Sunday, May 28, 2006

Your Funny Uncle

A windy day, the cars in slow formation.
Not far away a final destination.
One mother's son, his father's distant gaze regretting
Where they went wrong - he always found it too upsetting.
My propensity for hard pumping bass-lines and big drum patterns in my pop songs is well known. I love a strong melody, but I also like a bit of kick, so it's rare for me to get on with plain acoustic tracks or ballads.

It is, however, not unheard of. I discovered this weekend that of the many many Pet Shop Boys tracks that I love passionately, "Your Funny Uncle" is probably my favourite track of theirs ever.

Given that that it's basically Neil and a piano this is something of a shock.

Me and my friend, we lived our lives completely
From start to end, you and your friend so sweetly.
With strength and pride in spite of everything and swimming
Against the tide, to obstinately hope of winning.
"Your Funny Uncle" is the mid-point of the "Being Boring" trilogy about a friend of Neil's who died of AIDS. The Trilogy begins with "It Couldn't Happen Here" while his friend is still alive, reminiscing how they never thought AIDS would affect their lives in the UK. And of course the trilogy ends with "Being Boring" itself, the friend having passed on and with Neil looking back at the parties they used to hold and attend.

In the middle though is this song, set at the friend's funeral. It's a simple vignette, really, focusing mainly on this army gentlemen, uncomfortably attending his obviously gay nephew's funeral and all of his nephew's obviously gay friends and yet still doing his duty as a family member.

And, at the end, your funny uncle staring
At all your friends with military bearing.
And stopped to stand, to smile and speak of you directly.
'Good-bye', shake hands, like you did everything correctly.
I often state that the Pet Shop Boys write the soundtrack to my life. Their arch sense of humour perfectly chimes with mine. And I'm a melancholy soul at heart so the resigned bittersweet emotional aspect to much of their work matches my general background mood. Plus the whole "Che Guevara and Debussy to a disco beat" perfectly aligns with my feeling that there is much high art in the humble pop song (as Noel Coward said it's "funny how potent cheap music can be").

On top of that I'm constantly finding they have a song for every aspect of my life. I've had relationships where "So Hard", "Domino Dancing" and "Jealousy" resonated horribly at the time and yet I felt oddly powerless - or maybe because of my melancholy nature, unwilling - to change things. (And as for "You Only Tell Me You Love Me When You're Drunk" and "I Don't Know What You Want But I Can't Give It Any More" well... say no more.)

So it seems strange that ultimately the trilogy I have come to regard as collecting my favourite songs together has not much to do with my life. Of course I've watched loved ones die, attended far too many funerals (one of them for my own funny uncle) but there's still a certain detachment for me with these tracks.

Yet still they capture such a beautiful picture of lasting friendships and affections even in death that I find them desperately touching, even oddly optimistic.

And it's probably the optimism in the final verse of "Your Funny Uncle" that makes it just pip the others in this cycle for me. I believe it's inspired by a passage from Revelations, and it's such a lovely sentiment:

To wipe away the tears. No more pain, no fear.
No sorrow or dying, No waiting or crying.
These former things have passed away.
Another life begins today.

The Idiot's Lantern

Well, I must confess I was rather confused by last night's Doctor Who but I still found myself enjoying it enormously.

Although I must say it was extremely disturbing to find myself fancying Tommy (thankfully the actor who played him is actually 23 so I feel considerably less dirty about it).

Besides... Maureen Lipman. Wasn't she just brilliant?

She not only stole the show, it's quite clear she ran off with it in her handbag as well.

Friday, May 26, 2006

The Reign of Fear


Spider season has started.

Two of the larger variety of common-or-garden arachnid have been discovered in my room in the last twelve hours (one of them precariously balanced on the lip of my wastepaper basket for some unfathomable reason) which means of course that I no longer feel entirely safe in my room.

Cue a summer of tentatively approaching any jeans left on the floor and shaking them vigorously before deciding whether to put them on. A summer of checking under the pillows and duvet before I turn in at night. A summer of glancing suspiciously at the thin dark space under my bed and wondering what lies therein.

A summer, essentially, of spider-based anxiety.

Of course people will scoff at this. "They're more scared of you than you are of them" is the common response to this.

And I would like to emphasise that this is clearly rot of the highest order. Aside from a lack of documentary evidence ("excuse me Mister Spider, on a scale of one to ten - one being not very, and ten being fatally terrified - just how scared are you of Rob?") any spider meeting me doesn't actually get the chance to be scared.

Nor indeed, does it get the chance to learn from its mistake.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006


So... what can I say about the new Pet Shop Boys album that hasn't been said already?

Not much, but I've been bottling this review up for weeks so sod you.

Yes, it's certainly politically charged. Integral is a clear condemnation of the Identity Card bill, the lyrical point of view of one of its proponents undermined by Neil's tangibly angry vocal. Twentieth Century charts Neil's journey from pro-Iraq-war to anti, I'm With Stupid joins I Get Along as another song written from Tony Blair's angle and is the sort of sly commentary no-one else could get away with. Luna Park is as close to a State of the Nation address as the UK is likely to get and utterly captivating.

Touchingly poignant moments are captured in Indefinite Leave to Remain and I Made My Excuses and Left. Casanova in Hell is vaguely off-putting - hearing Neil sing about erections leaves me in a "my uncle just said that" state of discomfort - but it's still gorgeous. The next single Minimal is -oddly - a minimal song given a far from minimal arrangement and Psychological is the sort of surreal-electro-nonsense that can't help but appeal - their "Sound of the Crowd" if you will.

The Sodom and Gomorrah Show, though, stands out as an oddity. By far the most theatrical moment on the album it's probably the most effective and grabbing. Forget fundamental - it's almost quintessential Pet Shop Boys and don't let anyone tell you otherwise.

So yeah, every track grabs you either intellectually, musically or viscerally. Except Numb. Numb I hated on first listen and still hate now. (Diane Warren's work, I'm afraid has always been lost on me.) Lyrically this track jars with everything I've ever known about the Pets and it's an unwelcome hold-up in an album which otherwise would seem to flow gracefully and yet somehow impossibly between its obviously differing styles.

But it's still an impressive album overall. I've never understood those who regard Release as a nadir, albumwise. Personally I think it's great, but Fundamental is somehow something that manages to bridge the gap between their various styles over the years in an eminently satisfying style.

If you'll forgive some hyperbole (and by now you should be immune) it's not, as many have said, a "return to form" - they never lost their form guys, just done something different brilliantly - but it is an album that brings their various forms together in a stunningly cohesive way.

(P.S. iTunes has a Sodom and Gomorrah demo version too. Much more stripped down, but utterly fantastic, I wish they'd do a full-on PSB Maxi-Mix of this track in that style. Go find!)

Sunday, May 21, 2006

The Age of Steel

Years ago Steve Punt and Hugh Dennis did a moderately funny sketch show (well, okay, it probably wasn't but I was young enough not to know better at the time) in which they discussed the script phenomenon whereby in one line a character instantly becomes a dead man walking.

You've seen the sort of thing, someone mentions their family, a sweetheart, or the fact they're retiring or getting married tomorrow or whatever and you know precisely then that this character will be dead way before the credits roll. It was illustrated with a sketch with Punt and Dennis talking to an RAF pilot in a bar: the minute he pulled out a picture of the girl he was due to marry back home they just turned straight to the camera and, in perfect unison, said "dead!"

I had a moment a bit like that in last night's Doctor Who. The minute Mrs Moor told us her real name and that she had a husband and kids I raised my glass to the screen and went "fare thee well, Angela, we barely knew ye".

That said, it was still a bit of a shock when it happened (no pun intended).

Last night's show was an excellent conclusion to the Rise of the Cybermen. The resolution to the cliffhanger was a little bit too convenient I thought at the time, but I couldn't help but enjoy the spectacle. And that aside it was an episode which was at times disturbing, engaging and thrill-packed so you can't really complain.

Mickey's transformation since the Parting of the Ways has been quite deftly done I must say. I felt a few twinges of admiration for him throughout last night's episode, his decision in the face of his parallel-counterpart's death to step into the vacant role and stop being the tin dog was, I felt, just right.

And yes, I cried. Sniffling away at the end I was and I don't mind admitting it. (I'm becoming quite a sentimental old fool in my dotage, it seems.)

Clunk. Clunk. Clunk.

Doctor Who just rocks at the moment it really does.

(I wonder how long it'll take before the first Jake/Ricky slash fiction surfaces on the net, though. I mean, Jake was so clearly in love with him even if it may not have been reciprocated. Bless.)

Saturday, May 20, 2006

About Fucking Time!

Century Falls is finally being released on DVD.

Genuinely the most creepy and disturbing series I've ever seen.

And it was made for kids! Gah!

They're doing Dark Season as well. Watch it and see first-hand why Russell T. Davies was meant to write Doctor Who (although arguably he did a better job in six 30 minute episodes).

Thursday, May 18, 2006

The Line of Beauty

Tuned in last night to see the first part of the BBC adaptation of Alan Hollinghurst's The Line of Beauty, a novel which I read last year and found myself rather enjoying in a sort of voyeuristic and knowing-it-can't-end-well kind of a way.

I missed the first few minutes and so somehow contrived to tune in during a scene of simulated outdoor buggery - a coincidence which amused me enormously, but there we are.

All told? Well, it wasn't half bad. It suffered from the age-old problem that short adaptation of big books do, of course, in that everything did feel somewhat compressed and the order of events was heavily rejigged, but otherwise it was all rather good. Certainly looking forward to part two, anyhow.

My only real problem was the casting. No, don't get me wrong, it was all excellent. No complaints about the acting at all, I thought everyone put in a sterling performance, but the problem for me was that considering so many of the cast were big names I kept being jolted out of the narrative to think about their acting history.

Tim McInnerney, for example, was excellent as Gerald Fedden, but I couldn't help but think of him as Blackadder's Lord Percy Percy or Captain Darling (and indeed felt similar twinges of pity). Alice Krige, again, was excellent as his wife Rachel but part of my brain still kept going "Lord! It's the Borg Queen - and doesn't she look well?"

Mind you, these then got absolutely trumped by the lady playing Mrs Charles.

I literally sat bolt upright on the sofa with amazement and found myself squealing with glee.

"Oh my God!" I yelped. "It's Floella Benjamin!"

Fair made my evening, I don't mind telling you.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Oh Goody

Judging by the arrival of two bite marks on my arm this morning, it appears that the season for small biting insects is upon us once again.

Scratch scratch scratch.

Still... irritating though it is, I am at least comforted by the knowledge that I haven't inherited my mother's reaction to such bites. Whereas I just get a small itchy bump to play with, she always ended up with huge watery blisters - about the size of a fifty-pence piece - brewing up on her arm. These invariably required lancing with sterilised needles and then sealing off from the world with vast supplies of melolin and micropore.

Amazingly, given the predictability of this reaction, most of my childhood holidays were based on the Norfolk Broads where such critters are in vast abundance. I can only assume that either my father or mother gained some sort of enjoyment from some aspect of this complaint, but I dread to think what it was.

In any case, I myself have the satisfaction of knowing that since my blood's about 80% proof, whatever it was that sampled it probably died of alcohol poisoning within minutes.

Which'll serve the bloody thing right.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Rise of the Cybermen


After the magical flight of fancy that was The Girl in the Fireplace, Rise of the Cybermen managed to drag Doctor Who firmly down into darker, more paranoid territory with a genuinely menacing comeback for the bulky metal buggers.

I had worried that bringing them back would result in a "oh they're just ripping off the Borg" argument - despite the obvious historical flaw I've heard comments like this before - but it was a more than successful re-invention, tapping right back into the basics of the Cybermen's origins.

Obviously they were originally devised through a fear of where the then-new development of transplant surgery would take us. Here they were expertly revived with a fresh set of paranoias for the Bluetooth generation. After all, in our technology, our work and even our relationships, we always have our eye on the next upgrade, don't we? And the Cybermen, we were told, could be it.

And by God, you could actually believe these brutes were unstoppable. Gorgeous and yet scary - top stuff.

My only concern was the repeated "delete, delete, delete" command. It's not like the Cybermen haven't had catchphrases in the past (I mean... "excellent" anyone) but I did think this was a glaringly obvious attempt to give them their own "exterminate" which rankled a little. But then I guess it is what kids in the playground will be wanting so my fanboy criticisms will have to be waived on that I think.

Obviously being the first part of a two-parter there was room for both plot and character-drama to exist side by side. Mickey for once got a chance to shine and have some depth, and Noel Clarke got a good opportunity to play something meatier with his parallel self being a suitably hardened vigilante.

Again a sure footed production; nice performances, laughs, chills, some glorious inappropriateness (I mean... "The Lion Sleeps Tonight" - how funny was that?) and a damn good cliffhanger - even better that it was unspoiled by a "Next Time..." trailer.

Ah... I can't wait for "The Age of Steel". A week seems to be a very long time for us Who-ers these days.

Deeply Upsetting Things #2176

Another one for the "Things I find deeply upsetting" list...

That a programming strand so vacuous, intellectually barren and lowest-common-denominator-friendly as Channel 4's T4 also boasts one of the most gorgeous men on television as its presenters.

I almost stayed watching the channel today purely because Steve Jones was occupying so much of the screen with his dark good looks and lilting welsh tones, all accented by a very nicely fitting light pink jumper.

It's a relief therefore that Vernon Kay - one-man talent-vacuum - popped up to break the spell. I would otherwise have found myself accidentally lured into Shipwrecked and that would never do.

(You may well ask why I was even alighting on T4 at all. The truth is that the flatmate for some reason finds it compelling viewing. And yet people wonder why we've never shagged! Hah!)

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Yesterday, When I Was Mad

As work gets ever more terrifyingly busy I have found myself actually enjoying the time I spend at the gym. It is, after all, a guaranteed hour and a half away from the office, and my mind is relatively occupied on something completely other than work.

And I seem to be back up to speed again. The various long drawn out colds over the last couple of months appear to have finally been banished and so I find myself able to get back to the target times on the cross-trainer again - something which fires me with a sense of achievement, as well as copious amounts of perspiration.

So yes... something strange has happened: I'm actually enjoying going. I think this is the first time in my life I've ever enjoyed a physically draining activity which isn't related to either acting or rutting. It's very strange.

So much has this attitude pervaded me that yesterday I took the unprecedented step of going to the gym for a fourth time in the week.

Now aside from the fact that I'm still not sure I should tell the sadist (I'm not sure how he'd react - although I suspect smelling salts may be required ) it did leave me with a small gym-kit problem.

You see, with three visits to the gym I can alternate my two preferred kits, one being washed in time for the third session. With the added fourth session I would need to wash the second the day I wore it for it to be dry two days later. And unfortunately due to various social commitments this didn't happen.

So I had to resort the the spare kit. The one with the slightly tighter than necessary shorts and the sleeveless top.

Or as I like to call it "the ├╝ber-gay kit".

I felt more than a little self-conscious in this I must say. I long ago decided I didn't really have the arms or shoulders for sleeveless tops so my purchase of this item must have been a momentary aberration bought about by the giddiness of spending vast quantities of money in the Nike Store. Naturally once this had worn off I wore it once, decided it wasn't really me and resorted to the alternate washing cycle.

But yesterday I had no alternative other than to look more obviously poofy than normal so thank God I opted to go early. It meant that hardly anyone was there to see the Flaming Mox do his workout, and therefore I escaped the gym without being beaten up in the changing rooms.

This I regard as A Good Thing.

What's really terrifying, though, is that I am actively considering going on Monday as well as the other four days next week.

Oh hell. I have become a gym queen.

Vanity thy name is Rob.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Caddish Behaviour

So I had a pleasant, gently boozy and mildly dopey evening last night which finally resulted in me taking the Random Line (or as I am starting to consider it "The Devil's Tube") home.

I was lucky, within a minute of my arrival on the platform a service bound for High Barnet (Big Hair!) limped into the station and ground to a halt. Relieved that I could be home in half an hour, I jumped on board and dropped into a seat, pulling out my copy of The Swimming Pool Library to while away the journey home. (I'm re-reading it - I honestly can't remember if I liked it or not a couple of years back, so now seems a good time to try again.)

A couple of stops later a young man, medium length dark hair, reasonably tidy, ambles onto the train and takes the seat next to me. We uncomfortably go through that whole "angling for a little bit of the tiny arm rest each" procedure and the train moves off.

A couple of stops later another guy gets on and sits opposite. He's quite handsome I think, and he occasionally catches my eye, then he starts to notice the guy on my right who has now started to doze off and lean heavily on my shoulder in his slumbers. I am, I must confess, mildly irritated by this, but brace myself against him and continue reading.

During the course of the next few stops his sleep becomes more pronounced and he starts to lean over left-and-forward as he becomes firmly ensconced. As this continues I am forced to brace myself further against him, adjust my position and generally rearrange bags in a desperate attempt to stop his head from ending up where it seems to be headed.

Which would appear to be my lap.

Now obviously I don't have any major objections to young men burying their head in my lap - as long as I can do likewise, that's fine. But I do draw the line when we're fully clothed, they're in a drunken stupor, it's on the Northern Line and they're likely to dribble.

The guy opposite me is watching all this with no little amusement and my discomfort at this is increasing at a rate of knots, but thankfully Archway station rattles into view, I put my book away and manage to extricate myself from the seat without apparently waking the sleeping wonder.

As I stand, handsome guy looks up at me "aren't you taking your mate with you?"

I feel a little non-plussed. "No, I don't know who he is."

He laughs. "You can't leave him like that!"

"I can, he's not with me!"

The doors ping open and I rush out, realising how this must all look. Even now I am shocked to imagine that somewhere out there in North London there's a man who thinks I pick up young men when they're a bit tipsy and then - if they turn out to be too drunk to be of any use to me - abandon them on the tube when they doze off.

Needless to say this view would have been sealed when my erstwhile duvet chose the moment I stepped off the train to wake up, realise this was his stop, and follow me off.

Nicely timed, mate. Nicely timed.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

The Resurrectionist

Crossing Blackfriars Bridge to Guys,
Then back to Barts for a better price.
Our goods are dear, but they're never shite.
Tell me anybody need a body... from the resurrectionist?
Well, the novelty of the Pet Shop Boys' I'm With Stupid has kind of been reduced by the long wait for it - even though it is great - but I'm glad to say they've pulled out some great new b-sides and download-only remixes to fire my enthusiasm for the forthcoming albumen.

Got a good deal for the right punter:
Used to be a full-blown munter.
Got a good deal for the right punter:
Used to be a full-blown munter.
And as is often the way with their B-sides, one of the tracks in particular is easily up there as one of their best tracks. It's called "the Resurrectionist" and it's rather caught both my attention and imagination with its dark subject matter, jaunty synth riff and its wry and playful lyrics.

A handsome lad lay in a hansom cab
Soon to be a stiff'un on the slab... from the resurrectionist.
Frankly based on this track alone, I'm inclined to think that what pop music needs more than anything is more people willing to write bouncy little tracks about subjects like bodysnatching.

It's clearly the way forward.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

The Girl in the Fireplace

So, another Saturday went by, and another Doctor Who flew by with it which means that it must be time by now for me to come up with another one of what are fast becoming my traditional long-after-anyone-really-cares reviews. You know, the ones that find less things to pick holes in as the series raises its bar each week.

And annoyingly the Girl in the Fireplace continued the upward trend of the series.

So why is it annoying? Well, because I can't help but think that as far as reviews go "well, that was pretty damn-near perfect wasn't it?" possibly lacks a certain critical edge. Generally speaking I can always find something to be miserable about so based on this episode I'm worried I may be losing my touch.

But that's kind of tough. Because in any case as far as I'm concerned - given the usual criticism that another five minutes could have made it even better (yay! I've still got it!) - "damn near-perfect" is what it was. It was possibly the most magical episode I've ever seen, in fact.

I've come to the conclusion that Steven Moffat finds it impossible to write a bad script. In all my time of televiewing (which is a lot, sad git that I am) I've not seen a single episode of anything he's written which hasn't dazzled me. He has a talent for deftly-woven plots, sparkling dialogue and an ability to seamlessly take the absurd and take you there in a way that seems perfectly natural.

The man is a genius and we should all worship him. Someone should build a shrine.

(And yes, I even loved Chalk, and I don't care who knows it. Unless it's Steven Moffat. He's not very proud of it - it was critically mauled for some reason - so don't tell him in case he hunts me down and kills me.)

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Islington Gets Major Shakeup!

Well... actually, no it didn't really. Not much of one anyway.

The center-left leanings you'd expect from any area that includes Angel and Highgate basically pretty much remains intact, but it seems that the complacency with which the Lib Dems ran their campaign certainly came at a cost. The twelve councillors they lost went straight over to Labour - proving that a concerted campaign (even if you're spouting absolute drivel) can actually engage with people.

Obviously a few of my fellow voters were taken in by the "the Lib Dems may have the fastest improving council in the country but it's all done with Labour money" claim spouted by the Labour daisy who phoned me up to get my vote. (Er, no... it's all done with tax-payer's money you irratating bint, I thought.)

The trend in London as a whole, though, was not repeated: the Conservatives actually lost their only councillor. And the Green party actually gained their first one - a sign which I find vaguely amazing and more than a little encouraging. I keep meaning to learn a little more about this party the more disillusioned I get with the LDs and their current chaos and indecision.

Overall we are left with a council in which there is No Overall Control and I quite like the idea of that. I'm not exactly enamoured of partisan politics so having that sort of balance is something which rather appeals.

Well, we shall see what happens next. I'm kind of curious to find out exactly what number of votes were cast for each candidate, mind. Surely it's on the internet somewhere?

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Ye Gods No

Sky One are remaking the Prisoner.

Well, I suppose they needed something to replace Dream Team.


Musings of the Walking Dead

I didn't sleep last night. Not much anyway, possibly a couple of hours at most. For some reason I just couldn't get comfortable and even when I was dozing the plot for a novel I have (like everyone else) been working on just kept buzzing round in my brain.

And very harrowing bits of it are too.

So, I ended up getting up at six and stumbling round the house, before finally making my way early down to the polling station to exercise my right to vote.

Now I am regularly told that this is important for me to do. But as I stared down at the list of names on the ballot paper my first reaction was not "how do I make life better in my ward?" but "who the hell are all these people?". Thing is, most of the parties (bar Labour and the Liberal Democrats) made no effort to engage with me whatsoever. And even those two were a bit crap.

The Lib Dems for example deluged me with faux-handwritten personalised letters all of which were vaguely wet and a bit "we're improving things so much, let us carry on". That was entirely it - all a bit "meh" really. Almost like they've won so often in the last few years they were feeling a bit over-confident really.

Labour, it pains me to say, were marginally better. Aside from a load of big red print leaflets, one of the prospective counsellors rang the home line to talk to us about why we should vote Labour. Sadly for her she rang just as I was on my own, had just got back from Canterbury (a journey which never puts me in a good mood), and had consumed a couple of glasses of red wine. She soon regretted that.

The main tenets of the local argument for labour that the poor dear clung mercilessly to were shaky to say the least. She first claimed it was the Lib Dems who put up the Islington Council tax by 33%. They didn't. A series of various rises were forced on them by Ken - one of which was to pay for my oh so beloved Olympics.

Another claim was that council elections are entirely distinct from national government elections - technically true, but - considering that she then spent some time telling me how good and non-New Labour my MP Jeremy Corbin is - I felt she was a little changeable on the subject.

The third was that Jeremy Corbin is a Labour rebel, who doesn't toe the party line on such issues as Iraq and so on. I pointed out that while this is generally true, I wasn't happy with him voting for the evil Regulatory Reform Bill. She wasn't aware he had. (I suggested she look it up as I had.)

Her forth point was that Gordon Brown was much more her style of leader and look how much better off people are under him. I pointed out that as a single gay man I was feeling a little put out by his emphasis on winning the family vote.

I finally got rid of her by assuring her that I was actively considering voting Labour. (I work on the basis that I am already going to hell for being an avowed catamite the occasional lie probably won't make much difference.)

This, however, was it. I had no contact from anyone else. Not one of the other parties sought to make an effort. I know Islington's a bit of a two-horse race but really. They keep saying voting's important and so on, and that it's terrible people don't care about it, but frankly it seems that even the people involved don't care either.

So I must confess that exercising my vote was something I did with a heavy heart and a slight mischeviousness. In the end with one of my three choices I went for one person purely on the basis of the funniest surname. (Well, I've always liked Round the Horne.)

So here I am at my desk, chronically fatigued, haunted by strange and disturbing images from my own imagination, frustratingly jandiced about the validity of our electoral system and - as if that wasn't enough - I've just arrived at work three-quarters of an hour early.

God I need a drink.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

School Reunion

Well, after what I thought was a pretty impressive Tooth and Claw last week, Doctor Who moved up another notch this Saturday with Toby Whithouse's School Reunion hitting the perfect balance right from the opening scene. Anthony (Stewart) Head almost walked off with the whole episode in scene one by giving a marvellously sinister yet amusing performance from his very first appearance.

The first fifteen minutes or so were sparkling. There was humour, there was a mystery with sinister goings on, a dinner-lady exploded ("Yeah, she does that"), and it was as lovely to see Sarah-Jane Smith again as Tennant's delight suggested.

And Sarah - didn't she look marvellous? Elisabeth Sladen's aged very well indeed, and still manages to give her character complete conviction and believability. I once read someone review either a "Classic Series" episode or the utterly naff "K-9 and Company" and state that Liz has a "continuing ability to save bad scenes", and it's one of the most true things I've ever read about the old series.

Okay, for this she wasn't given a bad scene, but I still think her reaction to seeing the TARDIS and realising that John Smith was her John Smith was the pivotal moment of the episode. At that moment it went up a gear, emotions unravelling as the plot knitted together. Her "did I do something wrong? Because you never came back for me" speech would have struck a chord with anyone who's ever been dumped, and Rose's angry realisation of her place in the Doctor's life will be familiar to many too.

And then that was topped off with the fury and bitterness of the Doctor's admission that he can't spend the rest of his life with his companions because they wither and die. His anguish was palpable, and I felt my jaw clench tightly shut during his speech.

And then the tin dog... Hmm. K-9's always a bit of an oddity for me. One day I'll say I can't stand him, another day I find him rather charming. In this I felt he worked well. School Reunion played up to his limitations, had some fun with him, and yet still served him up a nice dramatic part.

That said, his development served Ben to mutter at one point "someone's nicked your work, Rob", although I must say in my (probably deservedly) rejected short-story the Doctor didn't bring K-9 back at the end, which I always felt was more satisfying.

There were a couple of minor niggles, I'll admit. There were, to be fair, strong influences of Russell T. Davies' own CBBC serial from the 90s Dark Season and of the Demon Headmaster. But I suppose if you're going to steal, you steal from the best.

Worse, I felt, was some truly lousy editing. On one occasion it was so patently obvious that a scene'd been cut because the events in it were referred to later on. And in the climactic scenes of the kids being unplugged the editing was, I felt, just a little bit too tight. One minute they all had headphones on, the next none of them did, an occurrance which I for one found slightly jarring. Frankly I felt it would have been better to have a shot of that and then lose K-9's "affirmative" response to Mr Finch's "Bad Dog".

(Oh come on. You know it would have been a better end to the scene: "Bad Dog!" Boom! Yay!)

Still, it was undoubtedly the best episode this season so far. And I do hope we see Sarah-Jane (if not necessarily the mutt) again. She's really far too good to not use.

That said, as Ben pointed out during our re-viewing last night, her presence did rather make Rose's New Earth comment "Oh my God. I'm a chav!" ring ever more true by comparison.