After Mickey alerts them to strange goings-on near Deffry Vale High School, the Doctor and Rose each take a job there, the Doctor posing as a new physics teacher and Rose winding up as a dinner lady in the school’s cafeteria. The new headmaster, Mr. Finch, has brought a new curriculum, a new lunch menu, and several new staff members with him. But original faculty members and even students are vanishing without a trace. Rose spots large barrels of a strange and apparently dangerously corrosive oil being moved around by the cafeteria staff, and the Doctor discovers that students who have been eating foods from Mr. Finch’s new lunch menu, prepared with that oil, are demonstrating knowledge and learning ability far beyond 21st century humans. The Doctor is stunned when he learns that someone else is investigating these unexplained happenings – namely, reporter Sarah Jane Smith, his former traveling companion, with her now somewhat dilapidated K-9 in tow. While the Doctor and Sarah are cautiously eager to renew their friendship, it becomes apparent – especially to Rose – that traveling in the TARDIS and seeing the wonders of the universe carries a price.
written by Toby Whithouse
directed by James Hawes
music by Murray Gold
Guest Cast: Noel Clarke (Mickey Smith), Anthony Head (Mr. Finch), Elisabeth Sladen (Sarah Jane Smith), Rod Arthur (Mr. Parsons), Eugene Washington (Mr. Wagner), Heather Cameron (Nina), Joe Pickley (Kenny), Benjamin Smith (Luke), Clem Tibber (Milo), Lucinda Dryzek (Melissa), Caroline Berry (Dinner Lady), John Leeson (voice of K-9)
Notes: Elisabeth Sladen first appeared as Sarah Jane in 1974’s The Time Warrior, the premiere of Jon Pertwee’s final season as the Doctor. She remained with the Doctor after his regeneration, accompanying Tom Baker through 1976’s The Hand Of Fear, which did indeed see the TARDIS dropping Sarah off in what she thought was Croydon. In 1981, Sladen and John Leeson starred in the first spinoff of Doctor Who to make it to production, K-9 & Company, in which she found a gift from the Doctor – her own K-9 unit. Sarah and her K-9 appeared in one further Doctor Who story, 1983’s The Five Doctors.
Guest star Anthony Head – a.k.a. Anthony Stewart Head – starred as Giles in Buffy The Vampire Slayer. He’s been linked several times to Doctor Who, including a contender for the role of the Doctor himself when the new series was first announced in 2003. He appeared as a cunning, immortal villain in the linked Excelis trilogy of Big Finish audio plays, though he did so without ever meeting any of his co-stars, since recording schedules forced him to record his dialogue alone without any other actors! He has thus “appeared” with previous Doctors Peter Davison, Colin Baker and Sylvester McCoy without actually working with them. He also had a small role in the BBC Radio one-off story Death Comes To Time. Another series in which Head starred was Manchild, alongside Don Warrington (the President in Rise Of The Cybermen and the voice of Rassilon in the Big Finish eighth Doctor stories).
Sarah Jane Smith has also appeared in two series of Doctor-less audio adventures from Big Finish, though in this case without K-9 (in the final story of the first “season” of her adventures, Sarah notes that K-9 has been incapacitated, though the nature of K-9’s state of disrepair in the audio plays is a case of deliberate sabotage; it’s unclear if this is the same damage that the Doctor seems to fix rather quickly). Big Finish producer John Ainsworth has said that School Reunion likely takes place between the first two “seasons” of Sarah’s audio adventures.
LogBook entry & review by Earl Green
Review: I was even more eager to see this episode than I was to see the return of the Cybermen. Elisabeth Sladen was in the first episode of Doctor Who that I ever watched back when my age was but a single digit, and I distinctly remember being more alarmed by her departure than I was a few years later when Tom Baker turned into Peter Davison before my eyes. And here she returns in a story that’s perfectly suited to her, ties the new and classic series together beautifully (and even makes room for the 1981 one-off attempt at launching a full-fledged Doctor Who spinoff series, K-9 & Company).
Elisabeth Sladen slips effortlessly back into her character here, obviously having moved on with her life but just as obviously missing her time traveling days; her reaction to finding the TARDIS is nothing short of spine-tingling, and such exchanges as “I can’t believe it’s really you. Okay, now I can!” are destined to become all-time classic Who lines. John Leeson effectively re-creates K-9 here, though I should also note that both of these actors have been reviving their characters in their respective series of Big Finish audio dramas, so it’s no surprise that they can deliver the goods.
And I’d be remiss if I didn’t hand out kudos to Anthony Stewart Head (Buffy, Manchild) as well, for guest starring as one of the new show’s slickest villains. At times it almost seems like he’s stuck with a part that was written for Malcolm McDowell, but Head pulls out all the stops and gives us a truly creepy villain. There is, in fact, something very comfortably and cozily Sylvester McCoy-era about School Reunion – the Doctor and Rose (almost typed Ace) are already on the scene, undercover; in a barely civil face-to-face showdown, the Doctor calmly tells the story’s villain that they’re going down; and the Doctor later has to resort to somewhat extreme measures, sacrificing a companion to save the day. One could be forgiven for thinking that perhaps School Reunion came from the pen of one of the New Adventures authors.
Again, I get the feeling even more strongly that we’re dealing with a season-long theme of learning the consequences of being in the Doctor’s company; there’s a scene between the Doctor and Rose which practically telegraphs this to the viewer, even if it does fall somewhat short of explaining why the Doctor does eventually part ways with all of his sidekicks. (There’s a no-brainer explanation here which I will admit was a glaring omission from the script – that the Doctor’s companions are protegÃƒÂ¨s who he trains to stand up to evil and corruption in their various times and places, thus working to make the universe a safer place even when he can’t be there himself – that could’ve been worked in here, but then again, that may fall under the heading of being too much of a New Adventures notion…not that this stopped all those other New Adventures notions from creeping into the story.)
Speaking of companions, Mickey formally signs on for TARDIS duty here (I had actually hoped for this scene at the end of World War Three myself), having realized that in being “the tin dog,” he’s missing out on the real adventure. He once again proves that he’s got the resourcefulness necessary for TARDIS travels here, even if he doesn’t necessarily have the stomach for all that the companion’s life entails. (Oh, Mickey…it gets so much worse than vacuum-packed rats.) This is the first real change to the TARDIS crew since Captain Jack was unceremoniously left behind in Parting Of The Ways, and it’s a welcome one. A bit of a smug note has crept into how Rose is being written this season, as if she’s seen it all and can deal with anything, and there’s a vague promise of a fourth Doctor/Sarah Jane/Harry Sullivan dynamic that I find appealing.
Overall, a very nice episode that examines the ramifications of being a former TARDIS traveler, as well as poking a bit of fun at it. It offers a nice little taster of the consequences of the Doctor’s (relative) immortality as well, giving it just enough gravitas without wallowing in the concept (something which Highlander: The Series did rather frequently, to name but one example).