Before you read this, run and listen to the awesome song “The Tenth Doctor’s Hair” by Radio Rassilon, later covered excellently by Laura Sigma of the Ood Cast. I forgot to include this in the “Things We Like” post but it is, I believe, a song that sums up Tennant’s era as the Tenth Doctor a billion times better than any single episode of his run could do.
So, David Tennant. I like him a lot as an actor and I enjoyed huge swathes of his run as the Doctor. But like my fellow Veritites (Veritesses?) I have mixed, mixed feelings about many of his stories.
“School Reunion” was my pick too. I love this story, despite agreeing with many of the items on Liz’s list of rage – I also cringe about the set up of Sarah Jane and Rose being jealous of each other, and I personally edit out about three lines of dialogue in my brain every time I watch this one, because the idea that Sarah was a) in love with the Fourth Doctor (dear God, no!), that she spent her whole life pining for him and that her life after the TARDIS was somehow less awesome than her life with the Doctor (Ex-CUSE me, have you met Sarah?), and especially the rage-inspiring sentence that outright stated she didn’t get married because ‘no man could compete’ (pass me the sick bag).
Once those lines are edited out, though, there is so much to love about this story. Sarah and the Doctor finding each other again is adorable, and there is definitely a ‘whoa you are so pretty’ vibe between them that I personally liked far better than the idea of their past relationship being anything less than platonic. The chemistry between the Doctor and Sarah in this story is electric, and a line about how she was too busy with her career to get married would have made it perfect. Also possibly a bit where she pretends she wasn’t pining for the TARDIS while making it obvious she did a bit but only a little bit would have been far better than what we got.
I’m with Liz that the only way to survive the episode is to pretend that Sarah is guilt tripping the Doctor to make him suffer, though that in turn means pretending that Sarah is a much harsher person than headcanon suggests. Cough. Anyway, lots to enjoy, not least the formation of the friendship between Rose and Sarah once they get over the annoying jealousy bit. Their duel of ‘my crazy adventures were crazier than yours’ is one of my favourite bits of Who of all time (“the Loch – Ness – MONSTER!”) and this story also gives us Mickey at his most likeable, bonding with the battered K9.
I want a K9 T-Shirt with “he’s a bit disco” as the tagline.
Regardless of how good and how cranky-making this story is, I do think it represents the Tennant run in many key ways. It stands at the precipice of the expanding Doctor Who universe, giving us not only the introduction to Sarah who would shortly get her own excellent spin off children’s show, but also via Mickey’s hacking gives a nod to the Torchwood organisation. Tennant’s run is the only run of Doctor Who episodes which had TWO spin offs running concurrently, and while I agree heartily with Erika about Journey’s End (or perhaps a better example, The Stolen Planet) representing these three separate shows coming together, we see the start of that here in School Reunion.
The Doctor going undercover at the beginning of this story, and Rose playing the comedy sidekick to the investigation, represents the format of many stories across this run, and is reminiscent of similar scrapes he gets into with Martha and Donna. The story has a balance of madcap, lighthearted alien adventure and deep angsty emotion, two main cornerstones of this era of Doctor Who.
Sure, Sarah and K9 represent the past, but they’re also here to foreshadow what will always be the case – The Doctor lies, the Doctor won’t be with you forever, and the Doctor will keep reinventing himself forever long after you are gone.
There’s an artless cruel streak to the Tenth Doctor which we see again and again, but many fans tend to forget about or ignore because David Tennant is, let’s face it, adorable. But it could be argued that the Doctor has always had this tendency, it just shows up in sharper contrast against excessive adorableness.
It wasn’t the Tenth Doctor who left Jack on Satellite 9 in the far future with a crazy eternal life disease shortly after having been killed by a Dalek – but it’s the Tenth Doctor who says to Jack’s face that there’s something wrong with him and that’s why he left. Likewise, it’s the Tenth Doctor here in School Reunion who admits that he doesn’t want to watch his friends growing old.
(Though the BRIGADIER gets a free pass on this, I notice, is it only the hot young ladies and Jack who aren’t allowed wrinkles?)
Having said all that, I think Erika’s argument in the podcast for Journey’s End was pretty much on the money, and it probably ticks more boxes than School Reunion. The Girl in the Fireplace comes in for me as the one of the three I would perhaps most have liked David Tennant’s run of Doctor Who to be like, but I guess I did technically get my wish with that one… except for the Tennant part, because it wasn’t until he left that Moffat took over the show with his love letter to time travel, and banterific romances.
For the record: I agree with Liz that Doctor Who is always about love stories, of many different kinds, and also that the Tenth Doctor and Rose are often a bit insufferable about their own particular love story – though there are other moments in the 2nd series where I sympathise with them very much. I do disagree with Lynne that there is shagging-like-bunnies in the TARDIS at this point, but only because I think the romance is better and angstier if they hadn’t actually got around to that part by Doomsday. (This view was a lot less convincing when Jack was in the TARDIS, I have to admit) Shagging-like-bunnies-behind-the-scenes alternate readings of stories are however enormous fun, and if they are wrong I don’t want to be right.
It’s a big, wide, crazy Doctor Who universe, and we all have the absolute right to be wrong about the show in our own special ways.
A heartfelt yes, yes YES to everything Lynne said about fans who try to keep other fans out, or put others down, because they might like something in a different way. This is never as clear cut as Classic fans vs. New fans, Male fans vs. Female fans, Fans Who Call Themselves Fans as opposed to Fans who Merely Watch the Show Over and Over and Love it To Bits And Bake TARDIS Cakes But Don’t Technically Participate in Fandom… but there often is a gendered aspect to these discussions, and that’s important to take note of.
We’re all capable of being patronising or over judgy at times, especially when talking about things we love more than air, but there are times when it becomes a rather toxic habit, especially when whole communities get in on the mocking, bullying and public humiliation of PEOPLE WHO LIKE THINGS A BIT DIFFERENTLY. We can all work on doing better about this stuff – never hurts to be kind.
All of which leads me to think that the most important way in which School Reunion is a representative episode of the Tennant era is that it is, text and subtext, largely about the fact that the Doctor is kinda hot this time around, and the ladies have noticed this important fact.
If only Sarah had got a line to lament at one point that Rose got the hot Doctor with great hair, and she never fancied hers but this one is a whole other matter, doesn’t Rose find it really stressful to be around a Doctor who is so fanciable? instead of implying that Sarah and the Fourth Doctor (ew) used to hold hands in special ways and he ruined her for all other men (EWWW). Just a few leeetle changes in dialogue would have made this story most definitely a perfect Ten.