On "School Reunion"

Thanks to the kindness of a beagle I watched “School Reunion”–the second season Doctor Who episode with Sarah Jane Smith–today.

Lawrence Miles is, in my opinion, off-base in his criticism of the episode. Miles criticizes “School Reunion” as being a prototypical example of “cult television.” Indeed, the episode structure does resemble a typical 1987-2004 Star Trek episode in its A-plot/B-plot structure. But where Trek would have made the Krillitane plot the episode’s A-plot and relegated the Doctor’s reunion with Sarah Jane to the B-plot (or, for that matter, ditch the B-plot altogether and focus solely on the Krillitane threat), “School Reunion” reverses the plot assignment and focuses on the character drama, relegating the Krillitane plot to essentially a plot MacGuffin. Miles writes as though the Krillitane plot is the only important thing in the episode, when it’s really just the part to keep the kids hooked while the adults in the audience come to grips with the emotional drama played out. That said, I don’t know how kind history will be to “School Reunion”–the emotional component has a lot to commend it, but there’s not much else besides. That’s no reason to slag off the episode, and that’s no reason to slag off the episode for reasons that the episode’s not about.

I half wonder if Miles’ problem with “School Reunion” has less to do with its A-plot/B-plot structure so typical of Trek and more to do with the fact that his own novel, Interference, covered the same thematic ground. The Doctor and Sarah Jane find themselves investigating the same mystery, Sarah ultimately bonds with the Doctor’s female companion. There are, of course, some differences–Sarah isn’t clearly pining for the Doctor in Interference in the same way she does in “School Reunion,” nor does the Doctor have feelings that could be interpreted as more than mere friendship. (The subtext I took away from “School Reunion,” and as likely as not it’s due to my own love for Lis Sladen the actress and Sarah Jane the character, is that the Doctor did love her as more than just a friend, even if there wasn’t a physical component to the relationship they once had.) And while Sarah Jane in Interference takes the Doctor’s former companion Sam Jones in, the Sarah Jane in “School Reunion” merely tells Rose that someday she’ll need to look her up.

I liked it. The ending–from K-9’s suicide mission to the farewell between the Doctor and Sarah Jane–had me emotionally and I shed some tears. I wish Sarah Jane had taken up the Doctor on his offer to travel through time and space once more, just to see how, as an older, more experienced set of eyes, she’d react to events. Taking Mickey aboard, though, seems like a good idea, even realizing that it’s a short-term thing. I used to not like Mickey, and now I do, mainly because of the growth he’s shown as a character.

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