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maryann johanson | watching movies at home

‘Doctor Who’ blogging: “School Reunion”

(intro to my Who blogging, please read before commenting / previous: Episode 2: “Tooth and Claw”)

How I bawled and bawled, the first time I saw this episode. Because this is it, right here, the Doctor’s tragedy, and the tragedy of everyone who loves him: he’s destined to be lonely, and we’re destined to be left because he thinks he can deny the loneliness by shutting us out when we get too close.

I say “we” as if I’m Rose or Sarah Jane — and ohmygod, don’t I wish — but we’re really all like Martha, we fans: We love him, and he doesn’t even see us, but we love him anyway, because how can you not love him? And I also feel like Sarah Jane in this episode, though: I still can’t believe Doctor Who is back. I thought it was dead… and yet here it is, in the flesh and even better than it was and making us crazy by making us fall in love all over again, and even deeper in love than we ever were before. And I bawled too because here was more and very convincing evidence that someone else understood the old Doctor Who in the way that I understood it, not as an adventure show about thwarting bad aliens doing bad things but as a strange, grand romance between the Doctor, who was magnetic and gallant and seemingly oblivious about the effect he had on people, and everyone who fell into his inescapable orbit.
Damn you again, Russell Davies, for dredging this all up when I thought I was done with it. I really am like Sarah Jane: I had put a period on that period of my life, many years back, the period that was all about being nerdily obsessive about Doctor Who, and you’ve made it even more attractive than it was before, when it was pretty damn attractive already.

Oh God, I’m so pathetic. It’s a TV show, for chrissake, and I can’t stop thinking about it.

There’s some sort of nefarious something going on in this episode, of course, about bad aliens doing something bad, but really it’s all about Sarah Jane — Sarah Jane Sarah Jane Sarah Jane who loved the Doctor and we all always knew that, it was so obvious even if the show completely ignored how it was screaming that fact out to the universe — and the Doctor meeting Sarah Jane again and being forced to confront what it is he does to us, forced to confront the consequences of his actions and inactions. I love that aspect of the new Who: this new Doctor is in the wrong, at least partly, all the time. He screws up, he does stuff that goes south and comes around to bite him in the ass, and he’s made to see how his arrogance and presumptuousness backfires all the damn time. And this is the genius bit: Even though he’s an almost complete fuckup, we still love him. Maybe because he tries, even though his overconfidence inevitably trips him up. He’s trying to do something in a universe where inertia seems to be the dominant force.

And yet here also is a Doctor who has little control over anything. For one, two women reduce him to sputtering bewilderment simply by laughing at him… by conspiring against him, if only in order to make the great mystery of him comprehensible to themselves. The scary unknowable ancient alien who is nevertheless irresistible? Too much to take in. The cute, quirky guy who’s in love with his car (or TARDIS)? Much easier to deal with.

For another: He’s genuinely tempted by Finch’s offer to join the Krillitanes and become a god alongside them once the Skasis Paradigm equation is cracked. He went from “If I don’t like it, it will stop” (hey, who made him Judge Judy and executioner?) to Yeah, hey, I could save Gallifrey… That’s a measure of how much the Doctor has changed since the Time War: “I’m so old now. I used to have so much mercy.” It’s hard to imagine any of the previous Doctors, before the Ninth, saying that, and now it’s hard to imagine particularly the Tenth Doctor not being able to say something like that.

But, see, he needs us, too: It takes Sarah Jane to remind him that no, life must go on, getting old and losing stuff you love is okay, really. You almost wish he’d heard that before his confrontation with Rose outside the cafe, when he’s angry, he’s so angry to have Rose grill him on the whole long-string-of-companions thing. “Humans decay. You wither and you die. Imagine watching that happen you someone you–” and of course he’s about to say “love” and can’t manage to choke it out. And yet you want to smack him, particularly when you know how he did just dump Sarah Jane so unceremoniously. “You can spend the rest of your life with me, but I can’t spend the rest of mine with you.” Fine: That’s how it is. It sucks, but that’s how it is. But how about a little more time? Maybe the Doctor can’t spend the rest of his life, but maybe he could spend more than just a few years? Ooo, I remember feeling so bitter, even as a 14-year-old or however ridiculously young I was, when I saw how the Doctor shoved Sarah Jane out of the TARDIS with that lame excuse of “no humans allowed on Gallifrey.” Fuck, I’ll wait in the car, I’d have said. But it’s the Doctor running away all over again… as he admits, in “The Sound of Drums,” he’s been doing from the beginning.

Random thoughts on “School Reunion”:

• I thought: Hilarious, a Doctor Who episode about the vital necessity of eating more chips! Turns out the show is actually satirizing a real effort by the British Potato Board or whatever entity lobbies for chip-eating in the UK. Weird.

• Um, how come I never had a teacher like the Doctor when I was at school?

• It’s Torchwood who denies access to Mickey as he’s searching the Net for news about Deffry Vale and its UFO sightings…

• Lots of great quotes in this episode:

“Oh mate, the missus and the ex! Welcome to every man’s worst nightmare.”–Mickey to the Doctor on the meeting of Sarah Jane and Rose

“Why does he look so… disco?”–Rose on K9

“Oh my God, I’m the tin dog.”–Mickey on his place in the Doctor’s current entourage

“I’ve been to the year 5 billion, but this is really seeing the future. You just leave us behind.”–Rose on her own eventual fate (or so she thinks)

“I know how intense a relationship with the Doctor can be.”–Sarah Jane

“Some things are worth getting your heart broken for.”–Sarah Jane, on traveling with the Doctor

(next: Episode 4: “Girl in the Fireplace”)

[screencaps from Adventures in Time and Space]

MPAA: not rated

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