Warning: This post is likely to contain scenes of extreme geekiness and fan-like behaviour. Readers of a sensitive disposition may wish to read something less enthusiastic.
As a long-time Doctor Who fan, I was delighted when I heard that Elisabeth Sladen would be reprising her Sarah Jane Smith role, and that she’d be accompanied by K9. Hmm. OK, I can see I’ve lost some of you there.
Sarah Jane accompanied the Third and Fourth Doctors (Jon Pertwee and Tom Baker) in the mid 1970s. Of all the numerous companions, she is perhaps the most fondly remembered – intelligent, funny, and far from being the stereotypical airhead who was just there to have the plot explained to her. No, Sarah Jane was an ideal companion – strong willed and more likely than not to argue with the Doctor. Her departure in 1976 was a sad moment.
K9 was a robot dog. Well, a series of robot dogs, to be precise. K9 Mk1 stayed on Gallifrey with Leela, when Tom Baker’s Doctor left her there. K9 Mk2 stayed with Romana when she left. The Doctor sent K9 Mk3 to Sarah Jane, and they appeared in a pilot (that never became a series) called K9 and Company.
On with the show
Well, that was, as they say, then, and this is now. The Doctor and Rose, following a tip from Mickey, are working undercover in a school, where it seems odd things are happening. The Headmaster is a deliciously sinister character called Mr Finch, played superbly by Anthony Head. The Doctor is teaching physics, and is alarmed to find that some of the kids know things that are far in advance of early 21st Century Earth. And that rather than being the “happy slapping hoodies with ASBOs and ringtones” he was expecting, they’re almost too polite.
While Mickey is trying to find information online, Rose is working in the school canteen. When a vat of some strange substance spills on one of her colleagues, who proceeds to scream and give off smoke, Rose becomes even more convinced that something is badly wrong. Meanwhile, the kids are connected up to banks of computers running some strange software.
Then the Headmaster brings a visitor into the staff room – a journalist working on a story on the school’s greatly improved results. The Doctor’s past has caught up with him: it’s Sarah Jane Smith. The Doctor introduces himself as “John Smith”. Sarah tells him she used to know someone who sometimes went by that name – which the Doctor indeed did on occasion.
That night, the Doctor, Rose and Mickey sneak into the school to investigate further. As does Sarah Jane. And that’s when things get interesting. It turn out that the Headmaster and many of the staff are aliens with a suitably mad plan to gain control of, well, everything. In their natural form, the Krillitanes are lovely CGI bat-like creatures – and there are some lovely shots of them flying in front of the moon.
But all of that is a side issue, really. The real story is about Sarah Jane meeting the Doctor again after so many years. She’s been waiting for so long for him to come back for her, that she thought he must have died.
There’s lots of fun (and at first a little friction) when Rose meets Sarah Jane. As Mickey puts it
The missus and the ex. Welcome to every man’s nightmare
And Sarah Jane’s as sharp as ever
You can tell you’re getting older – your assistants are getting younger
But soon, they realise that they have so much in common, that they can’t help becoming friends.
More seriously, the Doctor explains to Rose why he never went back. He knows that his companions will grow old and die, while he has to go on. And he can’t bear to see that happen to someone he – well, he can’t quite bring himself to say “loves”, but there can be no doubt that he means just that.
Sarah has brought K9 along with her. Unfortunately, he stopped working years ago, and is looking distinctly rusty. But the Doctor manages to repair him, and he’s soon his old self, which is just as well, as without his trusty nose laser, the Doctor and his friends would have been eaten by the Krillitanes. And everyone’s favourite robot dog sacrifices himself to save his friends.
At the end, when the alien plot has been defeated, everyone goes into the Tardis. Sarah said exactly what I wanted her to!
Then Mickey asks if he can come along. Mickey’s grown up a lot since we first met him, and since the Doctor’s regeneration, the two of them have been getting on a lot better, so it’s no surprise that the Doctor immediately agrees. But Rose has something on her mind. Now she knows that she’s not quite as unique as she thought she was, and that in time the Doctor might leave her behind, she isn’t sure if she should stay. So she asks Sarah what she should do. Sarah tells her that of course she should stay with the Doctor, because
Some things are worth getting your heart broken for
And then the Doctor and Sarah say goodbye. Sarah knows she’s got her own life to get on with now she isn’t waiting for the Doctor to come back. After a big hug, she turns away as the Doctor goes back into the Tardis. And as it dematerialises, we see something behind it. A rebuilt, improved K9, ready to accompany Sarah Jane.
This was the best episode yet of this series, with emotional depth, and lots of laughs and thrills. As near to perfection as television gets.
The interviews on Doctor Who Confidential on BBC3 afterwards were well worth watching too. Elisabeth Sladen made it quite clear that she wouldn’t have taken the job if it was just for a silly cameo role. Once it was explained that the episode was going to be all about her character, she grabbed the opportunity. And had a great time doing it.
Wonderful stuff. And there are much bigger things to come…
 Yup, 30 years ago. Which probably means I’m old, or something
 That’ll need subtitles for the US market
 He keeps being locked out of the Torchwood site. Nice to see the build-up for that coming along nicely
 “It’s OK, she does that”