Tin Dogs and Clockwork Robots: New Doctor Who Rewatch, Series Two, Part Two

I made my last post early; this one is late.  Although I got it written on Wednesday before the Thanksgiving holidays, I wasn’t able to get it posted that day.  My apologies; hopefully we’ll be back on schedule this week.

We’re back, with our new Doctor Who rewatch! Last week, we reviewed the first two episodes of Series Two: New Earth and Tooth and Claw, which took Rose Tyler and the Tenth Doctor into the past and the future, and to another world. Today, we’re looking at School Reunion, which reintroduces some old friends (and also sets up for another spinoff series), and The Girl in the Fireplace, with a new enemy! We’re also looking at the related TARDISodes, mini-episodes which accompany each episode of Series Two. Let’s get started!

As a reminder, each series in the new show tends to have considerably more stories than the classic seasons; therefore we’re splitting each series into parts of two or three episodes each for the sake of length.

Spoilers ahead for anyone who has never seen these episodes!

School Reunion’s TARDISode, #4 in the series, finds Mickey Smith on the internet, where he’s researching strange happenings at a nearby school, Deffry Vale High School. He’s stonewalled by Torchwood’s software at one point (and again during the actual episode), but he finds enough to call Rose and the Doctor, and ask them to investigate. We end with a glimpse of one of the show’s monsters.

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The episode finds Rose and the Doctor already on scene, having infiltrated the school via some time-travel-related shenanigans a few days earlier. The Doctor, in his John Smith persona, is acting as a physics teacher, while Rose is filling in for a lunchroom attendant (and eating an exorbitant number of chips). The Doctor immediately discovers that certain students are exhibiting intelligence and knowledge—especially computational skills—far beyond the level they should have obtained.

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The headmaster, Mr. Finch, introduces the staff—including the Doctor—to a journalist who has been assigned to write a profile about him: one Sarah Jane Smith. The Doctor immediately recognizes her; she has aged since he last saw her, but is still the same to him. She doesn’t recognize him, however. Meanwhile, he discovers that a total of fourteen staff—including the headmaster and seven teachers—were recently replaced, prior to his arrival with Rose. At the same time, a child named Kenny enters the wrong maths classroom, and glimpses a batlike monster…which seems to become one of the teachers.

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Sarah Jane, being Sarah Jane, is here for more than what she says. She breaks into the school that night, unaware that the Doctor, Rose, and Mickey have done the same; the Doctor sends Mickey to investigate a rumor about the maths classroom and its odd computers. They meet, and introductions are made; immediately there is tension between Sarah Jane and Rose. Together, they then discover something horrifying: thirteen batlike creatures, asleep in a classroom. One of them awakens, unseen, and follows them out.

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Rose has discovered there is something sinister about the oil in which the food is being cooked. The Doctor says they will need to return to the TARDIS to analyze it, but Sarah Jane calls him off; she has something that will help. In her car, she reveals another old friend: K9 Mark III, now deactivated. He lived with her for years, but eventually broke down, and she lacked the parts to repair him. The Doctor does so, and K9, now reactivated, determines the oil is Krillitane oil—a byproduct of a biologically-composite race called Krillitanes. The Doctor also talks with Sarah about why he left her behind long ago; in the process, he reveals he is a Time Lord. The lone Krillitane, watching, relays all of this to Finch, who is their leader.

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The next day, they return to the school. The Doctor sends Sarah Jane and Rose to look more closely at the computers, and puts Mickey on sentry duty outside with K9. The Doctor goes to confront Finch. Finch reveals himself to be a Krillitane called Brother Lassar, and admits he has permanently adopted human form, unlike the others. He says that the Doctor will soon join him. Meanwhile, Sarah Jane have an argument over the Doctor, but quickly realize their foolishness, and begin to get along better.

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Lassar and the Krillitanes lock down the school with the children inside, moving to the final phase of their plan. They then devour the remaining human staff. The Doctor finds the computers are all deadlocked sealed. The Krillitanes get the students working on the computers, deciphering a strange formula that the Doctor recognizes as the Skasis Paradigm. If solved, it will grant its user godlike powers over reality, space, and time. Lassar tempts the Doctor, saying that with it he could resurrect the Time Lords. The Doctor is tempted; but Sarah Jane talks him down, and he leads Sarah Jane and Rose to try to escape.

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K9 persuades Mickey to use Sarah Jane’s car to break through the doors and into the building. He and Kenny run to get the other students out, shutting down the program. As the students flee, Mickey and Kenny meet up with Rose, Sarah Jane, the Doctor, and K9 in the cafeteria, where K9 holds off the Krillitanes, but dangerously depletes his power. The others hide in a lab. The Doctor realizes the oil is the key; the Krillitanes have evolved so much that their own oil now harms them. He gets everyone out except K9. K9 volunteers to ignite the oil, but he knows it will be a sacrifice; he will have to be close when it explodes. The Doctor says his goodbyes, calls him a good dog, and leaves. As the Krillitanes and Lassar arrive, K9 shoots the barrel of oil, detonating it and destroying the school, himself, and the Krillitanes.

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Sarah is heartbroken for K9, but she acknowledges his sacrifice. Later, at the TARDIS, the Doctor offers her the chance to travel with him again, but she declines, choosing to find her own life instead. However, Mickey asks to go instead; this time, the Doctor accepts, though Rose is not happy with it. As the TARDIS leaves, Sarah sees something left behind: A brand new K9, with the memories of the old, but updated systems. Overjoyed, she takes him home—after all, they have work ahead of them.

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I will unashamedly say that this is one of my favorite episodes of new Doctor Who. This is mainly because I’m a huge classic series fan, and Sarah Jane and K9 were some of the earliest companions I recall from my childhood; but the episode is good in its own right as well. It was one of the earliest NuWho episodes I saw (though not the first—that honor goes to the next episode), and I’ve been delighted with it ever since. It’s hard to describe the feeling of seeing old favorite characters again after so many years; I felt something similar when the Master returned (albeit in a different body) in Utopia and when the Brigadier (albeit dead, sort of) made a cameo in Death In Heaven).

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This story is littered with references, so I’ll try to be brief. Most of them come from Sarah Jane’s argument with Rose: Mummies appear in Pyramids of Mars; robots from a variety of episodes, but most notably Robot; Daleks from Genesis of the Daleks and Death to the Daleks; anti-matter monsters from Planet of Evil; dinosaurs from Invasion of the Dinosaurs, and the Loch Ness Monster from Terror of the Zygons. Rose counters with ghosts (The Unquiet Dead), Slitheen (Aliens of London/World War Three), the Dalek Emperor (The Parting of the Ways), zombies (The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances), the year five billion (The End of the World), and werewolves (Tooth and Claw). The Doctor mentions the year 5000 in connection with K9 (The Invisible Enemy), and the Sycorax ship (The Christmas Invasion). The TARDISode and the episode both show Torchwood software blocks on Mickey’s computer, a reference that will later play into the spinoff series. Sarah Jane makes reference to the car she drove in K9 and Company, the failed spinoff which established how she acquired K9. She hints at adventures that were never seen onscreen; the Doctor also says he has seen Krillitanes before, in a different form. He says he has regenerated a half dozen times since he last saw her (though some spinoff materials contradict this, as does The Five Doctors); this would naturally not include the War Doctor, whose memory he has suppressed. The Skasis Paradigm seems very similar to the Block Transfer Computations used by the Logopolitans; indeed, the techniques the students use to decode it, though executed via computer rather than by hand or verbally, seem very similar to those of the Logopolitans. Finch is aware of the Time Lords, and that the Doctor is the last, but doesn’t seem to know about the war; he still thinks of the Time Lords as peaceful and indolent, as they were before the war. K9 recognizes the Doctor despite his regenerations. There were also several tie-in websites in the real world; both Deffry Vale High School and its fictional surroundings had sites, as well as Mickey’s website, which featured tie-in material in an in-universe style. Most of all, though, this episode sets up for the eventual spinoff, The Sarah Jane Adventures.

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Some great lines: “Oh my god…I’m the tin dog!” from Mickey; this realization prompts him to take a more active role and travel with the Doctor, which will cost him soon. He gets another great line when Sarah Jane and Rose are arguing: “Oh! The Missus and the ex. Every man’s worst nightmare!” The Doctor calls K9 a good dog just before his death, and he replies with Affirmative; moments later, Finch calls him a bad dog, and he gives the same reply, smugly, I might add. Sarah Jane’s farewell speech is also an emotional moment; she tells K9 that the Doctor replaced him with a new model, and then reflects, “He does that”. The Doctor tells her earlier in the episode that the reason he left her is because humans age and die, but he never does, and he can’t watch that over and over. It’s a harsh and well-done line, but a terrible reason.

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The Girl in the Fireplace picks up shortly thereafter; Mickey comments that this is his first time traveling with the Doctor. It is the 51st Century, and the TARDIS has landed aboard a heavily-modified spaceship; but no crew are to be found. They quickly find a curious anomaly: an 18th-century French fireplace, leading…somewhere off the ship. A child appears on the other side; her name is Reinette, and she says the year is 1727, in Paris. She is surprised to see the Doctor, and more surprised when—weeks later from her perspective, but only minutes later from his—he comes through and awakens her. He finds a menacing, clockwork android under her bed; it wants to kill her, but says she is not complete yet. He tricks it into returning to the ship, then freezes it with a fire extinguisher. It soon recovers and teleports away.

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The Doctor, Rose, and Mickey begin to investigate, with the Doctor periodically returning through the fireplace. Time is moving on the other side, but very quickly, covering years in what amounts to minutes on the ship; each time, he finds that she has aged by a number of years, and is now a young woman. He learns, too, that she is not just any woman; she is Reinette Poisson, the future Madame de Pompadour, future mistress of King Louis XV and uncrowned queen of France. She is also falling for him. To her view, she has known him all her life.

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He finds that in addition to the fireplace, which allows time to progress for monitoring of Reinette’s life, there are various “time windows” on the ship, leading to different points in her life. When the droids find the correct one, they will come for her. Rose and Mickey find that the ship is riddled with human organs, serving as replacement parts. The Doctor deduces that something happened to the ship and crew; the droids are repair droids for the ship, who butchered the crew after the accident to use them as organic spare parts. They lack only one part: a brain for use as a processor. For this, they want Reinette…but why her? And why must she be a certain age?

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That age is 37. The group finds a window leading to that moment; but so do the droids, who move in to claim Reinette. The Doctor sends Rose through another window, five years earlier, to warn her; but she follows Rose back onto the ship, and is duly alarmed by what she sees and hears. She chooses to return and wait. Meanwhile the Doctor finds that the ship is 37 years old, hence the correlation in age—but still, why Reinette?

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He finds the window to the correct time closed. He can break through, but doing so will break the connection to the ship for all the windows, and will trap him there. And, because he is already part of events, he can’t use the TARDIS to infiltrate the time stream. He chooses to go anyway, using a horse that wandered aboard ship to break through, interrupting a party at which the droids are attacking. He tells them they are trapped as well, and have failed; with no purpose left to them, they deactivate.

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Later, while talking with Reinette, he admits that he chose to be stranded so as to save her. Then, she reveals that she has kept the fireplace from her childhood, and transported it to the palace in one piece. Moving it broke its link to the ship, prior to his destruction of the windows…he is able to reactivate it and return. Before he goes, he offers to take Reinette with him, and she accepts.

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He returns minutes later…but it is too late. From Reinette’s perspective, five years have passed…but history records that she died of an illness at age 42. He misses her funeral procession by five minutes. She left him a letter, though, saying goodbye, but pleading for him to return while there is time. He cannot do so.

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On the TARDIS, he severs the link between times, closing the fireplace. As the TARDIS dematerializes, we see what the Doctor never knew: a portrait of Reinette on the ship’s wall, and outside, the name “SS Madame de Pompadour” on the hull. This is why the droids considered Reinette to be the same as them; the ship was named for her.

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The TARDISode gives us a flashback to the event that damaged the ship, and shows the droids beginning to cannibalize the crew.

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This episode is the first NuWho episode I saw, though I missed the ending at the time (I was running late for something). It was great then, and I still think it’s great now, although it’s a bit of a disaster for internal continuity (seriously: That fireplace portal is absolutely inconsistent regarding the passage of time! Two minutes at the beginning equate to a few months of Reinette’s life, but at the end, an equal time equates to about five years. Also it synchronizes with Reinette’s flow of time when he is speaking through it, but only then. This sort of thing happens continually.)

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This episode is the first historical for the Tenth Doctor, although perhaps that’s overstating it, given its split time periods. It does, however, involve an actual historical character, in Madame de Pompadour, which adds some credibility. It also plays havoc with the idea that the Doctor can’t go back and change events he is part of; he says he can’t take the TARDIS back to France, but there seems to be no reason for that to be true. He can’t go back and change things already established further back in Reinette’s past, certainly, but he should be able to go to the moment of the party at the end, given that he hasn’t been there or done anything to contradict its events. Fortunately, this aspect of the “part of events” rule seems to have been discarded in later episodes. Clearly this is an episode that is better for the sake of story, but demands that you not look too deeply into the technobabble.

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Reinette’s story is a sad one; although the Doctor saves her, he loses her in the end, and more to the point, she loses him. It’s our first indication that the Tenth Doctor is far from perfect, and indeed, makes mistakes quite well, a theme that we will see come to a head in The Waters of Mars a few series down the road. Indeed, sometimes I think his entire run is setting up for that story, in small ways; in the last episode, we had him drawing a distinction between himself and humanity for Sarah Jane, setting up for his eventual “Time Lord Victorious” moment. Here as well, he calls himself “the lord of time”; it’s tongue-in-cheek now, but foreshadowing worse things to come. This is a very fallible Doctor we are dealing with.

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We are lacking in references here, perhaps making up for the glut of them in School Reunion; but Rose does reference the TARDIS translation circuits, last discussed in The Christmas Invasion, and calls the Doctor the Oncoming Storm (The Parting of the Ways). The Doctor mentions using Zeus plugs as castanets; these items appeared in The Hand of Fear, incidentally the final Sarah Jane episode of the classic series (with the exception of The Five Doctors). He mentions Cleopatra, but his encounters with her have been offscreen thus far.

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Overall, both episodes are good, and I don’t have many complaints other than the fireplace’s issues. The Clockwork droids will appear again in slightly different form in Deep Breath; the Twelfth Doctor clearly connects them to this incident. Sarah Jane and K9, as well, will soon have a spinoff, and will appear again here in crossover format. These are well worth your time.

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Next time: A two-parter gives us the return of the Cybermen in Rise of the Cybermen and The Age of Steel; and if we make it there, we’ll also cover The Idiot’s Lantern! See you there.

All episodes may be viewed on Dailymotion; links are below.

School Reunion

TARDISode 3

The Girl in the Fireplace

TARDISode 4

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