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 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