Giles rushes from the library to warn Buffy — whoops, no, it’s just Anthony Stewart Head playing Lucas Finch, the slick and suspicious new head of a high school. Learning that a student (sent to him by the nurse) has no parents, he ushers her into his office saying, “you poor child, you poor, thin child,” observing that “it’s nearly time for lunch.” She’s so adorable he could just eat her up! And he does, or at least something with wings does as it squawks.
Luckily the Doctor’s on the scene, posing as the new Physics teacher. After grilling an exceptional smartypants of a pupil, the Doctor heads to confer with Rose in her disguise as a dinner lady. Mickey was right to summon them; the student he spoke with had knowledge “way beyond planet Earth.” The Doctor’s surprised the kids aren’t “happy slapping hoodies with ASBOs and ringtones,” but very placid. Possibly they just all love the free chips, which Rose pronounces “gorgeous”.
While Rose phones Mickey, other dinner ladies, dressed in haz-mat gear, shift a barrel through the kitchen. When it spills, one shrieks, and seems to catch fire and smoke, but her supervisor assures Rose she doesn’t have to call an ambulance, saying, “It’s fine; she does that.”
An exceptionally snazzily dressed teacher informs a student she’s made it into his advanced class. Apparently it’s about learning to look like a drone, watching and typing avidly as green-toned screens flash alien symbols. I don’t know how they can get any work done with that “ahh-ahhh-ahhhh-ahhh!” choir singing it up in the background, never mind the cymbals crashing.
The Doctor heads to the Teacher’s Lounge, where he learns Finch replaced a significant portion of the staff when he arrived. Finch enters to explain Sarah Jane Smith is here to write a profile of him in the Sunday Times. The Doctor can’t contain how thrilled he is. “Oh, I should say so,” he enthuses when she says her name, introducing himself as “John Smith”. She used to have a friend who went by that name, a common name for an uncommon man. “Very nice, more than nice, brilliant,” he tells her, and he’s just beside himself, awww!
When Sarah Jane learns the Doctor’s a new instructor, she presses him about recent oddities. “No harm in a little investigation,” she comments when he asks how that fits into her profile. “Good for you, Sarah Jane Smith,” he repeats with a grin as she departs; he could not be prouder, I swear! It’s just fantastic how much sheer joy and love Tennant communicates here.
Later that night, Sarah Jane breaks into the school because she’s AWESOME LIKE THAT. The Doctor, Mickey, and Rose break in from another entrance, and split up for some “infiltration and investigation.” Rose teases Mickey a bit when he pretends to more deductive swagger than he’s actually got. In the other part of the building, Sarah Jane hears suspicious flapping sounds, and ducks into a small room. She’s astonished to discover the TARDIS hidden there.
“Hello, Sarah Jane,” the Doctor greets her. “You look incredible,” she says, hearing he’s had half a dozen changes since they last met. She shakes her head at his “so do you!” They find they’re both investigating, and it’s utterly like old lovers meeting unexpectedly. At first they’re complimentary, friendly, but Sarah Jane soon breaks down: “I waited for you. You didn’t come back, and I thought you died.” A scream is heard, breaking the tension: they run to help.
The Doctor introduces Rose and Sarah Jane with the hearty cheer of a man terrified of his girlfriend meeting his ex. Sarah Jane plays her role, commenting to the Doctor, “You can tell you’re getting older. Your assistants are getting younger.” “I’m not his assistant,” Rose snaps. “No?” Sarah Jane asks coolly. “Get you, tiger,” she remarks to the Doctor. Sarah Jane, I’m issuing you an official invite to join the Sisters of Raowr!
Turns out poor Mickey was the screamer. To be fair, dozens of vacuum packed rats rained down on his head. Don’t feel bad, Mickey; I would have Adam-swooned. While the Doctor dresses Mickey down for acting like a girl (watch it, Doctor; you’ve got two tough women right there with you), Rose wonders what rats are doing in a school. “They dissect them, or maybe you haven’t reached that bit,” Sarah Jane tells her helpfully. Rose retorts no one does that anymore. “Where are you from, the dark ages?” She demands to know who Sarah Jane is, spitefully telling her the Doctor’s never mentioned her. “Never?” Sarah Jane asks, shocked. “Welcome to every man’s worst nightmare,” Mickey cheerfully jabs at the Doctor.
All four sneak into Finch’s office, where they spot large alien bats sleeping suspended. “Rose, you know how you used to think the teachers slept in the school?” the Doctor murmurs. They back out, but one bat wakes with a squawk after they leave. I know, I know, it’s supposed to be a horrifying bat-yell to strike fear and dread into our hearts. But they sound so squawk-y!
Thirteen bats — matches up with the thirteen staff (teachers, dinner ladies, nurse) that Finch brought in, the Doctor notes. They should head to the TARDIS to analyze the oil from the kitchen. But Sarah Jane tells him she’s got something to show him. It’s K-9, Mark III, who somehow stopped working. “Ooh, what’s the nasty lady done to you, eh?” the Doctor coos as Sarah Jane beams (and grouchy Rose tells them to stop petting the tin dog and get a move on).
The Doctor and Sarah Jane work on K-9 at a coffee shop table, leaning together fondly while “Love Will Tear Us Apart Again” by Joy Division plays (<3). Mickey tells Rose he’ll break out his “I was right” dance later. “He’s just like any other bloke,” Mickey points out. Mickey’s mean little “If I were you I’d go easy on the chips” female-competition joke aside, he’s right: the Doctor is…well, not human, but he’s got a history and emotional complications like everyone.
While Finch crouches on the school’s roof, waiting for his flying bat friend to report back, Sarah Jane mentions she thought of the Doctor on Christmas day when she saw the spaceship overhead (the Sycorax in “The Christmas Invasion”). “Did I do something wrong?” she asks suddenly. “Because you never came back for me; you just dumped me.” Even if he had to return to his home planet without her (they didn’t allow humans), how could he take her with him to the farthest reaches of the galaxy and then just drop her back on Earth? “I couldn’t have come back,” he insists. “Why not?” But he can’t seem to answer.
K-9 breaks the awkwardness by coming back to life. “Master,” he says in his little mechanical voice, and again, New Who fan, I know nothing about this tin dog’s history but I love K-9 already! “He recognises me,” the Doctor croons happily. D’awwww! They smear a sample of the oil Rose pilfered on him and K-9 does his ex-ex-ex-extracting! to discover it’s Krillitane Oil. A composite race, the Krillitanes “cherry pick” the best bits of the races they destroy and take on their physical aspects. They’re using the children at the school for some dark plan.
“What’s the deal with the tin dog?” Mickey says gruffly to Sarah Jane out on the pavement. “The Doctor likes traveling with an entourage,” she explains, asking, “Where do you fit in with the picture?” Oh, Mickey’s their man in Havana, the Tech Support, the — “oh my god, I’m the tin dog,” Mickey realizes, horrified. Mickey, ILU! It’s not so bad to be the tin dog; you’ll see!
Rose huffs at the Doctor, because obviously she’s understood their situation all wrong. “You were that close to her once,” she says. Will he desert her too? “I don’t age,” he explains finally. “I regenerate. Humans decay.” And just imagine “watching that happen to someone you –” Awww, poor broken-hearted Doctor! Can’t even admit he loves them, can he? “You can spend the rest of your life with me,” he tells Rose. “I can’t spend mine with you.” Loneliness, the curse of the Time Lords. “Time Lord,” Finch realizes as he sees the scene though his bat friend’s eyes.
Next day, the Doctor sends Rose and Sarah Jane to crack the computer in the Maths room, while Mickey acts as “surveillance” outside. “Take these, you can keep K-9 company,” Sarah Jane tells him, tossing him the car keys. Aww, Mickey, don’t take it as an insult; take it as a compliment, because how much does Sarah Jane love K-9? And the Doctor! K-9 is like their little tin dog child, I swear. But the Doctor drives home the insult saying, “Keep the window open a crack.” “He’s metal,” Mickey objects. “I didn’t mean for him,” the Doctor answers.
Finch and the Doctor have a show down by the pool, where Finch explains “my brothers remain in bat form”, assuming human guise as a “morphic illusion.” Time Lords, he muses: a “pompous race — ancient dusty senators, so frightened of change and chaos.” What’s your plan, the Doctor asks. “Work it out,” Finch sneers. Will the Doctor declare war on them, he taunts. “I’m so old now,” the Doctor says (and seeing Sarah Jane really has impacted him here). “I used to have so much mercy. You get one warning. That was it.”
Mickey sulks in the car, complaining to K-9 about his woes (there’s nothing like telling your problems to a dog, tin or no). In the Maths room, “Can I give you a bit of advice?” Sarah Jane blurts. Rose refuses to believe Sarah Jane won’t start things up with the Doctor again. They snap at each other about who could hack it better as a companion, rattling off the alien foes they’ve faced in a contest of one-upwomanship, until Sarah Jane yells out “The Loch Ness Monster!” to which Rose pauses, asking, “Seriously?” That is pretty damn cool.
“It’s like me and my mate Shareen,” Rose realizes. “The only time we fell out was over a man.” They get to commiserating over the Doctor’s habits, like how he explains things “at ninety miles an hour and then look at you like you’d just dribbled on your shirt?” “Does he still stroke bits of the TARDIS?” Sarah Jane asks, and Rose jokes, “I’m like, do you two want to be alone?” They laugh hysterically when the Doctor joins them. “Stop it,” the Doctor objects, unused to having the two of them united.
While Finch calls in the teachers and staff for “an early lunch” (we hear screams and wings flapping as they eat them all up), the Doctor realizes he can’t break the deadlock seal on the hard drive. They’ve got to figure out what the Krillitanes teaching the kids. Oh, did I mention Kenny, the student who doesn’t eat the fries, and so is not brainwashed like the others? He lurks about noticing the teachers are bats but apparently not doing anything about it, and seeming to have “chubby” as his one character trait listed in the script? Yeah, Kenny’s skulking nearby as well.
Enabling a “Security Override” on his computer, Finch orders the kids in to their classrooms and shuts all the exits. Time to become symbol-solving bat-winging Gods! The “Ahh-ahhhhh-ahhh!” chorus is back with a vengeance as the students tappity-tap-tap at their keyboards to play Advanced Alien Sudoku. Kenny runs around uselessly so we can confirm all the students (which I first wrote as “stupidents”) are droning away at their computers.
When Kenny can’t escape, Mickey spots him. “They’ve taken all the children!” Kenny yells at Mickey. Yeah. What kind of kid calls other kids “the children”? A kid who’s there purely for exposition and plot convenience, I’d say. “Come on, I need some help,” Mickey says, punching K-9’s buttons. “We are in a car,” K-9 keeps repeating mechanically when Mickey asks for lock-picking advice. Finally Mickey realizes K-9’s telling him to put the pedal to the metal.
The Doctor says, “No, that can’t be!” in shock as he realizes they’ve got the children solving the Skasis Paradigm. It’s the “God maker,” something that would give the aliens control over the building blocks of the universe. The oil K-9 analyzed was put into the food to accelerate the kids’ learning capacities (Rose, having eaten the chips, suddenly can do complicated sums). “It needs imagination to crack it” — “They’re not just using the children’s brains, but their souls.”
“Let the lesson begin,” Finch intones (very Seventh Season of Buffy-ish). They could shape the universe, improve it. “You could give us wisdom,” Finch argues. “Become a God at my side!” He could save civilizations, bring back the Time Lords, keep Rose and Sarah Jane forever young. “Their lives are so fleeting,” he tempts the Doctor. “So many goodbyes. How lonely you must be, Doctor. Join us.” “I could save everyone,” the Doctor says quietly. But Sarah Jane objects, arguing “the universe has to move forward! Pain and loss, they define us as much as happiness or love!” Poignantly illuminating how her relationship with the Doctor couldn’t last, she pleads, “Everything has its time, and everything ends.”
Outside, Mickey and K-9 are like a badass school crime fighting team! Mickey shatters the glass doors with the car so he can follow Plot Convenience Kenny to the others. “Leave the Doctor alive,” Finch yells to his bat brothers. “But you can feast on the others!” K-9 suggests “engage running mode, mistress!” and holds off the Bat Friends, though his power supply is failing.
“The oil!” the Doctor realizes, is the solution to their problems: the Krillitanes changed their physiognomy so much their own oil is toxic to them. “Get the children unplugged and out of school,” the Doctor orders Mickey, and Kenny listlessly helps by setting off the fire alarm with the flattest expression ever. The Bat Men reel from the alarm sound while K-9 calls, “Master!” as he reunites with the Doctor.
Unable to break the kids’ concentration, Mickey yanks the computer plugs from the walls –yay for the simple solution! He hustles the kids outside. In the kitchen, K-9 explains he has only enough power for “one shot” for maximum impact. “I can’t let you do that,” the Doctor objects, but “no alternative, master,” K-9 informs him. “Goodbye, old friend,” the Doctor tells him, exclaiming, “You good dog!” “Affirmative,” K-9 agrees. Guys, I LOVE K-9 SO MUCH!
“What have you done?” Sarah Jane asks outside, totally distraught, and oh my god, the Doctor just left their tin child to his death. D: As K-9 readies himself among the barrels of oil inside, the Doctor and Sarah Jane run from the school hand-in-hand (another lovely echo of the way the Doctor and Rose always join hands when they run).
Ah, the “little dog with the nasty bite,” Finch taunts K-9. K-9 proceeds to blow up those vats and splash all the howling Krillitanes with oil, boo-yeah! The flammability factor gets multiplied, and the nasty bat teachers blow up the school. Outside, the kids celebrate and cheer for Kenny, who did, in a very roundabout way, have a bit to do with it. “It’s all right,” Sarah Jane says when the Doctor apologizes. “He was just a daft metal dog. It’s fine, really.” She bursts into tears, and this is the first episode of Series 2 I’ve cried along with anyone.
“Cup of tea?” the Doctor offers Sarah Jane when she stops by the TARDIS. Having the ex over! She’s not terribly fond of the redecorating, though Rose insists she loves it. Rose now can’t do a thing with numbers. “But you’re still clever, more than a match for him,” Sarah Jane says fondly. “Doctor?” Rose prompts, and the Doctor invites Sarah Jane, obviously at Rose’s urging, to join them. But no, it’s time she stopped waiting for the Doctor and found adventures of her own.
“Can I come?” Mickey asks suddenly. Not with Sarah Jane, but with the Doctor. “Because I’m not the tin dog, and I want to see what’s out there.” “You need a Smith on board,” Sarah Jane laughs. “No, great, why not?” Rose grumbles when Mickey belatedly asks if it’s okay. Can’t have the Doctor to yourself all the time, Rose. And it’s time Mickey got the chance to stretch his non- Krillitane wings to seek out different horizons.
“Do I stay with him?” Rose asks in an undertone as Sarah Jane prepares to leave. “Some things are worth getting your heart broken for,” Sarah Jane tells her, adding, “Find me,” if ever she needs to. Damn, I love this character so much! I’ve vaguely thought of watching the Classic Who eps, but now I really want to see all the Sarah Jane related stories. And now I have a whole story spun out in my head how Sarah Jane and Rose pass their post-Doctor time together.
Outside the TARDIS, Sarah Jane thanks the Doctor. “I wouldn’t have missed it for the world,” she assures him. “Something to tell the grandkids,” he suggests, embarrassed when she shrugs and says “someone else’s grandkids.” There hasn’t been anyone for her? “There was this one guy,” she tells him. “I traveled with him for a while, but he was a tough act to follow.” I adore the ambiguity of this, because like Rose at this point, I think it’s not so much romance as an intense emotional connection beyond mere romance.
When she says goodbye, he demurs, “Oh, it’s not goodbye!” “Will you say it this time?” she asks. “Please, say it?” “Goodbye,” he says soberly, and then with a “My Sarah Jane!” filled with intense love, he picks her up in a huge hug and I tear up all over again. When the TARDIS dematerializes, Sarah Jane looks back — and sees K-9 there! “Mistress!” he calls, explaining his Master rebuilt him with all new systems. “He replaced you with a brand new model,” Sarah Jane realizes, commenting a bit fondly and a bit regretfully, “Yeah, he does that.”
Oooho-wee-woooo-oooh! Gah, I adore Sarah Jane and K-9; I wish it had been a two-episode arc to explore even more about the family unit they made with the Doctor. But at least now we’ll get to see how Mickey finds TARDIS living! See you next week, then, when I’ll start the weekly recaps with “The Girl in the Fireplace”.