Spoiler: He doesn’t actually die.

Lordy, the trailer at the end of part two of this week’s second THE SARAH JANE ADVENTURES actually has me tempted to watch next week. Love a good “everybody’s disappeared” plot, unless it drags out too long — and given the two-half-hour-parts format of the show, it’s not going to. Plus, the robots look cool. You know me. I love me some cool-looking robots.

As for the second half of “Death of the Doctor,” well …

Jo and Sarah Jane, back in the TARDIS as the Doctor distracts himself.

The Doctor seems to have a hard time looking back even when his past is standing right next to him. Even when he still calls them friends.

For starters, I couldn’t have been any more wrong about how much the Doctor’s in this if I’d tried. He’s in it from start to finish, not in the sort of weird impotent “guest star” role that David Tennant’s Tenth Doctor was in “The Wedding of Sarah Jane Smith,” but as a driving force. The body swap thing in the first part was sort of a red herring; when the cliffhanger’s resolved, he whisks his two former companions back to the planet he was stranded on to get some help teleporting back permanently, then is an active participant in the action from there ’til the finish. He’s the one, in fact, who comes up with the idea that saves the day, which is a damn sight better than he did in the second and third episodes of his own show last series.

The plot turns out to be a classic bit of nonsense about stealing the TARDIS, though for an insane psuedo-altruistic motive — to rewrite history and destroy death. Makes sense for a rogue element of a race who serve as the pall bearers of the universe. The bird puppets need Jo and Sarah Jane because by making their memories real they can create a copy of the TARDIS key — though I’d think that through their memories the bird puppets would wind up with the weird Gallifreyan version and not the ordinary-looking key version.

One thing I really loved was that once the baddies were stopped, Sarah and Jo weren’t out of hot water yet; there was one more very desperate problem to figure out, one with a very clever and ultimately cute resolution. On the other hand, the apparent body count at the end shocked me; the implication seems to be that the poorly-motivated UNIT Colonel Pretty Face McHot Stuff got blowed up real good along with the rogue Shansheeth. And then everyone just has a laugh! Huh.

The most interesting thing to me, though, was the Doctor interacting with his old friends. For the most part he seems cagey and guarded. He certainly fills them in on what’s been going on now, but like when Jo mentions getting the Doctor in trouble with the Time Lords, you can see the Doctor tense up. He seems nervous when Jo and Sarah Jane are standing around the TARDIS — Jo certainly does seem tempted to pick up where she left off when she was barely out of her teens, and I don’t know if it’s the way she’s playing the part or if it’s something about the lighting, but Sarah Jane suddenly seems to be her old self of thirty-five years ago as she asks the Doctor about her and Jo’s theory about whether they’d know if something happened to him. But he seems a little impatient about letting them off. Clearly they’re still his friends, clearly he still loves them dearly, but I get the feeling that this Doctor is all about moving forward — he’s through with the whole melancholic backwards-looking thing; as he says himself, he did all that with everyone during the “victory lap” at the end of “The End of Time Part 2,” and now it’s time to go forward and do new things, make new friends, explore new horizons.

While that was most interesting, my favorite part, though, has to be the very end, where Russell T Davies indulges in a bit of fanfic and proposes endings for so many of the Doctor’s other companions. I don’t blame him one bit, and it’s all very sweet; Tegan, Harry Sullivan, Ben and Polly, Ian and Barbara, and — I admit, from the moment Sarah Jane started name-checking former companions, I hoped she’d mention her — Ace. She’s the head of a charity organization, Sarah Jane says, called “A Charitable Earth.” Gee, make that into an acronym and what would it be? On the one hand, that’s someone from every Doctor’s era but the Sixth, which might seem like a slap in the face to poor old Colin Baker. On the other hand, none of the Sixth Doctor’s televised companions returned to modern day Earth; I’m not totally sure at the moment, but I think she in fact name checked everyone from the original series who was (or could have been, in the case of Ace) returned to their proper time and place whose proper time and place was modern day Earth.

When the Doctor tells Jo that he looked in on everyone — no, EVERYONE — at the end of his tenth incarnation, I paused for a moment and went, “Hey, that’s a retcon to ‘The End of Time Part 2,’ isn’t it?” before checking myself, slapping my forehead, and remembering that Russell T Davies wrote this, too. It’s difficult to remember, this was so much BETTER than “The End of Time,” in that it makes perfect sense, in a goofy DOCTOR WHO sort of way. In fact, though, as a fan-pleasing love letter to days gone by, it feels like an epilogue of sorts to “The End of Time” — to the Russell T Davies era of DOCTOR WHO as a whole, perhaps — and a spiritual sequel to the DOCTOR WHO series 2 episode “School Reunion,” the story that reintroduced Sarah Jane Smith and paved the way for this very series. They’re all stories that indulge in nostalgia, but recognize that it is necessary to move on, to move forward, to appreciate the past for what it is but to realize that it is still the past, and eventually you need to let go. Sarah Jane needed to pull her life together and move forward. The Doctor had to let Gallifrey go back into the Last Great Time War and die. And the rogue Shansheeth needed to accept that despite how miserable seeing all that death had made them, death is an important part of living, and it certainly isn’t something that should be rubbed out of the universe.

I’m sure I’m missing some other interesting bits, but that’s what’s sticking out to me two nights on. I’ll probably watch the whole thing again within the next week and maybe I’ll tweet some other observations. All in all, a nice fix of new DOCTOR WHO content featuring my new favorite Doctor that may in fact tide me over ’til Christmas, or at least until the Series 5 box set comes out and I devour the commentary tracks over a weekend.


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