Wow. That was very special indeed, and not just because of the very special guest star. The annual Trickster episodes have always been the highlight of each series so far, and this is no exception – it’s quite easily the very best Sarah Jane story I’ve seen. It seems that at this particular period, the spin-offs were in better form than the main show.
It’s such a joy to have K-9 joining the gang properly that it’s hard not to rue the fact he wasn’t there from the beginning. Not only does he provide so many great moments on his own – such as when he’s trying to be inconspicuous by saying “do not look at me, everything is normal” – but he also improves Mr Smith immeasurably. You’d think that having two supercomputers around would make one of them redundant, but it turns out that giving each of them just half of the exposition to cover leaves them both free to fill the gaps with humour.
This episode is proper laugh-out-loud funny, and I could listen to John Leeson and Alexander Armstrong exchange insults all day. K-9 criticising Mr Smith for being too opinionated, the pair of them accidentally dobbing the kids in for spying on Sarah Jane, Mr Smith getting insecure about there being “no need to consult the dog”. Absolutely marvellous. Plus, K-9 now has an as-yet-unseen hover mode to negotiate the stairs in and out of the attic. I fucking love K-9.
While I’d have been happy with the show turning into a full-on supercomputer sitcom, this episode also had Nigel bloody Havers! He’s such a smooth bastard, and a great coup for the show. He’s so irresistibly charming that you really root for Sarah Jane and Peter as a couple, even though it’s perfectly clear throughout that something’s not right. This show has so much heart, from the way Sarah Jane slowly allows herself to fall in love, to her continually lovely relationship with Luke.
And I haven’t even mentioned the headline act yet. It’s a superb entrance from The Doctor at the end of Part One – let’s face it, that particular moment in the wedding ceremony was designed for people like him – and it’s exciting to see him running around with Luke, Clyde and Rani. It’s a shame that there wasn’t more of him and Sarah Jane together, but you can’t have everything; it felt like Tennant wasn’t available for more than a couple of days, with his scenes being relatively simple and self-contained.
But it really didn’t matter; it’s a testament to the quality of the story that the presence of the greatest hero in television history wasn’t really the main attraction. What Sarah Jane and Peter have to do to defeat The Trickster is so sad, partly down to the gravitas and style that Havers brings to proceedings, and also because I love Sarah Jane so much that I can’t bear the thought of her going through so much pain.
(Incidentally, it’s just occurred to me that The Trickster’s thing about needing consent in order to bring his chaos makes him very similar to the Monks from Who Series Ten. Only better.)
The moment that finally made me cry, however, wasn’t intended to be a sad one. It was The Doctor’s latest goodbye to Sarah Jane, with him talking about the things she’ll do that are still to come. I’ve been thinking a lot about Elisabeth Sladen recently, and how tragic it was that she was taken from us just when she was back where she belonged. This just brought it home – she was still so young, and had so much more to give.
A bittersweet experience then, but make no mistake that this has got absolutely everything you want from a Doctor Who-based story: laughs, twists, timey-wimey stuff, a great villain, heartbreak, K-9, back-references to Metebelis III and The Key to Time, and even The Doctor himself. Never mind the fact that it’s from a spin-off – this is simply solid Doctor Who.