Tag Archives: Sarah Jane Smith

Can You Keep a Secret?

Back when Doctor Who was re-launched, after a well received opening, the whole thing was very nearly derailed by the shock news that Christopher Eccleston had resigned from the role that leaked out after just one episode. Following on from that debacle they’ve always tried to keep the big shocks secret, although that didn’t stop rumours about the return of the Master last year, nor did it stop the Sun from printing a picture of Davros in the run up to the finale this year. However, I’m certainly not the only fan who was rather surprised when this happened at the very end of last nights episode…

So what exactly is going on? It was announced ages ago that David Tennant was signed on for the specials next year, indeed he has apparently been seen filming the show for Christmas already. Only last week there were reports that the BBC was offering him £1.3 million to stay in the role. About the only high profile “David is leavingâ€? came from Catherine Tate back before Christmas. So has the BBC finally succeeded in keeping something secret from fandom? We’ll have to wait until next week to find out – certainly the trailer is giving nothing away, and the press office release is still only listing Tennant in the part.

Anyway, what about the rest of the episode? I’d mentioned last week my fear that it would be a return to a traditional Russell T Davies episode in that all the numerous guest stars would crowd out elements such as the plot. Certainly from the blink-and-you-miss-it nature of the opening titles, plus a further list of names captioned over the opening scenes, it was clear that there were a lot of big names to fit in. But to some extent, looking back at the episode as a whole although there were a lot of strands there wasn’t really that much of a coherent plot, indeed although we establish that it is the Daleks who have Stolen Earth, by the end of the episode we really have no idea of why the planet has been taken, it having taken most of the running time of the episode for the Doctor to even find where the planet has been taken.

To do this he first heads off to visit the Shadow Proclamation. After being mentioned throughout the series over a number of years, their appearance was frankly rather a disappointment, after a great looking external shot the actual location looked like an office foyer. From an action point of view the Doctor and Donna effectively explain the back story that has been building up, so we get a list of missing planets which alongside several from the new series includes Calufrax Minor, the name being familiar to people who remember the Douglas Adams story The Pirate Planet. Ultimately it is the missing bees, which have been mentioned in throwaway lines that leads the Doctor to a way to locate the missing planets, and takes the TARDIS to the Medusa Cascade, referred to in Last of the Time Lords as the location of a time rift sealed by the Doctor during the Time War. However when the TARDIS arrives, there is no sign of the missing planets and the trail goes cold, leaving a despondent Doctor.

Most of the action is occurring on the Earth, with Torchwood, Sarah Jane and Martha ultimately being brought together through a secret communications network by Harriet Jones in an attempt to contact the Doctor. (It’s worth noting at this point that in a surprising lapse the BBC have missed a trick by not having the phone number used linked to something – 24 for example linked up a special surprise for people who phoned Jack Bauer’s number after it had appeared on screen.)

Once the signal is boosted enough to break through to the TARDIS and Harriet Jones is discovered by the Daleks and apparently exterminated – although note that we don’t see her die. Torchwood again are discovered by the same means, and Sarah Jane ends up face to face with two Daleks too. However it seems that the Daleks are well aware of the Doctor’s allies. Davros it is revealed has been saved from his death during the Time War by Dalek Caan who having escaped at the end of Evolution of the Daleks has broken the time lock around the Time War to save his creator, albeit at the cost of his sanity. Davros however has kept him alive as he now seems to be able to predict the future – making vague predictions about the arrival of the Doctor, the death of his most loyal companion, and the arrival of the Dark Lord.

The one factor that doesn’t seem to have figured in the plans – and indeed is someone never seen by the Daleks is Rose, who despite the Earth being shifted is still quite able to transfer in and out of the stolen Earth at will. She and the Doctor finally meet again at the climax of the episode, shortly before the Doctor is floored by a glancing hit from a Dalek gun, and the apparent regeneration process begins.

So what is going on? There are lots of strands to connect, and quite a few throw-away lines that I’m sure will come back to be significant – in particular the mysterious Osterhagen Key that Martha is given as she escapes New York, but later told never to use by Harriet Jones. The fact that Dalek Caan has broken the time lock around the Time War may yet prove to be significant, along with the stolen worlds being hidden outside the normal flow of time. I’m sure that there will be some more significance to some of the things that Dalek Caan has said too.

In all it was an enjoyable episode, but with some classic Russell T Davies techno-babble to hurry the plot along. I’m more inclined to credit the crisp direction from the highly experienced Graeme Harper that rose above the script for the final result. It wasn’t only the good director that made it enjoyable, there were also some fabulous performances from the extensive guest cast – Julian Bleach being a particularly creepy Davros, and some great moments from Bernard Cribbins reliving his earlier encounter with the Daleks with some well aimed paint gun pellets. The crossover elements relied somewhat on knowing the other programmes, and certainly there were lines in those scenes that would be totally lost on people who hadn’t watched them, however nothing that really required that you had watched. As you can no doubt gather from my comments further back, the ending was a real surprise, and certainly if David Tennant isn’t leaving I hope we don’t get a total cop-out of a resolution.

They have now released a trailer for next week – needless to say it doesn’t really give that much more away:

What If?

Doctor-light episodes seem to have become a way for the Doctor Who production team to do something a bit more experimental. This has happened right back from the early days when a lead actor needed to take a break the Doctor or his companions would find one or other of them turned invisible as in The Celesital Toymaker, transformed temporarily into a different actor as occurred in The Mind Robber or imprisoned as happened in The Time Meddler. In the new series we’ve had a couple of Doctor light episodes where the main cast gets involved in the story but the core characters are separate. This year we had a pair of stories, with Donna taking a break last week, however it is rather more difficult to sideline the Doctor in the same way.

In Turn Left the chosen route was a classic alternative history story, exploring what would have happened if Donna had not taken the job where she initially gets involved with the Doctor. As a result, she is not present to snap the Doctor out of his almost trance like state during the climax of The Runaway Bride, and in the alternative version of events the Doctor dies during the encounter. Throughout the rest of the episode we see key events in the series through the eyes of Donna as an ordinary person. So the events of Smith and Jones are seen, but Martha Jones dies, and it is Sarah Jane Smith who gets involved, and again she doesn’t make it out alive. The next big event series wise is the return of The Master, but of course since he is released by the Doctor after the events of The Runaway Bride, in this alternate reality he is still trapped in the far future. Next up without the Doctor, the replica of the Titanic does smash into London, wiping out millions and plunging the UK into chaos. Thanks to a bit of intervention from Rose Tyler, Donna is safely away in the country. Moving on to the latest stories, the Adipose don’t much affect the crippled UK, and with petrol rationed, the Sontaran Stratagem has much less of an effect, but it is Captain Jack and Torchwood who help defeat that threat, but again at the cost of their lives – the immortal Captain Jack is left stranded on Sontar.

All of this goes towards removing all the possibilities for salvation when towards the climax of the episode stars in the night sky start to disappear as part of what Rose refers to as the approaching darkness. Using the last remaining power from the TARDIS, which UNIT had salvaged, but which following the passing of it’s owner is slowly dying, Rose sends Donna back in time to stop her past self from making the fateful decision that leads her away from the Doctor, turning right rather than turning left. Ultimately Donna sacrifices herself in the alternate timeline, and as she lays dying, Rose appears once again and whispers two words to tell the Doctor.

Much as with Utopia last year, episode eleven was very much about putting things in place for the series finale. With that episode as with this, it is the last few minutes of the episode that are key. This time around the big reveal moment is when Donna repeats the whispered words which both confirms the identity of Rose, and also highlights the importance of what is happening – Bad Wolf – the words that Rose scattered through time to guide herself and the Doctor towards their fateful battle against the resurgent Daleks. In much the same way, from the glimpses in the trailer, it seems the last Dalek who escaped at the conclusion of Evolution of the Daleks may have started anew – perhaps with a little help – and once again Bad Wolf is guiding the Doctor and his companions towards another battle, and again from the clues laid down in this weeks episode, the cost is going to be high.

What made the episode, was the big conclusion, and the expectation it produced for the finale. Despite some strong performances, I thought the rest was pretty derivative. The “What Ifâ€? idea has been done in a lot of other series, and whilst it was interesting to see the alternative history, it was in some ways pretty predictable, and a lot of the episode was very much a whole series of continuity references for fans – and yet another temporal paradox. The almost messianic idea that Russell has used previously was clear as well, everything is bad without the Doctor. What might have been more experimental would be if some things had actually been better had the Doctor not been involved. The giant beetle monster and the whole concept of what it did really didn’t hang together overly well either – and the question of how a dying Donna in the alternate timeline that ceases to exist was able to give a message to the Doctor is something that really doesn’t make sense either. As the SFX preview of the finale has said cramming an episode with continuity references entertains the fans, but sometimes when you look at it rationally, peeling back the references, there isn’t much underneath – sadly my opinion this week was that it was primarily a vehicle for the fan pleasing references, and didn’t do much underneath. Hopefully things might be better next week.

Turning to next week, it looks like we’re going to get multiple trailers, the first of which is online already.

A Reunion that Worked?

It has to be said, that in the past, reunion episodes of Doctor Who have never exactly worked. Usually, in an effort to bring back in an old face, the plot has suffered somewhat, and although it is usually fun to see old characters, they generally aren’t the best episodes. Like many fans of the series, I have really been looking forward to tonight’s episode featuring the return of Sarah Jane Smith and K-9, since as was said in the edition of Doctor Who Confidential that followed the show when Sarah Jane originally left, at the end of The Hand of Fear neither her nor the Doctor wanted her to go. At the conclusion of that story, the Doctor is summoned back to Gallifrey, and is not allowed to take Sarah Jane with him. As a result he returns her to Croydon (although we find out in School Reunion that again he missed the mark, and left her in Aberdeen) and heads off to Gallifrey, and one of the main plot threads tonight was how she actually coped.

The episode starts off straight into the action, with a student apparently eaten by the headmaster of a school, you then cut to a classroom, where the new teacher turns out to be the Doctor. It transpires that both Rose and the Doctor are working undercover looking in to strange goings on at the school, having been alerted by Mickey. Following a large amount of UFO activity in the area, large numbers of the staff of the school had mysteriously fallen ill, and were quickly replaced with a new team. After the appearance of the new team suddenly the results at the school have improved considerably, prompting suspicion that all is not well.

It seems that it is not only the Doctor who is suspicious, as on his second day, Sarah Jane, apparently writing an article about the headmaster appears. The Doctor introduces himself as John Smith – the pseudonym that the Doctor often uses – to which Sarah Jane replies that she once knew a man who used that name, but doesn’t recognise him.

Recognition comes later that night when both Sarah Jane and the Doctor are snooping around the school. Frightened by noises from the headmasters office, Sarah Jane goes running through the school, and finds the TARDIS hidden in a store room. Stunned she leaves the room and finds the Doctor stood outside.

After the very few references to the old shows that there have been, this was absolutely the opposite, with the show littered with references and obscure in jokes. For example, having shown the Doctor the non-working K-9, she says that she couldn’t fix him because spare parts were as hard to find as parts for a Mini Metro – a reference to the car she drove back in the one off K-9 and Company – although in School Reunion she has a somewhat more practical (for a robot dog at least) estate car.

What is really excellent about this episode is that unlike every other one of these reunion stories, the characters actually go through emotions, and really develop. In the case of Sarah Jane she finally gets closure over her time with the Doctor. After years spent waiting for him to come back, and thinking he was dead, she is offered the chance to go travelling again, but turns him down and finally gets a chance to say good-bye – indeed when he tries to make a fairly flippant ‘see you around’ type comment, she insists. Also, after being broken for much of the episode, and sacrificing himself to save the Doctor, K-9 is rebuilt and restored to his former glory as a parting gift.

Perhaps the most interesting changes are in the Doctor and Rose. For Rose, the realisation is brought crashing home that there have been many companions before her, and like Sarah Jane, one day she may be left behind. This also brings one of the few moments where you see the Doctor talk about himself, where he says that ultimately he is alone. Whilst his companions could stay with him for their whole life, as a time lord ultimately he can never stay with a companion for his whole life because he will outlive them all.

Unrelated to those, there was also an interesting moment with the Doctor, which reminded me of a comment made in a review of Tooth and Claw, that maybe there is a big series changing plot twist coming. It comes in the finale of the story, when the chief baddie, superbly played by Anthony Stewart Head, who has previously predicted that the Doctor will join him, faces the Doctor again, with the Time Lord having discovered the plan. Here the Doctor is offered ultimate power, and the chance to turn back time and save the Time Lords, and for a moment he looks really tempted. But it is Sarah Jane who persuades him that it is wrong.

From beginning to end I thought it was an excellent episode, probably the best of the new series so far. On the one hand you got closure for the character of Sarah Jane, but alongside that you got an excellent bad guy in the form of Anthony Stewart Head (hopefully he’ll have made a lucky escape from the explosion in the school to return again), and a decent plot and acting from the rest of the cast. I could list off the great moments and one liners for pages more, but I won’t. However as several of the reviewers at Behind The Sofa says, this was probably the first episode of the new series to really give the grown up fans the kind of feeling they got when they saw some of the original stories for the first time. Which perhaps makes the most ironic thing about it all, is that the episode was also the first in the whole new run to be written by someone who had not written any Doctor Who before, and confesses to not being much of a fan – Toby Whithouse.