Friday, 16 December 2016

Story 170 - School Reunion

In which the Doctor and Rose go undercover at a London school - Deffry Vale. They have been contacted by Mickey, who has found news reports of UFOs in the area. The Doctor is posing as a locum physics teacher named John Smith, whilst Rose works in the canteen. Some of her colleagues are very secretive, and they handle the cooking oil as though it were highly acidic. The school has recently seen vastly improved exam results, following the arrival of Headmaster Mr Finch and a batch of new staff. The Doctor is surprised by the scientific knowledge exhibited by many of the pupils. Rose is mad about the chips. A journalist arrives at the school to interview Finch, and the Doctor is delighted to see that it is Sarah Jane Smith. That night, the Doctor, Rose and Mickey break in to have a look around. Sarah has had the same idea. She discovers the TARDIS, and learns that Mr Smith is the Doctor. She joins him in his investigations. In the Headmaster's office, they see a number of large bat-like creatures hanging by their feet from the ceiling. The Doctor notes that there are the same number of creatures as there are new staff.

The Doctor gets a sample of the oil in which the chips are cooked, as he has noted that pupils who don't eat them are less bright than those who do, and they do seem to be particularly addictive. Rose realises that she is suddenly smarter, and she eats a lot of them. The Doctor wants to analyse the oil, and Sarah takes him to her car. In the back is K9 Mark III, now sadly defunct. They all repair to a nearby cafe, where the Doctor gets K9 working again. As it analyses the oil, Sarah questions the Doctor as to why he never came back for her. She explains that he failed to drop her off in South Croydon all those years ago - it was really Aberdeen. The Doctor points out that she has got on well enough without him. Rose is not happy to meet someone from the Doctor's past - causing her to realise that she is not unique. There were others before her, who got left behind. The Doctor points out to her that he can never have a normal relationship with a human. They will grow old and die, whilst he will keep on regenerating.
K9 announces that the oil is a natural product of the Krillitane race. These creatures invade other worlds and biologically assimilate selected features of the conquered species. This is why the Doctor failed to recognise them. They can temporarily take on the form of other races, and the Doctor realises that Finch, the new teachers and canteen staff are all alien. They are spied upon by Finch and one of the Krillitanes.

The next day the Doctor confronts Finch - real name Brother Lassar. He reveals that he is seeking to solve the Skasis Paradigm. This mathematical equation would allow the Krillitanes to decipher the secrets of the universe, and make them all-powerful. Finch knows that the Doctor is a Time Lord, and offers to bring his people back if he joins them. Rose and Sarah have had a huge, jealous, argument but have now bonded as friends. They convince the Doctor that he must stand against the Krillitanes. The teachers kill the other staff and then order all of the schoolchildren to link up to their computers. One boy, Kenny, is not allowed to eat chips and so is unaffected, and he joins the Doctor and his friends. The Krillitanes revert to their natural form and hunt them through the school. Mickey disables the computers whilst K9 holds the aliens at bay. The creatures have become allergic to their own oil over the generations. They combust when they come into contact with it. K9 agrees to hold Finch and the others in the canteen kitchen whilst the others escape outside with the schoolchildren. The robot dog sacrifices itself to blow open a vat of the oil, which splashes over the Krillitanes. The school explodes.
The next day, Sarah visits the TARDIS. She declines an offer to rejoin the Doctor, realising that the Doctor was right about her. She has important work to do here on Earth. She does, however, recommend that Mickey join the TARDIS crew. He has come to realise that he is only ever treated like K9 by the Doctor and Rose - their tin dog. Mickey departs with the Doctor and Rose. She is not amused. As the TARDIS fades away, Sarah sees that the Doctor has left her another gift - K9 Mark IV...

School Reunion was written by Toby Whithouse, and was first broadcast on 29th April, 2006. Whithouse had been an actor and stand-up comedian before concentrating on writing. He had created the series No Angels, which ran from 2004 - 2006. He would go on to become one of the most prolific Doctor Who writers other than the showrunners, as well as creating the BBC 3 supernatural comedy-drama Being Human. It was recently announced that he would be writing for Series 10, due in 2017.
Russell T Davies had decided that in its second series, the programme could relax regards bringing in references from its past. Apart from the Daleks, the TARDIS and the theme music, he had tried to keep references to a minimum in Series 1 so as not to alienate new viewers. Another classic monster was scheduled to return in 2006, and Davies decided that now would be a good time to have the Doctor encounter one of of his old companions. This would allow him to further explore the relationship between the Doctor and Rose, as she would see that there wasn't necessarily the future she thought she would have with him. There were others before her, and people eventually got left behind - even his best friend.

The returning companion could only ever be the greatest of them all - Sarah Jane Smith, as played by Lis Sladen. A bonus would be that she would bring K9 along with her.
Producer John Nathan-Turner had tried to tempt her back to bridge the changeover from Tom Baker to Peter Davison. When Sladen turned this down, he had come up with a spin-off series idea in which she would be paired with K9, a gift left to her by the Doctor. Only a pilot had ever been made, but it achieved canonical status when K9 joined Sarah at the beginning of The Five Doctors - Sarah's last appearance. Davies and his producer, Phil Collinson, invited Sladen out to lunch and discussed their ideas for bringing Sarah into the new show. She was initially very resistant, fearing that they were only looking for a cameo that might undermine the character she had created. Once she learned what the part entailed, she agreed to sign up. K9 voice artist John Leeson agreed to reprise the metal mutt.
Surviving K9 co-creator Bob Baker had been attempting to get his own K9 series off the ground for some time, but he gave this story his blessing - realising that having it appear in the highly popular new BBC Wales series would actually make trying to sell his own show much easier.
Whithouse's initial idea had been to have a story set around a military base, but Davies suggested the school setting.

This story would also see Noel Clarke's Mickey Smith join the TARDIS crew, as a means of setting up his departure / reappearance / departure later in the season.
Principal guest artist was Anthony Head, playing Mr Finch. After a string of popular will-they-won't they? coffee commercials, he had gone off to the US and become famous for his role in Buffy the Vampire Slayer. This series, in terms of the way it was structured and created, had been a major influence on how Davies wanted to bring Doctor Who back.
Story Arc: 

  • For Torchwood, see the Tardisode below.
  • As mentioned above, Mickey joining the TARDIS crew sets up his departure.
  • Rose's own departure is once again signaled as we - and she - are reminded that the Doctor never settles down to live out his life with a human companion.
  • And of course, this won't be the last we see of Sarah Jane Smith, or K9 Mark IV.
Mickey Smith is in an internet cafe investigating news items about UFO activity near Deffry Vale School. He is on his phone, speaking to Rose in the TARDIS. He finds that his investigations get only so far before they are blocked, and the word "Torchwood" flashes up on the screen.

Overall, a joy of an episode. The actual plot is really quite inconsequential. This is all about the return of Sarah Jane Smith (and K9, of course).
Things you might like to know:
  • Apparently a very well known writer was due to do a school-based story for this series - one whose name has never been revealed. They pulled out, claiming that they just couldn't "do" a Doctor Who. Whithouse was working on his army base outline, which was initially called "Black Ops" when he was asked to use the school setting.
  • This is the first explicit appearance on screen that this new series is the same as the one that ran from 1963 to 1989. There are implicit references throughout Series 1 that there is continuity - the Doctor suggesting that he has recently regenerated in Rose, and the Cyberman helmet in Dalek, but here we get to see someone from that classic phase, and the Doctor mentions having regenerated half a dozen times since he last saw Sarah. From now on, you can't pretend that they aren't the same series - as some sections of fandom were proposing.
  • Deffry Vale doesn't sound very London, does it? The real school they used was called Duffryn - well Welsh, so you can see where it came from.
  • K9 is one of the original 1970's props. His innards - which Rose describes as looking a bit "disco" - most certainly aren't. Mat Irvine returned to the show to wrangle him. He had looked after the prop since it left the show (in Warriors Gate).
  • It had been planned that the post explosion school sequence would be filmed at an old British Telecom building that was in the process of being demolished, but when to filming time, the building had already been flattened.
  • Noel Clarke wears a woolly hat in the Tardisode - to hide the fact that it was filmed much later when he had his shorter haircut for the series finale.
  • When Mr Finch tells his colleagues to "forget the shooty-dog-thing" this was another Buffy reference, in terms of the style of dialogue. The line was added in post production, and was spliced together from snippets of dialogue.
  • Certain old-skool companions had a knack of hurting their ankles on a regular basis. Susan - I'm looking at you. Lis Sladen actually hurt her leg filming the escape from the school scenes. Of course, Susan only ever hurt her ankle once - in her final story - but the collective memory had her doing it all the time, so she was called upon to do it again in The Five Doctors.
  • Yes, The Five Doctors... This story seems to forget that one ever happened, having Sarah act as if this is the first time she has met the Doctor since The Hand of Fear. Especially odd as it confirmed that she had been given K9 in the Girl's Best Friend / K9 & Company pilot.
  • The big fan-pleasing sequence is that argument between Rose and Sarah. The former's examples are all fresh in the memory for 2006 viewers, so it's Sarah's experiences that we relish. She mentions mummies (Pyramids of Mars), Daleks (Death to the Daleks, Genesis of the Daleks), robots (The Sontaran Experiment, The Android Invasion), dinosaurs (Invasion of the Dinosaurs), and anti-matter monsters (Planet of Evil). She trumps Rose with the Loch Ness Monster (Terror of the Zygons). Funny how she seems to know that Rose hasn't met the Cyberman yet, but assumes she has met the Daleks - mentioning one and not the other.
  • Shortly after this monster-competition argument, we see Rose and Sarah best friends, and they burst out laughing when the Doctor enters the room. On screen, it's because they've started comparing notes about the foibles of their respective Doctors, but during filming this was achieved by David Tennant walking on set with a big fake comedy moustache drawn on his face. It's Sladen's and Piper's initial reactions to this that you see on screen.
  • It was intended that the Krillitanes - originally called Krillanes - would resemble the Harpies from the Ray Harryhausen film of Jason and the Argonauts - who menaced future Second Doctor Patrick Troughton. Dig out your back issues of the DWM comic strip to see where you might have seen something very like them (as they actually appeared) before.
  • John Leeson never visited the set or filming. In the old days, when they did proper rehearsals (as is mentioned on every bloody classic series DVD commentary ever), Leeson scuttled about the floor on all fours. This time, he simply spent an afternoon in a dubbing studio in London. You almost want to cry when he describes this experience - especially when you learn that he never got to go to Australia for the Disney XD series either.
  • Phil Collinson got to read in K9's lines during the filming. As a massive fan, he was ever so pleased to do so.
  • As Sarah and K9 walk off at the end, the dialogue references the concluding moments of Survival, the final classic series story - about going home, and having work to do.
  • Mercifully, the Doctor never has used "correct-a-mundo" ever again.

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