The Doctor and Rose are back on Earth this week after
a tip off from Mickey leads them to a Deffry Vale high school in London.
I’m not sure how Mickey contacts the Doctor or Rose as by the time the episode
starts they have already got jobs, one as a dinner lady and the other as
a teacher (I’ll let you guess which characters are in which jobs).
Oily new headmaster Mr Finch (Anthony Head) has introduced some interesting
and disturbingly effective teaching methods. His results have jumped so much
that they have attracted the attention of a reporter from the Sunday Times,
a certain Sarah Jane Smith (Elizabeth Sladen) and her tin dog K9 (still voiced
with loving squeakiness by John Leeson). She has come to do some investigative
journalism, only to find her old friend the Doctor has beaten her to it.
“You must be getting older, your assistants are getting younger,” she says
when she meets Rose.
“I’m not his assistant!” retorts Rose seething with jealousy. It seems she
is very put out to discover that the Doctor has a track record some 900 years
long with a long line of travelling companions before her. Now she has a
glimpse of what happens to these assistants when the Doctor moves on; in
Sarah Jane’s case she feels bitter about being unceremoniously dumped in
Aberdeen after defeating Eldrad on the planet Kastria at the end of ‘The
Hand of Fear’.
Pitting Sarah Jane Smith and Rose against each other was a neat idea as they
do share a lot in common; both are groundbreaking companions in their own
ways, both have travelled with two Doctors and they also share a certain
degree of independence as characters that the other companions never quite
obtained. One of the funniest scenes in the episode is when they are comparing
notes with each other about their various adventures, seeing if one can outdo
the other in the strangeness stakes.
“I met the Emperor.”
“Real life dinosaurs!”
“Real life werewolves!”
“The Loch Ness Monster!”
I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed this episode, considering
that my first reactions on hearing that they were bringing back Sarah Jane
Smith and K9 were pretty negative. The famous tin dog is used sparingly in
this episode and serves mainly to high light the roles of the various companions
in the Doctor’s adventures. Having Mickey realise that he is ‘the tin dog’
is another masterstroke on the part of Mr. Whithouse; it seems that this
is enough to spur Mickey into actually wanting to travel with the Doctor
rather than being left at home all the time. This is good as I have a lot
of respect for Noel Clarke and his character and feel it is about time he
got to have some fun as well as being an object of derision. (Rose didn’t
sound too pleased at the prospect, interestingly enough).
Anthony Head turns in a splendidly satanic performance as the leader of the
Krillitane, a variety of bat like aliens with the ability to cannibalise
the DNA of the races they plunder. They are using their special oil in the
school dinners (which are both compulsory and free) to boost the students
learning abilities to such an extent that they can be used to find the answer
to a special equation that will give them the ability to master matter and
energy in a god-like way. Mr. Finch offers this power to the Doctor, the
power which could mean he could bring his people back to life and it’s interesting
to see how much he seems to waver at this offer. (This is very much a Christ
in the wilderness being tempted by Satan type of thing going on here). Only
his companions bring him back to Earth and to the lives of the people he
is supposed to protect, a very poignant scene.
That’s the other aspect of this episode I loved; there is a lot going on
here, from the subtle satire of contemporary results driven educational techniques
to the stock in trade battle between good and evil and the ‘bitch-fest’ between
Rose and Sarah Jane the whole story hangs together very well. (Mr. Whithouse
as even managed to include a reference to the current debate about nutrition
and learning, with the chips that are fried in the Krillitane oil making
Rose into a genius, temporarily). I look forward to any future episodes by
Mr. Whithouse and would even be agreeable to seeing more of Ms Sladen and
her tin dog if its handled as well as this.