"How could anything compare to that?"

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We've never really been Top Ten kind of people. Sure, there are some Doctor Who episodes we like more than others, but there's good stuff and bad stuff in all of them and we find it near impossible to rank them.

Until now.

For the first time, we're absolutely sure. School Reunion is our favourite Doctor Who story. Ever.

Of course, in some ways that isn't really fair. School Reunion is fantastic not because it stands on its own two feet, but because of how it deals with what has gone before. It's because of Hand Of Fear, it's because of every Fourth Doctor and Sarah Jane episode, it's because of every single episode in which the Doctor has a companion that School Reunion is such a stunning achievement.

Unless you have the brain of a sweetpea, you've wondered about what happens when a companion leaves the TARDIS. How, after you've battled monsters and seen exotic planets and travelled to the end of time and back, do you ever build a life out of Coronation Street and trips to Tesco? The Parting Of The Ways touched on this, but in School Reunion it stares it right in the eyes. And what's more, it does it using Sarah Jane.

Now, we loved Sarah Jane when she was originally with the Doctor. We don't think there's been another companion to touch her, either before or since. So it tells you how we feel about this story when we say we love her ten times as much here. Elisabeth Sladen's performance is perfect: there isn't a line delivery or a reaction shot that could have been bettered. She puts so much emotion into every glance that this piece has a gut-punch that's practically Shakespearian.

We also love the way that the story takes her in directions that are just a little different to what you might have expected. This could have just been a feelgood hugs-and-nostalgia story, but instead they take a much darker, and more satisfying, path. We knew she would be thrilled to see the Doctor again; we didn't expect that stunning scene where she's so overwhelmed by seeing the TARDIS she has to back away and shut the door. We knew adjusting to life back in Croydon would be tough; we didn't expect the heart-breaking truth of a woman who's spent decades never fully engaging with life, living always with one eye on the sky in case a blue police box appears. If we'd thought about it, we would have realised how difficult it must be to see another woman in what used to be your place, but we didn't expect the full-on defence she launches in response to Rose's barbs. The two women scrapping over the Doctor could have misfired horribly, but in fact it works beautifully: it's not at all overdone, and it makes their eventual alliance even more touching.

The ending, too, hits the mark exactly: while there's a part of us that would love Sarah to have accepted the Doctor's offer, we know it's the right thing for her to have refused. When she says "I can't do this anymore", we don't think she means that she can't scream as loudly as she used to. She's spent decades in emotional thrall to this man, and no matter how long she spends with him that relationship is never going to evolve into something human-normal. She's had all the closure it's possible for her to get, and it's time for her to let him go. The hug and the “Goodbye, my Sarah Jane” is, quite simply, perfect.

Does School Reunion, in its frankness about Sarah's feelings for the Doctor, change the nature of her previous relationship with him? Is there an implication that there was, after all, the biggest bang in history? Not at all. The Fourth Doctor characterises his and Sarah's relationship as "best friends", but you'd have to be watching with your woolly hat pulled down over your eyes to think they didn't love each other. Nevertheless, that doesn't mean friends-with-benefits: that's a human arrangement that just doesn't apply. This, after all, is an alien we're talking about.

The Doctor is also superb: his joy at seeing Sarah again, his pain as he explains how hard it is for him to get attached to a human, is all utterly believable. It would be possible to label him a coward for dumping humans he's emotionally involved with before he has to watch them age and die, hurting them in the process, but given how often that had the potential to happen over the course of his life, we can't really find it in our hearts to condemn him. He can (theoretically) visit them again at any time, and as a result when he doesn't have to see them die he gets to think of them as forever alive, which must lessen the pain just a little. (We think that's why the Fourth Doctor says "Until we meet again" to Sarah at the end of Hand Of Fear: not because he had any intention of seeking her out again, because that would have been too painful when he knew the relationship between them would end in, for him, an eyeblink, but because while the possibility of seeing her existed in his head he never really had to say goodbye.) And in the end, we don't think any human can or should stand too much time with the Doctor. It's like breathing pure oxygen: heady, but in the long term not good for you. And if the companion doesn't leave of their own accord (which, of course, many have: something School Reunion tends to skirt over) then it's going to have to be the Doctor who holds the TARDIS door open.

And Rose? Although Rose takes a back seat to Sarah Jane and the Doctor, it's very much an important story for her too. What she thought was a unique relationship with the Doctor turns out to be just one in a long line. What's more, Rose sees in Sarah what life is like after the Doctor, and it's just as bad, if not worse, than she feared in The Parting Of The Ways. Rose is, of course, a complete bitch to Sarah at first, but Sarah's not exactly snowy-white in this area either, and in any case, Rose's reaction's less about Sarah than it is about seeing herself twenty years down the track. To her credit, she comes around, and she obviously instigates the Doctor's offer to Sarah Jane to join them, which is generous considering Sarah's obvious feelings for the Doctor. Billie Piper handles all of this beautifully.

But is Rose just one of many to the Doctor? From the evidence of School Reunion, we'd have to say no: after all, he does tell her that he's not going to abandon her as he has the others. So what makes Rose so special, anyway? As far as we can see, nothing: she's a nice girl and all, but she hasn't got a fraction of the intelligence Sarah, or Nyssa, or Romana had and which the Doctor obviously valued. What is different isn't the companion, but the Doctor: no other Doctor has ever been so alone and therefore so dependent on his companions. And it's that that's given Rose more equality with the Doctor than any other human companion has managed. More than a match for him? We don't think so, Sarah: when it comes to equality of smarts, it pretty much takes two Time Lords to tango. There's no doubt that Rose, like Tegan before her in a very different way, has got more control when it comes to the Doctor than most, but that's about the Doctor. The Fifth Doctor didn't have enough authority to stand up to Tegan, and the Tenth Doctor's aloneness makes him more emotionally dependent on Rose.

Even all this specialness, though, isn't as Rose would like it, because let's face it, if the Doctor felt about Rose as she wants him to feel, he'd be as likely to invite Mickey aboard as he would to buy a Dalek a pint.

Ah yes, Mickey. Who'd have thought, eh? After a truly horrific beginning, this character has progressed by more leaps and bounds than a mountain goat. And this is his best story yet. The dialogue is terrific – there isn’t a line in there that isn’t a killer - but it's Noel Clarke's delivery that really makes it catch fire. "It was dark and I was covered with rats!" "Though I have prepared a little 'I was right' dance I can show you later." “…safety scissors and glitter!” "What now, hold the coats?" and, of course, the funny and deeply touching "Oh, my God! I'm the tin dog!" If you'd told us last year that we'd be whooping with joy when Mickey was invited to join the TARDIS crew, we'd have phoned the men in white coats, but whoop we did. We love the Doctor's relationship with him - it seems more teasing and less mean to us than the Ninth Doctor's barbs - and after seeing Rose's face when she got the good news, we can't wait to see how it all pans out.

And then, of course, there's K9. Usually, we are less than enthralled by the metal doggie. (Loathsome lump of tin, we think we said.) But you know what? Better sit down and hang onto something, because we liked him. He's not overused, he's quite cute, he enables Tony Head to say "shooty dog thing", and we love the symbolism of Sarah Jane carting her last link to the Doctor around with her after it's passed its expiry date. And we even cried when he went to the big kennel in the sky. With feats of magic like that, is it any wonder we say this is our favourite episode?

So a big glittery gold star for the Sarah Jane plotline. In fact, the Androzani Kiss Of Excellence. Couldn't have been better. Hang on. Something's coming back to us. Wasn't there another plotline as well?

And that's the problem. While there's a serviceable story in here about nasty bat things, the emotional juggernaut that is the Sarah Jane story squashes it flat. In general, that's not a difficulty: the story does its job, but doesn't exactly set the world aflame. What is a crying shame, though, is that Anthony Head's dazzling performance is almost thrown away. In any other episode, he would rightly have been the centrepiece, but here he's just trampled underfoot. That's not to say we wish he wasn't in it: his role undoubtedly lifts the episode to new heights. The swimming pool scene is one of the most spine-tingling two-handers ever: with both Finch and the Doctor in threat mode, the menace absolutely crackles from the screen. And the temptation scene not only reaches back to classic Who Genesis Of The Daleks, it's classic Who in its own right. As Finch, Tony Head oozes malevolence, oozes power, and just oozes. And we didn't see him die, you know. While the others are sizzling, he's still quipping. Can we see him again in an episode that gives him the concentration he deserves?

And the rest of it? Well, as one of us said at the end as she wiped away the tears, "I just don't even care that the whole allergic to their own oil thing was bollocks". Not that it matters, but let's face it, it's all right but no more. The universe computations are way too Logopolis to impress us with their originality. The composite race stuff was interesting, but there wasn't enough room to explore it. The corridor-running was boringly business as usual. And the editing left some very unfortunate plot threads hanging. Why take out the scene that shows Milo's brain exploding (or whatever) and leave in the then-baffling line "Milo’s failed me"? There are several references to the children falling ill (we're guessing that's what the girl's headache was about) which aren't followed through on. And how come the bat thing swoops at the Doctor but doesn't attack him?

There also seems to be some confusion in the script between intelligence and knowledge. If Rose is smarter, how come the only time it works is when she's asked a question? Doesn't she just know more things? How come the old guard teachers aren’t smarter too? How come Milo's the only smart (or knowledgeable) one in the class if they've all been scoffing the chips? And how come being intelligent makes them love school? For "smarter", read "with more maths and physics knowledge and more suggestible".

The bats aren't particularly exciting or original, but they do the job. They look like CGI, but so what? We particularly like the snoring. Oh, and the fact that the black teacher is darker as a bat too. But with vampire bats following zombies and werewolves, we're starting to wonder what's next. Killer tomatoes?

But who cares? We cried the first time we saw it. We cried the second time we saw it. We even cried during the audio commentary. We cried so much we had to turn the volume up, not to mention fight over the rapidly dwindling tissues. And at the end we were absolutely happy with the story. Sarah Jane got closure. We got closure. And for the first time, as the episode ended we all said "That was absolutely fantastic" - without the "but" that always follows. The small problems that are there just don't matter a damn. This is as good as it gets. Bravo.

MORAL: Don’t look back. Your past may be catching up with you.



The short format dictates a right-in-the-middle-of-the-action opening, and we love it. What a refreshing change from the whole The TARDIS Lands And Then scenario.


Correctamundo? Very Rimmer, isn’t it? And after the little piles of dust in Bad Wolf, too.


While we’re not very enthusiastic about the Doctor’s oh-so-topical lines about happy slappers and ASBOs, we like the Eat More Chips riff on Jamie’s School Dinners.


We love the way everyone has a bit to do: Rose discovers the freaky oil, Sarah talks the Doctor out of changing the universe (again), Mickey saves the South Park-alike “Oh my God! Kenny blew up the school!” fat kid, and the fat kid sets off the fire alarm. It’s great writing.


So he’s regenerated half a dozen times since he last saw Sarah, has he? Trying womanfully to steer clear of UNIT datingesque problems, we choose to interpret this as “about half a dozen”.


How come the Doctor smashing the screen turns all the computers off?


The plug-pulling scene would have been a bit more effective for us if when Mickey first entered the room one of us hadn’t said “Why doesn’t he just pull the plug out?”


When Mickey pulls the plug and tells the kids to get out, they’re sitting at their desks wearing headphones. In the next shot, as they jump up from their desks, all the headphones are off.


We like the way Sarah Jane’s last line “We’ve got work to do” echoes the Seventh Doctor’s words at the end of Survival, and her “Everything has its time, and everything ends” echoes the Ninth Doctor. Also, at the end of Hand Of Fear, when Sarah gets out of the TARDIS she talks to a dog, and here she does exactly the same thing.


It’s very very hard to pick the best Sarah Jane moment, but the pain etched on her face as she sees the TARDIS fade and knows her decision is irrevocable has got to be a top contender. We cried so much we were a danger to the electrical circuits.


Like we said, Billie Piper is terrific in all of this, but our favourite moment has to be her star turn as a sulky dinner lady.


There are too many fantastic Sarah-and-Rose moments to list, but we can’t not mention the utterly brilliant scene where they’re in gales of laughter as the Doctor stands there with his feathers all ruffled. Or the amazing “Find me, if you need to… some things are worth getting your heart broken for” scene. Or…


We love the Doctor’s look of excitement as he first speaks to Sarah Jane – but knowing that David Tennant’s quite the fanboy himself, we’re not entirely sure that was acting.


Sarah Jane says she has a bigger adventure ahead. Could just be her new life, could be something else. We’re praying for the something else.

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