Oh, that was just incredible. I was expecting a huge nostalgia fest due to the presence of Jo Grant, and I got that and so much more. It felt like a huge love letter to the whole of the classic era, written by the man who loved it so much that he brought it back from the dead, made it the biggest show on TV and then, after handing over the reins of the main show, couldn’t resist using the also-hugely-successful spin-off to play with his favourite toys one last time.
As you’d expect from RTD, emotions are running high throughout, and I felt like I was constantly on the verge of tears for the whole of the first part. Obviously the Doctor wasn’t actually dead – apart from anything else, this would have been a very strange place to drop that particular bombshell – but it was hard to watch Sarah Jane going through that grief. The lines were deliberately blurred between her justifiable (and ultimately correct) suspicion of a conspiracy, and the suggestion that this was just denial as a coping mechanism.
Then you throw Jo Grant in to the mix, and oh man, you don’t realise how much you’ve missed her until you see her again. Age has not diminished her spirit and her radiance – quite remarkable considering she’s apparently had seven children, which makes you wonder how she had time to travel the world and change it as she went. Like Sarah Jane greeting her as an old friend despite them never having met before, you just want to give her a huge hug.
I said at the time that Jo was the first of a new type of companion, and there was no better candidate for someone to stand alongside Sarah Jane, occupying that same special place in people’s affections. It was wonderful to watch them bond, comparing notes on the Doctor and swapping anecdotes about Peladon. But there was a serious side too; I’d often wondered how other companions would have felt about the Doctor having post-departure adventures with Sarah Jane and not them, and that was addressed beautifully.
I’d have been more than happy with Katy Manning being the headline guest star – backed up by a future Doctor (sort of) voicing a giant space vulture – but then of course the real deal turns up, travelling via the body of a teenage boy. I was worried at first that it wouldn’t be as special as the last time, considering that Sarah Jane has no history with this particular Doctor. Jo being taken aback by his baby face was funny, but it reinforced the fact that this is the first time either of them have met him, and therefore they don’t have that special instant connection.
Within minutes of Part Two, these fears were proved to be completely unfounded, as Matt Smith rolled back the years with a performance that really sold the idea that this is completely the same man who appeared in flashbacks looking like Pertwee and Baker. The tears were flowing during his big chat with Jo, which revealed how much she’d longed to see him again, whilst simultaneously providing her with the closure she’s been waiting for. It also revealed that the Tenth Doctor did visit every single companion on his farewell tour after all, which is just wonderful.
This rare off-world trip for SJA was also one last hurrah for Jo and Sarah Jane, and it just felt so right to see them slip effortlessly back into those traditional companion roles. They give us wide-eyed wonder as they experience an alien planet, they help the Doctor solve every problem he’s faced with, and they even end up getting kidnapped and placed in mortal danger. The culmination of the plot is what tips us into a full on celebration of Classic Who, with the message being that Jo and Sarah Jane’s adventures were so awesome, the mere memory of them is enough to save the universe.
This then continues with an unprecedented amount of back-references to characters who were last seen decades before the target audience were born, and it’s honestly one of the most heart-warming things I’ve ever seen. We’d already heard that Liz Shaw now lives on the Moon, which was awesome enough, but I really love the idea that just about everyone who travels with the Doctor goes on to do incredible things; their lives vastly improved by having known him.
Tegan’s back in Australia fighting for Aboriginal rights, Ben and Polly set up an orphanage, Ace has raised billions for charity, and Harry – sadly discussed in the past tense – saved countless lives by curing diseases. But most of all, I’m so happy that Ian and Barbara got married, and that they’ll literally live happily ever after, having not aged since the 60s. This feels like a parting gift from Russell – he’d already given us so much joy, but he decided we deserved even more.
This was one of those episodes that really reminds you why you love Doctor Who so much. And it’s not even an episode of Doctor Who.