In anticipation of Saturday night's TV viewing enjoyment, and as an incentive to get writing, I set myself the goal of reviewing this week's episode of Doctor Who, School Reunion. So I'm a bit shamefaced that it's got to Tuesday before I set pen to paper or fingers to keyboard.
At the risk of destroying my credentials as an objective reviewer, I feel I ought to lay my cards on the table here. Last year, Doctor Who became must-watch TV in our household, and I've been looking forward to this one for a while. In fact the only appointment-to-view telly over the festive period was the Christmas Day episode.
And, yes, I do fancy David Tennant. A combination of his cheeky grin, Russell Davies' writing, Peter O'Toole and some gorgeous costumes kept me hooked on Casanova. And his Scottish accent, combined with familiar scenery, and the wonderful Sarah Parrish really turned me on to Blackpool. So I'm biased, okay. I'm very happy that I get to see him on my TV set every Saturday.
I remember watching Doctor Who as a child, and my first Doctor was the unforgettable Tom Baker. But I don't really recall much of the classic series, and certainly don't have the encyclopedic knowledge of many dedicated fans. I know a lot of them have been looking forward to the re-introduction of Sarah Jane Smith and K-9, but even if, like me, you knew next to nothing about these much-loved characters, it was obvious from the emotional tone of this episode that this was a big deal. Liz Sladen clearly felt a great affection for her character of Sarah Jane and put in a great performance, showing a great range of emotions from regret to anger and finally some resolution.
There was so much packed into 45 minutes – from a homage to the classic series, jealousy and back biting from the leading ladies, emotional understandings, some pretty cool monsters, funny one liners and a chubby kid saving the day! Oh and extra points for the Doctor wearing glasses (yum!).
I've deliberately left the casting of Anthony Head out of that list, as he deserves a separate mention. The verbal showdown between him and the Doctor around the edge of the swimming pool, was perfectly pitched, perfectly paced and just wonderful to watch. Here were two well-matched adversaries, sizing each other up, cool and menacing, jousting with words. And in an episode which dealt with the solitary price of being immortality, it also gave us a chance to see the dark side of the Doctor, with that telling line, "I used to have so much mercy."
I think this is one significant difference between Tennant's Doctor and Christopher Ecclestone's (may he forever be praised for playing a major part in resurrecting this series). For an actor often cast in brooding roles and with the physical build to carry off an air of imposing menace, Ecclestone delighted me with his child-like delight and wonder, his desire to explore. When he did show his darker moods, as in Dalek, his rage often stemmed from fear.
David Tennant's Doctor is like quicksilver, flicking between light and dark with the speed of cloud shadows scurrying across the hills on a sunny day. He can laugh and explore and enjoy new experiences, as he showed in response to last week's werewolf ("That's beautiful"). But his anger is ice cold. "You get one warning, that's all", had echoes of a similar stand-off moment in New Earth, when he declared, "It stops with me!". Is this pride or arrogance? Could this be a foreshadowing of things to come? Judging from the links that only became obvious in retrospect last series, it makes sense to look for clues in the writing.
The contemporary nod to recent campaigns for healthy school meals, and the chubby, salad-eating boy saving the day were nice touches. (Was it just me, or was he just wearing a big jumper?). There was so much in this episode, it was almost easy to overlook the monsters which, to my mind, were a little too much like the bat-style beasties of Father's Day. But I'm sure they'll have prompted some behind-the-sofa moments.
With an episode from the same writer that brought us the chillingly spooky gas mask zombies to look forward to this week, I'm already counting down the days…