Will Brooks’ 50 Year Diary - watching Doctor Who one episode a day from the very start...
Day 747: School Reunion
Way back at the very start of this marathon, one of the key things I said I wanted to get out of it was a real sense of ‘attachment’ to the various characters from the programme’s past. Because of the somewhat unique way that Doctor Who has been released on video and DVD over the years, it’s always been a case of dipping in and out of varying eras as I please - I can go from Sarah Jane’s first story to her last story, then back to the middle with no trouble at all (indeed, at times the release schedule of stories necessitated it), but I never really form the same kind of bond with the character that you do with the current version of the programme that’s airing on TV week after week.
I’ve been pleased to find that by-and-large this effect has come out of doing a marathon - there have been occasions where I’ve been really sad to see a Doctor or companion leave the programme, knowing that from my point of view, I won’t be able to see them again for a fair old while. On the other hand, there’s been times when I’m more than ready for a character to go, because I’ve spent so long with them that they’re actively starting to bore me. I’ve been pretty strict with myself over the course of this Diary (if I’m entirely honest, I’m surprised just how well I’ve stuck to it), in that the only episodes I’ve seen ‘out of era’ are the brand new ones as they come out - so the latter half of Series Seven and into Series Eight. Oh, there have been times where I’ve been very tempted to go back and see a bit of the 1960s stuff, but I’ve been sticking to my game plan and not cheating. There’s a little voice in my head that says it’ll be worth it in the end, once this marathon is over and I can really savour those episodes again.
But all of this makes Sarah Jane Smith a fairly special element in the marathon - a companion who spends a fair old whack of time traveling with the Doctor… and then pops up again from time to time throughout the rest of the experiment! When she left in The Hand of Fear - Episode Four of which I watched on April 1st last year - I found myself entirely unmoved by her departure. Supposedly one of the saddest the programme has ever done, and yet it didn’t move me at all. I speculated at the time that it may be because I knew she’d be coming back, and now that I’ve reached that point… I think it’s fair to say that I was right. Since that fateful call back to Gallifrey for the Doctor, I’ve seen Sarah Jane pop up in K9 and Company last August, The Five Doctors in September, and Downtime in December - and we’re about to enter a period where she pops up a few more times in the main show, as well as receiving her own series of adventures to compliment it (More on what I plan to do with The Sarah Jane Adventures at the end of today’s entry). What I hadn’t considered, though it seems so obvious, now, is that this story has also suffered a bit from Sarah Jane’s numerous returns over the last few months.
I’m not watching School Reunion thinking ‘It’s Sarah Jane!’ in the way it was intended, because she’s just not all that exciting to me in the context of the Diary. When this story was first transmitted, she’d still made all of those returns (plus an audio series from Big Finish), but they were years apart - there was still an impact. It’s a shame, really, because it takes one of the story’s biggest selling points and flushes it away.
Thankfully, it doesn’t stop there from being plenty of other things to enjoy in this episode, and the return of Sarah Jane is still somewhat saved by the reaction of David Tennant to seeing one of his childhood icons sharing the screen with him. There’s something about the sheer look of delight on his face when Lis Sladen first walks in to the staff room… perfect. Even if the return of Sarah Jane in general isn’t enough to really make me sit up and take notice again, this scene alone justifies the entire idea. As a side note, their final goodbye outside the TARDIS is also beautiful - and especially poignant since Lis Sladen’s death. I still can’t believe it’s been four years!
I’m also rather fond of all the bickering that occurs between Sarah Jane and Rose - it’s so catty, and yet it seems to fit absolutely perfectly. It does, however, highlight another of the things I can remember being a bit annoyed with when this series was first broadcast, though, namely that Rose spends so much of it being so incredibly jealous and selfish. The reaction to discovering that the Doctor had an ex is overblown enough, but her reaction to Mickey asking to join the travels is something that’s always bothered me - especially since it’s completely overlooked in the very next episode, and never brought up again!
Speaking of Mickey, I commented last week about the way his character evolves over the course of his time on the programme, and we’re seeing another big step in that here. We’ve gone from him running whenever Rose calls him, or the TARDIS lands, to a position where he’s the one making the call and bringing the ‘experts’ in to investigate strange going ons. I know he thinks of himself as being the ‘Tin Dog’ of the team, but I really like the idea that he’s keeping an eye out for suspicious activities in London, especially in light of the fact that Sarah Jane goes on to do something similar in her own series. I love that the Doctor’s companions don’t stop fighting the good fight, just because they’re not aboard the TARDIS.
Besides, what’s wrong with being the Tin Dog, other than breaking down if you’d be too convenient to the story…?
So, now that Sarah Jane has returned to the Doctor Who fold, we’re about to enter a period where there’s several spin-offs all popping up around the programme, sometimes tying in fairly directly. I’ve been wondering what to do about them for - literally - two years, since I started this project, and I’ve really gone back-and-forth on a solution over and over again. I think I’ve decided on the simplest course of action, and one that won’t be derailing The 50 Year Diary too much as we rattle along towards the finish line.
In a couple of week’s time, following The Runaway Bride, I’ll be watching the pilot episode of The Sarah Jane Adventures, and the first episode of Torchwood. It’ll give me a taster of the other series, and replicate that feeling around Christmas 2006, when all three series were on in rapid succession in one form or another, which was somewhat brilliant.
I’ll then be dipping back into The Sarah Jane Adventures for the two stories that feature the Doctor - that’ll be The Wedding of Sarah Jane Smith during the 2009 Specials, and The Death of the Doctor after Series Five. Those two stories have always been included as a part of the marathon, so they were never in danger. And then, once I’ve finished the marathon, and I’m finally free, I’ll probably watch all of The Sarah Jane Adventures anyway, because it’s brilliant, and it’s been far too long since I was able to see any!