School Reunion

Story No. 177 The missus, the ex and a couple of tin dogs
Production Code Series Two Episode Three
Dates April 29 2006

With David Tennant, Billie Piper,
Noel Clarke, Elisabeth Sladen
Written by Toby Whitfield Directed by James Hawes
Executive Producers: Russell T Davies, Julie Gardner.

Synopsis: Something suspicious is happening in Deffry Vale High School. The Doctor and Rose are already involved, but they aren't the only ones with a nose for investigation...


A Review by Steve Cassidy 30/4/06

I've said it before and I'll say it again.

When Barry Letts was looking around for a replacement for Katy Manning in 1973 he struck pure gold.

School Reunion isn't the greatest Who story. It's a nice enough romp with decent SFX, zippy direction and sharp dialogue but it is saved by the guest stars. If Lis Sladen, Anthony Head and the "little tin dog" weren't there, we would probably have another Long Game: a nice enough adventure, but not one that hits the gold standard. The inclusion of the "guest stars" puts the regulars on their toes. In fact, it throws them into sharp relief. And unfortunately at times brings back memories and comparisons which aren't always very flattering. But the adventure works; in fact it works very well. For older fans the sight of Sarah creeping around a dimly lit schoolroom and K9 rolling around will bring back memories that put a smile on their faces. I came away from the adventure blissful and deeply content. School Reunion, bless it, is a wonderful exercise in nostalgia.

Of course there are a couple of adult themes. The appearance of Sarah Jane Smith throws Rose's own life into perspective. She honestly thought she was the first to travel with him. The appearance of a previous companion, and one that has visably aged, throws her mortality into contrast against his immortality. A clever theme and the audience can identify with the theme of ageing and letting go of the past. For it is Sarah who undergoes the journey in this adventure. In character, she never quite forgot her time exploring the universe. Those of us who backpacked in our youth now look back at our adventures with a sense of melancholy. It's a time we'll never get again. It was a clever theme this week: the closing doors of the past and a sense that parts of our lives are over. It's coming to terms with getting older.

I don't think the adventure would be half as enjoyable as it is without Lis Sladen. I was very worried about how they were going to portray the character. Friends of mine honestly weren't looking forward to the episode, as they thought Sarah Jane Smith would be demeaned by a slanging match with the teenage Rose. Luckily, although we go down that road, it's not as painful as it could have been. Sarah Jane Smith manages to keep her dignity. It is totally in character to stand her ground when Rose throws her childish insults at her, it's totally in character to keep K9 in the boot of her car and of course totally in character with her scenes of recognition with the Doctor. The scene where she spies the TARDIS in a school storeroom was very well played. Regarding the character in 2006, Lis Sladen portrays her with wit, intelligence, a sense of loss, humour, disappointment and just the right amount of sentimentality. Why wasn't this woman a major star...?

Plaudits must also go to Anthony Stewart Head. This Sci-Fi television veteran was surprisingly effective in a flat villainous role. His scene with Tennant at the swimming pool dripped with menace and his cold measured performance was pitched about right. The plot wasn't the main attraction here and the fan in me noticed the similiarities to Logopolis. The children attached to their computers were reminiscent of the Logopolitans keeping the universe together in Tom's final adventure. The script, the first non-RTD one for six episodes, was pleasantly free of childish humour, sexual innuendo or deux ex machinas. And I thought moved along at a quick brisk pace. It wasn't the strongest script, and after an attention-grabbing start it did seem to meander in the middle, before coming together in an impressive climax.

The school locations were original. And what daydreaming schoolboy hasn't at sometime imagined his teacher was from another planet - especially when he/she gives him bad grades. K9 worked well, and was an enjoyable "guest star". It's funny though, I'm not sure this is the K9 which travelled with the Doctor - hence making the 5000AD reference to The Invisble Enemy obsolete. I thought the original was left with Leela in Invasion of Time, and his replacement stayed with Romana in E-Space. This was just a present he sent to Sarah - so he did remember her...

The regulars, well, everybody seems to praise Tennant in this but I'm still not sold. They seem to be hardening the character to compensate for his youth. He looked definitely strange standing next to the matured Lis Sladen. I couldn't help thinking that this one was tailor-made for Eccles; his Doctor looked like it had the lone wolf gene and you could believe that he would not have contacted Sarah Jane. But Tennant? Well, there was abit of the fanboy about his reaction in seeing her for the first time. He's fine, he does the job - but he made me really miss Eccles tonight.

Noel Clarke shone; I thought the over-comic writing for Mickey at the beginning was going to do the character no favours. But his scene at the end where he volenteers to travel in the TARDIS had me rooting for him. When he's involved the whole group dynamic seems to work better. I think it's because he's cynical and got a chip on his shoulder. When the Doctor and Rose are on their own and in giggle-mode, as in the two previous episodes, the dramatic tension just drains out of an episode. Rose Tyler? Well, she did what I expected. The character is pretty unlikeable so far in season 2. She's served her purpose: being the audience identification figure. Maybe it's time for Tennant to find his own companion. And some of us got a great deal of satisfaction seeing her serving chips to snotty kids...

There's something else which is bothering me. Out of all the companions, I would have thought that Sarah Jane Smith was the least likely to pine for the Doctor years later; I always thougtht she was too pragmatic and independent to wist for Mr Teeth 'n curls. In K9 and Company, she seemed to be doing well for herself, getting on with her life, and seemed happy that the Doctor had remembered her after all. I got the impression she was going to write up all her adventures and publish them as works of fiction. And she didn't seem that bothered in The Five Doctors either. So where does all this "in love" business come from - or is a certain producer was again trying to find yet another emotional angle for the story. Umm....

So in all an enjoyable episode with great rewatchability. The story seemed to flow and the cringeful dialogue and and self-indulgence of the recent episodes seemed to be absent. Whithouse seemed to concentrate on character. For Who nowadays does concentrate on character, but we could have had a bit more story. It would have been better as a two parter. But most fans will enjoy the return of two old favourites.

When they are on screen, magic occurs.

"Goodbye, my Sarah Jane Smith!" by Charles Phipps 3/5/06

The School Reunion episode is probably going to be remembered along with Dalek and The Parting of the Ways or even longer. It's not for the return of Sarah Jane Smith per say, though fan reaction to her return has been overwhelming. It's the episode that bridges the feels of the new series with the old series while simultaneously having a very real effect of asking us to go look back at the original series with our modern sensibilities. The debate over what the implications of this episode will be are things that shall haunt message boards for years to come.

The episode's actual plot is a fairly ambitious one even though not much attention is actually played to the villains themselves. The Krillitanes as a vampire-like species of DNA-absorbing monsters are a fairly effective monster with their ultimate plan being one of universal domination. Given the way the Headmaster behaves and his ultimate aims, it's no surprise that people confused him for the Master. Compared to the Slitheen, the Krillitanes and especially the Headmaster have plenty of potential to be recurring nemeses for the Doctor.

The subplot though of the meeting between Sarah Jane Smith and the Tenth Doctor is one of the most powerful set of scenes in the show's multi-decade history. Part of the power of the scenes is the modern sensibility that they're treated with. This show implies far stronger ties than the friendship and brief companionship that the show has always dismissed them with. The Sarah Jane of School Reunion is a woman who was clearly deeply in love with the Doctor and frankly says as much at the end. The bitterness and regret she suffers that the Doctor never came back for her is something that is palpable in several scenes. Sarah Jane is also clearly feeling the weight of her age with several barbed comments about how she feels she's been replaced with a new model by the Doctor. It's rather disturbing that the Doctor almost says as much with the fact that he leaves his companions because he doesn't want to see them die of old age.

The implications that the romantic possibilities that are currently being displayed by Rose (whom the Doctor strangely treats as different from even a beloved companion as Sarah Jane Smith) are weirdly implied to be retroactive to the point it may be possible that Sarah Jane and the Doctor were involved. I for one never believed that there was a Sarah Jane relationship with the Fourth Doctor but this makes a believer out of me. It's somewhat tragic to imagine that Sarah Jane was never able to get involved with another human being but also extremely believable that plenty of companions didn't get on with their lives.

The use of K9 was also extremely enjoyable for his fans. The dog proves to be as fun and amusing in the 21st century as he was in the 20th. The way the dog plays off Mickey was amusing and frankly if they do bring back K9 and Company, he would make a perfect co-star for it.

Overall this is a truly grand episode and one that cries out for a sequel.

Outstanding by Joseph Lepkowski 6/5/06

The third story of the season two strikes a cord not yet hit in the new series. David Tennant has now gotten the role down pat. This story beats anything else seen this far. Where Tooth and Claw and New Earth where so/so, here we have new classic Who.

The tone starts off moderate but by 28 min and 30 seconds it grabs hold and does not let go. The villian is the best we have seen yet in the new series with a offer to the Doctor that tempts. The music score towards the end to this story is the best I have ever heard in Who. We have seen the running around in Who more times then can be counted but not like this. The suppense here far out weighs Tooth and Claw or any Who made thus far.

The return of Sarah Jane and K9 is handled as it should have been. We get to see just what happened to Sarah after Tom Baker left her. I was never K9's biggest fan but as a fan I've got say his involement here makes you proud of him as the icon to the show he is. The music, villian, chases and what the bad guys are up to make this the best new Doctor Who yet. I love the Daleks so Dalek and The Parting of Ways have got a special place in my heart but this is even better. I did not think I could be more impressed by new Who than that but then BAM! in your face this sucker hits you.

The ending is is touching and harks back to a momment in Who we old fans all remember. I'm not sure if things to come are going be better than this but I know what I like. The suspense, music score and the trip into the the show's past have never been better than this. I don't want give too much away, you've got see this one. As far as new Doctor Who goes, this is hands-down 10 out of 10.

Until we meet again Sarah... by Joe Ford 15/5/06

And I thought I loved Sarah Jane already...

I need to get something of my chest, something I have been meaning to say for a long time. Elisabeth Sladen, I love you! It isn't just her beautiful, definitive portrayal of Sarah Jane Smith but it is the woman herself. Have you heard her in interviews, she has a genuine love for the programme, a need to see her character treated with respect, someone who has a lot of time for the fans and their weird obsessions. Frankly, the only ever convention I went to was with Lis Sladen because I wanted to give her a hug. She deserved a place in the new series, just because of who she is and what she means to the fans of the programme. And by golly she's beautiful, even after all these years.

School Reunion was another brilliantly packed episode of the series, full of scenes of tension and menace, some great laughs and real emotional depth. Doctor Who had better watch out, it is giving most other television programmes a bad name! It was gorgeously put together by James Hawkes and featured another excellent score by the ever improving and dynamic Murray Gold.

Let's face it, the Krillanite plot didn't have a chance. And it's good, it's real good and (as usual) deserving of extra screen time, but compared to the love story between the Doctor, Rose and Sarah it pales in comparison. I loved the idea of the Krillanites invading other worlds and taking the best of the people they conquer and absorbing it into their genetic make up; that's a really nasty, yet entirely original, idea. And their plan for universal dominance is the sort of grandiose scheme we haven't seen since the good old days of Doctor Who. Using kids' souls as a part of a universal code breaker is obscene and yet hugely imaginative and the domestic setting sells the horror of the situation magnificently. Scenes of endless rows of kids staring at funky graphics on a screen should be utterly monotonous, but thanks to some quick editing and inventive camerawork, they are some of the scariest scenes we have seen from the new series yet, especially when you think of the implications. And you've got to love Anthony Stewart Head's silky portrayal of the headmaster; so spooky with his softly-spoken threats but turning on the scares in the last third when he bares his teeth.

As usual though there is an awful lot that we didn't see which I guess is just a fault of comparing new with old. Investigate the aliens, discover their plan, stop them. That's about all you can fit in 45 minutes but I would have loved to see more of these very interesting and well thought through monsters.

The Krillanites were another gloriously well-designed monster and so convincing scratching their away along the school halls to feast upon the students.

Sarah's entrance was nowhere near as dramatic and as exciting as I imagined it would be, a rather mundane scene with her chatting to the Head but suddenly she bumps into the Doctor in the faculty and my arm was attacked goosebumps. Was there a single Sarah scene that I didn't like in School Reunion? Not that I can think of. I think her story was handled sensitively and with just enough emotional depth to really hit home much we have all missed her. When the Doctor dropped her off (in Aberdeen!) I pretty much thought she had accepted the situation but it only hits home here when we realise how hurt she felt that he never came back for her. I thought the episode was going to descend into soap opera, but instead it is used to exquisitely explore the Doctor's curse, living and living and living whilst his friends grow old and die around him. When the Doctor admits that to Rose you realise just how lonely the Doctor really is in the universe, even when he is surrounded by friends. It adds a delicious touch of sadness to Tennant's jolly portrayal of the Doctor that I liked a lot. I loved how embarrassed that the Doctor was that he has never mentioned Sarah before, how they effortlessly fell back into their old relationship, how she was offered another chance to travel with him and how she demanded a proper goodbye this time, the pair of them closing their relationship and a warm and heartfelt cuddle. I was weeping my eyes off at that point, I never considered the new series an opportunity to tidy up loose ends from the classic series but when it can be done this effectively and satisfyingly I am not complaining at all.

But no matter how good the scenes between the Doctor and Sarah were, the scenes between Sarah and Rose were pivotal. Rose's reaction frustrated me (I always hate jealousy plots... it's just so cliched and boring; I went off Red Dwarf when Kryten got jealous of Kochanski, I went off Voyager when Neelix got jealous of Tom Paris) until the episode probed a bit deeper. Rose is terrified of being treated like Sarah was, being dropped off and forgotten and left craving the excitement and warmth he can offer. Also special is when we realise Rose thought she was the first person to travel with the Doctor, what they had was special but discovering the man you love has had these feeling before, possibly over and over and over, is heartbreaking. Sarah tries to appease Rose but her jealousy gets ahead of her and she starts to insult Sarah, and gobbing off about all the wonders they have seen together, climaxing in a hilarious bitch-off about the monsters the pair have come up against. I adored the TARDIS scene with every fibre of my being because Rose clearly wants to offer Sarah what she once had but rather than taking the simple route and having Sarah accept, she hugs Rose and tells her that if she ever needs her when her travels with the Doctor are over she knows where to find her. Beautifully done, and I love the image of Sarah and Rose investigating together with K9!

Oh yes what about K9? What is it about the series bringing back old robots in a state of disrepair (almost as if to say they look tatty before!) before sprucing them up and giving them some spanking CG effects. I have always enjoyed K9 and was devastated when he heroically sacrificed himself at the climax, I was screaming "No! No! NOOOOO!" at the telly! It is ridiculous to feel such affection for a metal box but my reaction mirrored Sarah Jane's, absolute horror that one of our series icons has been destroyed for good. So the last scene was doubly tear-jerking for me... that last shot of Sarah and K9 walking off together is just about the most perfect ending either of them could have had.

The performances were all fantastic but special mention must go to Sladen and Tennant who light up the screen with their chemistry. Sladen gets to go much further emotionally than she ever did before and her performance hits all the right notes for anybody who is terrified of getting old and forgotten. Tennant continues to impress; he gets another scene here where he gives a single warning before threatening to bring down his wrath on the enemy and I think this may be leading to something, some kind of retribution for being judge, jury and executioner of the entire universe. Piper and Clarke work superbly together as always and I expect some marvellous stuff next week, especially after Rose's less than enthusiastic response to Mickey joining the TARDIS.

School Reunion is another favourite; series two is rollicking along in fantastic style. I didn't think anything could top last week's spook-fest, but School Reunion was every bit as good and (thanks to the longing to see Sarah again) possibly even better. The standard of this show just gets better. Let's hope the ratings reflect its excellence.

A Review by Benjamin Bland 22/5/06

Possibly the most awaited episode of 2006's series of Doctor Who. The return of Sarah Jane Smith and the loveable robot dog K9 was always going to be something to see and, perhaps a little surprisingly, it works. Tennant's Doctor is at home alongside his former companion and Billie Piper gives one of her better performances, worrying about the Doctor leaving her behind one day like he did to Sarah Jane, in Aberdeen.

However the story is slightly hampered by the monsters involved. This episode could have been fine without any monsters. I'm sure it could've wowed us simply as a tale about Sarah Jane and her legacy with the Doctor. Instead the evil Krillitanes come along and try and look scary and to a backdrop of Independence Day music try and pull of a most unlikely and outrageous plan using the brains of a load of 12 year olds. It isn't needed. Anthony Head performs brilliantly in his role but if there had been another story specifically about the Krillitanes it would have been so much better. You just feel as if you're getting it all cramped in to 45 minutes where it could have been two different episodes.

Overall though, this is fun family entertainment and I find it hard to be so critical of it. Rating: 7/10.

A Review by Finn Clark 11/9/06

School Reunion is lovely, but a classic example of "let's staple together two completely unrelated stories". These knack with this is in telling two stories which are in some sense the same story, so everything's working on two levels and you feel like you're getting two stories at once. However if you don't do that (as here), it feels like two half-stories, which isn't the same thing at all. The Krillitanes are fun, especially Anthony Stewart Head. The return of Sarah Jane Smith and K9 could have been cringeworthy but turned out wonderful. Nevertheless each plot thread would have been stronger in a more integrated whole.

I never had this problem during Eccleston's era, but in fairness this year's most glaring "two half-stories" were written by the less established writers. Obviously Toby Whithouse is new, while a significant strike against Mark Gatiss is his novels. The Unquiet Dead and The Idiot's Lantern are both exactly what you'd expect from a self-proclaimed traditionalist, i.e. someone who bolts together bits of old stories instead of seeing them as a starting point. In contrast School Reunion feels more Buffyish, although that's basically because it's got emotional stuff and Anthony Stewart Head in a school.

On first viewing I didn't see what was so special about School Reunion, which now seems mean-spirited and unfair. Admittedly Eccleston's year had the advantage of being all-new and thus by definition different. This year had to live up to last year's expectations, but it didn't help that there's a formula to Tennant's opening run of episodes. It's that "two half-stories" thing. There's an A-plot with emotional drama and a big female guest star, then a shallower B-plot with monsters. Even The Christmas Invasion arguably fits the pattern. The difference between those other stories and School Reunion is that Russell T. Davies and Stephen Moffat hid the joins better. Nevertheless, rewatching this in a wider context shows it to be a charming episode with heart, monsters and jokes.

Addressing the important stuff first, there's some wonderful character work. Obviously Rose and Sarah-Jane get lots to sink their teeth into, but even Mickey gets some great lines and foreshadowing for later. It's the character's best story to date, better than anything in Eccleston's year and better even than the Age of Steel two-parter, despite giving him far less to do. School Reunion has four companions! The TARDIS sometimes could feel overcrowded with two, let alone three, yet everyone gets their turn in the spotlight. Yes, even the mostly-sidelined K9. Damn, he's cool when he's shooting things. Even his laser effect looks better than ever before. School Reunion may be stretching at the seams, but that's because it's packed to the gills with cool stuff.

There are continuity issues with Sarah Jane Smith, even if you ignore the books and comic strips. What about The Five Doctors? However "I thought you were dead" needn't mean "still thinks", or even "was thinking for longer than a specific finite period of time". At the very least, that misunderstanding was surely at least punctuated by being given K9 Mk.3 in K9 and Company. It's also probably a mistake to be too pedantic about the Doctor's "half a dozen times since we last met". Taking the last meeting of the Doctor and Sarah to be anything but The Hand of Fear would have confused viewers who still remembered that story. (And thanks to UK Gold and BBC Video, that number isn't zero.) The real continuity nitpicks involve the fact that Sarah never married, which overturns a certain Lawrence Miles conceit, and the existence of stories like Train-Flight (DWM 159-161). However, bizarrely, Sarah's return visits have almost all involved memory erasure or history rewrites, with even the option of a nuclear handwave with a history flip-flop regarding the Schrodinger-Sarah of Bullet Time and Sometime Never...

Liz Sladen looks pretty good on a 25-year time difference, incidentally. Oddly despite all the hoo-hah about Sarah's original era ("I'm from 1980"), her more recent stories have clear dates. K9 and Company took place in December 1981, while School Reunion is from 2007. Even ignoring Mickey's presence, Sarah refers to the events of The Christmas Invasion.

The thematic stuff is as near as the story gets to connecting its A and B stories. Sarah's problem is that life moved on and she got old, while Finch offers the Doctor the ability to turn back time and bring back Gallifrey. ("Noooooooooo!" screams the audience, who by now if they reread The Ancestor Cell would be cheering on Faction Paradox.) Interestingly death and loss is a major theme of the season, as also seen in Cassandra, Prince Albert, Madame de Pompadour and just about everything the Cybermen even touch. In more than one way, School Reunion feels like a companion piece for Rise of the Cybermen and The Age of Steel.

The series as a whole has an interesting take on this theme, though. Sometimes the villains' fundamental flaw is refusing to accept change and death, as with Cassandra and the Cybermen. However sometimes the villains go too far with their own forced evolution, as with the Krillitanes and, um, again the Cybermen. The Krillitanes fatally lost touch with what they were. In contrast Sarah at last gets over the past and moves on, although there is the wrinkle of the K9 factor. It's interesting to contemplate this story's two possible endings: the tin dog dies and the tin dog lives. The latter could be argued to undercut the other episodes a little, but also to shed a ray of light on a run of episodes that would otherwise be rather dark.

Then of course there are the Krillitanes, which are a great idea and didn't deserve to be so sidelined. Anthony Stewart Head is wonderful, in the Simon Pegg tradition of "cast a top-quality actor in a paper-thin role". He may only be a B-plot villain, but you'll remember him. If nothing else, he delivers the best K9-related line ever. He's so good that fandom went berserk and started wondering whether Finch was really the Master, although in fairness it's very possible that the Krillitanes had previously eaten a Time Lord. Finch knows all about the species, but wants the Doctor for his wisdom rather than his DNA and regenerative capabilities.

School Reunion is wonderful, but it's stretching the 45-minute format to bursting point. It needed another fifteen minutes of plot for the Krillitanes, tying everything together and making the whole story more complete. In old-school four-parter terms, School Reunion is the equivalent of episode one and the finale of episode four. I'd have liked to see more of parts two and three. In my ideal world, this would have become the Christmas special. Nevertheless we still have an oily Anthony Stewart Head oozing from classroom to rooftop and eating children, not to mention everything with the five-man TARDIS crew. And it's funny! "She does that."

I'm not wild about the last kiddie scene, though. Child actors, gyaah.

A Review by Terrence Keenan 21/11/06

I just sat down and watched this one again, and I have to be honest, as a TV episode of any kind, it's a big, rushed mess. School Reunion is a poorly constructed, cack-handed story with lame, underdeveloped villains, led by Tony Head trying to make the best of a bad situation. Of any of the New Who single episodes, School Reunion is really begging to be done as a two part story, just to allow things to breathe and build up properly.

However, holding it all together, is one fifty-something-year-old actress, making some really predictable and dire dialogue shine.

I've said it before, and I'll say it again: Lis Sladen Rules. She settles into Sarah like there wasn't a near-30-year gap and makes School Reunion watchable and, dare I say it, fun. And all the Sarah traits are there: the questions, the honest opinions, the voice of Moral Reasoning, the jumping in with both feet.

I freely admit that Sarah Jane Smith, the uber-companion, is a personal fave rave of mine, and therefore, I might be just another 30ish drooling fanboy, but I really don't care. The truth is, simply, the character study wouldn't work with any other companion - except Ace, maybe. Sarah didn't leave to get married, nor to do something big and important. She just got dumped back into her mundane life. And so, overdramatic as they may be, the scenes with Sarah are wonderful and, in one of the few strong moments of the script, tie back in with the alien part of the story.

I loved K9; then again, I'm a fan. Your own mileage may vary.

The other strong point of the episode, which surprised me, because I've hated him, is Mickey. He manages to provide some nice comic relief, and by the end, I was hoping he'd get his turn in the TARDIS, and that Rose would get the boot.

Rose. What a annoying twat. Um, from the ugly shorter hairdo to the even uglier attitude, Rose Tyler has lost a lot of points in my eyes. Part of the problem is that her story has already been told in the first season. She really has nothing else to do except grate on the nerves and make cow eyes at The Doctor.

Which is a good time to talk Tennant. I'm not a fan of David Tennant, but this is the first time since his grand entrance in The Christmas Invasion that Tennant manages to rise above the scripts and his own hamminess to make the Doctor come alive. His scenes with Lis are really good, and even he manages to get something out of his bits with Anthony Stewart Head.

Tony Head, at times the only person worth watching in Buffy (save Charisma Carpenter, but that's another story), is unfortunately given a look that says "Hi, I'm Hannibal Lecter's annoying younger brother" and a part which is woefully underdeveloped. Unfortunately, even Head has to resort to some scenery-chewing to have an impact. (Although, his line about the "shooty dog thing" made me laugh.)

I'm going to wrap this up by saying that I really wish that School Reunion could have been much better that what is on screen, that we should have had a two-episode, slow-building, tension-filled story with the Doc and Sarah leading the way. Instead, there's just a compressed mess, held together by Lis Sladen kicking ass and taking names, just like she used to do.

Good for you, Sarah Jane Smith! by Donna Bratley 2/1/07

Oh, dear. Enter, Sarah Jane, to cheers. Exit, stage right, a sulking Rose. Mickey, I'm beginning to wonder what you ever saw in that girl.

I loved this episode in spite of its flaws. In spite of the wasting of Anthony Head and the skewing of the story that diminishes a potentially brilliant alien race to accommodate the Doctor's reunion. The idea of a warrior race that incorporates its victims' physical attributes is chilling enough to deserve more attention. Despite the simplistic solution and the unanswered question of how all the kids can be affected by the oil, yet only one bright spark in physics answers the questions. In spite of Rose's petulant behaviour making me want to put my foot through the screen. I never thought I'd say it, but I'm glad Mickey's joining the TARDIS crew. Is it possible the Doctor's letting him come along as a barrier between himself and that girl's irrational jealousy?

It's a pity they lowered Sarah Jane to respond in kind, though the killer blow of the Loch Ness Monster was a good one; also, having the two companions coming together to laugh at the object of their squabble tied in with the "Missus and the ex" comment. Have you never seen two women bitching about a shared boyfriend? The smallest annoying habit becomes a source of hysterics. The Doctor can think himself lucky Sarah didn't take up his offer.

RTD might try to sell this as a Doctor/Rose story, but he's wrong. It's the Doctor's and Sarah's story, long overdue, giving a beloved friend the goodbye she needs, and the chance to get a few things off her chest. "It wasn't Croydon!" Thirty years to tell him, he's a lousy navigator! Good for you, Sarah Jane Smith, as the man himself delightedly exclaimed.

I've loved David Tennant's take on the Doctor so far, but he carries it to a whole new level in School Reunion. There's not a moment's doubt in my mind, from his awed, disbelieving smile as he first sights her, that this is the same man Sarah Jane travelled with in my earliest memories of Doctor Who. The one-sided recognition is incredibly touching; his delight in discovering her unquenched investigative spirit; her fond smile as she refers to the uncommon man she once knew... everything moves to set up Sarah Jane's moment of discovery, late at night, all alone with the TARDIS.

What about Elisabeth Sladen? Not only does she look better now than she did in the 70s, she's still got Sarah Jane to a T. She's missed the Doctor; she loved him, a feeling no less real for being platonic. Her discovery of the TARDIS and the dawning realisation of the Doctor's presence behind her is hair-raising, and it's fitting that she's the one to snap the Doctor back to his senses when it seems Finch's seduction might succeed. And it's her advice he heeds when Mickey makes his inevitable request. Greatest-ever companion? Sarah, you win over Rose, hands down.

Still, Billie has her moments and can be relied on to make the most of them. The exchange of glances across the serving counter is superb, and her portrayal of Rose's hurt in the face of the Doctor's unflinching honesty is spot-on, a match for Tennant's handling of an amazingly poignant speech. Sarah Jane nailed the whole reason behind the Doctor's wandering lifestyle. I got old. That's why he never went back, because humans change, decay, while he goes on. It's not a theme the original series ever troubled to explore. It should've. Why, though, does our heroine have to treat her faithful tin dog (no, not that one) so abominably?

Series One Mickey deserved all the abuse he got, but he's as much a different man as the Doctor in series two. Now, if he'd just stop letting Rose walk all over him, flirting on the phone then resenting his being in the same time ship as the Doctor...

Noel Clarke got some of the best lines this time, and he didn't waste them. Overlooked behind the tin dog comparison is his gem as the Doctor gives instruction to his troops. "Mickey--" "What now, hold the coats?" OK, there's still a touch of idiocy about him, heading in the wrong direction, screaming at the falling rats, but Mickey's worth his place. At last.

As I mentioned, I loved the idea of the Krillitanes, and the realisation of their hop along the corridor walls worked for me, which is more than can be said of the moon fly-past. Their leader deserves to come back again. The merciless Tenth Doctor vs. the mad bat-man by the pool was the scene of the series so far. Of the two, it's the Doctor I'd least want to cross. There's so much potential to this darker side, it would be negligence on the writers' parts not to use it.

And K9. How could you not cheer at the sight of the him? Yes, Rose was right, he looks a bit disco, but looks ain't everything, and she's not mocking when he saves their bacon. John Leeson's gleeful "maximum defence mode!" at the zapping of the Krillitanes was wonderful, and the Doctor's farewell was touching. Don't knock tin dogs, Mickey Smith, they're better allies than many humans.

And at last, it's just the Doctor and a beloved friend in the park, saying the proper goodbye he's always tried to dodge. I bet he enjoyed it, really. I certainly did.

A Review by Ron Mallett 27/11/07

I'm afraid I watched this very sad piece of television through my fingers and with a very painful expression on my face according to my wife. I knew it was going to be bad. The promo here in Australia had "Don't Go Breaking My Heart" playing in the background, which, playing simultaneously with the Doctor Who symbol on the screen, had me reaching for a bucket and maybe something sharp.

Let's start with the writing. It sucked. It did worse than that; it sucked so bad I thought it was going to open another hole into the next dimension. It was written so badly that I was sort of hoping someone could solve the mysteries of the universe using computers and the minds of the young so at least they had the power to remove the new series from the space/time continuum. I honestly didn't think anything could be worse than the first season of this atrocious crap. If you missed my critique of the first season because it's been hidden away in the miscellaneous articles section then I think it can be summed up in two words: mostly awful. So far, this season can overwhelmingly be summed up in six words: more of the same, only worse.

I have heard a number of people say recently that Doctor Who has always reflected the time that it was made. Poppycock. Aside from the shift from black and white and maybe a change in emphasis away from being partly educational by about the third series, it was always essentially the same show. What a sad society we would live in if it accurately reflected the mindset of our society. We would all be shallow, self-obsessed, sexually preoccupied morons. The emotional myopia of the show is appalling. Look at The Next Generation or even Lost and you will see that it is possible to present television that represents the full range of human relationships. Even the Americans can do it. They include stories about bonds between parents and children, friends, cultural interchanges, even across species. There is only one type of relationship being explored at all in the series and one type of emotion and they are sex and lust. To put it bluntly, it's childish.

On top of all that it was appallingly acted. Even Anthony Stewart-Head - who, by the way, probably should have been a candidate to be playing the Doctor - looked awkward and embarrassed to be a part of the whole thing. The worst was Elisabeth Sladen. Yes, she was even worse than John Leeson, even worse than Billie Piper. I fear she embarrassed herself and had a hand in desecrating the memory of a character many of us fondly remember from our childhoods. Heck, I think Sladen came across as more wooden than K9. The Sarah we saw bore no resemblance to the character we saw in the original series. There was never any suggestion that the Doctor and Sarah were anymore than buddies in the seventies. If Sarah was the Doc's "ex" (effectively ignoring any other Doctor or companion in between) then where did Harry fit into the equation? That's something I just don't want to even think about. Oh, I know there was a line referring to the fact the Doc had regenerated half-a-dozen times in the meantime... well aren't we just steeped in Who lore!?! Give it up, it sucked and you know it.

The only value I could see in this episode would be something to laugh at if you were stoned, and then you would have to both be very familiar with the series and know how to write to really appreciate the full extent of how hilarious it is. I'm afraid the BBC started their incineration program 30 years too late. It made Paradise Towers (the story that deserves the reputation that Timelash has) look like a classic. At a basic level, it was very, very predictable: did anyone ever think that the chip oil was not going to get blown up in the climax?

It was so bad that I spent the whole week denying that I'd even heard of a program called Doctor Who and not only considered taking my own sites down but changing my name by deed poll; not even Boom Town made me consider that. If there's to be a second coming, please let it be soon!

Some things are worth getting your heart broken for by Evan Weston 29/3/14

School Reunion is just awesome. It really is. There's something for everyone in this crowd-pleasing little winner; it's not going to blow you off your feet in any area, but it's just so damn solid I can't help but love it. There's action, suspense, bad guys, good guys, nostalgia by the truckload, humor, and all set in or around a school. This is quite possibly the best family episode new Doctor Who has produced yet or since. It's hard to imagine anything else this perfectly calibrated for the kids and the adults, let alone imagine it working this well.

The big hook behind School Reunion, of course, is the titular reunion between the Doctor and Elisabeth Sladen's Sarah Jane Smith, last seen in Season 14's The Hand of Fear. Sarah Jane was among the Doctor's most popular companions, and it made complete sense to bring her back, especially considering the dip in quality Series 2 experiences through its first three episodes. Sladen is totally up for the task, and her chemistry with Tennant nearly equals what she had with Tom Baker all the way back in the '70s. Her reaction to seeing the TARDIS and her subsequent reunion with the Doctor are strewn together in a genuinely shocking and touching sequence. It's a nice reminder of just how talented an actress Sladen is, and, though she doesn't really get that much to do with the actual plot, she has excellent moments scattered throughout the episode that make her inclusion well worthwhile.

The other wonderful excuse to bring back Sarah Jane is to develop Rose's character, something that really hasn't been done yet in Series 2. First of all, the catfights between Sladen and Billie Piper are downright hysterical: listening to them trading barbs followed by Mickey's perfect "a man's worst nightmare" line had me rolling on the floor. The best example is probably the scene in the computer lab where Sarah Jane and Rose compare monsters before bonding over... making fun of the Doctor. It's really a great relationship that's developed, and you get the sense that even more could be mined from it. But where Sarah Jane really comes through is forcing Rose to confront the Doctor's past in a way she hasn't had to before. Rose was starting to become smug with her belief that she was special, and she is to a certain extent in that the Doctor truly loves her romantically in a way he hasn't loved a companion before or since (River Song is a potential exception), but she's not the Doctor's first go-around, and her reaction is realistic and a bit tragic. Piper is back to her usual solid work here after an embarrassing slip-up in Tooth and Claw, and it's nice to see her on top form again.

Of course, the other nostalgic piece in School Reunion is K9, Sarah Jane's hilarious robotic dog. Armed with an awesome laser and his trademark "affirmative," K9 is excellent in School Reunion, integrated into the plot far better than Sarah Jane while also providing for Mickey what his owner does for Rose. He ends up being more important than the Doctor in defeating the Krillitanes: while the Doc is busy grandstanding, K9 identifies the oil and therefore the monsters, shoots half a dozen of them out of the cafeteria in order to let the gang escape and then sacrifices himself in order to save the world. Yeah. He also finally lets Noel Clarke's Mickey find some footing outside the context of his relationship with Rose, and it makes sense that Mickey would want to travel with the Doctor and Rose now that he's totally platonic with the latter and has proven himself to the former.

So we've got a well-coordinated reunion and heavy character lifting made incredibly easy and fun. These kinds of episodes tend to lag in the story area, but not School Reunion. The plot, while very easy to follow (scary bat people use children to crack code giving them infinite power, woo-hoo), is nonetheless well-structured and embraced by all involved. There aren't too many MacGuffins except for the oil, which is established early on and used in multiple ways. The Krillitanes are imposing foes, and although the CGI occasionally looks sloppy when placed in the hallways of a 2006 school, the creatures are well-rendered and imaginative.

I do need to take some time to note Anthony Head's magnificent performance as Mr. Finch, the leader of the Krillitanes. Finch might be my favorite villain of Series 2, which is incredible when you consider how stuffed this episode is. He is ruthless but reserved, and Head gives him this sickly sinister air throughout that makes your skin crawl. One of the best scenes in the episode, and maybe Tennant's best confrontation with any villain besides the Master, is Finch's conversation with the Doctor next to the pool. Head almost purrs his lines, relishing in meeting such a unique and valuable prize for his biological collection. When he tells the Doctor, "next time we meet, you'll join with me", it just sounds like normal villainous bravado, but then Finch is almost right (until Sarah Jane saves the day). His shrieks of desperation at the end of the episode show you how much Head poured into a role that could have been just a stock bad guy.

There are other delights here as well. Murray Gold's score is particularly catchy on this go-around, with a great pounding choral hook during the climax that really gets you amped and into the proceedings. The school setting is so perfectly normal and non-threatening, juxtaposed nicely against the crazy bat people inhabiting it. There's humor galore: Rose's first appearance as a dinner lady, "don't forget to crack a window open", "forget the shooty dog thing."

I really don't have many complaints here. I guess if there's something wrong with School Reunion, it's that the stakes aren't high at all. The villains are genuinely threatening by themselves, but there's no real reason to believe that they'll come even close to succeeding in their plan, and of course they never do. It never feels like there's any real danger being dealt with here other than the chance of being eaten, which certainly isn't the intention. In addition, I've already commented on how jam-packed School Reunion is, and it wouldn't have hurt to cut Love & Monsters from later in the season to make this a two-parter. It still works by itself, don't get me wrong, but imagine the potential at 90 minutes.

Still, this is an almost-perfect family episode of Doctor Who, with great moments for almost every character involved (even the little boy Kenny gets his due). The return of Sarah Jane and K9 is tremendously executed, and you can bet Sarah Jane Adventures wouldn't exist if her reintroduction here wasn't this smooth. This is supplemented by a great little plot and a truly terrific bad guy in Anthony Head's Finch, and for the first time in Series 2, we have great elements coming together to form a cohesive, totally enjoyable whole. Well done.