Saw the new episode of Doctor Who last night, and loved it. I suspect even the professional reviews (the ones appearing in the magazines and the like, not fan ones on web sites, which I won't read any more) will be mentioning that the science fiction "plot" is secondary to all the character stuff, much like Father's Day isn't so much about the creatures from beyond time destroying the Earth as it is about Rose and her dad, or Rose isn't so much about the Auton invasion as it is about Rose. And, once again, the clue is in the title: there's a reason Rose is called Rose and not The Third Time the Doctor Fights the Autons, and there's a reason this episode is called School Reunion and not Bat Creatures Invade School.
Because while the ostensible plot of the episode might be the Krillitane’s attempts to solve the Skasis(sp?) Paradigm or whatever, the actual story is about the Sarah meeting the Doctor again, and using that to explore what it means to travel with the Doctor, in a way the series never really has before. And it’s warm and thoughtful and touching without being maudlin, and every bit of it has roots in what has come before. And it's not just about bringing back old characters for the fans, but actually uses Sarah's appearance to tell a story relevant to the current story and character developments of the series.
(Contrast this to what's been happening in superhero comics for the last few years, where it often feels like an old character shows up just so that fifteen middle-aged fans can have experience the thrill of recognition. Yes, Geoff Johns, I'm talking to you, but also to the whole school of writing/marketing that decides to stick Anarky into the story of 52 just because a roomful of hardcore fans at a convention started clapping when they heard his name. Seriously.)
Another reason I won’t be reading fan reactions is that this pretty much knocks on the head the fan belief that what the Doctor feels for his companions is nothing but pure friendship. Which, again, is nothing new depending on how you read the series, but the Doctor has, in the past, been enough of a blank slate that fans could write whatever they wanted on him. Gay fans could see that he wasn’t the typical heterosexual hero a la Captain Kirk or whatever. (He still isn’t, of course, but will that be acknowledged by the fan community? Don’t care.) Dateless fans could take comfort in the fact that the Doctor was also this being that wasn’t interested in sex, and therefore also wasn’t having any, so they had something in common with their hero. I put all this in the same category as the negative fan reaction to Chris Eccleston’s costume: if the Doctor looks like a normal guy, he’s just that much more removed from a certain segment of the audience.
But enough fan-bashing, because part of my love for this episode comes from all the memories of being a ten-year-old fan it awakened within me. When I was a kid, just discovering Doctor Who, K9 seemed like the cutest, coolest thing ever, and Sarah Jane Smith was the companion. And an early childhood crush. So this episode links directly to those memories for me. And I laughed out loud at the first joke, and I cheered out loud when K9 burst in and started shooting, rescuing the Doctor, and I got scared and upset at the climax and I cheered again at the end. And Penelope just stared at me in that way cats do, like I was nuts.
And it’s not a perfect episode. The stuff going on at the school doesn’t actually generate a lot of suspense. Even when it’s explained what they’re doing, the scenes of the kids at the computers are still pretty dull and generic. But I don’t care. Anthony Stewart Head does such a great job, I never once though, “That’s the guy from Buffy.” And I don’t even care about that. Because Sarah and K9 are back. They’re back!
And next week: Sophia Myles and clockwork androids!