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Hmmm. I wanted and want to desperately like this episode, I really did and do. I guess I'd give it something like a 3/5 or a 5/10 or something like that. The reason? Well, it's elevated by several things. David gives a strong performance and it could have easily gone so wrong. He's strong in all his scenes and playful, serious, angsty in all the right places in every scene he's in. He's just marvelous in this. The story is elevated far above even that and far above what the story of the aliens is about by (and far higher than it deserves) other factors: Sarah Jane Smith and Lis Sladen. It's a joy to have her back and she looks great and her acting is just as good. I wanted her back and glad to have her. It's not the kind of story I'd want her back in but there you have it and not the tone I'd want for her to be back but there you have it and more on that later. Of course, her brilliant series SARAH JANE ADVENTURES will remake this over and over and over and over and I wonder when I'll tire of it cause I, like, haven't! Other reasons: well, I just love K9 and enough said about that. Glad to have him back and yeah, I cried as David faces him in the scene where the 10th Doctor says goodbye to him and when Sarah Jane cries outside the bombed out school. And love it when he says Affirmative to the Mr. Finch's, "Bad dog." Just great. Anthony Head. He can make crap sparkle clean and fresh and stand up and do wonders. Really. He can make tea commericals look great and even bad episodes of BUFFY do wonders when he's there. He makes this worth it all. He's just perfect and frankly, he be a Great Doctor AND a fantastic Master. In fact, it's a wonder they didn't make him the Master or a returning villain (Finch will do nicely actually). The series misteps by not making him the Master and using that awful John Simm instead but whatever. At one point he even stands near a door and the screen shows only the MASTER of the door's moniker HEADMASTER, which is pretty funny. He just so perfect a villain here, tantilizing, almost making even the Doctor give over to him.
Another elevation factor: Noel Clarke. He is another actor who can make anything bad good. If he were in NEW EARTH it'd be good. If he were in TOOTH AND CLAW it would be fantastic. In fact, if he were the Doc's companion and not Rose, the entire series would be better. Not that it's bad mind you. I just love Noel and love Mickey and love Noel as Mickey. Glad he's become a proper companion by this ep's end despite the bit&$% that is Rose. More on her later, IF I have to.
What's left then when you take that out of the mix? Take out Sarah, Mickey, K9, Anthony Head and David's great performance and a great school setting, what's left? Well a mess really. The aliens are burned by their own oil ( a bit X FILES isn't it?) and need school kids to find out answers to the universe, life and everything. Why don't they just get a life? And speaking of that----why didn't Sarah Jane get a life? In fact, the entire way she's depicted here is a bit of a...well, I wouldn't have done it that way and maybe it'd be worse for that. I don't know. I never, of all the Doc's companions expected Sarah to pine away for the Doctor and not get on with her life. She does so at the end of this story, thankfully, or proclaims to. Sarah SHOULD be married by now or have kids or have a full career. Only...hummm, she doens't. That's a sad thing. It also ..I don't know again, with a full batch of fan fiction for YEARS and several SHORT TRIPS and other short stories and semi professional things and not to mention THE FIVE DOCTORS and DIMENSIONS IN TIME...and meeting the Brig again in DOWNTIME...Sarah should have connections to the Doctor after Tom's Doctor left her off. I imagined him visiting ---of all companions---her! Of keeping tabs on her. I suppose THIS is another way of looking at it. It makes the Doctor, or rather THIS Doctor and his 9th self or maybe all of them, rather cold, callous, and emotinally disturbed, not to keep up with ANY of his old friends or companions. It makes him dysfunctional sadly.
The story is lazy in other ways too. Sarah and the Doc have a major re-meeting. He acts all lonely and stuff and later tells Rose he leaves them because...well, they can spend their lives with him but he can't with them. So IT is all about him then. He cares not for them at all but he mostly is selfish...he doesn't want to see them grow old and he never gives them a choice in the matter and just stays away. What a sad git. Jerk. But it's lazy when the Doc tells Sarah that everyone died and then she just leaves it so she can feel sad again and engage in either her own sadness, anger or appreciation for how he looks. At the same time, he doesn't tell her what he means. Everyone died. WTF? In the Time War? We know nothing about the Time War so it's difficult to say this but...when did it happen, git? You left Sarah because everyone died? You lived? And just why did'nt Sarah just contact UNIT or The Brig or both if she really thought the Doc died? And surely as she admits, there must have been him at other points in time, as in CHRISTMAS, that she might have somehow gotten to see him. The feeling is that she and he are both sad, lonely gits who can't have a decent relationship EVER and that they both sabotage their relationships so they can stay pining away or lonely or whatever. It makes the whole series a bit sadder actually while straining to make it real and make it personal and soap opera like.
While the soapoperas are not bad, they tend to pair whoever with whoever that year or that week and dispose of partners like tissue paper, making best lovers and even adventuring couples leave each other, betray each other, and go with other partners. THIS story gets much out of that notion and tweaks it just to make it that side of bearable and yet somehow IT WORKS. Really it does. It works that Rose is sure she's just the latest in the long line of females. Mickey is happy about this until he realizes he's the tin dog. The Doctor's past is a sad one and so that's why he leaves companions...but really in truth most of them leave him. Perhaps he's just covering up that pain and desparate to find one that won't leave him so he is hurt and never goes back to revist them. The closest ones to him, left him: Liz and Jo and Ian and Barbara and Vicki left of their own choice. Even Susan would have but maybe not. The angst works but then you realize there could have/should have been another way to this. The Doc can visit any of them at any time and even call them but he never did! ? And none of them ever tried to get in touch with him???
That said, the Rose/Sarah thing feels so wrong too. At least at first. I always thought Rose started this but Sarah's attitude from the first moment she's seen Rose is poor and jealous. Rose's reactions are just as poor. That the two of them become friends by the end is nice but it's rather rushed. There's also a mean-ness in all the relationships to be honest and the story starts off mean with the little girl who no one will miss being eaten...as if that makes it okay to eat a little girl. It then goes off and has a fat boy Kenny not being able to eat chips and he's left to wander about even when the school is on lock down...but it's not really on lock down as the Doc and pals can escape the back way. It's all lazy storytelling, frankly. There's a backdoor, there's Kenny looming around the building unnoticed (uncared for?), there's Finch in the same room as the Doc, Rose and Sarah and he walks out when he could just have eaten one or two of them then and there, Finch keeps changing his mind (kill the others but leave the Doc unharmed and then give me just his brain), the oil burns the aliens but isn't it their's?, and the kids recover awfully quickly when Mickey disconnects them from the computer. Add to that that if the aliens can eat the kids and require their traits that way, why not do it that way instead of...well, this way where they are open to all kinds of snoopy journalists and computer hackers who love Rose (and the Doctor?).
Anyway this is not terrible. The first viewing had the excitement of Sarah Jane returning but then you realize it's already happened in numerous places already. There are some good scenes. The showdown Western draw off Mexican stand off between Finch and the Doc at the pool is incredible. Both actors are amazing. Head never lets Finch go camp even when growling! The Rose/Sarah Bia$#* snip off ("THE Loch Ness Monster!") is very funny. But then Rose goes and says, "We're arguing over the Doctor," as if she knows that's a geeky thing to do: argue over a self serving, conceited git alien who will never love me back...so what was the point of the jealousy in the first place? It's all very human though, the jealousy, the sniping so maybe there's something to it that hits an emotional response. And it does. And it's funny when they talk about the Doctor in a loving, bonding way ("Does he still stroke bits of the TARDIS?"). Does he talk 90 miles a minute and then look at you like you just dribbled on his shirt? Funny stuff. Mickey's stuff is equally good and the ending is nice but again presents the Doc as a jerk (he replaces her with a younger model, Sarah expects Rose to get her heart broken implying the Doctor can't change or see their POV, the Doc taking on Mickey even when Rose clearly doesn't). I'm glad for this story but it's somehow so WRONG in some of this. It's an odd mix. It's good and bad at the same time for the reasons above.
It also accentuates that despite his "I just gave you that warning" bravado and bluster, the Doctor really doesn't have good plans. He doesn't know what to do a lot of the time and he and his friends have no power, no weapons against the aliens that are going to eat them. That's silly. I used to think it was great that this was: they use their wits or at least the Doc will use his. But how often does he? Others get him out of jams and use the weapons for him, which is probalby why JOURNEY'S END isn't as terrible as I thought it was. Davros was correct. Here, K9 has to die to save him. Isn't it more sensible to go in armed to the teeth ala STAR GATE or even STAR TREK or STAR WARS military types? The Doc prides himself on not carrying a gun and even the 7th Doc felt it was just poor to do so. But look at what he did: allow Ace to carry explosives (while hypocrically letting her and telling her not to at the same time!) and toss them to destroy lifeforms.
The Doc doens't carry guns but he lets others kill for him and in this, others have to sacrifice to kill for him. It further dilutes him but that is DW. If it is, then like the Hartnell and early Troughton perhaps they should'n't make him the all powerful god that can stop all his enemies cauise clearly he can't. And in theearly days, he was just trying tosurvive along with whatever group he found himself in dangerous cirucumstances with, be it the Thals or the Marco Polo troupe or whatever. Now he's the leader of the attack only he's weaponless and later on in great stories, he has to HIDE from his enemies so that, oh and get this, he doesn't take terrible revenge on them, which he does anyway.
Anyway I've veered off again. There's much to enjoy here but also much to get annoyed about, too. I'm glad it was made but it just makes the Doc, Sarah, and even Rose look ...kinda poor.
oh and I almost forgot: a deleted scene implies strongly that the bully that is bullying Kenny and making homophobic remarks is himself gay. So another gay villainous or mean spirited person.
The whole story seems to be a case both FOR and AGAINST that this universe is the same or a different universe than the classic series. I mean it has Sarah and K9 but are they the same Sarah and K9 as our universe?