If genre TV has taught me anything, it’s that if Anthony Head is working at a school, it might be best to transfer your kids somewhere else. Sure, if he’s the librarian, he’s there to help. But in this episode of Doctor Who, he’s the headmaster, and he’s decidedly less friendly since it looks like he maybe leads a young girl off to be eaten by…something.
But that’s not really what this episode is about.
No, in many ways, this episode does something that I don’t think a single episode of Doctor Who has ever done before, namely see what happened to former companions once they leave the TARDIS for the last time, and what better one to go with than arguably one of the most popular companions in the history of the show, namely Sarah Jane Smith, once again played by Elisabeth Sladen.
See, the Doctor and Rose, on a tip from Mickey, are investigating a school where strange things are happening. The Doctor, under the alias John Smith, got hired as a science teacher. Rose is working in the cafeteria. The chips (French fries to Americans like me) are apparently very good…and required eating for the students. That’s odd.
The Doctor doesn’t care for them much.
Sarah Jane, working as a journalist, heard about strange stuff on her own and came by to investigate under the guise of getting an interview with Headmaster Finch. The Doctor recognizes her immediately. She does not.
New face and all.
As it is, the Doctor comes by that night with Rose and Mickey to look around, and so did Sarah Jane. That’s when Sarah Jane realizes what’s going on when she finds the TARDIS in a closet.
Oh, and the school picked up 13 new employees lately, a mix of teachers, cafeteria workers who keep lugging large barrels that seem to be toxic around, a nurse, and Finch. Oh, and the Doctor, but he came separately. Rose, too, I suppose.
Here’s the meat of the episode, though. Sure, Finch and his cronies are Krillitanes, alien conquerors who steal the physical form of their conquests with most of Finch’s gang actually being living gargoyle aliens. And the oil on the chips makes people smarter, but something about the Krillitanes’ changing ways made their own oil deadly poison to them now. That just means when it comes out the aliens are using the kids to unlock the scientific theory of everything, something they offer to let the Doctor use since as a Time Lord he would have wisdom, it comes down to blowing the aliens up with their own oil after Mickey just unplugs all the computers that had mesmerized the children.
No, really, this was about Sarah Jane wondering why the Doctor just left her, Rose wondering why the Doctor never mentioned he had other companions before, and Mickey wondering if he was basically just the tin dog.
Oh yeah. Sarah Jane still had K9. Sure, he was old and barely holding himself together, but he still sounded like John Leeson because it still was John Leeson’s voice. The Doctor did get him up and running, and K9 blew himself up to take out the aliens. I did like that. The Doctor told K9 he was a good dog, to which K9 happily replied, “Affirmative.” Then Head’s Finch called him a bad dog just before they blew up, and K9, sounding rather satisfied with himself, again replies, “Affirmative.”
As it is, there’s a good reason the Doctor never checked in on his former companions: as he explains to Rose, because they age and he doesn’t, it’s hard watching people he cared about grow old and die.
Sarah Jane seems to get that later, going off to have more adventures of her own. And yes, I will be covering The Sarah Jane Adventures in the future too. Mickey, tired of being left out, asks to stay on the TARDIS. Sarah Jane supports that, but she won’t be staying. She’s more sure of herself as the TARDIS fades from view again.
Oh, and the Doctor got her K9 back in a new body. So, that worked out pretty well for everyone but the gargoyle alien monsters. But they were evil, so it isn’t so bad.