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New Series Episode 18:
School Reunion

Plot

Mickey summons the Doctor and Rose to Deffry Vale High School, which he believes has been infiltrated by aliens. Posing as a teacher, the Doctor encounters abnormally intelligent students, a peculiar lunch programme, and the sinister headmaster, Lucas Finch. But the Doctor isn't the only person suspicious of Deffry Vale: also investigating the school is a journalist by the name of Sarah Jane Smith...

Production

In the fall of 2003, executive producer Russell T Davies produced a pitch document for the new Doctor Who series. One element of this outline which did not survive into production was the suggestion that the Doctor's robot dog, K-9 -- first introduced in 1977's The Invisible Enemy -- might again feature in the revived series. K-9 had been extremely popular with young viewers; even after then-producer John Nathan-Turner decided to remove him from Doctor Who (with Warriors' Gate in 1981), his appeal had inspired the creation of a spin-off show entitled K-9 And Company, although only a pilot episode was ever aired.

Another idea which occurred to Davies at an early stage in the development of Doctor Who was to bring back one of the Doctor's former companions. Davies largely preferred to avoid dwelling on the programme's lengthy history, but saw this concept as a way to shed a new dimension on the fate of those who travel with the Doctor. Davies initially thought that this proposal might be feasible should Doctor Who survive into a third season. By early 2005, however, he had had a change of heart and intended to position the story late in the series' sophomore season.

The returning character Davies wanted to feature in the adventure was Sarah Jane Smith. Arguably Doctor Who's most iconic companion, Sarah Jane had been portrayed by Elisabeth Sladen from 1973's The Time Warrior to 1976's The Hand Of Fear, spanning the regeneration from Jon Pertwee's Third Doctor to Tom Baker's Fourth. Sladen had continued to be associated with the character, chalking up appearances in K-9 And Company, the twentieth-anniversary special The Five Doctors, the mid-Nineties radio plays The Paradise Of Death and The Ghosts Of N-Space alongside Pertwee, and several Sarah Jane Smith audio adventures from Big Finish Productions in 2002 (with more then in the planning stages for 2006).

Sladen was contacted by the Doctor Who production office early in 2005 about appearing in the series, and was immediately apprehensive, fearing that she was being invited back for a throwaway cameo. However, after meeting with Davies and producer Phil Collinson, Sladen was delighted to learn that Sarah would be the focal point of the adventure, and portrayed in a manner which coincided with her own vision of how Sarah Jane would have evolved after leaving the Doctor.

At this stage, the Sarah Jane story was entitled “Old Friends”, and was intended to air late in the 2006 season. Davies assigned scripting duties to Toby Whithouse, the creator of medical comedy/drama No Angels. Whithouse had gotten his start in the industry as an actor, appearing in shows such as Holby City and films including Bridget Jones's Diary and Shadowlands before taking up writing. Because Sarah Jane had been given K-9 Mark III in K-9 And Company (the Mark I and Mark II versions having remained with previous companions Leela and Romana, respectively), Whithouse was also asked to incorporate K-9 into the storyline.

Whithouse initially struggled to find a plot on which to hang the Sarah Jane material. Finally, Whithouse developed a treatment entitled “Black Ops” which involved alien activity in a rural village and a nearby army base. Davies liked elements of Whithouse's proposal, but was concerned that the army base setting would force the writer to jump through too many storytelling hoops. Instead, Davies suggested shifting the adventure's locale to a comprehensive school; even as a boy, Davies had harboured fantasies of the Doctor showing up in class disguised as a teacher, and had used the setting himself in the 1991 telefantasy serial Dark Season. The school environment suggested the inclusion of the chips subplot, drawing on the recent controversy over school menus incited by the 2005 documentary series Jamie's School Dinners. Around this time, it was decided that Whithouse's script would air third in the season's running order, and so the writer was asked to incorporate Mickey Smith into the plot, with the character becoming a member of the TARDIS crew at its conclusion.

With its setting now finalised, the adventure became known as School Reunion. The headmaster was called Hector Finch until it was learned that there was a real teacher by that name; he was rechristened Lucas Finch. Similarly, the aliens were initially Krillians, but when it was discovered that the name was already trademarked, they became Krillitanes. Their physical appearance changed greatly during the episode's development -- originally they were all winged but otherwise human, but later it was decided that most of them would be realised as purely extraterrestrial computer-animated creations (whose appearance was based loosely on descriptions of the mythical Harpies), while Finch himself would display no overtly alien characteristics at all.

The appearance of K-9 Mark IV at the story's end was also omitted from early drafts. The introduction of a rebuilt version of the character was requested by K-9's cocreator, Bob Baker (who had long been planning a K-9 cartoon spin-off). However, Davies had already asked Whithouse to incorporate such a scene into his script. The Doctor Who production team, meanwhile, had secured the services of John Leeson to provide the voice of the robot dog. Leeson had had two stints voicing K-9 during his original tenure on Doctor Who, and had returned to the role on many occasions since, including K-9 And Company, The Five Doctors, the 2003 BBC webcast version of Shada alongside Paul McGann's Eighth Doctor, and the Gallifrey audio series from Big Finish Productions beginning in 2004.

School Reunion was originally planned to be part of the season's second production block, but was subsequently added to Block One when Tooth And Claw had to be delayed due to scripting issues. As such, School Reunion was directed by James Hawes alongside The Christmas Invasion and New Earth. Two schools were chosen to represent areas of Deffry Vale High. The first was Fitzalan High School in Leckwith, Cardiff, where filming took place on August 23rd and 24th. Unfortunately, the K-9 prop (a rebuilt and motorised version of the lightweight prop used in the Seventies) proved no more reliable than earlier versions, moving only with difficulty over certain surfaces. In addition, in the climactic sequence in the kitchen, K-9's eyepiece was made to flash in time with his lines. This was out of keeping with the way the robot dog had been portrayed in the past, and when Collinson learned of it upon his return from a holiday, he ordered that the practise cease for the rest of K-9's scenes.

The confrontation between the Doctor and Finch was originally scripted to happen in the school gymnasium but was moved to the pool, which Hawes felt served as a more dynamic setting. Similarly, the TARDIS was intended to be hidden in a supply closet, but its discovery by Sarah Jane was shifted to the gym. Also taped at Fitzalan was material in the playground and the cafetaria.

The major location for School Reunion was Duffryn High School in Newport; shooting there was planned to begin on August 25th and continue until September 2nd, omitting only the 28th. Many Duffryn students were bussed in to be used as extras at both Fitzalan and their alma mater. Unfortunately, the production block continued to fall behind schedule during the shoot -- something which had already plagued Hawes and his team during work on The Christmas Invasion, which had largely been filmed first -- and it quickly became clear that an additional day would be needed. Matters were not helped on September 2nd when work on the scene in which Mickey crashes the car into the front of the school -- actually a false porch constructed by the BBC -- was held up by the discovery of asbestos in Duffryn's genuine structure. The delays forced the abandonment or simplification of some sequences, notably a time-lapse shot of the school corridors to bridge the daytime and nighttime material. Ultimately, an extra day of filming was held at Duffryn on September 6th.

The 7th was planned to feature the concluding shots of Sarah Jane entering the TARDIS. This had been written as taking place in the ruins of Deffry Vale, and Hawes' team had negotiated the use of a partly torn-down British Telecom building for the recording. At short notice, however, it was learned that the structure had since been completely demolished, and so the shots were instead filmed in Newport's Belle View Park, the implication being that the Doctor has moved the TARDIS since the destruction of Deffry Vale. The K-9 prop used in this scene was a refurbished version of the original radio-controlled prop built for The Invisible Enemy.

The rest of the day was spent at Da Vinci's Coffee Shop in Newport for scenes in the cafe. The TARDIS sequence was filmed at Unit Q2, Doctor Who's regular studio space in Newport, on September 8th. Cast and crew then returned to Da Vinci's, this time to shoot exteriors; unfortunately, the night was hampered by the presence of several unruly drunks. The same day, model work of the explosion was recorded at the BBC Model Unit in London. This was the final filming ever undertaken by the Unit, which was subsequently disbanded by the BBC.

The last scene enacted for School Reunion was Mickey in the cyber cafe, taped in Unit Q2 on October 8th. A similar setting was revisited when Noel Clarke returned to film the episode's TARDISode on January 31st, 2006 at Enfys Television Studios in Cardiff. The 50-second piece was written by Gareth Roberts (as with the other TARDISodes) and concerned Mickey phoning Rose to alert her to the strange goings-on at Deffry Vale.

Several moments were trimmed or excised from School Reunion in editing. Banter between Kenny, Melissa, Luke and Faisal prior to the Doctor entering the classroom in the teaser -- which would have fleshed out the children's characters -- was cut. Later in the same scene, the Doctor's questions to Milo would have actually made him collapse, prompting the Doctor to bring him to the school nurse (another Krillitane); this was still alluded to in Wagner's dialogue with Melissa. The Krillitanes eating the hermetically-sealed rats was removed, and instead replaced by a voiceover explanation by the Doctor. Another voiceover was used to truncate the scene in which Kenny deduces that the fire alarm will disorient the Krillitanes.

Meanwhile, the return of Sarah Jane Smith was regarded so highly by the Doctor Who production team that discussions soon ensued about basing a new spin-off series around the character. Finally, on September 14th, it was announced that The Sarah Jane Adventures would air beginning in early 2007, with Sladen once again returning to the role. Sarah's travels with the Doctor may have ended, but her story had just begun...

Sources

Original Transmission
Date 29th Apr 2006
Time 7.23pm
Duration 44'11"
Viewers (more) 8.3m (12th)
· BBC1 8.3m
Appreciation 85%


Cast
The Doctor
David Tennant
Rose Tyler
Billie Piper
Mickey Smith
Noel Clarke
(more)
Mr Finch
Anthony Head
Sarah Jane Smith
Elisabeth Sladen
Mr Parsons
Rod Arthur
Mr Wagner
Eugene Washington
Nina
Heather Cameron
Kenny
Joe Pickley
Luke
Benjamin Smith
Milo
Clem Tibber
Melissa
Lucinda Dryzek
Dinner Lady
Caroline Berry
Voice of K9
John Leeson


Crew
Written by
Toby Whithouse
Directed by
James Hawes
Produced by
Phil Collinson
(more)

K9 originally created by
Bob Baker &
Dave Martin
1st Assistant Director
Jon Older
2nd Assistant Director
Steffan Morris
3rd Assistant Director
Lynsey Muir
Location Managers
Lowri Thomas
Gareth Skelding
Unit Manager
Justin Gyphion
Production Co-ordinator
Jess van Niekerk
Production/Script Secretary
Claire Roberts
Production Runner
Debbie Meldrum
A/Production Accountants
Debi Griffiths
Kath Blackman
Continuity
Llinos Wyn Jones
Script Editor
Helen Raynor
Camera Operator
Julian Barber
Focus Puller
Mark Isaac
Grip
John Robinson
Boom Operators
Jeff Welch
Rhydian Yeoman
Gaffer
Mark Hutchings
Best Boy
Peter Chester
Stunt Co-ordinator
Peter Brayham
Stunt Performer
Maurice Lee
Supervising Art Director
Stephen Nicholas
Art Dept Production Manager
Jonathan Marquand Allison
Standby Art Director
Nick Burnell
A/Supervising Art Director
James North
Design Assistants
Matthew Savage
Ben Austin
Standby Props
Phill Shellard
Trystan Howell
Set Decorator
Julian Luxton
Property Master
Adrian Anscombe
Production Buyer
Catherine Samuel
Props Chargehand
Paul Aitken
Props Storeman
Stuart Wooddisse
Forward Dresser
Matthew North
Specialist Prop Maker
Mark Cordory
Prop Maker
Penny Howarth
Construction Manager
Matthew Hywel-Davies
Construction Chargehand
Allen Jones
Graphics
BBC Wales Graphics
Costume Supervisor
Anna Lau
Costume Assistants
Lindsay Bonaccorsi
Barbara Harrington
Make-Up Artists
Anwen Davies
Steve Smith
Moira Thomson
Casting Associate
Andy Brierley
Assistant Editor
Ceres Doyle
Post Production Supervisors
Chris Blatchford
Samantha Hall
Post Production Co-ordinator
Marie Brown
On Line Editor
Matthew Clarke
Colourist
Mick Vincent
3D Artists
Chris Petts
Jean Yves Audouard
Paul Burton
Jean-Claude Deguara
Nicolas Hernandez
Will Pryor
Matthew McKinney
Neil Roche
Chris Tucker
Mark Wallman
Nick Webber
2D Artists
Sara Bennett
David Bowman
Melissa Butler-Adams
Joseph Courtis
Bronwyn Edwards
Simon C Holden
Russell Horth
Visual Effects Co-ordinator
Kim Phelan
Digital Matte Painter
Alex Fort
Model Unit Supervisor
Mike Tucker
Dubbing Mixer
Tim Ricketts
Sound Editors
Paul McFadden
Doug Sinclair
Sound FX Editor
Paul Jefferies
Finance Manager
Richard Pugsley
Original Theme Music
Ron Grainer
Casting Director
Andy Pryor CDG
Production Accountant
Endaf Emyr Williams
Sound Recordist
Simon Fraser
Costume Designer
Louise Page
Make-Up Designer
Sheelagh Wells
Music
Murray Gold
Visual Effects
The Mill
Visual FX Producer
Will Cohen
Visual FX Supervisor
Dave Houghton
Special Effects
Any Effects
Editor
Liana Del Giudice
Production Designer
Edward Thomas
Director of Photography
Ernie Vincze BSC
Production Manager
Tracie Simpson
Associate Producer
Helen Vallis
Executive Producers
Russell T Davies
Julie Gardner


Media
DVD Releases
Doctor Who: Series 2 Volume 2 (2006; single disc)
Buy: UK
Doctor Who: The Complete Second Series (2006; boxed set)
Buy: Canada · UK · USA
Doctor Who: Series 1-4 Box Set (2009; boxed set)
Buy: UK
Doctor Who: The David Tennant Years (2011; boxed set)
Buy: Canada · USA
Doctor Who: Series Two, Part One (2014; two discs)
Buy: Canada · USA

Updated 6th July 2014