Sunday, 17 May 2015

The Mad Woman in the Attic written by Joe Lidster and directed by Alice Troughton

This story in a nutshell: Rani heads off to her old hometown to investigate strange goings on in a deserted amusements park…

Until We Meet Again…Miss Smith: The first review of a Sarah Jane story since Elisabeth Sladen’s shocking and upsetting passing but instead of writing something maudlin I intend to enthuse about her incredible work in the both Doctor Who and her own show. I would much rather celebrate the wonderful moments of joy this woman brought to my life than dwell on the ones that wont be coming anymore. My wonderful Sarah Jane, she’s at the height of her powers in this story – although she was always so good it kind of makes that description redundant. Rani describes Sarah Jane as mysterious and moody and you don’t want to get on the wrong side of her. Look at how fabulous she looks in the sun blazing attic room, smiling with her friends and rocking on in that gorgeous waistcoat. When she discovers that Rani has betrayed their secret to an old friend she is initially furious. There is a wonderful moment between Sarah and Clyde where they poke fun at each other’s foibles (she’s a bit slow and he’s a bit scared) – it's almost flirtatiously fun. You can kick things down or jump over the top but her way is more stylish. Poor Sarah Jane doesn’t know what the loser sign is – she’s not down with the kids speak! She is haunted by the flash-forward she gets of the TARDIS appearing in the attic, a wonderful teaser for the next episode. Once again she speaks of her parents dying and she bravely uses that as an example of why life isn’t easy. I love how understanding she is, initially cross with Rani but reasoning that she is the one at fault because she has been alone for so long that she finds it difficult to trust people. Not all aliens are out to get us and sometimes Sarah forgets that. Love you, Sarah Jane.

Sarah’s Gang: Every year Joe Lidster writes a superb character focussing on one of the regulars – we learnt so much about Clyde in The Mark of the Berserker, Luke gets some startling development in The Nightmare Man and here it is Rani’s turn to shine, showing us her old life and what she really feels about things deep down. The story has a superb framing device showing an older, more decrepit Rani looking back on the mistakes of her life. She’s forgotten people and places and exists now as the mad old woman in Bannermen Road. All she has is pictures and faded memories now. She tells a story of our young, beautiful Rani annoyed because she brings potentially interesting stories to investigate and doesn’t get taken seriously plus she walks in on a love-in about Maria which makes her feel excluded. Rani is worried that her parents are disappointed in her, especially her dad, and she hides it behind jokes and laughter. She’s worried that Sarah Jane doesn’t think she is as useful as Maria. Eve however can see how they look at her and they love her and are proud of her. Life is difficult as a teenager; GCSE’s and Judoon, her parents and Sarah Jane and trying to keep it all secret. This all sounds quite Dawn-from-Buffy whiney doesn’t it but nothing could be further from the truth, Anjili Mohindra is such a strong actress that she manages to convey all this angst and still remain as wonderfully hip as ever. Sam started ignoring her when she moved because she had an incredible new life on Bannermen road. She is scared of the future, scared of growing old – she sees a glimpse of what is to come and it terrifies her. How gorgeous does Rani look with those glowing red eyes?

Clyde admits that sometimes he does get scared. I love it when Clyde (who fancies the ass off her) shouts at Rani when they catch up with her as if she was her dad (‘you could have been in a ditch or something!’). His faux kung fu moves make a return – very funny!

Luke thinks he can make a connection with Sam which just goes to show that his social interaction is getting better and better. Sam suggests he is some kind of Frankenstein’s creature.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘People can’t afford to have fun anymore.’
‘The universe is full of nightmares and you make fake ones.’
‘Sometimes they just need a helping hand.’

The Good Stuff: The opening with the bitter and twisted Rani living amongst the cobwebs in the lightning streaked attic is an arresting opening and immediately gets you wondering how on Earth this could have happened. Souad Faress is extraordinarily good as the older Rani, they have found someone who matches her look to the letter and she gets all the mannerisms and speech perfect. I love a beach location and the deserted amusement park has a melancholic, out of season atmosphere. The story employs some very simple but creepy effects; the red face in the mirror looks gorgeous but nothing could have prepared me for the grinning red eyed zombies on the ride, especially the guy in the hoodie whose smile is terrifying!). ‘I could eat children for all you know’ – rather than just using them as a framing device Lidster builds a lovely relationship up between the older Rani and Adam. I love how the Sarah Jane Adventures can add even more depth to the Time War, Eve’s race were attacked by the Daleks because they could read the timelines. There are lots of flashbacks that remind you of Sarah’s long association with the Doctor and flash forwards that hint at wonderful things to come. Rani stands in front of the mirror and the scene splits between her older and younger self, that is some mighty fine direction. The camerawork and editing as Eve makes the rides go faster and faster is as exhilarating and disorienting as if you were on the ride yourself. How cool is the spaceship under the beach – every time kids visit the seaside now they will be imagining all sorts under the sand! We get a wonderful fairytale ending that sees the dysfunctional family of Harry, Samuel and Eve heading off in Ship. A cried with joy at the line ‘K.9’s coming home!’ and his immediate tension with Mr Smith promises great things. I love how Joe Lidster subverts the shows staples by undercutting the usual twee schlock with a tragic ending. The framing device manages to surprise you too with Adam turning out to be Eve and Sam’s son and returning to change Rani’s life. Love Ship tearing free of the sands and the team sharing a joyous moment captured on celluloid is ultra poignant given recent events. 

The Bad Stuff: Sam is so obstinate in the first episode that if I was Luke I would slap him round the face with a wet halibut and throw him out his bedroom window. ‘I’m just a stupid kid that can’t get anything right!’ – that is the only moment in this two parter that feels CBBC.

The Shallow Bit: Far too many cute boys for me to get a handle on the action at times with Sam, Clyde, Luke and Adam all very attractive lads. Anjili Mohindra is an exceptionally beautiful young lady and it is always worth remembering how gorgeous Lis Sladen looks.

Result: Bringing Joe Lidster across to the Sarah Jane Adventures was a stroke of genius, he manages to take a show that is aimed at children and add some remarkable depth to the regulars. The Mad Woman in the Attic has a clever, characterful framing device that gives the tale a real sense of frisson and we get to explore Rani’s feelings about a whole manner of things and come out knowing the character so much better. It is beautifully directed by Alice Troughton who once again proves that a lack of money doesn’t mean a lack of skill and there are plenty of creative touches and visual splendour. The episode ends with a warm burst of pleasing sentiment that really appealed to me - there are no villains in this story, just a misunderstanding and as an example of why this cast works so well together it is another great illustration. Impressive: 9/10

Saturday, 16 May 2015

Dead Man Walking written by Matt Jones and directed by Andy Goddard

What’s it about: Owen wakes up from the dead…

Hunky Hero: John Barrowman hasn’t quite mastered the gift of understatement and leaps onto the scene of Owen’s autopsy (which oddly the rest of gang have gathered around to watch) screaming ‘Stop! Nobody touches him until I get back!’ Calm down dear. I get that Jack wants to be able to say goodbye to Owen but seeking out the glove once again proves how dangerous these people are messing around with the natural order. When it turns out he brought him back for the code to the alien morgue it makes him seem more heartless than ever. Jack dated Proust for a while and he found him really immature.

Dark Doctor: Imagine being woken up from the dead and being told you have two minutes left to live? What on Earth would you fill your last two minutes with? Owen getting up and feeling for his own heartbeat and finding none there must be chilling. Is the a difference between a dead man walking and Death itself? Sleeping, drinking and shagging are his three favourite things and he can’t do any of them anymore and so he would rather sacrifice himself than continue dying like this. This is pretty surface characterisation in comparison to what comes in the next episode and proves that Owen was as shallow and as crass as we all imagined. What a shame to revert to this after all the efforts to make him a more rounded character this season elsewhere. 

Jack’s Crew: Tosh takes the opportunity to tell Owen that she loves him and she always has which makes his continued consciousness…awkward. Clearly Tosh does love Owen but he makes it easy for her by telling her that she didn’t actually mean what she said and she was just trying to cope with her grief. Martha is desperate to know what is beyond death and as a woman of medicine I can understand the need to understand it. She demands to know why Jack had the power to bring back the dead and didn’t share it with UNIT.

Sparkling Dialogue: Is it still necrophilia if I’m conscious?’ – the usual Torchwood sleaze talk given a dark imaginative yank.
‘My hunger will know no bounds but I keep getting redirected to Weight Watchers!’

The Good: Either they junked a real church or they built a massive façade of one in the studio but either way that is an extremely impressive set for only a few minutes of footage. Love Jack tippy toeing through the Weevils that are using the church as a squat. I’m glad that the writer mentions the events of They Keep Killing Suzie because they are remarkably similar. Something in the darkness beyond death waiting for you…that is a terrifying idea. I love the idea of Owen and Jack being jealous of each other because one might have seconds to live and the other has forever. The Weevil make up continues to impress and their supplication before Owen is effective. Something from the other side of death using Owen as a gateway to Earth, another scary concept. Owen puking out the black gas is a pretty stomach churning effect, if lacking in subtlety. Oddly the most affecting scene comes when Tosh lives up to her clichéd nature and screams at Owen as he closes a door between them and he heads off to give Death a bop on the nose.

The Bad: Just when the episode is playing it subtly for a change with the chilling sequence of Owen trapped in the dark void it drops a clanger when he returns to the Hub with the campest black contacts I have ever seen – they’re huge. The direction of the scenes when Owen is wobbling all over Cardiff nightlife is distractingly embarrassing. This episode is trying to too hard. We could really have done without the scene where Owen fails to get a stiffy because he no longer has blood running through his veins but in typical Torchwood style in it goes. Jack and Owen fighting and screaming in the nightclub is symptomatic of this episodes penchant for overdone melodrama. Puking up his beer upside down and farting in the cell – I was starting to lose the will to live at this point. ‘I’m going to miss farting! And sex!’ ‘Sex more than farting I hope’ – typically bull in a china shop dialogue from this show. Fortunately when Owen turned evil for a few seconds he looked straight at the CCTV cameras. Did they not think that killing off Owen twice earlier in the season might blunt his actual death in the finale? The Resurrection glove on the rampage is more funny than it is scary but everybody plays the scene with deadly earnestness which makes it even more funny. There are two more examples of ‘we’re Torchwood so do as we say’ in this episode which makes you want them to fail…frankly the destruction of the Hub and their massive egos in Children of Earth cannot come soon enough. Given their track record and general idiocy, I cannot imagine where this sense of egotism has come from. Bloody skeletons in the hospital beds – this episode has really missed the subtlety bus. Spare me the scenes of the young leukaemia patient alone in the hospital being pursued by Death and who reminds Owen that life is worth living. Has Matthew Jones been taking lessons in character subtlety from Paul Cornell? Rather awkwardly the living embodiment of Death seems to be a CGI skeleton that really needs to give up smoking. Owen waltzing with Death (I’m not exaggerating, it actually looks as though they are dancing together!) is really, really funny and I truly don’t think that that was the reaction they were aiming for. Martha gets a magical reset, Star Trek Voyager style, by the end of the episode so her ageing lasts one scene and makes me wonder what the whole point of it was. 

Result: The weaker of the two episodes dealing with Owen’s sudden death, Dead Man Walking is a silly and unsubtle piece for the most part with the odd moment of potency. Basically Owen discovers that he can no longer have sex and so decides to see his death through before having a fight with a manifestation of Death itself, neither of which convinces in the slightest. Jack screams and shouts, Gwen can’t stop crying and Tosh hangs onto her one character thread offering moon eyes at Owen from a distance. Oh and Martha’s there but completely wasted in her second appearance. After running on the spot for half an hour the episode tries to throw in a couple of surprises in the last handful of scenes and wastes the idea of Martha ageing and death stalking a hospital because there isn’t the time to explore them. The episode tries all manner of creepy tricks to suggest the wrongness of Owen’s return but the result is an unrestrained and embarrassing affair. To see how this sort of thing should be done with sensitivity, imagination and real character insight stick around for Joe Lidster’s A Day in the Death:3/10

Friday, 15 May 2015

Prisoner of the Judoon written by Phil Ford and directed by Joss Agnew

This story in a nutshell: A Judoon and a body stealing prisoner spells double trouble for Sarah Jane who isn’t quite looking herself…

Until Next Time…Miss Smith: The Earth melting into Sarah Jane’s eyes is a lovely visual representation of the world she has sworn to protect. This ones’ literally got stars in her eyes. Sarah is still in the market for a good scoop and asks the tough questions even if it means she is ejected from the premises with a punt up the posterior (besides she has the perfect revenge plan – inflicting Gita on them!). She doesn’t want UNIT finding out about Mr Smith and so tried to have as little contact with them as possible. Sarah tosses aside a gun as though it is the most offensive thing she has ever held. When the Tybo tries to swat aside their interference in his hunt Sarah is strong enough to stand up to this lumbering space rhino and tell him that he has to answer to her! Elisabeth Sladen is having great fun playing Androvax and your enjoyment of this story might come down to how well you can take to her eye rolling villainy. On the plus side she adopts a much more sinister body language and has the terrific moment where she slides into the attic and purrs ‘Mr Smith…I need you’ which is one of the most chilling moments in the entire series. On the downside she later adopts a comical voice (it sounds as though she is being sick with every line she utters) which almost threatens to dispel the illusion. I can see entirely why the writers would go for this approach because to see Sarah Jane, their authority figure in this series, behaving so inappropriately must have been pretty scary. But I would say that Sladen did a better job of it with her childlike menace in The Hand of Fear overall. However they do learn some lessons from this story and the possession performances in Androvax’s second story are much more subtle and menacing. Sarah tries to fight her way out of him by afflicting him with her conscience. Sladen’s ‘don’t you want to give me a hug?’ as Androvax is delightful, poking fun at the occasional lovey doviness of the series. Destruction is part of the universe but Sarah has been taught by the best and understands that when it comes that just means the beginning of something else new and exciting.

Sarah’s Gang: This is definitely the point where Tommy Knight went from being cute little alien Luke Smith to being ‘I don’t want to look like a dweeb in front of my mates’ Luke Smith. He’s been alive for over two years now so its nice that he’s finally talking the talk and dressing a bit smarter. Clearly Clyde is rubbing off on him1 Luke, Clyde and Rani trying to wrestle Tybo into the shadows to prevent Gita and Haresh from seeing the Judoon is some of the best physical comedy you will see on this show. Knight, Anthony and Mohindra are like a well oiled machine by now. Clyde admits that he usually gets by on good looks and one liners and who am I to argue with him? Why is it when a brain child like Wesley Crusher in Star Trek TNG saves the day it is nauseating but when Luke shows off his talents it feels like the most natural thing in the world? He gets to flaunt some nifty technical knowledge here and save the world (again). He’s done it so often now he shrugs his shoulders at the praise.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘UNIT carry guns and so do the Judoon. If you ask me that spells trouble…’
‘You know a planet could start to get a complex!’
‘Who d’you think you are, Jack Bauer?

The Good:
  • One thing this show always did so well was to suggest the excitement and the beauty of venturing out into space without ever actually getting to do it very often! This show opens out on a stunning, kaleidoscopic journey through the solar system with a beautiful Elisabeth Sladen voiceover. I love the zooming in shot of the nanobots too, homing in on one of the little metallic beasts that slices its antennae to the camera. For a show that was starved of money they sure made what little they had count.
  • There’s a very funny moment when the show almost seems to be parodying itself when Sarah Jane suggests if you can keep your eyes and minds open you will see extraordinary things everywhere…and looks up to see a bloody great flaming escape pod tearing across the skies of London! Trust me it isn’t just going to take somebody with an open mind to see that!
  • ‘From what I’ve heard their methods aren’t exactly softly softly…’ How wonderful that this show can continue to explore races that have appeared in Doctor Who with a little more depth. They did it before with the Sontarans and the Judoon get a similarly good showing. The Commander is introduced in spectacular style firing his gun with casual abandon as he tries to take down his escaping prisoner. What’s brilliant about Tybo is how much humour they manage to derive from his character without every undermining him or diminishing his presence. I love his mad strop in the hall tossing the props about and how he tackles the lout in the car who is making a racket with his noisy music (basically pointing a gun in his face). This scene is remarkably similar to the one in Torchwood with the blowfish at the beginning of season two except it is much, much funnier and more charming. Its great fun watching the gang trying to cope with this lumbering oaf and Rani’s reaction when the police car pulls up is a scream. Tybo tears the handbrake out of the police car (and the very image of him driving is worth watching this story for) but at the same time insists they stick to the speed limit! He is a police officer after all! When rushing to the rescue of Sarah Jane Tybo holds up the kids by forcing them to Pay and Display! After the kids lock him up in the second episode he is ready to gun them all down in return once he breaks free.
  • The Judoon prosthetics are free (borrowed directly from Smith and Jones/The Stolen Earth) and as detailed as ever (I love the scene where he bleeds, nice to see a little blood on this show) and before anybody complains that this is a cheap tactic they should take a look at the detailed make up of Androvax who is a wholly original piece of work. The Vale are an intriguing species with a backstory that is gagging to be explored further (see seasons fours The Vault of Secrets) and thanks to some subtle music and Mark Goldthorp’s unnerving performance the prisoner of the title is a genuinely menacing presence. Androvax travelled the stars and when he returned to his home planet he found it a ball of ice and his people frozen at its heart. He’s been alone for so long and seen so many worlds teeming with life and considers it his life’s work teach them what the universe will do to them.
  • Its deeply obvious that the little girl is Androvax in disguise and I was screaming at the TV for Sarah Jane to realise so it’s a good thing that they don’t try and keep this subterfuge going longer than a minute. The moment when he bursts free of her made me recoil its done so suddenly.
  • On a purely ‘Oh my God how cool!’ level the imagery of the nanobots flooding away like an stream of black water and assembling a space craft on the roof of the NanoTech building definitely gets my vote!
  • As much as this is pure escapism the events of Prisoner of the Judoon do have consequences. Androvax would be back in next seasons Secrets of the Vaults and would undergo a radical character change as we learn that he isn’t quite as villainous as he appears. Gita would also be seeking advice on her encounter with aliens from this story in its sequel. Plus Rani and Clyde’s grounding by the Judoon is referenced in The Wedding of Sarah Jane Smith and is the reason why they aren’t beamed away with the rest of the Earth’s population in The Empty Planet.

The Bad: Thank goodness the estate that the escape pod crashed into is one that has been on the council renewal list for years! Had this been Torchwood it would have been a fully populated and full of dead bodies but since this is SJA it is completely empty! It would have been better had they just said it hit a warehouse or something that is always deserted. The direction of some of the early scenes is a little pedestrian, it literally feels as though some fans went out to some back streets with a camera to shoot some Sarah Jane action. I get that Gita’s plan is to interest corporate business in buying more attractive foliage for their offices but is turning up and dumping a whole van load of plants on their doorstep really the most subtle way (guerrilla planting?) to go about it? At least with Haresh there to point out how crazy she is! The Mr Smith is a bomb cliffhanger is simply a moment of jeopardy to get us the first episode to the second rather than a necessary part of the plot. The security guard that locks up Gita and Haresh is definitely from the CBBC school of acting. Sometimes their scenes are very funny (Gita meeting the Judoon) but more often they miss the mark and by the end it just feels like they are disconnected from the action and just hanging around corridors waiting for the world to end. More thought to go into their inclusion next time please.

Result: Prisoner of the Judoon is not one of the best Sarah Jane Adventures but its still an engaging action adventure tale with plenty to recommend about it. Bringing the Judoon into Sarah Jane’s world is as obvious as the Sontarans and it works just as well and we are treated to some charming and very funny comedy moments with the lumbering Tybo. I wouldn’t have complained had they decided to keep the character on somehow because he was an absolute blast. The criminal Androvax is a sinister presence (with terrific prosthetics) and clearly has more of a story to tell beyond this adventure. And the very idea of building a spaceship out of nanobots is really exciting and makes for a visually impressive concluding part. It surprises me where the show falls down because these are not areas that I am used to SJA faltering; the direction is a little lacklustre in places (Agnew is usually more than reliable), the nonsensical Gita/Haresh subplot eats up too much time (mind the look on Gita’s face when she first spots the Judoon made me howl) and Elisabeth Sladen occasionally enjoys her turn as Androvax a little too much. Solid action adventure enlivened considerably by the Judoon: 6/10

Wednesday, 13 May 2015

Reset written by J.C. Wilsher and directed by Ashley Way

This story in a nutshell: Martha joins Torchwood!

Hunky Harkness: What has happened to Jack? Martha coming to Torchwood has an astonishing effect on the usually surly, violent and unpredictable head of the organisation – suddenly he is bursting with charm, cracking jokes and very personable. I like him much more this way. He is still struggling to conquer his shyness, it’s the jaw line; once seen, never forgotten. There’s a scene in this episode where Jack tells Professor Copley that Torchwood usually goes where it likes – typical Torchwood bullying tactics and Jack basically gets told to go and jump with the backing of Whitehall! Jack says he has had a bad experience with a politician of late and he doesn’t really listen to the law anymore but that doesn’t stop him retreating with his tail tucked between his legs.It's refreshing to see him this sheepish. He would rely on Martha if the world was ending and in fact he has. I did smirk when Jack suggested he was once intimate with Chris Isherwood especially given Matt Smith surprised all by embracing the role in every way a few years ago. It's great to see Jack with a conscience, considering the treatment the aliens are getting at the Pharm, which is tantamount to slavery. Although it does make him something of a hypocrite because those were exactly the sort of tactics he was using in the first series. 

Marvellous Martha: Freema Agyeman, never the worlds most accomlished actress but a performer with a great deal of charm and enthusiasm which counts for an awful lot in this business. I would certainly take her bouncy puppy act over Amy's stroppy mare. She really scores on making the leap to Torchwood by showing just how much Martha has grown up since leaving the Doctor. She’s now the chief medical officer for UNIT, a role that she walked into thanks to a recommendation for the role by an impeccable source. She is now a full-blown Doctor; specialised, professional and detached. Once the introductory scenes are out of the way you would think that Martha had been a part of the Torchwood team since the beginning she fits in so effortlessly. And that is a testament to how much more likeable the cast is this year too. Martha sometimes misses the Doctor but then she comes to her senses and remembers that she made the choice to leave him. She puts herself forward as a test subject for the Pharm reminding Jack that she has been in far worse places. As a human being who has travelled in time and space she now has a unique immune system and manages to stay alive longer than any of the other test subjects incubating the insect larvae.

Jack’s Gang: Gwen and Martha must be the only two ladies in the world who haven’t ridden the Harkness bike! It’s wonderful to watch Owen and Martha working together, they dance around the laboratory doing all the sciencey bits smiling and grooving to some great music (Owen cracking a smile and enjoying his work is something of a minor miracle so we'll have to put that down to the Martha effect). Owen is a huge fan of Professor Copley and his research helped him to pass his exams so it is ironic that he had should be the one to pull the trigger and end his life. Jack and Ianto dabble as the latter discreetly puts it (goodness knows why they are so discreet talking about it, we see them happily banging each other in the office in a few episodes time) and Mr Harkness is innovative and borders on the avant-garde in the bedroom department (hardly a surprise given the practice). Tosh is quietly jealous of how well Martha and Owen are getting on and shyly asks him out on a date to which he surprises us all by saying yes. Isn’t it astonishing how much more enjoyable these guys are to be around in their second year? Everybody seems to be showing the right amount of concern for one another and there seems to be some real effort going into their development. Bravo. 

The Good Stuff: Bringing Martha to Torchwood is a fantastic idea. You might think that playing this card so soon and anchoring this show to Doctor Who in such a bold way might be harmful to this shows unique identity but it had the reverse effect for me. Finally I had a reason to get involved. UNIT are described as the acceptable face of intelligence gathering on aliens. Owen scaring the shit out of Ianto with his surgical scalpel is really funny (Gareth David-Lloyd’s reaction is priceless). That is exactly the sort of character comedy that the first season was screaming out for. Reset cures diabetes and AIDS, an alien larvae incubating inside human bodies and creating the ultimate magic bullet and restoring the body to its factory settings. The bugs spewing from Marie’s corpse is a wonderful shock moment – who saw that coming? Alan Dale brings some gruffness and seriousness to what could have been quite a forgettable role as Copley. And frankly the man has turned up in every single cult TV show going and it would have been very remiss had the Doctor Who franchise (taking in SJA and Torchwood) had been forgotten). I really want some of those camera contact lenses with the texting capability. How awesome are they? Having the team typing to Martha as she is infiltrating is a great way to create tension. There are some very inventive camera shots in this episode - watch as we dash along the corridor towards Martha as the guards approach. The giant bug shows how sophisticated the CGI in this show can be when they give it the appropriate amount of time (I seem to remember this being held back slightly to make it as good as possible whereas series one was rushed out and we had effects as lame as the troll fairies in Small Worlds). Maybe the police should all use Weevils as an intimidation method during interrogations? I screamed out loud at the exploding gut. You see, gross scenes can be effective on this show! The final set piece has been set up very well, showing the dangers in the previous gut exploding scene (plus Owen’s inability to work the surgical scalpel) which leaves Owen desperately trying to get it right as Martha’s stomach bulges disturbingly a very tense climax. For once I was literally on the edge of my seat. You really feel for the captured Mayfly, forgetting that it is a special effect as Gwen presses her hand against the glass in sympathy for its torture. So often people are shot at in these programmes and we see negligible effects in the next scene so trust Torchwood to do it for real and really kill off Owen. They manage to have their cake and eat it – keeping him dead and letting him play a major role in the rest of the season. I was hungry to watch the next episode after the final shocking twist.

Result: Reset is a packed episode that handles all of its elements with poise and a whole lot of style. Martha slips effortlessly into the Torchwood team and they are all working together extremely well here – it’s a brand new style of amiability and co-operation amongst the regulars that is extremely welcome. Then you’ve got intriguing medical breakthroughs, industrial espionage, awesome giant bugs and even a gross out exploding stomach! Ashley Way’s handling of the episode is spectacular, it's one priceless moment after another and the pace is extraordinary. My one complaint is that the story could have done with 15 minutes more to explore its ideas more but that is not a luxury afforded to Torchwood so we get a rushed ending that still hits all the right notes. A stylish thriller a perfect demonstration of the shows growing confidence, this was exactly the sort of episode they were fudging in the first series: 9/10


Thank you so much to all the blog readers who supported my charity Skydive - it was today and it was the most incredible experience! I want to go again! The weather was amazing and I literally had the ground beneath my feet as I fell. Incredible. Thank you again, the money is going to such a good cause. If anybody would still like to donate, the link is below and will be active for another week.

Sunday, 10 May 2015

Enemy of the Bane written by Phil Ford and directed by Graeme Harper

This story in a nutshell: A return to UNIT for Sarah Jane as two enemies return to bring her down…

Until We Meet Again…Miss Smith: Sarah is wonderfully stroppy about taking Rani into Mrs Wormwood’s company because she knows how dangerous she is. Whilst Mrs Wormwood considers Luke a failed experiment Sarah stands proud as his mother and is willing to protect him with her life. She’s not past her sell by date yet. UNIT have their uses but in Sarah’s experience guns never solved a situation they didn’t first make worse. Sarah laughs that her UNIT files have a higher security rating than she ever did! She is scared of UNIT taking an interest in Luke because they will consider him an alien threat but she is happy to share the knowledge with her good friend the Brigadier. Mrs Wormwoods suggests that Sarah should be indebted to her for enriching her sad, purposeless life with Luke. The one thing Sarah never expected to see was the universe being saved by a Sontaran.

Chap With Wings: Had the Brigadier not appeared in Doctor Who or its various spin off shows it would have been a terrible oversight and some small part of me is so glad it was this show that earned his appearance. Clearly an old man now, Nicholas Courtney has lost none of his gentlemanly manners and military charm. The hug between him and Sarah is one of the most eye watering moments of television for me given recent tragedies and it is so affirming to see them together one last time. The Brigadier might be enjoying his retirement with Doris but he remains UNITs special envoy which allows them to dust him down every once and a while and send him off on errands. In his day UNIT maintained the benefit of common sense not like this new PC bunch! Now that the cats out of the bag about aliens Sir Alistair wants to write his memoirs about the old days. In a final punch the air moment that makes you want to reach into the screen and kiss him the Brigadier reveals that his walking cane that he has kept so close throughout this story is a loaded gun and he blows the Bane away!

Sarah’s Gang: Luke has so many questions to ask Mrs Wormwood about his ‘birth.’ He was born running but Sarah Jane gave him and name and made him a person. He enjoys his life even if he finds the world a complicated place to live in. Luke gets to tell his creator that she had no part in his upbringing.

Wily Wormwood & Killer Kaarg: I remember when I first watched this is was one whoop for joy after another as each recurring character was introduced. I had been campaigning for the return of Mrs Wormwood ever since her departure because Samantha Bond gave such a deliciously arch performance that was right down my alley. She has this ability to make the material seem serious no matter how ridiculous it is and yet still capitalise on every gag. This isn’t just a return appearance for the sake of it but a well thought through continuation of her character after her failiure to invade the Earth at the end of Invasion of the Bane. She’s disgraced and seeking help to defeat them on Earth with the very people she tried to kill. While you never trust her for a moment Mrs Wormwood makes a very good case for herself. She finds Sarah’s attic comfortingly unsophisticated until she is placed in a containment force field. There is a gorgeous shot of Mrs Wormwood and Kaarg peering around the corner of Sarah Jane’s house that always makes me chuckle. Kaarg could never return to Sontar after being beaten by a female and was reduced to working as a mercenary for the Bane when he recognised Mrs Wormwood as somebody with a high price on her head. She encouraged him to see things differently and they joined forces. Mrs Wormwood offers Luke the chance to be her son and she will give him an entire galaxy – its so nice that she is much more than just a ranting villainess but she has real feelings too. When Luke runs back into Sarah Jane’s arms Mrs Wormwood can barely hold back the tears.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘I do so loathe amateurs!’
‘3000 years ago there was nowhere as primitive as Earth. Little has changed.’
‘In my day we took on Daleks, Cybermen, Autons, Zygons and all manner of space thuggery and it doesn’t get more hostile than that.’ 
‘Saving human beings has become a bit of a habit for me Miss Smith. I do hope I can recover the Scroll before I am scarred for life’ – Mrs Wormwood gets all the best lines!
‘The battle of the costume jewellery counter. How very female.’

The Good: Always great to see Gita getting in on the action and her abduction is treated very seriously. SJA never fails to surprise me with its sophisticated storytelling and the check being deciphered into a calling card is a lovely touch. The Bane were such a great looking monster because they were icky enough for the kids and dynamic enough for the adults and their rampage through Sarah Jane’s house was a destructively memorable set piece. Here they seem nastier than ever especially when they drag Sarah along the floor back into the warehouse to devour her alive. Can you imagine anything more awesome than a building called The Black Archive which just happens to be a UNIT vault of everything that shouldn’t be on Earth but is? Sod the kids – that gets me really excited! Not content with bringing the Brigadier back which is exciting enough he gets to be involved in some awesome industrial espionage, sneaking Sarah Jane and Rani inside the Black Archive and then later driving them away in a hail of bullets. There is a dazzling view inside the Archive that suggests it is a place you would love to have a good poke around in! If this was a Doctor Who episode people would be declaring it the best thing ever…UNIT soldiers surrounding the Brig and Sarah guns cocked and Bane squids attacking the house! The final nourishing twist to a great episode sees Kaarg return in a puff of smoke (or rather in the wake of an exploding Bane). This story couldn’t encapsulate more Pertwee elements if it tried! Horath winds up being a computer that can control the physical laws of the universe - that can destroy worlds and give birth to them in the blink of an eye. There is a gorgeously scored action sequence in episode two that sees Luke diving out of exploding oil barrels as Kaarg shoots at him. Sunny green location work gives the final breath of this adventure a stylish look. Brilliantly we don’t know where either villain winds up so they are ripe for a return visit.

Result: One last adventure with Sarah and the Brig, what a wonderful gift. The first episode is one of the best SJAs ever with one exciting surprise after another. Mrs Wormwood! The Bane! The Brigadier! The Black Archive! A Sontaran! Rather than the heroes and villains reunion that I suggest these revelations are perfectly paced to keep the piece exhilarating and tightly paced. The second episode is not quite as strong because all the plot elements have been introduced so there is some running on the spot but it is still packed full of great moments. The Brigadier gets to save humanity once again, Luke comes into his own, Kaarg achieves redemption and Sarah Jane rids herself of two enemies in one go! All in a days work. The fact that there is so much packed into this adventure and it isn’t even this show at its peak might give you and idea of the high quality it maintains: 8/10

Adam written by Catherine Treganna and directed by Andy Goddard

This story in a nutshell: Just who is this new member of the Torchwood team who seems to have been around forever?

Hunky Hero: After two episodes where Jack is more or less underwritten, John Barrowman struggles with the melodrama inherent in this episode. He doesn't look convincing rushing to Gwen's house to save her or leaping from the sewers after suffering a claustrophobic attack. Barrowman is such a large personality anyway that it is only when he is written delicately that his characters truly shines. Moments of frenzy see the actor going madly over the top and provokes laughter. Jack buried the memories of his brother being killed over 150 years ago. It's nice to probe a little deeper into this characters past. Never before have we had the opportunity to look further back than the point where the Time Agency stole a year of his life. His 'history' usually consists of his slow stroll through the 20th Century. In the 51st Century, the Boeshane Peninsula lived under the threat of invasion. We never learn what the screaming creatures are but they sound absolutely terrifying.

Welsh Babe: There is a clever use of before (Gwen and Rhys playing about on the bed) and after (Gwen thinking that Rhys is a stalker and coming at him with a knife and a gun) to highlight how dramatic the alterations in memory are. Rhys wondering whether Jack is trying to phase him out of Gwen's life is a fair comment, especially after he almost suffered a memory wipe in the previous episode. It does descend into a little too much hysteria for my tastes though. Rhys fears that if Gwen forgets him now what with everything else that is going on in her life that she wouldn't look twice at him. This is a chance for Gwen re-discover their relationship and it would be a great time to put to rest those wandering eyes of hers.

Dangerous Doctor: I love this geeked up version of Owen. It might be favourite interpretation of the character in his two years on the show (tying with his walking dead persona from A Day in the Death). Burn Gorman gets to play some sweet comedy for a change and drop all the attitude and it is remarkable how likeable Owen is under these conditions. The specs are the perfect shorthand for the changes in his personality. The old Owen wouldn't think twice about shagging his colleagues in the autopsy bay but the new one can barely contemplate the idea of having a beer whilst on duty. Bless him.

Brainiac: 'Just what I need, a small rodent looking at me while I work...' Within his fiction, Adam and Tosh have been enjoying a work romance on and off, sharing the odd kiss when nobody is looking. She's dressing up for him and is more confident for his presence. In this jiggled up format Toshiko is the insensitive one, not aware of Owen's feelings for her. That's a smart role reversal.

The Butler: 'My hands on her throat...and it felt so good.' Giving Ianto memories of murdering a woman is a vicious reaction on Adam's part to being exposed. It gives Gareth David-Lloyd the chance to play something really meaty that isn't associated with an ex-girlfriend turned Cyberwoman. This new nightmarish version of Ianto stalks women at night down rainy alleys and slaughters them. It doesn't measure up with Ianto's sense of self and the resulting confusion causes his brain to meltdown in the most disturbing of ways. Ianto screaming in the rain-soaked alley is one of the most disturbing things I have seen in the show to date, going for the psychological jugular.

The Good: Dropping Adam into the team almost invisibly is hard act to pull off but Catherine Treganna manages to pull it off by having the rest of Torchwood simply behave as though he has always been there. Including clips of him in the credits is inspired. For somebody switching onto this show for the first time they would be completely fooled into thinking this is the status least until the episode starts pointing out otherwise. Frankly Adam fits in better with the gang at the beginning of this episode than half of the actual team did for the majority of the first year. Quick edits show how Adama infiltrates peoples memories when they don't recognise him, slipping himself into their timelines as though he has always been there. Bryan Dick approaches the part of Adam quite cunningly, almost inconspicuous in his portrayal until the script chooses to point him out. If the character had been written and played as the most vital, wonderful member of the team his infiltration might have been too extreme but instead he exists as an amiable, functioning member of Torchwood. Not drawing too much attention to himself. I'm not sure if Dick is the strongest actor the show has ever featured (when he has to play an out and out baddie he doesn't convince) but he does very well within this insidious but cautious role. Kudos to the effects team for the memorable image of the Boeshane Peninsula, a cuboid habitation just off the coast. If you can't trust your memory then Treganna needs proof of Adam's penetration into Torchwood and Ianto's diary is a smart way of pointing out his recent arrival. He's a vampire, feeding himself on peoples memories to make space for himself. As long as people believe that he exists, it is so. The group therapy session should be the height of embarrassment but Treganna uses it as an opportunity to drop in lots of nuggets of information about the regulars (Owen's mum loved him but didn't like him, Tosh finds maths so reliable when so little in the world is, Ianto remembers falling in love and losing Lisa, Gwen admitting her feelings for Jack) and the director shoots it in a genuinely hypnotic manner. It is a chance for them to get close to each other just as we get close to them. For once there is plenty of physical closeness on this show but it is all affection.  I've never been entirely convinced by the ret-con as a plot device but Treganna has finally found a decent use for it, using it delete the last 48 hours and wiping Adam from their minds. I love Adam's last ditch attempt to plant himself in Jack's childhood. It was always going to happen but Jack can't resist one last peek at his family regardless. Who could blame him? Having all the characters aware of the loss of the last 48 hours at the end of the episode but not being able to figure out why is a great reversal of the Red Dwarf episode Thanks for the Memory that plays the same trick in reverse. This time the memory loss is part of the solution, in Red Dwarf it was the mystery that kick started the episode.

The Bad: Everybody is waving guns around and screaming in the Hub again. Hysterical lot. Tosh's meltdown isn't remotely convincing, I don't think Naoko Mori is up to the task.

Foreshadowing: Jack has a flash of an image of Grey, his brother, which could be excused as being part and parcel of the Adam experience but is actually an important moment in his past that is about to effect his near future. At first I wondered if it was supposed to be a younger Adam incorporated into his timeline. Inserting in these images of Gray in an episode where everybody's memories are altered is a great way of slipping them in under the radar.

Result: Clever, imaginative and probing, if a little too hysterical for my tastes at times. What I really like about Adam is how it manages to tell a smart standalone story whilst also being a fine ensemble piece, giving all of the regulars a reasonable share of the action and a journey of their own to go on. It is a great chance to mix things up and show different shades of the same characters. Ianto is psychologically unstable rather than the stalwart butler of old, Owen has embraced his inner geek and is far more personable as a result and Toshiko has had some confidence injected into her thanks to a long term relationship with Adam. In all of these cases the characters are more exaggerated and yet intriguingly more enjoyable as a result (although it is surprisingly how unlikable Tosh is with a little assurance). By giving the characters a fiction to live and allowing them to re-discover themselves it gives us a chance to get to know them all a little better and for them to get closer to each other too. The memory vampire is an inspired notion and one that is done full justice in Adam. The titular character is fascinating and it might have been interesting to have seen his inclusion in several episodes before highlighting and dealing with his infiltration. I thought Burn Gorman, Eve Myles and Gareth David-Lloyd really brought their A-game this week but the work of John Barrowman, Naoko Mori and Bryan Dick was mixed, stumbling when the script pushed too hard. A strong story that is confidently brought to life by Andy Goddard, Adam only suffers when it strays into the Torchwood extremes of feverishness. It is those moments that keep it from being a classic but it is courageous and ingenious storytelling regardless. None of the last three episodes has been perfect but it has been a string of very good instalments nonetheless, marking a level of consistent storytelling the show hasn't yet experienced: 8/10