Just when I thought that the TV series Doctor Who had died yet another hideous living death, tonight it unashamedly came back for just one more episode. It even had old companions Sarah Jane Smith and K-9 in it.
*** Plot spoilers follow ***
The universe is made up of building-blocks.
As logic itself is a part of the universe, said building-blocks would require something outside of logic, and outside of the whole universe, to understand them.
Therefore schoolkids are being fed chips fried in Kerratine oil to make them super-intelligent, so that their souls can be used to construct a giant super-computer to figure out how the building-blocks of the universe work, and hence control it.
It’s amazing that a failed spin-off pilot from 1981 can be adhered to on prime time TV 25 years later, and that a joke about Croydon can be followed up after about 30. Especially with no long-winded explanations for new viewers.
I’ll start with its good points, because on the whole they were unusually good ones:
1. The start. Headmaster eats pupil, the Doctor’s undercover as a teacher. We find the story already in progress – marvellous. It’s like watching The Avengers. Better still, when the Doctor bumps into Rose furiously wearing a dinner-lady’s outfit, they say nothing to each other, and it’s all very funny implied humour. Of course it soon degenerates into clunky explaining everything for today’s perceived stupid audience, but until that happens it’s just brilliant.
2. The Doctor runs into 1970s companion Sarah again. This first scene was just lovely. Handled extremely well, and again was very funny because of everything that wasn’t said.
3. In fact, loads of funny lines throughout this whole episode, mainly about K-9. When today’s sidekick Mickey meets K-9 and realises “Oh my God – I’m the tin dog!” we were all laughing out loud, and I also couldn’t help chuckling at Finch’s deliberately Buffy-esque order to “Get the metal doggy thing.” And the line about Aberdeen too!
4. Killing K-9 off at the end was a good thing to do, and right for the story. It was of course flawed by the final ending, but rebuilding him again, or at least building a mark 4, is what the Doctor would have done. Still not sure why the school blew up in the first place though.
5. Also Mickey was treated much better as a character. It’s a credit to this series that I had disliked him so much in the first episode, but was now quite glad to see him stay on in the TARDIS at the end for the next story.
And now, I'm genuinely sorry, the bad stuff.
1. Sarah Jane’s storyline is all about how, in the original series, the Doctor suddenly left her on Earth, without saying goodbye, because he wasn’t allowed to take her back to his home planet Gallifrey, so she never saw him again. This is the entire basis of Sarah’s presence in the episode, and the subject of much dialogue and emotion, however unfortunately…
Firstly, he did say goodbye, both at the time (in The Hand Of Fear) and via a message sent through K-9 a few years later. (K-9 And Company)
Secondly, and rather more seriously, they already made an episode in 1983 in which Sarah returned to the show and met the Doctor again. 4 times. It was called The Five Doctors and is the most famous Doctor Who story of the original run. Here she is as they say their goodbyes yet again:
Said 1983 story also featured Sarah getting to go to the Doctor’s home planet after all:
Yet despite these 3 things, throughout tonight’s episode Sarah accuses the Doctor of not saying goodbye, says she’s never seen him again, accepts his maintaining that humans aren’t allowed on his planet, and even says she’d concluded that he must therefore be dead!
There is a theory that in The Five Doctors, Sarah offers very little spoken evidence of actually knowing who the older Doctor is, however for that to hold true, Sarah would have to be really really stupid, and be saying goodbye to a complete stranger. And neither does it explain how today she no longer even recalls having been to his planet. And it doesn't explain why the Doctor doesn't remember these events either.
(I have a nasty theory that they’re just snobbishly ignoring everything that happened after fans' favourite Tom Baker had left.)
It’s the one thing that massively lets the episode down, and leaves one genuinely wondering if this episode will be subsequently airbrushed out of history in a few years’ time, when they make yet another episode in which Sarah returns for the first time.
(The Five Doctors, it should be noted for fairness' sake, is perhaps the worst perpetrator of discontinuity in the show's entire run. (and I don't want to start checking if that's true or not) The idea that it might also have contradicted stuff from the show's future would actually be entirely in-keeping with it.)
2. There’s a lot of implying that Sarah and the Doctor had some sort of relationship going on in the 70s, however for my money this is just sexy modern TV never having heard what a friendship is.
3. K-9 has been broken for years, yet Sarah ridiculously keeps him stored in the boot of her car. Thank God she was never broken into. I can make up a reason here, but that’s really the writers' job. Why on Earth wasn’t that scene back at her house?
4. When did the Doctor rebuild K9 in time for the final scene?
5. Sarah remembers the worldwide alien invasion from 3 episodes back in The Christmas Invasion, but oddly doesn't mention the Prime-Minister’s TV appeal for the Doctor’s help. Oh dear, that means that every earth-bound character in Doctor Who from now on has to remember this too. Except that you just know that they won’t, in much the same way that no-one else in this episode mentioned it.
6. Why on Earth does Finch, whilst plotting to overthrow the universe, allow a newspaper reporter to come and investigate the school he’s doing it from?
7. The TARDIS is parked inside the school. Duh!
8. Mickey saves the universe by… errr… pulling a plug out of its socket. Kudos to him for thinking of that, when seconds earlier it had never occured to him to turn off a particular kid’s VDU, or to remove any of their headphones. On the subject of which, their headphones all vanish between shots.
9. Likewise, rather than take a sample of the oil while she is alone in the kitchen, Rose instead decides to leave it there so that she can go back in the middle of the night for it.
10. Rose doesn’t remember the Doctor dumping her back on Earth at the end of the last series. It comes as a complete shock to her that he might leave her.
11. The Doctor does not dump his companions. Again and again they dump him.
12. The curse of the Time Lords is not that they have to watch their loved ones grow old while they stay young. Most of them never even left their home planet of Gallifrey.
13. The acting direction. Anthony Stewart Head and that black guy panto the whole thing. What a waste.
14. Torchwood continues to appear identical to UNIT. This week Mickey finds a classified file across which they have written their classified name on a classified warning. Really, this is called advertising.
15. Torchwood, having identified all that flying saucer activity, have done nothing. In fact, they appear to be totally ignorant of what is taking place. No change there then, just like when Earth was invaded in the 60s, 70s and 80s, but Torchwood never even noticed, which is a shame, because those were exactly the sort of things they had been looking for all this time.
16. Finally, Rose’s phone accepts incoming calls. That’s right, Mickey rang her up to tell her and the Doctor to come investigate this odd school. Oh dear. We really are saying that in an entire year of Rose going missing on Earth, no-one even once tried calling her mobile.
In summary, I was on an absolute high after seeing Sarah and K-9 again, and a huge sigh of relief that he was still voiced by John Leeson, and not Nick Briggs. As an isolated story, it was passable. As part of a series, it was again riddled with careless story-destruction, to both the old series and the new. As I have noted again and again on this blog, the modern series repeatedly strives for emotional content, no matter how much the story may have to be broken to pieces to force it in. Tonight I have to admit that, just this once, I succumbed to the feel-good factor and was swept along by it all. Yes, I enjoyed it, except for the awful gnawing feeling inside about The Five Doctors.
In fact, I realised what I think is one of the key features of Doctor Who’s ongoing appeal, perhaps something that the rest of the series might do well to acknowledge.
It’s all part of a much bigger picture.