Sunday, 20 December 2015
Lost in Time written by Rupert Laight and directed by Joss Agnew
This story in a nutshell: Sarah Jane, Clyde and Rani all travel back to separate time periods…sent by a strange man and his talking parrot!
By this stage of series four we are used to Sarah Jane just hanging with Clyde and Rani now Luke has started university. This trio make a great team and it feels like Sarah Jane is the Doctor role with two great companions more than ever. Sarah doesn’t like being tricked into investigating things and has a lot of questions about this mission but alas she doesn’t get the chance to air them as she is whisked back in time. At least she is a dab hand at this time travel lark! She has learnt the hard way as a journalist that just becauseeverybody says so it doesn’t make it true. Teaming up Sarah Jane with Emily is wonderful because she is almost a proto-Sarah in the making with one or two things to learn about the Supernatural. Its one time when the hugs at the end of a story actually brought tears to my eyes (usually it’s the one point where I want to hide away and cringe) – Sarah telling Emily that her mother would be very proud of her sees the character at her maternal best.
Journalist in Training: Like the TARDIS it would seem that the Captain sends you where you need to be rather than where you want to be and Rani realises instantly with some horror that she has arrived on the ninth day of the Nine Day Queen. She blags that she is a lady’s maid sent from the Taj Mahal and enjoys a warm and yet frank friendship with the young Queen. Married at a young age, frightened for her safety and with politicians vying for her position on the throne to be taken away, Mary needs a friend more than ever. She speaks to Mary as a person rather than a Queen which is refreshing although when she asks Rani if she is married she is told to shut up! There is someone she spends a lot of time with who occupies her thoughts but Rani wouldn’t call him a gentleman though. Rani shows great strength of character by staying strong for Jane and helping her through her last night on Earth and it is a brave and potentially suicidal decision to delay returning back to the present whilst the Queen still needs a friend. Of the three of them Rani made a real difference by offering comfort to a distressed child facing death and I think that is rather wonderful.
Graphic Artist: In what could have been an embarrassing message to the kiddos but turns out to be an impassioned moment of triumph, Clyde spits at the Nazi’s that they underestimate their enemy through blind stupid prejudice. Clyde saying very proudly that he is British and they will crush the prejudice of the Nazi’s is a beautiful message to whoever is watching.
Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Why did it end so quickly?’ ‘Because I guess that’s where it ended for those children…’
‘All I hope is that I will be remembered even though I was Queen just nine days.’
Tell me again I am not forgotten’ ‘I promise you. Not by your people. Not by history and never by me.’
‘I’d love to stay and chat but…well duty calls!’
The Good: The opening shot of pulling away the newspaper clipping to show the identical building from the snapshot is subtle but impressive. An old curiosity shop run by a mysterious tea drinking, fez wearing man and his talking parrot (called Captain) who has the power to send you back in time…there is nothing in that sentence that I don’t love. Its great how the whole business of time travel is skipped over in about ten seconds because we accept that this guy is an alien and he doesn’t give Sarah Jane and option. He just whisks them off and they are forced to complete his mission. Chronosteel is a metal forged in the time vortex with the power to reshape destiny and three points are lodged at different points in the Earth’s history and need to be recovered – it’s a quick, imaginative and fun explanation for the story’s time travelling antics. I love the time window effect, its like shattered pieces of glass converging to make a mirror which consumes our three heroes. Trying to guess where in history they have each ended up as a great guessing for the first five minutes and all three periods have been very well chosen with something educational and affecting about each of them. Shooting through the reeds and across to the open spaces of the beach, the director makes great use of the beach location (I live by the sea and love a beach location). I have to commend the show again on its bravery to include racial references (nowhere else on CBBC will you find such dialogue) and Rani is treated suspiciously as a foreigner and Clyde referred to as a ‘Negro’ by the Nazis. This is vital material, teaching kids that casual racism is unacceptable. With Emily’s mother passing away fuelling her passion for ghosts to be real, Lady Jane’s imminent death as Mary’s army enters London and Clyde a black kid in the hands of the Nazis, each of the narratives keeps you emotionally invested them as well as entertained. Sarah Jane explains about old houses containing echoes of the past trapped with the fabric of the building…but how brilliant is an echo of the future and the devastating deaths of two children stretching back through time and haunting the manor. There are three child performances in this story that deserve a great deal of kudos for their quality – Amber Beattie brings a great deal of authority and calm acceptance to the Nine Day Queen, Gwentyh Keyworth is gorgeously haughty and curious as the proto-Sarah Jane Emily Morris and Richard Wisker is full of cockney charm and energy as the London evacuee George. Its three understated, terrific performances which if they had chosen lesser performers would have sunk the show. As with the early years of Doctor Who it would appear that the historicals in the Sarah Jane Adventures have a very real sense of danger to them too, a far cry from the supernatural horrors they usually face. Clyde is held at gunpoint by Nazis, Sarah Jane investigates the truly grisly haunting of two children that literally play with fire and Lady Jane Grey almost dies by the blade of a knife. The awful look on Lady Jane’s face when she realises even her choice is to die as a martyr to the Protestants or quietly executed by the Catholics is very dramatic. Obviously they did not have the budget to show the Catholic army securing the Tower of London but that actually turns out to be to the benefit of the show because the real drama is taking place in Lady Jane’s bedchamber, trapped, alone and about to face her death. The Chronosteel is worked into the three plots to give them all a satisfying twist in established history – Lady Jane’s death at the hands of a trusted maid stabbed in her bed, a Nazi fleet preparing to invade once British radar has been blocked and a simply key in a door that locks the children in and condemns them to the flames. Wow, I can’t believe they were allowed to get away with showing Ben and Katie playing with matches and then the flames reaching up around them. Connecting Emily’s grief with the grief of the two kids losing their life is a very gratifying way to save them from their fate. In one final clever twist comes when Emily tries to hold on to Sarah Jane as she doesn’t want to lose her like she lost her mother sending her back to the future without the Chronosteel. Cue her granddaughter stepping in a century later to offer the final piece and stopping the world being sucked into the time vortex. There is even a wonderful coda where we get to hear exactly how Emily and George’s lives progressed and if that doesn’t leave a smile on your face, nothing will.
SJA Series Four: I make no secret of the fact that in 2010 I found the Sarah Jane Adventures the superior show to Doctor Who. Matt Smith’s first year was beset with problems from a slack story arc (the five episode run up to the finale was a stutter rather than a sprint), I didn’t get in with Karen Gillan’s Amy at all and there were a number of very weak episodes from The Beast Below to the pretty dismal Silurian two parter. Whereas in comparison (and despite the fact it was half the length) there was such a sense of focus and drive in SJA that year, the productions were extremely impressive for a show with a miniscule budget (in place far more expensive looking that Doctor Who that year) and the quality of the stories was at an all time high with three of the adventures (The Nightmare Man, Death of the Doctor and Lost in Time) being my favourites of the series but there are no bad episodes. It really does feel with Doctor Who out of the way and Children of Earth finished that Russell T Davies has poured all of his energy into making this show smarter, funnier, glossier and better than ever.
The Shallow Bit: Rani in her period dress will make your heart melt – she is simplybeautiful.
Result: The ultimate time travel show with three equally engaging, interesting and vivid time periods brought to life for Sarah Jane, Clyde and Rani to explore. With its myriad of locations it feels like an expensive production and the introduction of the curio man and the Captain sees SJA notch up another great element of its own mythology. I was very impressed by how mature the storytelling was with the dangers in all three time zones being very real, violent threats and the way the narratives weave around each other, feeding momentum and building in excitement and interest is very skilfully handled by Rupert Laight and director Joss Agnew. Elisabeth Sladen, Anjili Mohindra and Daniel Anthony deserve much kudos too for they have gelled into a very charismatic team and they each head off an exciting plotline. Lost in Time is beautifully written and made and is another top of the range story for series four: 10/10