by Catriona Mills


Posted 5588 days ago in by Catriona

Victorian Barbies: Playsets and Accessories

Posted 5590 days ago in by Catriona

Once you’ve purchased your Victorian Barbie from Harrison and Smythe, Toy Suppliers to Their Royal Majesties, then what do you need?

High-quality playsets and accessories, of course! Buy your Barbie the best accessories and social situations.

Charity Ken!

Pull a string and see Charity Ken hand an urchin a penny and simultaneously gesture the filthy object of charity away from him!

Sold separately:
Pompous Letter to an Expensive Periodical Explaining that Charity Stops the Working Classes From Helping Themselves
Port-Fuelled Diatribe in a Gentleman’s Club

Gentlemen’s Club playset sold separately, but Harrison and Smythe will require proof of gender before selling this item.

Pompous Baronet Ken!

Comes with Monocle, Fetching Plaid Trousers, and Improbable Pectoral Development.

This item also comes with your choice of either Friedrich Nietzsche’s treatise on men and supermen, or a witty essay from G. K. Chesterton explaining that it’s one thing to accept that the aristocracy is richer and more attractive than us, but quite another to expect us to believe that they’re also wittier.

Barbie’s Dream Carriage!

Comes with Detachable Wheel, for arranging those convenient meetings with eligible single men away from the eyes of Victorian Barbie’s chaperone, and Faithful Hound.

Sold Separately:
Debonair, Cigar-Smoking Ken

To the imaginative child, Faithful Hound may serve as either a means of safeguarding Victorian Barbie’s virtue until she is safely married and in receipt of handsome settlements, or as a symbolic representation of the hidden violence in nineteenth-century marriages. We also recommend purchasing Debonair, Cigar-Smoking Ken’s Private Rod accessory pack.

Barbie’s Loveless Marriage of Convenience Playset!

Comes with two dolls: Beautiful But Ambitious Victorian Barbie Who Will Regret Her Decision When It Is Too Late, and Extremely Wealthy But Unattractive Ken.

Sold separately
Extensive Parisian Wardrobe
Slowly Eroding Sense Of Self Worth
Faithless But Physically Attractive Lover
Humiliating And Extended Appearance Before The Divorce Courts
Act Of Parliament

Older children may wish to choose one of two accompanying playsets:
Death By Arsenic, The Agony Of Which Not Even The Romance Of Suicide Can Alleviate
Suicide Under A Freight Train At A Russian Railway Station

Victorian Barbies: Available From Harrison and Smythe, Toy Suppliers To Their Royal Majesties

Posted 5590 days ago in by Catriona

Stepping out of the pages of the popular weekly fiction journals, Victorian Barbie lets you reenact extravagant emotional scenes from your favourite melodramas right in your own nursery—as long as Nursie isn’t watching, of course!

Choose from these options, available now:

Seduced But Penitent Barbie!

Available in kneeling position only. Buy with the Barbie’s Deathbed playset, and create your own tableaux vivant.

Sold separately:
Stern, Unforgiving Ken
Symbolic Blasted Oak

Neurasthenic Barbie!

Press a button on her back, and watch her faint away!

Sold separately:
Attentive Swain Ken
Emotionally Traumatic Letter
Restorative Glass of Wine

East-End-Theatre Ballet-Dancer Barbie!

Comes with tambourines, rosettes for her slippers, and an entirely inappropriate amount of cleavage!

Sold separately
Horrible Accident With The Unscreened Gaslights During The Christmas Pantomime
Stockinette For Ineffectual Treatment Of Third-Degree Burns
Agonising Death Some Six Weeks Later

Botanist Barbie!

Comes with attractive flower-collecting outfit and flower.

Sold separately:
Nervous Breakdown On Realising That Science Is No Fit Subject For a Lady

And don’t forget to visit Harrison and Smythe for all your Victorian Barbie playset and accessory needs.

Fictional Characters Whose Deaths Annoy Me

Posted 5591 days ago in by Catriona

Warning: this is necessarily spoileriffic. I can’t help that, given the subject matter. But none of the books mentioned in here were published in the past ten years, and few in the past fifty years, so they’re spoilers of the most minimal nature.

‘Prince’ Charlie Campbell, Rose in Bloom, Louisa May Alcott (1876)

If there’s one thing that drives me nuts, it’s when a character is killed simply so that an author can have a moral to a story.

Generally, they’re the most interesting characters, too: they’re not just hanging around being saintly all the time. (When such a character dies, it always reminds me of Montgomery’s Anne of the Island, where Anne writes “Averil’s Atonement” and is not-so-secretly furious that everyone prefers the villain to the hero, because at least the villain isn’t always just mooning around.)

So Prince Charlie is the victim of Alcott’s lifelong passion for the Temperance Movement. Because Charlie, you see, likes a drink.

I don’t think that Alcott is seriously arguing that if you like a drink you’ll end up coming home from a party absolutely off your nut; either forget about the steep embankment, or fail to see it because the lantern has blown out, or have something spook your horse; fall down the embankment with your horse on top of you; lie there all night in the freezing cold with severe internal injuries (and with a horse on top of you); and eventually be dragged out to die slowly and painfully in front of all your grieving family.

But that’s what happens to Prince Charlie. And all because he liked a drink.

Of course, one of things that annoys me most about this death is the reaction of Charlie’s mother Clara, who consoles herself with the fact that her mourning is very becoming.

She wasn’t nearly as annoying, shallow, and implausible a character in the first book, Eight Cousins (1875). She was still daft and self-centred, but at least she originally loved her son.

Dan, Jo’s Boys, Louisa May Alcott (1886)

Poor Dan. Another victim of an author’s need to kill people off in order to underscore a moral.

Dan turns up at Plumfield, the progressive school for boys (and two girls) run by Jo and Professor Bhaer, partway through the previous book, Little Men (1871). He’s brought by Nat Blake, who is one of the charity boys at the school (the school being a mixture of an expensive boarding school for the sons of gentlemen and a charity school to which poor boys can be admitted. The high fees paid by the former cover the cost of the latter, apparently—but we see few charity boys at Plumfield).

The charity boys are both failures, but Nat is a sympathetic and rather weak failure, so he’s allowed to marry one of the daughters of the house and to prosper.

But poor Dan.

We know nothing of Dan’s background, save that he’s been taking care of himself on the streets since an early age. He swears, he smokes, and he fights: his strengths are predominantly physical and he’s uncomfortable in the constrained atmosphere of the school. Eventually, he’s removed to a distant farm where difficult students are sometimes sent: he runs away from there and eventually makes his way back to Plumfield with a badly broken foot. The moment represents an awareness on both his and Jo’s parts of how much they care for one another.

In Jo’s Boys, then, Dan is one of the former students who regularly returns to Plumfield to seek the company and affection of Jo. He’s still physically imposing and impatient of restraint, but he’s intelligent and has a strong social conscience, particularly with regards to the mistreatment of the native American population.

Then he kills a man.

It’s an odd scene, because Dan, travelling out west, becomes aware that a very young and naive fellow traveller is being systematically fleeced by card sharps, and sets himself up as the boy’s guardian, standing and watching the games. When it becomes apparent that the men are cheating, he challenges them, one attacks him, and Dan, in reacting, knocks the man over, causing him to hit his head and die.

He’s charged with manslaughter, not murder, and serves one year.

But this is the unforgivable sin to the people at Plumfield. Never mind the accidental nature of the death, never mind the fact that Dan saves multiple lives through an act of extraordinary bravery shortly after his release from prison, never mind the fact that this is essentially a reprise of an incident with Amy and Jo in Little Women, except that Amy doesn’t die—Dan is cast out.

Oh, there’s weeping and wailing, and he compounds his sin by falling in love with a woman outside his social class—Laurie and Amy’s daughter, Bess—though he never tells her how he feels.

But, essentially, Dan is cast out from the only home he’s ever known.

Of course, Jo’s Boys is an odd book, anyway—with the deaths of Alcott’s mother (in 1877), youngest sister (in 1879), and brother-in-law, the autobiographical feel of the first books gives way in this to a kind of elegiac wish fulfillment, with all the family drawn together in a utopian compound of big houses and little, of schools and colleges, with even those who are dead memorialised in paint and marble and looking down over all.

And what’s poor Dan left with?

Dan never married, but lived, bravely and usefully, among his chosen people [native Americans] till he was shot defending them, and at last lay quietly asleep in the green wilderness he loved so well, with a lock of golden hair upon his breast, and a smile on his face which seemed to say that Aslauga’s Knight had fought his last fight and was at peace. (Children’s Press, p. 156)

Poor Dan.

Walter Blythe, Rilla of Ingleside, L. M. Montgomery (1921)

Just as Charlie and Dan are sacrificed to show the dangers of various vices or failings, Walter, I think, is sacrificed to show that war costs lives.

To be fair, none of the other members of the social circle to which the Blythes belong emerge unscathed, except perhaps youngest son Shirley—and Shirley is a strange non-entity in the books, never getting a chapter of his own in any of the later novels devoted to the Blythe children, never seemingly having any friends or sweethearts, never even being the focus of a paragraph that I can recall.

So why doesn’t Shirley die, instead of poor Walter? Walter, the poet. Walter, the scholar. Walter, the handsome child who doesn’t resemble any of his kin. Walter, the child gifted with a strange second sight that sits uncomfortably with the overall realism of the novels. Walter, the man who has to overcome a crippling terror of the horror and pain and despair of the Front to enlist and as a soldier, and who does so—only to die at Courcelette with a bullet through his heart.

If it had been Shirley, chances are no one would have noticed.

Balin, sometime before the events of The Fellowship of the Ring, J. R. R. Tolkien (1954)

Don’t ask me why Balin is my favourite dwarf in The Hobbit. He just is. And, yes, I know the dwarves are basically interchangeable, except for Thorin Oakenshield. But Balin is my favourite anyway.

So the point at which they find Balin’s tomb in Moria is the point at which I gave up The Lord of the Rings. (On my first reading, anyway. I have given up much earlier on subsequent readings, but I’ve never gone past Balin’s tomb.)

I am willing to admit that this might be the strangest thing that I have ever done.

Almost any character who dies in a David Eddings fantasy novel

But not for quite the same reasons. Dead characters in David Eddings’s fantasy novels are like dead babies in Victorian fiction: one is surprised not that it is done well, but that it is done at all.

No, wait: wrong quotation.

I mean that it seems as though the character is killed simply because it’s improbable that everyone should get through the adventures alive, so someone’s killed off in the later chapters, much as babies and children are killed off in Victorian fiction all the time not simply to reflect the real-life high infant mortality rate but also because, well, nothing’s quite as sad as a dead child, is it?

In The Belgariad (1982-1984), of course, the primary dead character is brought back to life almost immediately. In The Elenium (1990-1992), the dead character is the only working-class character in the book, which leaves me with an unpleasant sense that working class = expendable in Eddings’s universe. (Especially since in the trilogy that is the sequel to The Elenium, The Tamuli (1992-1995), there’s an undercurrent of “I know me place, young master” that seriously bothers me.) And in The Mallorean (1988-1992), there’s a prophecy that one of the questers will die, but when it happens, you’re left thinking, “Him? He was only mentioned in two paragraphs!”

It’s pathos by numbers.

And I Thought The 1970s' Editions of Georgette Heyer Were Bad . . .

Posted 5592 days ago in by Catriona

Well, they were, of course.

But look at what happens when you buy a 1990s’ edition of a Louisa May Alcott novel:

There’s no way she’s a demure Victorian maiden!

The book was originally published in 1876, and this is what a well-to-do young lady looked like in 1876, albeit in a fancier dress.

But this woman? She looks like Victorian Barbie.

(Which, I admit, did give me a fun ten minutes while I imagined other nineteenth-century Barbies. Victorian Prostitute Barbie! Comes with three different outfits, reflecting her changes in fortune after successive run-ins with the 1864 Contagious Diseases Act! Victorian Demure Governess Barbie! Optional second wig reflecting her seduction by the wastrel younger son of the household! Victorian Superfluous Woman Barbie! Buy the furniture for her depressing bedsit in Chelsea separately! Victorian Suffragette Barbie! Comes with length of railing, handcuffs, and prison hunger strike!)

Actually, no: it’s worse than that.

She looks like Nancy Drew in the 1980s’ rejig of the series:

And when your Louisa May Alcott heroine is almost interchangeable with Nancy Drew as drawn in 1987, you have something of a problem.

Live-blogging Doctor Who, Season Two: The Girl in the Fireplace

Posted 5593 days ago in by Catriona

I feel some sort of disclaimer is necessary. Perhaps I should have made such a disclaimer when I began live-blogging these repeat episodes. But better late than never . . .

Disclaimer: Had I live-blogged these episodes when they first aired, the results would be very different. My reaction to these season two episodes is tempered by my viewings of season three and four, and my frustrations (and, in some cases, my delight) with the way in which characters have developed over the past two seasons. I enjoyed this season very much (well, except for “Fear Her”), but I do see that my commentary might be crankier than it would have been two years ago.

I’m still not finding this Jack Dee comedy very funny. Perhaps if I watched an entire episode?

So this is the Steven Moffat episode for season two? I seriously love Steven Moffat, but I didn’t think this one was as brilliant as “The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances,” “Silence in the Library/Forests of the Dead,” or—most brilliant of all—“Blink.”

It’s still great, though.

It’s also running late.

No, hang on: Project Next is asking me if I have an “18—30-year-old outlook.” What the hell does that mean?

No, wait: the palace at Versailles is under attack by, according to the king, creatures that may not even be human.

But the terribly pretty blonde woman whom I may as well start calling Madame de Pompadour says it’s fine: the clock is broken and the only man she’s ever loved (save the king) will soon be coming to help them.

Then she leans into the fireplace and shouts, “Doctor? Doctor?”

Meanwhile, the TARDIS lands on a spaceship—and Mickey is thrilled to get a spaceship on his first go—while the Doctor swears that there’s nothing dangerous (though he’ll just do a scan to see if there’s anything dangerous).

Mickey eyes the starscape outside the window and sighs, “It’s so realistic!”

Then they find an eighteenth-century fireplace up against the side of the ship—but on the other side of the fireplace is another room, occupied by a little blonde girl called Renette, who says she’s in Paris in 1727, while the ship is in the 51st century.

The Doctor claims to be a fire inspector, which leads to my favourite line—“Right. Enjoy the rest of the fire.”

Then, by fiddling with the mantlepiece, he finds himself in Renette’s bedroom, but months later: there’s a loud ticking from the clock on the mantlepiece—but the Doctor notices—while chatting to a not-at-all-frightened Renette—that the clock is actually broken.

He says the ticking is too loud, too resonant: whatever’s making it is at least six feet—and it is, an amazing clockwork man who leaps up like a spring from beneath Renette’s bed.

The Doctor says the robot has been scanning Renette’s brain, but when Renette asks it whether it wants her, it says no: “Not yet. You are incomplete.”

The Doctor tells Renette it’s a nightmare, that even monsters have nightmares.

RENETTE: What do monsters have nightmares about?

He tricks the monster into coming back with him through the fireplace, and freezes it.

MICKEY: Cool. Ice gun.
THE DOCTOR: Fire extinguisher.

When he sees the robot without its wig, the Doctor goes into full monkey-with-a-tambourine mode, exclaiming about how beautiful it is, what a crime it would be to
destroy it, but that he will anyway—but the robot teleports away.

The Doctor forbids Rose and Mickey to hunt it down (they do, anyway), and flips back through the fireplace, to find that young Renette is now Sophia Myles—they have an enthusiastic discussion that I can’t transcribe, and then she snogs him.

It’s at roughly this point that the Doctor realises this:

THE DOCTOR: I’m the Doctor, and I just snogged Madame de Pompadour!

Mickey and Rose, meanwhile, are traipsing around the spaceship armed with fire extinguishers, and finding that the ship’s parts have been replaced with human organs, with eyes and hearts.

The Doctor is being followed around by a horse, which allows the Doctor to step out into eighteenth-century Versailles, to see Renette and her companion discussing the imminent death of the king’s current mistress and Renette’s ambitions to replace her.

MICKEY: What’s a horse doing on a spaceship?
THE DOCTOR: Mickey, what’s pre-revolutionary France doing on a spaceship? Get some perspective.

I really don’t think, Rose, that Madame de Pompadour is comparable to Camilla, or that their positions are comparable. On the other hand, you are being truly adorable in this episode, so I won’t pick on you.

As Renette stares into the mirror through which Rose, Mickey, and the Doctor are watching her, she become aware of another clockwork robot standing in a corner: the three on the spaceship leap through the mirror to her defense.

Renette orders the robot to answer the Doctor’s questions, and the robot explains that they used the crew to repair the ship.

THE DOCTOR: What did the flight deck smell like?
ROSE: Someone cooking.

The robots are opening the time windows to check on Renette’s development: they want her brain, the final part, but she is not done yet. But when Renette tells it to go, it teleports away, and the Doctor tells Mickey and Rose to chase after it.

THE DOCTOR: Take Arthur.
ROSE: Arthur?
THE DOCTOR: It’s a good name for a horse.
ROSE: No, you’re not keeping the horse.
THE DOCTOR: I let you keep Mickey.

Rose and Mickey are taken prisoner by the robots (and in a discussion, Rose mentions that the Doctor mentioned Cleopatra once, which contradicts her claim last episode that he never discusses his past adventures).

The Doctor, meanwhile, is mucking around inside Renette’s mind, but she reads his mind, too—she pities his lonely childhood, and insists that he dance with her.

Rose and Mickey are strapped to gurneys; they’re compatible, apparently, but before they can be cut up for parts, the Doctor bursts in—“Have you met the French? My god they know how to party!”—with a pair of sunglasses on and his tie tied around his head as a bandanna, singing a song from My Fair Lady and claiming to have invented the banana daquiri.

ROSE: Oh, great. Look what the cat dragged in. “The Oncoming Storm.”

He does, however, manage to release Rose and Mickey, to overcome the robots (temporarily), but he can’t close the time windows—one of the robots is still out in the field. That robot sends a message saying she is complete—that Renette is thirty-seven years old, and therefore the same age as the ship—and that it is time to harvest her brain.

Rose pops into a time window behind which Renette is thirty two, to warn her that the robots will return in five years, that Renette can keep the robots occupied (but not stop them) until the Doctor arrives to help her.

Meanwhile, Mickey and the Doctor have located the time window behind which Renette is thirty seven, and Renette takes advantage of Rose’s distraction to nip through into the spaceship—she goes back to France, though, telling Rose that they both know that “the Doctor is worth the monsters.”

We flip back to the shot from the teaser, of Renette shouting into the fireplace, but this time it goes further, showing the robots taking Renette and the king through to the ballroom, which is full of terrified people screaming.

Renette refuses to accompany the robots, but they point out that they only need her head, and push her down—at which point a whinny is heard, and the Doctor crashes through the time window on Arthur, despite having told Rose that once the time window is smashed, there’s no returning to the ship. And, in fact, we can now see that behind the smashed mirror is nothing but brick and plaster.

Rose knows what the Doctor has done and is, obviously, devastated, but Mickey’s still not entirely sure.

The Doctor convinces the robots that now they are unable to complete their mission, since they cannot return to the ship, they have no purpose, and they all stop working and slump down.

Rose is still speechless, though Mickey hopes the Doctor will return.

The Doctor says that breaking one time window breaks them all, so he can’t use another to return: he seems quite resigned to the idea of being on the “slow path” with Madame de Pompadour, but she takes him through to a room that contains her old fireplace from her childhood bedroom, the one through which they first spoke. The Doctor says that it was off-line when the link with the ship broke (because she broke the connection when she moved it), so it should still work.

It does, and the Doctor finds himself back on the ship—but he tells Renette she has two minutes to pack a bag (while he tells Rose he’s back) and then she’s coming with him.

But when he comes back through the fireplace, he finds the king, who says he’s just missed Renette—she’ll be in Paris by six. He hands the Doctor a letter that Renette wrote, and we hear horses—and see that they are pulling a hearse.

Renette has died aged forty three.

The king asks what Renette says in her letter, but the Doctor tucks it in his pocket and leaves without a word.

Back in the TARDIS, Rose wants to know why the robots thought they could repair the ship with the head of Madame de Pompadour, and the Doctor speculates, but he’s subdued, and Mickey tactfully takes Rose off, asking her to show him around the TARDIS.

The Doctor takes Renette’s letter out of his pocket and reads it.

From the TARDIS console room, he turns off the fire, severing the last link with eighteenth-century France, and as the TARDIS dematerialises, we see behind it a portrait of Madame de Pompadour, and—with the camera moving outside the ship—we see the name “S.S. Madame de Pompadour” as the ship begins to drift in space.

Next week, Cybermen!

Today's Random Quote from Monkey

Posted 5593 days ago in by Catriona

Otherwise known as “Why We Sometimes Use Concrete Words As Well As Abstract Words” (from the episode “Pigsy, King and God”):

MONKEY: Well, you know I’m good at magicking things into other things, but not the other way around.

Well, okay then.

Flowering Yukka

Posted 5593 days ago in by Catriona

It’s not actually a yukka: I forget what it is, but it looks like a yukka, so I can never remember to use its real name:

The flower stalk is almost as tall as both the palm tree and the mulberry.

And yet it’s curiously delicate in detail:

Remember, live-blogging Doctor Who tonight (although, apparently, I’m the only one who tends to forget. So it’s more an aide de memoire for me).

Strange Conversations: Part Ninety-One

Posted 5596 days ago in by Catriona

Nick attempts to balance a mop handle against a verandah railing only slightly thicker than the handle itself:

ME (after watching fifteen attempts): Why don’t you turn the handle so the thick side is resting against the railing instead of the thin side?
NICK: There!
ME: You are clever.
(Short pause while we watch the mop inevitably slide off and crash down the steps)
NICK: Thanks a lot, Treena!
ME: What did I do?
NICK: You spoke.

Strange Conversations: Part Ninety

Posted 5596 days ago in by Catriona

ME: I’m not just going to agree blindly with everything you say even though it’s your birthday.
NICK: But . . . but . . . but it’s my birthday! That’s the whole point!
ME: Why?
NICK: It just is.
ME: Why is it the whole point that on your birthday I agree blindly with everything you say?
NICK: Because on my birthday I am king!
ME: You’re holding a toilet brush.
NICK: I know. It’s my holy sceptre.

Strange Conversations: Part Eighty-Nine

Posted 5596 days ago in by Catriona

Late-night, extremely tired conversation:

ME: Stop talking and let me go to sleep. After all, it’s my birthday tomorrow.
NICK: Okay . . . wait! That sounds like something I should have said.
ME: But what’s yours is mine, right?
NICK: Right.
ME: So technically tomorrow is my birthday.
NICK: Yes, that makes perfect sense.


Posted 5597 days ago in by Catriona

Approaching Storm

Posted 5597 days ago in by Catriona

To Relax, Add Ducks

Posted 5599 days ago in by Catriona

Nothing is more relaxing than the sight of ducks.

Live-blogging Doctor Who, Season Two: School Reunion

Posted 5600 days ago in by Catriona

This live-blogging is brought to you by four things:

1. I completely forgot that this was on tonight, and was all prepared to watch the last two episodes of Slings and Arrows so I can return it to Drew this weekend when Nick reminded me that Doctor Who was starting in fifteen minutes.

2. Had I known that Doctor Who was on tonight, I wouldn’t have used my heavy-duty moisturiser, but I did—now I have palm oil on my hands.

3. Nick still can’t remember that the small Tibetan coffee table is kept in the spare room now and has been for a year—ever since I decided that twelve tables was really too many for one living room.

4. I’ve only just remembered which episode this is, and now I’m excited about live-blogging it.

Also, though this doesn’t really qualify as a fifth thing, I need coffee.

Coffee is forthcoming, but meanwhile I’m sitting through the Jack Dee comedy that I’m still not finding very funny.

Feet coming down stairs—ooh, feet belonging to Anthony Stewart Head. I lose concentration slightly, but only a for a minute.

He comes across a sickly child leaning against the wall, and determines that she’s an orphan—at which point he declares that “It’s nearly time for lunch” and shuts the door to his office before we hear high-pitched screaming.

And then the Doctor walks into a classroom and declares, “Good morning, class. Are we sitting comfortably?”


The Doctor, wearing his glasses, is teaching physics, but it mostly involves saying, “Physics, physics, physics, physics” over and over, and occasionally interspersing “Correctamundo.”

He has one student called “Milo,” who has knowledge that he should not have, including information on how to travel faster than the speed of light.

Rose, meanwhile, is wearing a cap and apron, and working in the school canteen. They’ve infiltrated the school on Mickey’s advice. The Doctor’s intrigued: he thinks the school should be all “happy, slappy hoodies with ASBOs and ringtones.”

Meanwhile, a sinister teacher is wandering around calling students into “extra classes” and the headmaster is hovering over all, looking even more sinister.

Torchwood reference! Drink!

While Rose is chatting to Mickey on the phone, a barrel of mysteriously labelled oil being manhandled into the kitchen falls and drenches a kitchen worker, who burns horribly and is hustled off into another room. Rose tries to call an ambulance, but another worker claims the woman is fine, even when the injured worker combusts with a scream: “She does that. It’s fine.”

The students in the “special class” are typing improbably fast in a closed room.

And there’s Sarah Jane, schmoozing the headmaster—but she knows that something odd is going on.

Sarah is brought into the staffroom, and the Doctor sees her—and he smiles and blushes and burbles as he introduces himself as “John Smith.” She once knew a man who went by that name, a very unusual man.

Oh, the look on his face makes me smile just to see it. He’s so pleased to see she’s doing so well and just as nosy as ever.

Even on his way back to class, he can’t stop himself grinning.

A little fat kid (why is it always the little fat kids?) called Kenny sees—in the special classroom—a monster who transforms into the sinister teacher, but the teacher simply warns him off.

Meanwhile, Sarah Jane is breaking into the school at night, as are the Doctor, Mickey, and Rose, each of whom have their own tasks. Mickey, of course, talks himself up and is made to look a fool.

The school is filled with strange screechings and flapping of wings, audible even to Rose, testing the oil in the cafeteria. But Sarah: Sarah has walked into an unused corridor—and straight into the TARDIS, which shocks her. But when, backing away from it, she walks into “John Smith,” she knows him for who he is, straight away.

When they hear a scream, the Doctor and Sarah both rush out—and straight into Rose, who’s not happy to see Sarah. Sarah, meanwhile, is overly pleasant to Rose, telling the Doctor that “You can tell you’re getting older, because your assistants are getting younger.”

The scream was Mickey, surprised by hundreds of freeze-dried rats—which allows some further bitching between Sarah and Rose—but when they find all the teacher-monsters hanging upside down in the staffroom, they all leg it.

Sarah says she has something that could help the Doctor—and pulls away a blanket in her boot to reveal—K9!

Hey, K9! The Doctor cooes over his old dog, until Rose snaps, “Could you two just stop petting? We’ve got work to do!”

They all repair to a cafe, where the jukebox is, conveniently, playing “Love Will Tear Us Apart.”

Rose is as jealous as hell, while Sarah and the Doctor sit at another table, the Doctor trying to fix K9 while Sarah tries to explain just how hard it is for a companion left alone by the Doctor.

They could only have done this episode with Sarah Jane—all the other companions died or left voluntarily, except for Teegan, and she did come back before leaving voluntarily.

Sarah explains that she was dropped in Aberdeen, not Croydon, before K9 disrupts the conversation, waking up and saying “Mas-ter?” The Doctor’s delighted: “He remembers me!” Mickey mocks K9’s voice—and later mocks him as “the tin dog”—before Sarah says, “Excuse me, that’s my dog.”

K9 identifies the bat people as Crillotanes (oh, I’ll check the spelling later) [it should be “Krillitanes,” so I’ll acknowledge that but I’m not correcting them all], which the Doctor says is bad: as bad as can be, plus another suitcase of bad.

Mickey has a moment of realisation that he, himself, is a tin dog. Now, I’m going to say this once: Rose and Mickey, you both lay off K9. Now. K9 is off-limits.

Rose and the Doctor talk about the limits of their relationship, which is rather a touching conversation, except that Rose’s indignation that other people preceded her annoys me no end.

A Crillotane sweeps down on them, but flies off without doing any damage.

ROSE: It just flew off! Why would it do that?
NICK: To make a lovely silhouette against the moon.

The next morning, the posse rides up to the school.

The Doctor, sending the others off to their designated tasks, confronts the headmaster at the poolside: the headmaster derides Time Lords as “dusty senators” and “peaceful to the point of indolence,” but says that the Doctor is something new. The Doctor agrees, saying age has worn down his peaceful intentions: “Now you get one warning. That was it.”

Mickey is talking to K9 and mocking himself for talking to a tin dog.

(Rose, I’ll say this once: lay off Sarah Jane. Just, seriously, stop bitching at her. Because Sarah way outranks you on my list of favourite companions.)

Rose and Sarah, meanwhile, are trying to access the computers in the special classroom and comparing their own adventures with the Doctor, and the odd monsters they’ve met:

SARAH: The Loch Ness monster.
ROSE: Seriously?

Next thing you know, they’re mocking the Doctor’s foibles, and when he walks in, they’re in hysterics, much to his discomfort.

DOCTOR: What? Stop it!

While this is happening, the monster-teachers eat the remaining normal members of staff and start the children on the final phase of the programme—except for fat little Kenny, who is trapped outside the classroom but can’t exit the school, because the headmaster has locked it down.

The Doctor realises what is happening.

Kenny alerts Mickey to what is happening, and Mickey wakes K9, asking him how they get into the school:

MICKEY: Do you have, like, a lock-picking attachment?
K9: We are in a car.
MICKEY: Fat lot of good you are. Wait! We’re in a car.
NICK: “Fat lot of good”—I bet that’s exactly what Tom Baker used to say.

The Doctor tells Sarah and Rose that what they are using the children for—their abilities enhanced by the oil in which the chips are cooked—is to break the “God Paradigm,” which will give them access to “the building blocks of the universe.”

The headmaster appears, again, to seduce the Doctor, telling him that with access to the God Paradigm, he could recreate the Time Lords, and keep Sarah and Rose young forever. But Sarah says no: the universe needs to change. And the Doctor heaves a computer through the main display (we don’t know whether that did anything) as Mickey drives through the front doors.

The teachers all change to their bat form—except the headmaster—and corner the posse and Kenny in the cafeteria—but K9 appears, saying to Sarah Jane, “Suggest you engage running mode, Mistress.”

K9 manages to hold them off—though the headmaster tells them to “ignore the shooty dog thing”—while the others barricade themselves in the kitchen—they escape past the monster-teachers thanks to Kenny hitting the alarm.

Mickey goes off the unplug the students, though he can’t get them to listen. The others run to the kitchen, where they find the barrels dead-bolted. The sonic screwdriver won’t open them, but K9 suggests they won’t survive a direct blast. Mickey frees the children by literally unplugging them, bless him.

K9 has to stay behind to ignite the barrels, though it means his death.

DOCTOR: You’re a good dog.
K9: Affirmative.
ME: Whimper.

The monster-teachers arrive in the kitchen, but K9 ignites the barrels, and the school blows up, a series of events that rapidly increases Kenny’s standing among his peers, since they know he had a hand in the explosion.

Sarah is devastated by the loss of K9, and Rose annoys me by pouting when the Doctor puts his arm around Sarah as she cries.

The aliens defeated, the Doctor invites Sarah into the TARDIS for a cup of tea. The Doctor invites Sarah to travel with him again, but Sarah says she can’t do it again—she needs to find a life of her own.

Mickey asks if he can come instead, and Rose once again demonstrates that she really can’t stand Mickey, can she? But the Doctor agrees that Mickey can come.

Rose asks Sarah whether she (Rose) should stay with the Doctor, and Sarah says yes: “Some things are worth getting your heart broken for.” But she says that Rose should come and see her if she ever needs to.

When Sarah forces the Doctor to actually say goodbye this time, he grabs her and lifts her right off the ground in a bear hug.

NICK: Tom Baker never used to do that.

But as the TARDIS dematerialises, behind it is K9, rebuilt by the Doctor and left behind—again—for Sarah: the two of them walk off into the (metaphorical) sunset. Well, K9 rolls.

Next week: Madame de Pompadour!



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