There’s a reason I’ve been taking note of the arrival and departure conditions of every companion over the course of my marathon. Ever since I first saw School Reunion in 2006, I’ve been fascinated by the history of the Doctor and all of his travelling companions. I had wondered, did he just leave them behind? Did any of them actually die? Did they leave by choice? Were they happy? The return of Sarah Jane Smith, although I was unfamiliar with the character at the time, raised all of these questions. So, before we get into the details of this particular episode, I’m going to remind myself of the situation in which she left.
Sarah Jane Smith stowed aboard the Third Doctor’s Tardis in The Time Warrior, went on many adventures with him, through a new regeneration into the Fourth Doctor, and finally left at the end of The Hand of Fear. She had to leave because the Doctor needed to return to Gallifrey alone. Since both the Doctor and Sarah were so stubborn, they never really said goodbye in a sincere way. Sarah left in a bit of a huff, pretending she didn’t care one way or the other. It’s only really in the un-picked-up pilot spin-off episode of ‘K-9 and Company’ that her feelings about being left behind are explored, and where K-9 Mk.III is entrusted to her care.
So they meet again thirty years later, which is apparently unusual, and we learn a little bit about how the Doctor feels about his mortal human companions. There’s a lovely (although slightly sickly) line where he says that Rose can be with him for the rest of her life, but he can never be with her for the rest of his. He must wander alone, latching on to each new person for just a short time only. Of course, the real reason is that actors come and go and new characters have to replace them, but this attempts to put a reason onto it in those cases where the companion doesn’t leave entirely by choice. It’s worth noting, however, that during the course of the Doctor’s travels, plenty of the companions have left by choice, perfectly willingly and without regret.
Rose, of course, sees her “future” in Sarah Jane, and wonders if she too is just the latest in a line of disposable assistants who will be discarded for a younger model. She and Sarah also argue about who has been on the best adventures before laughing and joking about the Doctor’s habits. It’s a nice moment in an episode filled with nostalgia.
And K-9 is back! Slightly rusty and malfunctioning, but it’s the same old K-9 (with the same old voice!) as before, and it’s great fun to see him back again, making obvious comments, firing his little laser and spinning around to save the day. But, why did Sarah have him in the back of her car? She didn’t know she’d run into the Doctor and she says K-9 doesn’t work anymore, so why keep him there as opposed to somewhere more secure? I suppose you could assume she’s living out of her car now, but that’s a bit sad.
The old crew team up to investigate strange happenings at the local school. Tony Head is fantastic, as he always is, but is underused. He just needed some more delicious dialogue to chew on. The Krillitanes are generic-looking CGI bats, and some of the effects are unfortunately a bit ropey. Perhaps this was an intentional throwback to the iffy effects of the 1970s, but I doubt it. The plot with the school kids cracking codes is a perfectly serviceable little mystery, and the Doctor and Rose are immediately settled into their undercover operation without having to waste time on a build-up.
The Doctor repeats his “you only get one warning” from The Christmas Invasion to Mr Finch. That’s sort of his “thing” now; friendly and jokey on the surface but he will put a stop to you if you cross the line (ooh, scary!). But really, the school mystery and the aliens are underplayed in favour of exploring the drama of the reunion, which is absolutely the right choice. The scenes with the Doctor, Sarah Jane and Rose are really touching and explore the Doctor’s character in a way that only a long-running programme like this can do, and the Doctor and Sarah finally get the proper goodbye that they should have had thirty years earlier.