Monday, 25 January 2016

The Curse of Clyde Langer written by Phil Ford and directed by Ashley Way


This story in a nutshell: Clyde is homeless and friendless and this is the story of how it happened

Until Next Time…Miss Smith: I cannot tell you happy I am to see Elisabeth Sladen looking so vibrant and gorgeous in her last season – she’s dressing snazzily and she barely looks a day older than when she left the Doctor 30 odd years ago. Looking great and delivering the sort of consistently engaging performance that has won her a whole new audience. Her journalistic tendencies have her exaggerate stories and tells Mr Smith of the raining trout being that big when in fact they were only that big. Sarah mentions that it wouldn’t be the first time that aliens have masqueraded as Gods which is a lovely mention of Pyramids of Mars. I love the fact that, curse aside, Sarah Jane really encourages Clyde to explore his artistic side and sees real talent in him. It is so easy to be hard on kids these days but to work with them and see potential, Sarah is a terrific role model to most people over fifty that I know. Lis Sladen plays that first scene where Sarah turns on Clyde to the hilt, her mood turning on a sixpence and laying into him with viciously and he reacts as if she has physically struck him. I had a sudden twinge of how my dad used to take the piss out my arty side when I was younger, especially how Sarah flings his ‘stupid comic’ across the room calling it rubbish that made the scene especially uncomfortable. Sarah always was far more of role model to me than my pops ever was so to see her behaving this way was a real shocker. After completely ignoring it in the last season I really enjoyed the focus on Sarah being a journalist again this year, it feels like the character is coming full circle since this was how we were introduced to her in The Time Warrior.

Graphic Artist: It did strike me when watching the final three SJA adventures that the age that both Clyde and Rani are at now and at this point in their lives when they are mature enough to enjoy themselves they would make perfect Doctor Who companions. I wouldn’t want that to be the case because these two are most definitely property of this show (and the chemistry built up between Lis Sladen, Daniel Anthony and Anjili Mohindra isn’t something that you can just transplant elsewhere, its something special that has been built up over time) but as a wisecracking but thoughtful young man Clyde might have been one of the finest of the Doctor’s protégés. When Clyde leaves school he wants to put his artistic talents to good use and judging by the mock ups he creates of The Silver Bullet it must just be something he excels at. He’s glad that Sky has turned up because finally there is somebody who appreciates his comic genius (certainly Rani isn’t going to encourage him!). If any story is going to teach you to keep your hands to yourself in a museum this is it. Clyde loves art even if it does bite back. What’s interesting to note is that the curse takes some latent feelings about Clyde and enhances them – I’m sure Sarah does have a mild distaste for how Clyde gently mocks Luke all the time, Haresh has always let the lad know what he thinks of him and his mum must wonder what he is up to skulking about with Sarah Jane all the time. Daniel Anthony is too good in these stories that engage your sympathies. It might be because he usually plays the joker in the pack but when he is given material where your heart bleeds for him it usually has double the effect (Mark of the Berserker, The Nightmare Man). Anthony underplays his shock and tries to reason with his friends calmly before running away and it is highly effective. For Clyde whose dad left him suddenly there is nothing more frightening for his newfound family of Sarah Jane, Rani and of course his mum doing the same thing. Seeing Clyde standing in the rain, homeless and crying at having lost everyone he has ever cared about, you must have a heart of steel if this doesn’t move you. He has always thought of himself as a fighter having a wild life but burning his comic feels like he is finally accepting that that life is over.

Journalist in TrainingRani tells the romantic story (or not) of how her mum and dad met in a museum. Sarah didn’t realise that Gita was the museum type and her instinct are spot on – it was raining. Even through the feelings of rage the curse draws out of them both Rani and Sarah both feel a tangible sense of loss. The way it is played, a subtle tear and a quiet admission, is a lovely affirmation of their feelings for Clyde.

Sarah’s Daughter: With only three stories under her belt we never really got to see Sky flourish in the same way we did Luke but in those three stories it was clear that SJA was going to revolutionise the Dawn from Buffy teenage girl stereotype (my word she was irritating and angsty at times!) just as they had the Wesley Crusher-from Star Trek TNG boy genius type with Luke. Like Luke it looks as though Sky is going to be bright and inquisitive and thrive in a school environment but unlike Luke she is much more free with her opinion and sure of herself. I like the fact that Sky thinks of something as terrifying as going to school for the first time as something exciting – seeing the world through her eyes is quite magical. Mr Smith is still nervous around Sky because he is nervous that she will fry his circuits! The way Sky fights so hard to make everybody realise they are behaving irrationally is her best material in the series and Sinead Michael tackles the tricky scenes with some skill.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Haresh there seems to be a trout on your window cill…’
‘Why did you give her money?’ ‘Because she’s a scrounger’ ‘Why did you give her some?’ ‘Because its probably not her fault…’
‘When its raining chocolate let me know!’
‘Look if you’ve had a row with your folks go home. With any luck you’ll be nice and warm in bed tonight. Spare us a thought.’
‘Who ever heard of a homeless person having charisma?’
‘And no one knows because they don’t want to.’

The Good: A London school and a giant book about The French Revolution, like Remembrance of the Daleks this is another quiet kiss to An Unearthly Child. The Sarah Jane Adventures has always had a penchant for memorable imagery but the sight of raining fish flopping and twitching in the school playground has to rank pretty high on the weird scale! I love the fact that although clearly made with quite a scant budget the museum is somewhere fresh and interesting looking and not just set inside the Millennium Centre again. As ever this show knows exactly when it needs its effects and the way Clyde’s name comes alive in burning letters as he sleeps really sells the idea that something dreadful is about to happen to him as a menacing portent. Its another awesome score courtesy of Sam Watts with the curse theme highlighting the sudden burst of aggressive behaviour in Clyde’s friends very effectively, probably a bit too much because I was whistling this for days after the show was aired. There’s a wonderful little moment where Clyde’s friend Stevie takes the piss out of the fact that he can’t find work – this kid was still at school in the shows second season and it proves that the regulars are growing up and not finding life so easy in the real world. The boys pushing Clyde around and destroying his phone is far more effective than a similar scene in Doctor Who’s Survival when Ace is advanced upon by a pack of athletes because these are ordinary kids turned violent and there is something very mundane and primal about that. There’s a great shot of Clyde literally being tossed out onto the streets which is a great visual for what is happening in the story. When Clyde returns home I love the back of the head shot of his mum sitting at the table – I have seen a number of horror shows/films employ that shot to suggest that there is somebody dead sitting at the table and it has pretty much the same effect here since Carla has read Clyde’s name and her own son is dead to her now. The episode has built so brilliantly in tension that the cliffhanger isn’t just another tense scene but a moment of kindness because that is the last thing we expect. The scenes of Clyde living rough under a railway bridge are brilliantly realised and never patronising, these are just ordinary people who have fallen on hard times and living rough. It doesn’t push for the sympathy vote and that it is why it’s a million times more effective than the Hooverville scenes in Daleks in Manhattan. This feels real not some syrupy interpretation of homelessness. ‘The myth says the Medicine Man from the great tribe trapped the God…’ – the Doctor? How many times have I walked past people asking for spare change like Ellie does here? This story holds a mirror up to the audience and they might not always like what they see. Ellie feels that her dreams to get her life back on track and find a nice boy are coming true now she has met Clyde. The episode has worked to such an extent that the moment of greatest tension comes not when Clyde has to face up to the supernatural force inside the totem pole but when he has to turn his back on Ellie to join his friends and save the day. I was watching with Simon and he was screaming at the telly ‘don’t you dare leave her!’ For a moment the apocalypse comes to the attack with windows exploding and that bloody ugly totem pole with its twitching mouths attacking.

The Bad: It’s a shame that there couldn’t be a guest appearance by Luke in this story because that would have been the final nail in the coffin for Clyde to have his best friend turn on him to his face. Sarah and Rani repeatedly Clyde’s name over and over goes from tear jerking optimism to cringeworthy over sentiment on a second by second basis and the music is working far too hard to make you feel at that point. 

Result: Poignant and affecting, it is wonderful to see the Sarah Jane Adventures going out at the top of their game and using science fiction to explore some real issues. Daniel Anthony has really grown into his role of Clyde Langer is this is his best performance in the series, really tugging at the heartstrings as his friends and family force him out of their lives. Matching him beat for beat is Lily Loveless who is wonderful as Ellie and really has an effect on how Clyde views the homeless and the way the story suggests an optimistic end for both of them before wrenching it away is very well done. Unusually for this show there is a lengthly coda showing Clyde desperately searching all the homeless shelters for Ellie and not succeeding, it is a final touch of realism in a show that has offered an honest and unflinching account of being stuck on the streets. And who says that television can’t move you to act? On the strength of this story I contacted the Salvation Army the very next day and have put myself up to volunteer in the dinner service for the homeless twice a week. How lovely that this family show could make me look at my own dismissal of the homeless and reconsider my beliefs: 10/10 

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