The big half-term spectacular in this year's Sarah Jane Adventures
once again features a guest appearance for the Doctor, except this time it's Matt Smith's version who shows up. Since the spinoff's creator is on writing duties, this is also the first time Russell T Davies has written for Eleven (everything from the regeneration onwards in "The End of Time" was Steven Moffat's.) For fans of the classic series there's at least one more big moment to look forward to (and, as it turns out, a ton of smaller ones along the way.)
RTD's "Death of the Doctor" of course brings back Jo Grant (and UNIT, but they're practically regulars both here and on the main show.) Early on especially, the much smaller scale of the story highlights the writer's strengths, often overshadowed by his love for spectacle when showrunning Doctor Who
. I'm thinking particularly of the early scenes after a UNIT officer who appears to be called Tia Maria has given Sarah Jane the news that the Doctor's dead, and we get some moving moments dealing with grief and denial, both from Sarah Jane herself and from Rani and Haresh's description of Gita's cleaning fit. It fits in with what I was saying about the first episode, and the show dealing with issues the kids watching might be having to face.
Katy Manning's lovely chaotic entrance changes the mood, and she's at the centre of some more lovely tiny moments, largely concerned with her realising the Doctor has revisited other past companions, but not her (the way this is resolved between her and Matt Smith is moving too.) Of course there's a second mood shift coming up once the Doctor swaps places with Clyde and we're into the running around corridors (and ventilation shafts!) that is the show's bread and butter. The addition of Finn Jones as Jo's grandson Santiago is a bit random - the idea behind him is clearly to show that everyone envies something about someone else's life, so you should appreciate what you do have, but it's framed in a way that implies he'll be joining the cast as Luke's replacement, so it's a bit weird that he doesn't. (Of course Luke has still appeared in the last two stories via video link so he doesn't technically need replacing. Here's what I don't get: How has the fact that his scenes are now all on his own talking to a camera, resulted in Tommy Knight's performance actually acquiring a touch of naturalism that he couldn't manage when performing with other actual actors? Weird.)
Of course the two-parter is a huge trip down memory lane for fans of the original series, so I won't go into the numerous flashbacks and references to past companions and stories - there's one every couple of minutes. Even the McGuffin is based around SJS and Jo's memories of the 1970s series. Mostly I really enjoyed this, although this being RTD he can't help baiting some of the audience unnecessarily. The reference to Santiago's gay dad is surely only there to wind up some of the "gay agenda" people on "The Internet." The one that winds me up, of course, is the moment where SJS asks Eleven about his previous body, and in the third person wants to know what happened to him, which Eleven then does *sadface* about and avoids. Enough, RTD, we know Ten was a special snowflake and definitely the best Doctor and when he died the series basically died. Actually apart from the usual "Ten is awesome" thing, I hate this whole insistence on Eleven not quite being the same person because the way the regeneration mythos built up in the series was a bit random, and so has ended up being something that doesn't entirely make sense, but just about works. (The Doctor is the same person whatever his face, but different aspects of his personality come to the fore, and they even have a complicated relationship with each other: From the occasions when different regenerations have met, we know One is a bit sniffy about Two and Three but adores Five; Ten also loves Five but Six openly hates him. I mean really RTD, do we need to be complicating this any more?) Biggest fuckup of the episodes though: The "next time" trailer that gives away Tia Maria is a baddie. Very sloppy.
Of course the piece of audience-baiting that got all the publicity ahead of broadcast was the one aimed at the continuity fans, when Clyde asks how many times the Doctor can regenerate, and the answer isn't
the canonical "12" that is starting to be a problem. But as it turns out, Smith's answer of "507" comes across so glib that you could easily dismiss it.
Still, this was a good'un, and nice to see the production team are still finding ways to save money on the monster costumes: Giving the Graske a respray to create the Groske, and making the Shansheeth out of TreyC's outfit from last Saturday's X Factor