And so, less than a year after he waved goodbye to the Doctor in a blaze of nuclear fire, Russell T Davies is back writing Doctor Who. Ok, technically this is a Sarah Jane Adventure, but really, deep down in its marrow, this is a love letter to the 47 year history of the parent show and a story that ‘weaves’ (that’s a clue by the way!) together almost the entire legacy of the classic series and fuses it both beautifully and effortlessly with both the post-2005 and 2010 incarnations of the show.
The basic setup of the plot (for anyone who hasn’t been paying attention) is simple enough. The Doctor is dead, the Last of the Time Lords seemingly meeting his final end saving a gaggle of children out in deep space from certain doom. With his death verified by UNIT’s DNA checks, Sarah Jane and the gang decamp to UNIT’s giant base under Mount Snowdon where his body is being held in state by the mysterious intergalactic coffin bearers known as the Shansheeth.
Unsurprisingly, things are not quite as they seem and Sarah Jane refuses to believe the Doctor has died. But while Sarah Jane grapples with her conflicting emotions, suspicions and memories, the funeral mood is shattered by the arrival of fellow former companion Jo Jones (nee Grant), played as ever by the delightfully bonkers Katy Manning.
It’s a joy to see Jo back in the Doctor Who universe after so many years away and even more of a thrill to see Jo and Sarah Jane on screen together. However, an even bigger thrill is the inevitable hook-up between these two archetypal Who companions and the current owner of the TARDIS, the 11th Doctor himself, Matt Smith.
The scenes between the 11th Doctor and Jo and Sarah are pure gold, with Smith totally getting the importance of the moments at hand and building upon the wonderful rapport that his immediate predecessor established with Sladen’s Sarah Jane. If any one (the fools!) still has any lingering doubts about Smith as the Doctor, this story should absolutely dispel them.
He’s utterly beguiling and brilliant in the part and brings a real jolt of vitality, energy and, surprisingly,reality to proceedings. Doctor Who is very lucky to have Smith playing the part, especially after the mark David Tennant made on the role, and fans should cherish him for however long he remains in post.
Special mention should also go out to Daniel Anthony and Anjli Mohindra, as series stalwarts Clyde and Rani, who get a lot of the heavy lifting scenes to play in this story. However, thanks to a finely balanced script and some nicely judged performances, their scenes never feel like padding and the relationship they develop with Jo’s grandson Santiago (played by Finn Jones) is very effective.
All in all, RTD’s return to the Whoniverse is a total triumph and Death Of The Doctor is another superb Sarah Jane story in a season that appears well on course to being the best so far. There’s a real joy, enthusiasm and confidence on display here that’s reminiscent of RTD’s Who during its third and fourth years. Here’s hoping this impressive standard is maintained for the remainder of its run.
Death Of The Doctor screens Monday, 25th October, at 5.15pm on the CBBC Channel.
Read our review of episodes 3 and 4, The Vault Of Secrets, here.