Maybe if we knew where it originated, but we don't. Why does Lassar send that Krillitane to swoop down over the Doctor and co when he discovers he's a Time Lord? No one knows. Again, there is still the ploy of kiddy- and idiot-pleasing thrills for essentially no reason.
So the Krillitanes want to 'crack the Skasis Paradigm' to achieve godlike power. The Skasis Paradigm is explained with the equally meaningless phrase 'the god maker' and 'the universal theory' which mean absolutely nothing. What is it, and how would 'cracking' it give anyone power? How does solving some complicated maths puzzle grant people godlike powers to reshape space and time? It is totally meaningless technobabble, but paying too much attention to this would be to miss the point, which is the Sarah Jane stuff, right? No! As I keep saying, having a character driven main plot doesn't mean that the sci-fi aspect gets to be hokey bollocks to make people gasp at the idea that the Doctor might want to gain unlimited power and set things right. It's meaningless and unsatisfying, and it's probably the thing that makes this episode fall short. Also, the alien gargoyle form thingies of the Krillitane look rubbish, although the CGI's not too bad. They're still tedious Monsters of the Week, though.
But anyway we should probably get onto the whole Sarah Jane aspect. I actually think this is done pretty well. Rose being all jealous is believable I guess but I think it kind of highlights how irritatingly smug the Tenth Doctor/Rose situation is, certainly because Sarah Jane's relationship with the Third and Fourth Doctors was infinitely more subtle and clever. You need only to watch the ending of Planet of the Spiders or The Hand of Fear to recognise that. It's interesting to note that the Doctor tends to leave human wreckage in his wake because not that many companions have left involuntarily. Sarah Jane still feels like Sarah, and her conversations with the Tenth Doctor leave you actually feeling that this man is the same person who was ambling around with curly hair and a long scarf so many years ago. I think that's why I like this episode; it's one of the few times that the Tenth Doctor actually feels like the Doctor, especially because the peformance is considerably restrained. It establishes a rather positive sense of continuity between the Classic Series and the New Series in a way that things like UNIT or the Daleks can't. In the end it proves that in spite of heartbreak the Doctor's greatest talent is his ability to bring out the best in the people around him, and I think one of the ways this is achieved is the way this concept, encapsulated in Sarah Jane, is carried over onto Mickey. Mickey really was Mickey the Idiot in the beginning but by now he's definitely a character in his own right and I definitely prefer him to Rose. It's satisfying to see him finally be ready to travel in the TARDIS and sadly as Rose's character, so peppy from meeting Eccly way back in the beginning, degrades into someone smug, clingy and jealous, we see Mickey evolve from an everyday coward into a reliable member of the Doctor's team. The implications for the Doctor/Companion relationship are profound, and these days it seems the Doctor needs someone for more than to, in the great Liz Shaw's words, hand him his test tubes and tell him how brilliant he is. He is a man staving off loneliness now that the Time Lords are gone; as with all things he only misses something once it becomes unavailable. As I say, it's profound in what it reveals about the Companions, but maybe it's even moreso in what it says about the Doctor and its explanation for the ways he's changed. It's at least some consolation for those of us who feel like the man we knew is gone.
Don't worry though, he'll come back - eventually.
Last of all, K9 returns and is as big a cheat as ever with his laser gun and super brain. But who cares? He's K9. Good to see him return and be rebuilt, so really this is a return for two Companions even if his relationship with the Doctor was never much more than one of a man and his faithful fighting computer for the sake of comedy and plot expedience. But he's K9. C'mon.
Oh and a pat on the head for arbitrary fat kid Kenny, who feels like he was meant to do way more in the already overcrowded story. I wish we could have had a reunion with Sarah minus a silly gargoyle-infested school plot. But then maybe if plots like that were split we would have ended up with some utter garbage where the Doctor and Rose just fought gargoyles in a school. Maybe in this era you just have to focus really, really hard on the positives when they're there. When they're not there, of course, is another matter entirely.

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