Under normal circumstances, I rarely write reviews of single episodes of a television series unless the episode in question is extremely important or moves me in some way. School Reunion, the third episode of Season Two (2006) of the new Doctor Who series, although being over five years old, is one of those episodes. Unfortunately, this review is written with a heavy heart, because it is written in memory of Elisabeth Sladen, who portrayed the wonderful Sarah Jane Smith, a companion of the Doctor from 1973-1976 and multiple one-off episodes and even her own series, The Sarah Jane Adventures. Sladen passed away on April 19, 2011, after losing a publicly-quieted battle with cancer.
The episode begins with the Doctor (David Tennant) and his companion, Rose (Billie Piper), in undercover roles as a physics teacher and lunchroom worker, respectively, investigating strange events at a school thanks to a tip-off from Rose's on-again, off-again boyfriend, Mickey Smith (Noel Clarke). It seems that a lot of UFO activity has recently occurred in the area of the school and now the new headmaster, Mr. Finch (Anthony Head), has incorporated a new and highly successful teaching program that has seen the intelligence level of the children at the school soar.
The Doctor's former companion, Sarah Jane, has also had her interest peaked by the school's newfound success and has set out on her own to find out what is really going on at the school.
As the story plays out, Sarah Jane and the Doctor are reunited. Sarah Jane also surprises the Doctor with his former friend, K-9 (voice of John Leeson). Almost immediately, Rose and Sarah Jane clash with each other over the Doctor. It is all played out rather humorously, and the two eventually become very good friends. Mickey finally gets to pick at the Doctor after being continuously poked fun at by the Time Lord, as Sarah Jane and Rose bicker and the results are very funny.
While all of this is happening, the Doctor and his companions manage to find out that Mr. Finch and many members of the school's faculty are actually Krillitane, an adaptive race that take on what they deem are the best attributes of whatever race they have taken over. For this reason, it is almost impossible to describe a Krillitane's physical features because they change each time a new species is conquered.
The Krillitane have purposely enhanced the intelligence levels of the children in order to use them to break the Skasis Paradigm, a code that once unlocked will give its wielder control over all of time and space, allowing the user to manipulate history, genetics, physics, and pretty much everythinge else. Of course, the Doctor has plans to put an end to all of this.
The episode isn't entirely brilliant. It relies on the standard evil attempts to take control of the universe plotline to move from beginning to end, and the Doctor has to put a stop to them. However, it isn't the actual plot's originality that matters so much in this episode as does the interaction between the old companion (Sarah Jane) and the new companion (Rose Tyler), as well as the third wheel's (Mickey and K-9) importance in resolving the problem with the Krillitane.
The entire episode is a big warm hug to fans of the classic series and particularly the character of Sarah Jane Smith. While some of the Doctor's classic enemies had already returned to the series up to this point, none of his companions had been revisited. Who better to be the first companion to return than Sarah Jane?
Sladen is in perfect form as Sarah Jane. The character regains much of the independence and strongheadedness that I feel she had lost by the end of her initial run in Doctor Who. Billie Piper plays the jealous girlfriend role to a tee, and along with Sladen gives the viewer multiple reasons to laugh throughout the episode. Noel Clarke's portrayal of Mickey is spot on, and is flat out hilarious at times during the episode. Tennant, although just as spasmatic and goofy as always in his portrayal of the Doctor, is placed into the role of the straight man in the comic aspects of this episode. While the Doctor usually picks on Mickey or gets a cheap laugh at Rose (which he does in the beginning of this episode) in most of the episodes of the series, the tables are turned on him in School Reunion. It's fun to see the way that the Doctor reacts to being the butt of the joke this go round.
Anthony Head (of Buffy The Vampire Slayer fame) is wonderfully cold and sinister as Mr. Finch. He tempts the Doctor with an offer to work alongside himself and the rest of the Krillitane as the "correct" the universe.
Also worthy of mention is Eugene Washington, who portrays Mr. Wagner, one of the Krillitane, in his human form. Washington portrays Wagner with a feral-like vibe, making the viewer creep out every time he is on the screen.
As stated before, this episode's plot is nothing out of the ordinary for Doctor Who. It is, however, a wonderful look at an old friend for many fans of the classic series. When I first heard of Elisabeth Sladen's death, this episode immediately came to mind and I just had to revisit it when I got home. When many of my favorite film and television stars pass away, I usually get a bit depressed and then quickly recover. With Mrs. Sladen, however, I have a feeling that the pain of missing her will be with me for a long time. Rest in peace, Lis.