The (magnificent) regulars:
Invasion of the Bane written by Russell T Davies & Gareth Roberts and directed by Colin Teague
Result: I have absolutely no shame in confessing my shame for the Sarah Jane Adventures. Any show that can capture that feeling I used to have when I was watching Doctor Who as a child but with added contemporary production values and hipness has to be treasured. Recently I have had a histrionic comment left on the blog (every now and again somebody writes something scathingly insulting about the show that to them is obvious because it is their opinion and they put it across in a post that makes them sound pompous because they cannot comprehend why the world doesn't understand the facts they are spreading) that Doctor Who should have childish characterisation because it is a children's show. Wrong. Doctor Who was always a family show, one that was appreciated by adults as much as children and as such it should always (and often was but this particular review was Time and the Rani which proves to be the exception to the rule) aim higher than simply talking down to children with the presentation of its characters. The Sarah Jane Adventures is definitely aimed at a younger audience but Russell T Davies understands that the characterisation has to be more sophisticated to appeal to a wider audience. He ensures that is the case from the outset, with pretty much every character springing from this story (with the exception of Kelsey) in a very mature, likeable fashion. I had been so disappointed with the Doctor Who Christmas special that year and then the New Year came and Davies completely restored my faith in him and then some. Imagine all the gleeful irreverence and imagination of classic who with flashier realisation. That’s what you've got here with the Sarah Jane Adventures. The series is pitched at just the right level to drag in old school Who fans and still rock their kid’s worlds. The cast has been expertly hand picked, Elisabeth Sladen somehow makes Sarah Jane cooler than ever and gets supporting from two very strong teen actors. The Bane invasion is a great deal of fun and the episode feels as though it has a large budget to squeeze in all the great set pieces. I cannot believe how right they got the tone of this series and because of that it continues to be a huge success to this day. It was the antithesis of Torchwood, getting the tone exactly right from the first episode and continuing to succeed right up until its tragic demise. I loved this on it's transmission, friends have told me that their kids aged everything from 8-14 adored it and I recently treated my five year old niece to a sample and whilst she was a little frightened, she was riveted to the spot and demanded I rewind several parts over and over: 10/10
Full Review Here: http://docohobigfinish.blogspot.co.uk/2015/04/invasion-of-bane-written-by-russell-t.html
Revenge of the Slitheen written by Gareth Roberts and directed by Alice Troughton
Result: Just because it has Slitheen in it that doesn't automatically make it bad. This series has pretty much got everything as right as Torchwood got it wrong in their respective first series', the tone is fun and thoughtful, the cast is superb, the production values are serviceable, the pace is dynamic and the biggest strength is the running time - an hour is just long enough to tell a good story full of incident and with the extra fifteen minutes adds some depth and character that would push many a SJA story ahead of Doctor Who. Even if it isn't a great example in this story it is great to have the opportunity to enjoy a cliffhanger in every story too. Revenge of the Slitheen is mostly great although the actors playing the Slitheen are so far over the top they are somewhere on Mars. Clyde is introduced to the series and you would think he had always been there and the cast continue to gel superbly and whilst the plot is disposable you can see precisely how this series is going to put things on a worldwide scale on a budget. Great dialogue and a real sense of fun, this show is infectious to watch whether you are 13 or 30: 7/10
Full Review Here: http://docohobigfinish.blogspot.co.uk/2015/04/revenge-of-slitheen-written-by-gareth.html
Eye of the Gorgon written by Phil Ford and directed by Alice Troughton
Full Review Here: http://docohobigfinish.blogspot.com/2015/04/eye-of-gorgon-written-by-phil-ford-and.html
Warriors of Kudlak written by Phil Ford and directed by Charles Martin
Result: This show is just so much fun – Warriors of Kudlak is extremely engaging throughout and ripped the child in me out until I was beaming with delight by the end. Whoever thought up the idea of training kids for combat in a laser quest environment is a genius, it’s a concept that works for both kids (its exciting as hell) and adults (it is frightening to think of kids being exploited and kidnapped like this). Its magnificent to see the show in space and both Sarah Jane and the kids’ reactions to seeing the Earth from orbit is surprisingly emotive. Visually the story extremely impressive, considering it is made on the budget there is a wealth of locations, some vibrant action, a great new alien and the lighting and music both work extremely well. Brilliant, energetic fun with lovely touches of depth and character, the fact that this first season gem is everyday business for Sarah Jane shows how good this show is: 9/10
Full Review Here: http://docohobigfinish.blogspot.com/2015/04/warriors-of-kudlak-written-by-phil-ford.html
Whatever Happened to Sarah Jane? written by Gareth Roberts and directed by Graeme Harper
TO BE REVIEWED...
The Lost Boy written by Phil Ford and directed by Charles Martin
Result: Child snatching Sarah Jane? Luke being threatened in his bedroom? Alan Jackson putting the house on the market? What the hell is going on? The Sarah Jane Adventures pull out all the stops in its first season finale with a glorious upheaval of the cosy family the show has created. Its astonishing how much ground this story manages to cover with regards to bringing all the threads of the first season to a close and telling its own story. There’s the shockingly adult first fifteen minutes, the reveal of an old monster, an awesome twist that one of the good guys has been working against Sarah Jane all along, Alan is brought into the fold, an excellent night time action sequence, genuine character development of Sarah Jane, an ‘end of the world’ threat and a punch the air appearance of a Doctor Who favourite. Its all told so breathlessly that you don’t realise how brilliantly structured Phil Ford’s script is until you examine it closely and thanks to some strong direction practically every scene is a gem. Like the best of Sarah Jane there is plenty to keep the kids happy but a wealth of material for adults to enjoy too, this is a family show that knows exactly what its doing and provides a hell of a ride for all ages. The Lost Boy is the best finale the series offered until season four and it contains more surprises and thrills than any of the Doctor Who finales: 9/10
Full Review Here: http://docohobigfinish.blogspot.com/2015/04/the-lost-boy-written-by-phil-ford-and.html
The Last Sontaran written by Phil Ford and directed by Joss Agnew
Result: The characters are growing up and the show is moving on, The Last Sontaran is beautifully directed and scored and proves a fine coming of age story. It is a far better Sontaran story than the series four epic because there is something far more effective in encapsulating the species through one character as exemplified in The Time Warrior. Phil Ford manages to write Maria out with some style, give Chrissie a great role and innovate a well-known Doctor Who species within his script. Given all this and some good old fashioned running about and quips, The Last Sontaran is quietly masterful and an excellent way to kick of series two: 8/10
Full Review Here: http://docohobigfinish.blogspot.com/2015/04/the-last-sontaran-written-by-phil-ford.html
The Day of the Clown written by Phil Ford and directed by Michael Kerrigan
Full Review Here: http://docohobigfinish.blogspot.com/2015/04/the-day-of-clown-written-by-phil-ford.html
Secrets of the Stars written by Gareth Roberts and directed by Michael Kerrigan
Full Review Here: http://docohobigfinish.blogspot.com/2015/04/secrets-of-stars-written-by-gareth.html
The Mark of the Berserker written by Joe Lidster and directed by Joss Agnew
Result: Taking the metaphor of your Dad turning out to be a monster and bringing it to life with real dramatic intensity, The Mark of the Berserker is a great Joe Lidster script because it touches on moments of my own childhood and experiences with my bullish father. Having a Sarah-lite episode really strengthens my belief that this is a confidently casted show and Daniel Anthony in particular takes this moment to shine like never before. The direction is unlike anything else you will see in children’s television and considering the time slot this is a remarkably mature hour of television. The only comparison I can make is the Harry Potter series which have become more darker and intense as they have progressed, the Sarah Jane Adventures is a unique television show and this one of its most accomplished dramas: 9/10
Full Review Here: http://docohobigfinish.blogspot.com/2015/05/the-mark-of-berserker-written-by-joe.html
The Temptation of Sarah Jane Smith written by Gareth Roberts and directed by Graeme Harper
Result: Every year the Sarah Jane Adventures knocks stories out of the park which connects with me emotionally (its usually written by Gareth Roberts but all the Joe Lidster scripts qualify too) and The Temptation of Sarah Jane Smith achieves that beautifully whilst also playing about with some weighty science fiction concepts, creating a convincing period environment and breaking your heart with its characterisation of Sarah Jane. Considering this is supposed to be a kids show the approach to the material is extremely mature and as a result these stories are tremendously re-watchable, full of integrity and extremely enjoyable. The plot keeps twisting and evolving; it builds Sarah’s dilemma in the first episode and suddenly becomes a race against time to stop the consequences of her actions in the second. Elisabeth Sladen deserves real kudos for continuing to show new sides to her character and it looks like she is really enjoying the chance to take Sarah Jane to new depths. This is smart, emotional storytelling that really packs a punch and SJA at its absolute best: 10/10
Full Review Here: http://docohobigfinish.blogspot.com/2015/05/the-temptation-of-sarah-jane-smith.html
Enemy of the Bane written by Phil Ford and directed by Graeme Harper
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
Full Review Here: http://docohobigfinish.blogspot.com/2015/05/enemy-of-bane-written-by-phil-ford-and.html
Prisoner of the Judoon written by Phil Ford and directed by Joss Agnew
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
Full Review Here: http://docohobigfinish.blogspot.com/2015/05/prisoner-of-judoon-written-by-phil-ford.html
Full Review Here: http://docohobigfinish.blogspot.com/2015/05/prisoner-of-judoon-written-by-phil-ford.html
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) – its 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
The Wedding of Sarah Jane Smith written by Gareth Roberts and directed by Joss Agnew
This story in a nutshell: Its all there in the title! It’s a wedding and some of the guests just might surprise you!
Until Next Time…Miss Smith: I’m so pleased that this story was written because it has felt like we have explored so many of aspects of Sarah’s except romantically. It helps to make her a more rounded character to think she has been sneaking off and seeing a hot date behind everybody’s backs. Its not all extraterrestrial visits and saving the world, she has a life on Earth and one she intends to enjoy. When she kisses K.9 and calls him a romantic I was on the verge of tears – we really have been robbed of one of the finest Doctor Who characters. She admits that men were interested before but she never thought a relationship could go anywhere with her bizarre lifestyle. Somehow she is going to have to explain that she used to travel in time and space, her son was an experiment created by aliens, she’s got a talking computer, a robot dog and her lipstick is deadly! Whilst these are funny lines it does make you wonder how the other companions that wound back on Earth treated their adventures with the Doctor when they fell in love and settled down. Did they talk about it or simply pretend it never happened. Its really nice to see those sorts of questions being asked here because that is exactly the sort of gift the Russell T Davies gave to the show. Its wonderful that Peter and Luke take the piss out of what was her defining characteristic when she joined in The Time Warrior (‘Why do you ask so many questions?’ ‘Because I’m a journalist!’). When you realise that she is being manipulated (in a very subtly played scene where Sarah makes excuses about the vacant flat) it becomes clear there will be a broken heart before this story has ended. There’s something very sad about Sarah wanting a normal life for a change and none the outer space junk getting in the way. Considering what we learnt about her in School Reunion I am sure there is more than a grain of truth in that. Is it just me or does listening to Sarah shout out ‘Doctor!’ peel away the intervening years and give you goosebumps? Although he is doing it for entirely selfish reasons there is something very personal about how the Trickster wants to bestow the gift of being happy in a normal life on Sarah Jane since it is something she has always longed for. The flash forward to Sarah and Peter laughing and enjoying their lives together shows just how special it could be if she just let go of her responsibilities. However the Trickster doesn’t know who he is dealing with and Sarah is willing to suffer a broken heart and loneliness in a selfless act to save the planet. What works so well as that Peter isn’t a trick to get rid of Sarah Jane, he is as much of a victim as she is and their feelings for each other are real. That is what makes their parting and his decision to kill himself and set her free from an agonising choice so poignant because there was the potential there for it to work. The trouble is they never should have met in the first place. They suffer this loss because they were giving the opportunity of finding each other. That’s real tragedy. And giving up your life for another – that’s love. Astonishing for what is supposed to be a kids show. When Sarah sits there in tears and the Doctor embraces her I can’t help myself…the tear just roll down my face. Lis Sladen knows how to break my heart and walking down the aisle on her own is an enduring image.
Mockney Dude: Oh come on if the Doctor hadn’t have burst in during the ‘does anybody new of any reason why these two shouldn’t be married…’ it would have been really disappointing. It manages to be a classic Doctor Who and SJA moment in one. If you ever wanted an opportunity to see how Clyde, Rani and Luke would work out as Doctor Who companions now is your chance. I love his method of shutting the noisy kids up! The whole Sarah Jane/Sarah debate has a line drawn neatly under it when the Doctor tells Rani he’ll call her what he likes. As much as I have longed for the Sarah Jane kids to step into the TARDIS I have salivated for a confrontation between the Trickster and the Doctor more. I love how they segue this into the Doctor’s current storyline (post Journey’s End) and how the Trickster offers some foreboding hints about his approaching regeneration. The Doctor says he has fought the Trickster’s Shadows (The Armageddon Factor) and changelings (Turn Left). Its lovely how the two shows are intertwining like this. He (like the audience) is mocked for enjoying the company of children and he wonderfully, defiantly says ‘they’re my friends.’ Love it. Sarah thinks that the Doctor leaving in a hurry is him all over but Sarah is his best friend and he comes back to make sure she is alright. There was a very good chance that this was the last time the Doctor would see Sarah (but isn’t it glorious that she met the eleventh Doctor?) and so his ‘don’t forget me, Sarah’ is a touching and deliberately play on the end of The Hand of Fear.
Boy Genius: The Wedding of Sarah Jane Smith features another of the real issues that this show throws in every now and again (like child abduction in The Lost Boy and relocating friends in The Last Sontaran) and this time it is Luke who is at the centre of it all. Being a child of a single parent family and having your mother fall in love with a new man who may step into the role of your father is a huge shift in your personal life. Tommy Knight nails the tentative nerves that Luke feels just before meeting Peter for the first time, wondering what to call him or if he will even like him and what that would mean for their romance.
Graphic Artist: Clyde’s reaction to Sarah Jane and Peter kissing is akin to every kid when they see their parents do anything intimate (‘ohh people are eating!’). The way he wants to protect Sarah Jane is very sweet and investigating Peter behind her back is the best we he knows how to do that without upsetting her. He wont have any of the Doctor’s ‘I’ll explain later’ that he has been peddling to his companions for years (it was a favourite of the fifth Doctor) and demands an explanation. Its time for Clyde to be a hero and stand up to the Trickster when he gets blasted with artron energy and more importantly it paves the way for his brilliant body swap with the eleventh Doctor in Death of the Doctor.
Journalist in Training: Having to deal with two adolescent lads must be tiresome for Rani and she has to explain that Sarah Jane wants her romance with Peter kept a secret so they pretend they know nothing. Thank goodness there is somebody sensitive in this group of friends! Anjili Mohindra is so comfortable in her role these days and is far more confident and charismatic now than Yasmin Paige’s Maria ever was – I love her grumpy reaction to being dobbed in by K.9 (‘the gob on you!’). I’m sorry but she’s just gorgeous, isn’t she?
Sophisticated Charmer: I cannot imagine a better person to play Sarah’s fiancé than Nigel Havers who effortlessly slips into the series and with Peter’s impeccable manners and understated charm you can see precisely why she fell for him.
Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Her excuses are getting lamer and lamer!’ ‘Affirmative! Veracity level 12%’ – oh doesn’t that sound just like the K.9 who used to drive the fourth Doctor mad?
‘And goodbye to all that…’
‘Besides where would I send the invite? Metebelies Three?’
‘And I love you, Sarah Jane Dalton…’
The Good: Its easy to figure out what separates The Sarah Jane Adventures from the rest of bilge that CBBC produces – Gareth Roberts hit it on the nail during his recent interview in DWM when he admitted that Russell T Davies instructed him to write for it as if it was any other adult drama. Its all in the tone, I think. There’s enough fun and excitement in each episode to keep the kids happy but with a striking performance from Elisabeth Sladen, complex storylines and the way it refusing to patronise its audience by dealing with its ideas sensitively can draw in an impressive adult crowd too. Its definitely classic Doctor Who for the next generation. Look at the director of this serial. Joss Agnew has directed Casualty, Waterloo Road, Dream Team, Mile High (we wont hold that last one against him). They haven’t just roped in some godawful newbie director to bring this series to life but an experienced drama director (and with Graeme Harper on board too the show couldn’t really go wrong!).
The early scenes of the kids trying to figure what Sarah Jane is hiding from them are delightful because we initially think along with them that it is some cataclysmic disaster she is trying to keep from them when in fact she just wants a bit of male company! Its another reminder of just how comfortable it is to be around Clyde, Luke and Rani and their interaction is more charismatic than ever (throw in K.9 and Mr Smith bitching and it’s a belter of a scene!). Gareth Roberts very cleverly uses the TARDIS in a way that has never been done before (and I would have thought that was an impossibility): as a portent of doom and every time that wheezing, groaning sound sounds it seems to signal the approach of something really momentous. It also has the secondary function of whetting the audiences appetite for the reunion between the Doctor and Sarah, this time on her turf. The whole sequence where Peter turns up and Travis Polon (the nasty little space centipede that was last scene running away from Sarah in Mark of the Berserker) breaks free makes me howl with laughter. Its gloriously filmed and played with some marvellous reactions from the characters - Gita wants to have a nose at Sarah’s new man, Sarah herself is desperate to get the bloody alien away from her new man, K.9 trips out the door to protect her and Rani is being wonderfully bossy with Clyde! Its absolutely delightful to watch and shot on a gloriously sunny day. Just as Sarah Jane’s happiness reaches its apotheosis Clyde and Rani discover that Peter’s house is empty and the ring she is given starts glowing. Something wicked this way comes… There is something very poignant about seeing Mr Smith deactivated and the attic left silent and dark especially given the events of the past year. Sarah, the Doctor, K.9 and the Trickster in one scene – the climax to the first episode is goosebump central! The visual of the hotel hanging in space is a lovely, nightmarish shot that is very reminiscent of the hospital in the void in The X-Files’ episode Audrey Pauley. The endlessly ticking clock is very Sapphire and Steel. These Trickster episodes are never afraid to shy away from some pretty serious horrors and Peter falling down the stairs to his death and making a pact with the devil to save his life is pretty bewitching. The Trickster’s benevolence in offering Sarah Jane happiness and as a consequence claiming the world is really chilling (and Paul Marc Davis’ silky voice is more sinister than ever). He’s such a clever villain because there is always a personal stake and there are always emotional consequences. I hope this isn’t the last we see of him. The kids in (ahem) the best console room since the show came back is a dream come true.
The Bad: What a shame Nicholas Courtney was too poorly to take part in this adventure. It would have been very special indeed.
The Shallow Bit: I have to admit for his age Nigel Havers is something of a hottie! Its something to do with his gentlemanly charms that really appeals to me. How gorgeous do Anjili Mohindra and Elisabeth Sladen look when they step out of the car. I may be locked up for inappropriate comments but push over Doctor Who and Torchwood – this is the best looking cast by far!
Result: A strong contender for best story of the season, The Wedding of Sarah Jane Smith reunites Sarah with her best friend (the Doctor) and her worst enemy (the Trickster) and fulfils a dream of mine to see the character enjoy a charming romance. It mixes domestic drama, comedy, clever science fiction ideas and tragedy with real elegance and always manages to have me in tears before Sarah had to face the aisle all on her own. What I found especially interesting about this story was that I preferred the first episode to the second – whilst the concluding part was still very strong the delightful interactions between the cast and the subtle build up of tension in the opening instalment were absolutely flawless. Its possibly because it goes from the Sarah Jane Adventures to Doctor Who at the halfway point and whilst the latter is well executed here the former is at its peak. If you haven’t stuck this on because it’s a kids show you are really missing out – where else will you see Sarah Jane blissfully happy in love, the TARDIS as an ominous beacon of horror, a hilarious sequence featuring a slippery alien caterpillar, a hotel caught inside one second, a horrific being that can rip peoples lives apart and a heartbreaking conclusion where the Doctor has to console his grieving best friend? A classy, poignant drama that confidently changes its tone without ever losing its identity, its another great Sarah Jane Adventure: 9/10
The Eternity Trap written by Phil Ford and directed by Alice Troughton
This story in a nutshell: Sarah Jane, Clyde and Rani join Professor Rivers and Toby Silverman to Ashen Hill Manor, the creepiest haunted house this side of The Others…
Until Next Time…Ms Smith: This episode is a great example of the sassy Sarah Jane Smith we all remember from our childhoods, you know the one who fought robot mummies and walking brains and way before she started getting menopausal and hanging around with young kids! I exaggerate as usual but there is no denying that Sarah is much more about letting her feelings all hang out these days (it’s the finest development of character so I’m not complaining, especially in stories like The Temptation of Sarah Jane Smith) and it is healthy to reminds us of Sarah of old. She is delighted that Professor Rivers has invited her along and is determined to find a scientific rationale behind all the supernatural events. Her view of the universe is very detailed and she understands the need to believe in the afterlife but she can’t (perhaps the Doctor had more of an effect on her than even we realised). ‘You really shouldn’t believe your own press you know!’ – I really liked that line considering her occupation. She has fought the worse things and barely blinks an eyelid at Erasmus’ tricks.
Sarah’s gang: This is the first indication that Clyde and Rani can hold the show up without Luke; they are confident, contemporary and effortlessly watchable together. Someone has to hold \Clyde’s hand as he faces all the dangers but watched how they keep grabbing for each other – I think love is in the air! Its not like Rani isn’t tempted by eternal torment but she has school in the morning! She doesn’t scare that easily but would feel much better with a Ghostbusters proton pack. I love the pop culture references they keep dropping in; I bet the kids love it too! Clyde aint afraid of no ghost, he’s taken on practically every creep in the universe. He’s not just an action hero; he’s a style icon!
Sparkling Lines: ‘It’s a super spook smack down!’
The Good Stuff: The opening is truly winding and a good indication that you might have to hide the kiddies away for this unsettling piece. There is a sudden pan into the creepiest of mansions, children screaming and their father crying out for their souls as we fade into modern times – it’s a great tension-building teaser. Floella Benjamin is definitely giving a CBBC performance but still think she’s fabulous, a really fun returning character as the show builds up its own mythology. The location is stunningly authentic, a genuinely spooky old house. The musical score is pure horror movie and all the more effective for it. It was dark when this episode was transmitted and I was stuck at work but my Simon was at home and even he found it unsettling, the wet footprints, children laughing and crying, Darkening reaching out from the mirror, the eeriest nursery ever with a chilling lullaby, a manic rocking horse, a disembodied voice crying out for help, toys coming to life, a child singing and GET OUT scribbled on the blackboard! This is pretty strong stuff for a kids show! Adam Gillen gives an enjoyably twitchy performance as Toby and has a nice backstory and good reason to be there. The lighting Darkening’s laboratory is gloriously moody; it genuinely looks like a set from a slasher movie! There is a great scene where we see Darkening’s victims through the ages on the stairs, wearing clothes from various eras. The Billiard Room chaos continues the frights with the balls potting themselves and the triangle going loopy and attacking Clyde and Rani! All the ghosts are revealed to be living people trapped between thanks to Darkening’s trans dimensional accelerator. If they switch off the machine then these people will die. Darkening has been stealing their life energy to gain immortality. The glowing red eyes in the dark and the POV shots really spooked me! I love the simple explanation of all the paranormal activity; Marchwood has been trying to scare them away to save them. Darkening was trying to get home but was using living people to obtain his freedom. The last shot of Marchwood finally reunited with his children is lovely and I can imagine them haunting Ashen Manor for many years to come.
The Bad Stuff: Donald Sumpter is super creepy when he is an apparition in part one but becomes a little too camp (especially ‘Maaaarchwood!’) in part two. I’m still not that sure how they defeated Darkening except that it reminded me strongly of the ending of the Masque of Mandragora (Sarah must have remembered!) and I didn’t understand that either!
The Shallow Bit: Daniel Anthony is really, really hot. There, I said it. Bang me up.
Result: Almost uniquely, The Eternity Trap is an entirely plot driven Sarah Jane Adventure which is a very welcome. Doctor Who’s Midnight saw Alice Troughton create a frightening atmosphere with minimalist elements and here she conjures up a similarly uncomfortable story with lots of subtle, corner of the eye techniques. This is a mini horror movie for children with an intelligent script and highlighting the regulars at their confident best. Even the non event episodes are treasurable, it is hard to fault this spine chilling, moody piece: 8/10
Mona Lisa’s Revenge written by Phil Ford and directed by Joss Agnew
This story in a nutshell: The Mona Lisa steps from her painting to claim her brother…
Until Next Time…Miss Smith: ‘Seems like no-one wants you around, Sezza! Even your son…’ Wow, how much does Sarah Jane remind me of my mum during my teenage years when she comes down on Luke like a ton of bricks about his room. She’s a tad over the top about what is essentially a messy room but I can remember my mum having to tell me that she was disappointed in me (the ultimate weapon of mothers, that statement) because I refused to take responsibility of my own space (oh and I seem to recall the odd mouldy cup in there like Luke does too). It’s a nice reminder that Luke is growing up and getting a little out of control (as most teenagers do) and as a mother you can’t hold onto your precious little boy forever. This isn’t just enforced development for the sake of it, it’s a touch of foreboding for his departure from Sarah Jane’s daily life in The Nightmare Man (only two stories away). This makes his passing a little more natural and a little less sudden. Its unbelievable that a show in the CBBC schedule would feature a scene as touching as the one where Sarah Jane discusses the pain of losing her grip on her son. But then that is this shows raison detre, the ability to throw in genuinely adult (or should that be adolescent) issues whilst dealing with monsters from outer space. If Elisabeth Sladen is going to take a rest for a story than having her trapped in a painting is certainly more imaginative than her investigations into supernatural goings on at a nearby hospital (although the glimpses of that in Mark of the Berserker were fun).
Graphic Artist: Watch Anjili Mohindra and Daniel Anthony in this story, especially in part one. Whilst Tommy Knight remains as likable as ever it is clear that the real acting talent in this team belongs to Rani and Clyde and there is a real sense that they are completely stepping out of his shadow to take dominance over the show. When Clyde talks about art being in the soul and that it is something that captures your soul and not your mind its another reminder that there is much greater depth to him than you would perhaps see on the surface. He admits that as a child he used to draw for company because he never had any siblings and this is the first time he has felt that he could actually do something with his art when he leaves school.
Boy Genius: Its nice of Luke to think of what’s good for Clyde rather than bowing down to his image and putting his work in for an art competition is the start of a promising trend where he looks out for his friends best interests rather than the other way around.
Journalist in Training: Rani’s impersonation of the Mona Lisa is hilarious. Anjili Mohindra’s comic timing is impeccable.
The Genuine Article: ‘You can’t fake this kind of class…’ Your reaction to this story is probably going to be based around your opinion of Suranne Jones’ turn as the Mona Lisa. Jones is hot property these days and its great to see that this show continued to acquire the services of some quality actresses to bring its characters to life. Mona Lisa is loud, crude and brutal and it gives Jones the chance to go over the top and have great fun in the role and yet at the same time she manages to find some real pathos in the villainess at the same time. She’s a brassy northern painting brought to life and she’s packing a Sontaran blaster stolen from Clyde’s painting. She’s been hanging on a wall for five centuries and its driven her slightly kaka, all she wants is to knock some heads together and have some fun. The way Harding fawns and lusts after Mona Lisa adds a layer of complexity to their relationship, she can exploit him with her expressive sexuality. There’s a clever notion in play that Lisa cannot exist outside of the gallery and step into the outside world, she’s trapped within the confines of the building and all she wants to be able to walk free like any normal person. She might be a dangerous lunatic who is jealous of the woman who inspired her creation but there is a lot going on beneath the surface of all the bluster. Like all good Doctor Who/Sarah Jane villains (Sil, the Master), she has a penchant for giggling like loon when things go her way.
Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Nothing stays perfect forever…’
‘Her most detailed personal profile can be found on Peapodsoulmates.com where she lists her interests as salsa dancing. She says she is ‘open minded and willing to try…’ ‘Thank you Mr Smith!’
‘That enigmatic smile that everybody bangs on about – wind.’
‘This sultana blaster…’ ‘I think you mean Sontaran’ ‘Whatever…’ – this isn’t subtle dialogue but the performances are just delightful.
The Good: Finally a great use of the Millennium Centre! Instead of posing as a space station from the future, an alien hospital, a building for Amy to grow old in or an underground Silurian debating chamber, here it is utilised as an art gallery (much like it was in Vincent and the Doctor) and as such we can wander around its vast and splendid corridors as the public services building that it actually is. Jeff Rawle and Suranne Jones are broken out before the credits kick in, its another terrific cast for a Sarah Jane Adventures following on from an appearance by Donald Sumpter in the last story. Sam Watts’ amusing classical musical score is another winner for the composer, highlighting the quality of the art and the look of the story. There’s a lovely role for Haresh in the first episode who gets to be more than the monster breathing down Clyde’s neck. Instead he is proud of something the boy has accomplished and played far more likeably as a result. Phyllis Trupp is one of those comical characters that is touched by tragedy and its played to the hilt by Lisa Sadovy, her unrequited love for Curator Harding a delicate thread running through the story and making both characters more interesting for it (there’s a touch of Revelation of the Daleks’ Jobel and Tasembeker about them). Showing he has a great eye for detail (I would never say that Phil Ford’s plotting is at fault), the very first shot of this story is the solution to the problem at the climax – a drawing of K.9. Its clear that the episode is building to a dramatic moment surrounding the Mona Lisa and I love how Joss Agnew captures the moment in such a blackly comical light, the unveiling of Miss Trupp captured in the painting. Its even touched with tragedy because she would love to harvest the affection that Harding has for the real painting and so putting her in its frame looking so plain and dumpy is really quite soul destroying for her. It also introduces the idea of the Mona Lisa being able to walk from the painting and trap others in oils which is phenomenal on anyone’s watch. Mona Lisa can also steal anything of use that has been painted in the gallery so soon avails herself of a Sontaran blaster from Clyde’s artwork. You’ve just got to love a show that is playing around with ideas that are this kooky. It reminds me of Doctor Who at its best. Watch out for the reference to Planet of the Dead. Sarah Jane being trapped in the painting with a look of fear trapped on her face feels like it has stepped out of Sapphire and Steel and proves to be one of the more conceptual cliffhangers the show has attempted. Without a method of time travel (occasionally circumvented in episodes such as The Temptation of Sarah Jane Smith) there has to be a way to bring elements of the past and future to the show and extracting the Dark Rider from a painting is one of the more imaginative on offer. Suddenly the story becomes a romp around the art gallery as the kids are pursued by a highwaywoman packing flintlocks. The whole idea of the Abomination by Giuseppe de Cattivo is so captivatingly explained I (to my shame) actually looked it up online to see if there was such a painting/artist. Fortunately (its nice to know that I’m not an exclusive sap) others had done the same thing! Obviously I didn’t believe in the idea of sentient paint made from alien elements (or did I…?) but this is exactly the sort of myth that shows like Doctor Who and The Sarah Jane Adventures can build their stories on (like the Gorgon in season one). Kudos to Phil Ford for duping me so completely. Proving once again that the Sarah Jane Adventures recognises discretion where Torchwood dives in head first, Mona Lisa’s Revenge mimics the ending of End of Days with a slavering, horned beast being released. Instead of having it stomping over Cardiff in a ridiculous fashion it is all achieved with glimpses of its hands and silhouette and subtle lighting making the effect far more frightening. We never get to see the whole of the Abomination but the glimpses on offer are more than enough to make you sweat. This show would never take the obvious route of having Miss Trupp and Harding fall into each others arms at the climax and it undercuts the romantic possibilities with a cracking insult (‘you art tart!’).
The Bad: Unfortunately the painting of Clyde’s that is getting all the recognition really isn’t that good.
Result: In turn Mona Lisa’s Revenge is inventive, colourful, surreal and exciting. Most unlike a Phil Ford script, this feels more like something that Gareth Roberts would put together if he had taken enough mind altering drugs. By the time the cliffhanger kicks we’ve strayed past Sapphire and Steel territory (policeman trapped in paintings) into the sort of creativity that has always made Doctor Who such a treat for is audience (the Mona Lisa breaking free of her painting and re-imagined as brassy northern psychotic that can pull any resource that has been captured in oil from a painting). Its absolute madness but played engagingly by the cast and injected with some slick touches by director Joss Agnew who judges the tone of the piece with absolute precision (because as exaggerated as this is it could have dive bombed into caricature of the show I recognise). There’s even space for a twisted love triangle between Lisa, Harding and Miss Trupp which makes all of their characters more interesting because of it and a burgeoning distance developing between Sarah Jane and Luke pre-empting his departure in a few stories time. My one complaint is that the second half doesn’t quite have the snap, crackle and pop of the first and things lead to a slightly underwhelming conclusion. But the energy levels are high, the gags are relentless, the cast are at the top of their game at this point (Mohindra and Anthony rule) and the whole piece is elevated by the lighter than usual tone. Kudos to Suranne Jones who manages to go wildly over the top and make me crack up whilst still finding subtleties to exploit within the character of Lisa: 8/10
The Gift written by Rupert Laight and directed by Alice Troughton
The Gift written by Rupert Laight and directed by Alice Troughton
Until Next Time...Miss Smith: Like The Curse of Peladon where the Doctor was mistrustful of the Ice Warriors because he had only encountered their aggressive side before, Sarah Jane is initially mistrustful of the Blathereen and their apparent good intentions. When aliens from a particular planet have tried to murder over and over again it is perfectly natural to build up a prejudice against them. Sarah is suspicious until the Rakweed is produced and she is seduced by the idea of curing the world of poverty and doing some lasting good for the planet. She isn't too bothered about the fame this gift would bring her but the good she could do for the world. She is a genuinely altruistic individual, a rarity in science fiction. Mind you she learnt from the best. I'm pleased that her paranoia keeps her cautious though, wondering if she has been tainted by alien attacks into think that every charitable act has a darker meaning. If she had simply accepted the Rakweed without comment I would start questioning whether she was fit to protect the planet. She's been a reporter creating the news for so long that Sarah is a little afraid of making the Rakweed public and becoming front page news herself. When she realises that the Rakweed is dangerous she has a few cutting words for Mr Smith. For Sarah Jane this is two pronged attack; the possibility of losing her son and the planet she has sworn to protect. When her sons life is in danger, Sarah Jane means business and she takes up arms against the Blathereen (okay it is only loaded with vinegar but it would have the same effect on the creatures as a bullet would on a human). As is often the case Sarah tries to give her foes a chance to redeem themselves but true to their nature they press on and have to be dealt with. And this story has a particularly messy solution. And yet she still apologises and thinks there should have been a better way to end this. The final grinning shot of Elizabeth Sladen made me blink away tears...she looks absolutely beautiful.
Sparkling Dialogue: 'We absolutely adore foreign food!'
'Shepherds are a delicacy on this world?'
'We might not be able to use text books but nobody said anything about a super intelligent robot from the year 5000.'
'Small as Earth is it is still a useful plot of land.'
'Disintegration successful' 'You don't say.'
The Shallow Bit: How Tommy Knight has matured. From archetype in a smock to a stylish teen in the latest gear, he has come a long way in three short seasons.
Result: 'We are sure our Rakweed will change your planet forever...' Guess who's coming to dinner? A delightful season finale that manages to successfully hoodwink the audience into thinking it isn't going to be the usual end of the world escapade...before pulling the Rakweed out of the bag. The first episode is my favourite, jettisoning the tension and concentrating on some lovely comedy and character work as the Blathereen come to tea. Alice Troughton deserves a great deal of kudos for managing to realise both the playful and the serious aspects of Laight's script, pulling off everything from a farcical dinner sequence to a mini plague in London. Troughton's direction is somewhat overlooked and it is worth noting her contribution to The Sarah Jane Adventures, bringing to life some of the most atmospheric stories (Eye of the Gorgon, The Mad Woman in the Attic, The Eternity Trap) and never once letting the show descend into a pantomime. A shame that this would be her last contribution to the show but it is a nice adventure to go out on, one that allows her to show how versatile a director she is. In comparison to the unique tone of the episode one, the conclusion plays along similar lines to any other contagion story (albeit toned down a little for the target audience) but I have to give the actors credit for convincing about the severity of the epidemic. Another example of the high standard of this show, The Gift is not the best SJA series finale (The Lost Boy & Goodbye, Sarah Jan Smith take those honours) but it is filled to bursting with memorable scenes, great dialogue, fantastic character interaction and some well achieved scares. All told it is rather wonderful: 8/10
The Nightmare Man written by Joe Lidster and directed by Joss Agnew
This story in a nutshell: Luke’s leaving the series but he’s being plagued by nightmares…
Until Next Time…Miss Smith: When did our Sarah Jane become such a convincing mother? She stands outside waiting for Luke’s results with a mixture of anticipation and sadness. Her ‘apart from that’ when Luke lists all the terrifying things that happened when he first joined Park Vale is very funny. Turns out she is a dreadful cook and nearly sets the kitchen on fire making scrambled eggs! The scene between Luke and Sarah in the car where he asks if she is going to miss him is absolutely gorgeous, it gives me goosebumps every time I watch it. Both Elisabeth Sladen and Tommy Knight pour their heart into that moment and it is beautifully scored. I defy anybody who has been on either side of someone leaving home, be it parent of child, not to be moved. Amazing that a show that is geared at children can produce moments of such powerful honesty. For years it was just Sarah Jane and K.9 and Luke gave her something real to live for. She is terrified of him leaving because it feels as if she is losing him but that wont stop her letting him go out there and having the best life that he can. Have I ever loved the character more? Lis Sladen clearly had a ball playing the older, senile Sarah Jane and she milks it for every laugh she can get. The Nightmare Man tried to manipulate Sarah by poking fun at her nightmares about the horrors she has seen, about the Doctor never coming back for her and Luke leaving her forever but this just makes her stronger and more determined to fight back. Can you think of a better gift to send Luke off to Uni with but K.9?
Sarah’s Gang: Amazing to think that four years Luke was a squeaky voiced little boy in a white robe and now his balls and voice have dropped, he’s developed a sense of style and he is old enough to be heading off to university. Watching the character (and the actor) grow has been one of the highlights of this series. In a story that sees Luke depart the series for a break it is nice that he provides the voice over for the opening scenes of the series. His quiet ‘I’m clever’ when talking to his mum about taking his A-Levels early is almost apologetic. His nightmares are very telling, showing his mother laughing at his fears of leaving and saying that he wasn’t really her son and she’ll be rid of him soon. Worse he fears he will be replaced when he leaves. He almost breaks down when he has a nightmare about Clyde tearing up a drawing of the two of them. You should want to crawl away and die at the punch of syrup in Luke’s final speech to the Nightmare Man but Tommy Knight has come a long way as an actor and (just about) sells it.
Rani is such a realist, she understands that Luke has got to meet knew people and see knew things if she is jealous that he gets to do it a year before she does. Her dream sequences in the BBC news studio are terrifying because it is something so instantly recognisable and yet feels totally off kilter. Rani’s worst nightmare comes in her dream of being a reporter leading her to having to expose Sarah Jane and her world saving antics. Rani insists that Sarah Jane has given her a better life but gets a real slap in the face, being told to grow up and if she wants to be a journalist she has to stop worrying about people’s feelings. Her admission that she is envious of him heading off into the big wide world before her but for him not to think for one second that she isn’t pleased for him makes me love Rani that little bit more.
Clyde suggests that he is trying to help Luke adjust to his friends not being around but you can see that underneath his bluster he is hurting a lot. Love the sexual tension between Clyde and Rani which will only develop as the season continues – you just want to scream at them to acknowledge their feelings for each other! There’s a wonderfully awkward moment between Clyde and Luke at the party where they both want to admit how much they are going to miss each other but have to cover up with posturing. Clyde’s nightmares see him serving burgers in a dead end restaurant being criticised for never being as smart as Luke.
Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Oooh! Did someone say aliens?’
‘You can’t say my name…you can’t tell anyone about me…’
‘Its time…go to sleep…’
‘Remember the sentient concrete disguised as the Chiswick flyover?’
‘Well what do you need Mr Smith? I have stuff here from planets across the universe! You just tell me what you need!’ ‘I need a USB lead, Sarah Jane.’
‘You’re going back into your nightmares forever. Night night children…’
‘Goodbye Mr Smith. You were adequate company…’ ‘You could always contact me if you need me’ ‘I knew you would miss me.’
The Good Stuff: The structure of this story is awesome, showing the stages in Luke’s life that has lead to this moment where he is leaving for University. What a brilliant reminder of how this show mixes the domestic life of Sarah and her insane role saving the Earth where Luke drops a bombshell about his future as they are handcuffed to an explosive! That is the best gunging of exploding Slitheen ever – look at K.9, he’s absolutely covered! I really like how the show handles Luke going off to university in so many different ways with Sarah Jane terrified that she is losing her son, Rani happy for her friend but quietly jealous and Clyde ignoring him because he feels as if someone else in his life is walking away and Luke himself frightened of what the future might bring. Its astonishing how well defined these characters are now that one idea can perpetuate such a excellent character development. Luke’s nightmare sequences are filmed with a sense of wrongness about them, just an arms throw from reality but with some twisted camera angles that really disorient you. The triple loser sign is hilarious! Once again the Sarah Jane Adventures goes for the jugular with its villain and Julian Bleach is perfectly cast as the very creepy Nightmare Man. Painted up like a twisted black and white clown and skipping through Luke’s nightmares with a sense of twisted humour and quiet menace, he is one of the best original villains we’ve seen in years. It’s so well done that beyond a seconds thought that this is ‘Freddie Krueger for CBBC’ you soon forget the similarities because the character drama gives this an edge. Joe Lidster seems to be the only writer who remembers Maria and mentions her in every script he wrote for the series. The cliffhanger deserves a round of applause; it’s really creepy and reminded me strongly of Sapphire and Steel (anything that can do that gets my vote). How brilliant is it that the first thing the Nightmare Man does when he is set free is spin on a swivel chair? There is something of the Child Catcher about the Nightmare Man as he creeps amongst the sleeping. Can you imagine anything more freaky than watching the television and the newsreader talking directly to you, and worse pulling you inside? That is the spookiest BBC newsreader ever. I always get a chill of that Harry Potter-esque wonder of the ordinary colliding with the magical when the Nightmare Man skips out into an everyday street and sends his sends his glowing tendrils into so many homes to invade their dreams and turn them into nightmares. As ever this series is sporting some unforgettable imagery. I love it when Mr Smith asks tentatively how K.9 is…aww! I honestly cannot think of a single ending to an episode that has given me goosebumps simply by being so cheerfully optimistic about the future.
The Bad Stuff: My one complaint is that Luke couldn’t leave without one more love in with his friends. I don’t want to say cringe inducing but it verges towards it slightly.
The Shallow Bit: I love Sarah Jane in a waistcoat, she looks so stylish! Rani looks gorgeous in her golden hat when she is dancing.
Result: I cannot believe this is aimed at children because considering the time slot and audience The Nightmare Man is exquisitely written with some very raw emotion and scary scenes. This kicked off a near flawless season of the Sarah Jane Adventures that really saw the show coming of age and producing stories that were as good as and (dare I say it) better than the Doctor Who being screened the same year. Our dreams are something we still don’t quite understand so something that can pervert and menace them is pretty terrifying and Joe Lidster and Joss Agnew really tap into that sense of disturbing unreality when you fall asleep. Whilst I cannot praise Julian Bleach enough for conjuring up a delicately menacing creation in the Nightmare Man what really impresses is the strength of the character work between the four regulars. Lidster shows how far we have come and forces the series to move on offering hope for the future. Luke’s departure might just bring a tear to your eye before this story finishes and Sladen, Knight, Mohindra and Anthony have gelled into an awesome ensemble. I have to mention Sam Watts, the musician for the series, who has provided four years worth of memorable and emotive music and truly excels himself here. A confident piece of drama, addictively watchable and a consistently superb show: 10/10
The Vault of Secrets written by Phil Ford and directed by Joss Agnew
Until Next Time...Miss Smith: Now Luke is off at university she has to get her kicks damaging Mars Rovers...or at least the ones that are heading into trouble. Sarah Jane makes a very mature decision to help Androvax find and free the remaining hundred of his fellow citizens, regardless of what her feelings towards him are. Sarah's little gag before sabotaging Mr Dread's car is a scream. Sladen had the knack for making me smile with her line delivery right up to the end. She underplays her possession this time round, having another (and much more successful) crack at playing Androvax.
Sarah's Gang: I may have mentioned in the past how much I am in love with Clyde and Rani (and you can shove Luke into the mix, the shows most impressive achievement - the boy genius that you don't want to grind into powder). Season four was the year that the writers decided to stop playing about with their oblique romance and start to drop some serious hints that this was leading somewhere (all within the very safe, sex-free environment of SJA of course...had this been Torchwood that would have been shagging each others brains out on the attic floor as soon as Sarah Jane was out of the house). There's a gorgeous moment in The Vault of Secrets where they find themselves holding hands in a moment of stress and then awkwardly realise how close they suddenly are. These little moments are peppered throughout the season and would continue to flourish until the series end. Had season five continued as planned, there would have been an astonishing tale that would see them (through insane science fiction means) live an entire life together and have a child. It would have been gorgeous to see them consummate their relationship. The Thirteenth Floor (for that would have been its title) was ultimately made on Wizards vs. Aliens because it was far too good a story to waste and turned out to be the highlight of the first two seasons of that show. On that show it shows a burgeoning romance between Tom Clarke and the lead villainess and did manage to tug successfully at the heartstrings when they had to leave the never realm and undo their relationship and sacrifice their child. Imagine if this had played out with Clyde and Rani with all the shared history they have on SJA? It would have been properly devastating. It shows the willingness of the writers on this show (and along with The Curse of Clyde Langer, it was also written by Phil Ford and shows how he was emerging as an accomplished writer on the show) to take risks with their characters and it would have been a phenomenal chance for Anthony and Mohindra to show what they are capable of. I love the fact that Clyde, whilst still remaining very calm, is always willing to show that he is afraid Not many young male protagonists would be willing to show their anxieties.
The Parents: How can you fee anything but pity for poor Haresh who is dragged along to every astrological show, nanotech institute and social group for alien encounters by his clinically insane (but technically often right) wife? It is good that we get to see the gentle domestic moments where their love for each other shines through because otherwise you would have to wonder we he suffers these humiliations. And it is true that you sometimes have to suffer embarrassments in order to support your loved ones. Gita shoving a wrench in Haresh's hand and locking herself in the car whilst encouraging him to be a man and tackle Androvax made me chuckle. It reminds me of my husbands night time nerves when we heard somebody trying to fit their key in our door in the middle of the night once...and he handed me the glass lamp and shoved me out into the hall to admonish them! It surprises me that Mina Anwar is the most successful at getting across Androvax's desperation to save his people. Not because I think she is a terrible actress (I have seen her in a fair few things now and she is always at least competent) but because she jettisons all the pantomime that makes up Gita and goes for broke, offering a tired, sweaty and dangerous criminal. I would have welcomed Gita holding on to her knowledge of aliens but I understand why they chose not to go down that route. Twice now she has been exposed to aliens (well, the same alien) and it seems a little unfair for her to be kept constantly in the dark. However with her plans to expose everything that she knows to the press it is understandable that Sarah Jane makes the request she does of Mr Dread to wipe her memory.
Sparkling Dialogue: 'My name is Gita Chandra and I've seen aliens!' and 'We at BURPSS believe you should let it all out...' - oh come on, doesn't this collection of nomads with alien encounters meeting like a gaggle of AA members raise even the tiniest smile?
'I am not programmed for comedy.'
The Good: Another story that hits the ground running...and continues running...and continues running. The general sense of momentum and pace in the Sarah Jane Adventures often captures the glory of classic Who with it's infamous corridor dashing far more than the new series does. Mysterious black suited figures walking in a clipped fashion out of stasis, remove their hands and replace them with a high tech laser to deal with an intruder on the premises...this show always manages to capture my interest very quickly. How could children fail to love this? The woman they are pursuing turns out to Androvax the Destroyer of Worlds in disguise, which is a twist that I always forget every time I watch this story. He's a character with a great deal of potential that was only touched upon in Prisoner of the Judoon and the performance by Mark Goldthorp was the highlight of what I consider to be the weakest of all the Sarah Jane Adventures (but still above average for the record). He's given a much better vehicle this time and afforded a chance to show the many sides of his character, he's not just a one dimensional genocidal maniac but a desperate man who is trying to make amends for the wrongs that were done to his people. Allusions are made to Pyramids of Mars in the very next scenes as Sarah (with the help of Mr Smith) stops a Mars Rover from making it over the crest of a hill and spying a Pyramid in the distance. A Pyramid that she visited once when she was travelling with the fourth Doctor. In a handful of scenes this story has managed to add to the mythology of this series (the return of an old foe suggests a stable list of recurring characters) and Doctor Who, offering a peek into Sarah's old life which fans can go ahead and view on the season four DVD which included Pyramids of Mars as a tribute to Elizabeth Sladen. I think it is inspired for the show to push for redemption for Androvax. He's been seen to do terrible things in the past but now these deeds are put in context and he is simply looking to rescue others of his (otherwise extinct) kind by whatever means necessary. He's amoral but not evil. It makes his character much more interesting to watch as a result. This is man who has torn through twelve worlds to take revenge for what was done to his people and now he just wants the chance to save one civilisation in penance. Bringing the android servants of the Alliance of Shades onto SJA has two positive effects, it encourages more young ones to go an seek out Dreamland (which was very entertaining) but it also adds another very trendy race of robots to this series (they look so cool). What is it about SJA and car related humour usually involving doors being yanked off and tossed aside as they are commandeered? This really is a time for the show to get nostalgic about Sarah's past, not only tipping a wink to Pyramids of Mars but offering a handshake to The hand of Fear too with a mobile hand causing mischief. Two androids firing on each other with Clyde diving out of the way as explosions rip apart he corridor behind him...that is a pretty impressive set piece given it would have eaten up much of the budget. How does a show with a tenth (I've just pulled that figure out of the air but it is certainly much smaller than Doctor Who) manage to be so epic on occasion? Inside the vault, a vast, exciting place, are all manner of spacecraft and alien devices. It reminds me of the Black Archive in Enemy of the Bane only even more ambitious. Mr Dread's sacrifice at the end is played with such self-deprecating humour that it never once threatens to descend into syrup.
BURPSS is probably a step too far into Slitheen territory for some. I find the idea of an Ealing branch of an extraterrestrial encounter group very funny - are there other groups dotted about all over the world? I bet Cardiff has several. 'Believe me, Mr Chandra, Ealing is a thrilling place!' The look that Haresh gives the most trampish of their members is spot on hilarious. Minty and Ocean have stepped straight out of any other CBBC show and are quite amply characterised (often a sign of a Phil Ford script) but I did like how this gave Gita a vital role in the story, how she was trying to make sense of her encounters and a chance for Mina Anwar to play evil (which she does better than anyone else on the show, in this or Prisoner of the Judoon). I also found how Ocean's experiences were embedded in the story quite useful to get a handle on her character. So yes, the organisation is quite crudely written but there are a handful of bonuses to it that make the exercise worthwhile. And there are some great gags to be had with the name BURPSS ('Pardon me?').
The Bad: It is a shame that Anjili Mohindra chooses to ape the Elizabeth Sladen style of possession performance (from Judoon, not Hand of Fear) because it lacks any kind of conviction. It sounds like an actress trying to sound frightening, rather than simply being frightening. What a shame that there wasn't time to finish off Ocean's story and so instead she shuffles off stage, unsatisfied in the knowledge that Gita and the others have had their minds wiped by the Men in Black. If her story wasn't going to come to fruition I don't quite understand her inclusion.
Result: The Vault of Secrets, let me count the ways I love thee; the return of an excellent villain with a gripping modus operandi, the expansion of the Alliance of Shades from Doctor Who's Dreamland, the chance for Mina Anwar to play something other than broad comedy (although she sure gets to do that too), stylish direction and impressive set pieces, cracking dialogue, a conclusion that allows a peek into the vault and the impressive contents within and the poignant redemption of a character that I had long written off as a bad'un. BURPS are the only real negative if you are the sort of adult that looks at everything through very serious glasses - the organisation and characters within are pure panto but even they made me raise a smile more than frustrating me. It is a story that rewards with repeated viewings, outwardly appearing like the weakest story of the season because it doesn't have a hook as strong as all the other stories (Luke going to university, the return of Jo Grant (Jones), the empty planet, lost in time and Sarah gets dementia respectively) but it is so stuffed full of wonderful scenes, great lines and little nuggets that makes you recognise that this show is full of brio at this stage. This story would have been a major disappointment if the vault hadn't been worth making all this fuss about but once the doors are open and we are afforded a peek inside it is a place of genuine awe. I could see a whole story taking place inside the vault via various spacecraft. I'm pleased I gave this one another shot, it proved to be a surprise winner: 8/10
Death of the Doctor written by Russell T Davies and directed by Ashley Way
This story in a nutshell: Sarah Jane Smith. Jo Grant (nee Jones). The Doctor. Oooh!
Until Next Time…Ms Smith: We are so lucky this story was written when it was otherwise we might have been denied the meeting between Sarah Jane Smith and the eleventh Doctor and it proves to be such an event it would have been devastating if we had missed out on it. When I hear that there was a planned cameo or role for Ace in SJA I feel a twinge of regret of what might have been but it doesn’t churn me up in the same way that this would if it hadn’t made it to the screen. I can still remember when The Death of the Doctor was announced and I got butterflies in my belly! Sarah Jane, Jo Grant and the eleventh Doctor! Could anything be any more exciting for a Doctor Who fan? I phoned Simon up at work in an incoherent babble of excitement and I could literally hear him tousling my hair sweetly as I went on! I built this up as something really special in my head so how it didn’t disappoint still baffles me to this day!
Sarah holds firm to the belief that the Doctor is alive even when all the evidence points to the contrary. She always thought that if ever the Doctor died that she would know and that she would be able to feel it. What better way to get Sarah involved in the story than to get her journalistic fervour engaged in the heart of a very personal mystery? Its when she is confronted with his coffin and is told that he suffered terrible injuries that the first flicker of doubt crosses her face. I don’t know if she ever truly believed that he was dead but the mere thought of it must have stuck in her maw. Sarah admits that they used to tell so many stories about Jo at UNIT when she joined as though there was a hint of jealousy at the time, a feeling that she couldn’t quite match up. Her reaction to the Doctor is as joyful as ever, the only person who knows that this could be the Doctor turning up out of nowhere all youthful mad professor! Her ‘oh you’ve done it again’ is a scream. Its always funny when people criticise Sarah because she laughs in the face of their insults but Karim’s assertion that she has never met anybody as staggeringly pious as Sarah does hold some weight. When it comes to the Doctor it something close to hero worship. There is an acknowledgement at the close of this story that she is only one of many of the Doctor’s assistants and Sarah seems to accept that there is nothing special about her just as Elisabeth Sladen always thought. In both cases they couldn’t have been more mistaken.
Nutty Professor: We’re talking about the death of the Doctor here. His life has been put into danger plenty of times before, he has died ad nauseum to reach his eleventh regeneration and we have also explored the possibility of his death in an alternative world where a plethora of alien incursions stack up to create hell on Earth. All this is true but there has always been some really obvious get out clauses in every case. Cliffhangers were a staple of Doctor Who and you knew that there was going to be a hidden plot trick to get him out of the noose (metaphorically speaking), regeneration might be death but it has always been treated as a rebirth and on the odd occasion his death has even been a moment of triumph (The Parting of the Ways) and Turn Left could just jump back to our universe so the series could reclaim the Doctor (with a little help from Donna). This feels different. To have somebody from UNIT turn up and inform Sarah that the Doctor is unequivocally dead has an air of dramatic finality about that made me sit up and pay attention. The very idea is antithetical to my nature I rejected it outright like Sarah but Davies pushes on with the story as if this really was the case. The Doctor really is dead for 25 minutes. There is an Alien Bodies atmosphere to the early funereal scenes that are unique in this show and Doctor Who. Bravo. What’s more I never thought they would be able to top the Doctor gatecrashing Sarah Jane’s wedding but this is just about the only way they could have gone one better. When Davies said it would have been hard to bring the Doctor back into the series again he was telling the truth – what could be more cataclysmic than dealing with his death? The Doctor has no home planet to be returned to but his love of the Earth has become legendary and so the Shansheeth return him to his adopted planet instead. To be fair to them that is shrouded in just enough truth to work. To place him in a rocket and send him into space (‘as death as in life…’) would be very touching if this wasn’t all a big con. Turns out having an impromptu funeral for the Doctor means that not many of friends could be found.
He adopts his ‘come along…’ catchphrase to incorporate ‘…Smith!’ Sarah asks if it hurt when the tenth Doctor regenerated and he admits quietly that it always hurts. The Doctor admits once more that he cannot spend his life looking to the past simply because there is so much of it and that is all he would ever do with his time. In The End of Time he looked back on all of his old companions before he died as a gift to himself and he was so proud. Given the choice between saving the world and saving the children…the Doctor goes the wrong way! When the Doctor interacts with the SJA kids it reminds me of how well Matt Smith interacts with children and how much more fun Doctor Who might be had he ran off with the younger Amy than the deathly dull (and pretty irritating) older version. His wild, mad eyed plan to encourage Sarah and Jo to give the memory weave everything that they have in their memories, encouraging them to get lost in their memories of him is one of my favourite ever eleventh Doctor moments. There’s a delicious non reaction when Jo tells the Doctor that she will get him into trouble with the Time Lords – it’s a reminder of something that brought a great deal of drama to the Davies era but is barely mentioned in the Moffatt one. The way the Doctor brushes this off without contradicting her or telling her the truth is really lovely, whether its for his benefit or hers.
Hippy Chick: There was absolutely no need to re-invent Jo Grant the same way Russell T Davies did for Sarah Jane because this was only ever going to be a one off visit and it was all right there for the taking in her three years on the show. She bumbles her way into the funeral; a cuddly, scatterbrained old woman with enough sunshine in her personality to light up the dark side of the moon. Jo is marvellously characterised here and precisely the sort of grandmother we all wished we had. The Doctor has taught her well and instead of recoiling from the Shansheeth she marvels at how beautiful they are and admits that she missed seeing such creatures. Its been such a long time since she has been called Jo Grant and Sarah makes the logical observation that she turned up just after Jo left (its such an obvious point to make but having it spelt out that these two giants of classic Who are meeting still gives me goosies). Jo’s life was one of absolute fulfilment and has lived and loved every second of her marriage to Cliff with seven children and twelve grandchildren (and number thirteen on the way). Davies always manages to find something at the heart of his characters that will break your heart and with Jo it is her quietly devastated reaction that the Doctor and Sarah have been reacquainted several times and that he never came back to see her. It makes you love her that little bit more when she refuses to hold that against Sarah and just says happily ‘he must have really liked you.’ Watching Jo and Sarah working together so effectively, never jealous of each other but basking in their shared history with the Doctor is one of the highlights of this series. Learning that the Doctor is now travelling with a married couple makes Jo wonder how it would have worked out if Cliff had joined her and the Doctor on their travels because she only left him to get wed. Admitting that she always was a bit dumb and that she still is heartbreaking especially when she actually asks the Doctor if he thought she was stupid. She’s waited her whole silly life to see the Doctor again and wondered if one day the TARDIS might appear in the middle of the jungle and he would step out to visit. Wonderfully the Doctor turns his absence in her life into something a triumph because Jo has fulfilled so many of her dreams and then some. She’s lived a life of adventure, or politics and morality and has been to most beautiful places on the Earth. Not even the TARDIS could pin her down because she is always on the move. When she thinks she is going to die Jo tells the Doctor that it was worth it just to see him again which she has waited for her whole life. Jo doesn’t care what the TARDIS looks like it is still absolutely the same ship she travelled around time and space in but she has to force herself to leave before she wants to stay for good. Heading off to Norway by hovercraft, telling Clyde and Rani they are gorgeous and imploring Sarah Jane to get a fella…it’s a fine farewell to a much loved companion.
Journalist in Training: There’s not a great deal of time to deal with Rani but she gets to stare at Clyde’s bum for a long time so its not a complete waste of her time!
Graphic Artist: Clyde and Rani are given some fine material here and its great that Davies uses his power that was bestowed on him in The Wedding of Sarah Jane Smith to suggest the Doctor’s return. I really giggled at his reaction to Rani’s insult about his height, Daniel Anthony has got these comic reactions down pat by now.
Boy Genius: Luke only gets a cameo at the beginning but his continued presence in the series is much appreciated (in any other show to writer out a character like they have would have meant closing the door on them but SJA has consequences and continuing tales to tell for Luke) and in the trusted hands of Russell T Davies his dialogue is sharper and his characterisation is better than ever.
Cute Nephew: It might be really wrong of me to say to say so but Santiago Jones is absolutely gorgeous. Honestly he could have been the dullest character on two legs because he ticks so many of my boxes. Just as the hat of fortune gets passed back and forth between Sarah and Jo (one has lived a very fulfilling life but the other has had fresh adventures with the Doctor) the same is also true of Santiago and Clani – he might have lived a far more travelled life but he barely gets to spend any time with his parents. It reminds us of how lucky Clyde and Rani are to be able to inhabit parallel realities and go back in time and then get home in time for tea with their folks.
Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Think of all the lives he’s touched. The whole planet should be in mourning…’
‘He can change his face!’ ‘I know but into a baby’s?’ ‘Oi! Imagine it from my point of view! The last time I saw you you were what Jo Grant? 21? 22? Its like someone baked you!’
‘Not as daft as they look for some batty old pensioners and a bunch of ASBO kids…’
‘Every planet, every face, every madman, every loss, every sunset, every scent, every terror, every joy…every Doctor. Every me.’
‘The coffin was the trap, the coffin was the solution…that’s so neat I could write a thesis!’ – Davies comments on the fact that he can write a satisfying ending!
‘Its daft though because we were both saying that we had this theory that if you ever died that we’d feel it somehow. We’d just know. But that’s just silly, isn’t it?’ ‘I don’t know because between you and me if that day ever comes…I think the whole universe might just shiver’ – this really nicely sets up series six of Doctor Who.
‘I can’t be sure but there’s a woman called Tegan in Australia fighting for Aboriginal rights. There’s Ben and Polly in India running an orphanage there. There was Harry, oh I loved Harry…he’s a Doctor, he did such good work with vaccines he saved thousands of lives. There’s a Dorothy something, she runs that company Charitable Earth and she’s raised billions. And there’s this couple in Cambridge, both professors – Ian and Barbara Chesterton. Rumour has it they’ve never aged, not since the sixties. I wonder…’ – Ian and Barbara did get it together! Bloody marvellous!
- How could they ever top this pre titles sequence? UNIT troops converging on Sarah’s house as she storms out and gives them their marching orders. For anybody who has watched Sarah’s three and a bit seasons on Doctor Who and seen her dally with UNIT or for anybody who has watched the first three seasons of SJA and her uneasy current alliance with UNIT or for anybody who just likes an exciting opening…this is magnificent. It gave me goosebumps when I first watched it and it just gave me goosebumps now (it might have something to do with the awesome Murray Gold UNIT theme too). As if that wasn’t enough the bombshell that the Doctor is dead is enough to kick start this story with one hell of a dramatic shock. That Russell T Davies, he knows how to make an impact!
- Some people have to walk into children’s TV show and take hold of a part and make it broad but not ridiculous and others use it as an excuse to sink into melodramatic farce. Stand up Laila Rouass who does a remarkable job with what could have been an easy role to screw up as Colonel Karim. What’s especially impressive is that she shows no signs of duplicity in the first half and hour and could be our new liaison with UNIT for the Sarah Jane Adventures. In fact she better played and more interesting than most of the UNIT characters we met in The Sontaran Stratagem and Planet of the Dead! When she admits that there is nothing here for her on Earth anymore it hints at a dark backstory that we never get to find out. Karim dies in a massive explosion which is a much rougher ending than most villains get on this show but again marks this story out as something a bit different. We get to see her screaming in the flames just before she is taken out by the blast.
- Intergalactic undertakers – what a great idea! The Shansheeth have a very logical reason for turning up in the story as the carers of the dead, trawling the battlefields of outer space and looking for heroes to bring home. It’s a very noble cause and a completely different kind of alien than anything we have ever met before so massive kudos on the score. When they turn up as Farscape style puppets I was clapping with delight…in a story that wants to bring together some of the best elements of the classic series (Jo, Sarah and UNIT) this is the most classic series looking monster we have ever seen. Farscape was a show with a hundred times the budget and resources of this show and they used to flaunt aliens like this all the time. I consider it a statement of their absolute confidence that they would happily place something this gloriously ridiculous in the heart of the story and (surprise surprise) get away with it. Sarah’s incredulous reaction at their appearance is a nice wink at the audience. The Shansheeth plan to nab the TARDIS and prevent death in the universe and halt the endless weeping of millions is actually quite a noble cause but absolutely untenable. Its even understandable if they have devoted their lives dealing with the grief of the universe but death is necessary to keep the universe ticking over. Its great to see SJA making this statement, a similar one to that touted in School Reunion. Death defines us as much as living and it cannot be interfered with.
- As much as I love the Attic it looks pretty shabby and domestic compared to the most impressive UNIT base than even Doctor Who has ever offered us. Hollowed into the side of Mount Snowden with nightmarish turrets sticking from the mountains stomach and a very Stargate style tunnel leading inside.
- Continuity ahoy! Well Gary Russell is script editing! Some people might not like so much continuity being injected into a story but SJA has developed enough originality of its own to indulge from time to time and the very purpose of Death of the Doctor is to celebrate what has been and how we have ended up here. The Brigadier is stranded in Peru (The Sontaran Stratagem) and Miss Shaw is on the Earth’s Moonbase (nice to see that Liz wound up in an important position…plus the first confirmation of the base that the Cybermen attack in 2020 when the second Doctor and friends visit!). Sarah remembers the last time she saw the Doctor (The End of Time) and the way he looked at her as if he was heading off to die. She doesn’t even know if the man in the coffin has a face she would recognise. We get to see clips from a myriad of adventures – The End of Time, The Wedding of Sarah Jane Smith (which helpfully reminds us of Clyde’s artron abilities), Pyramids of Mars (the fourth Doctor brooding in the console room), Death to the Daleks (the third Doctor on Exillon wandering off with an oil lamp into the gloom), The Masque of Mandragora (the Doctor in the secondary control room, Hieronymous), Carnival of Monsters (the TARDIS in the hold of the SS Bernice, Drashigs), The Time Monster (the TARDIS in a ditch, Chronovore, the Master), The Three Doctors (the first, second and third Doctors together), Death to the Daleks (the City of the Exxilons), The Time Warrior (Linx the Sontaran), The Curse of Peladon (Hepesh, Alpha Centuri, Ice Warriors), Pyramids of Mars (Sutekh invading the TARDIS, mummies), The Seeds of Doom (Harrison Chase), Planet of Evil (the Anti Matter monster), Invasion of the Dinosaurs (big man T-Rex, the Brig), Robot (UNIT surrounding Bessie), The Hand of Fear (the hand, Eldrad), Terror of the Zygons (Zygons), Genesis of the Daleks (Davros, Daleks), The Android Invasion (androids, Styggron), Planet of the Daleks (Spiridons, Daleks, spaceship descending, the Dalek army, the Supreme Dalek), The Sea Devils (coming out of the sea), The Daemons (Bok, the Master, Azal), The Mutants (Skybase, the Mutts, the Marshall), Frontier in Space (Ogrons, Draconians, the Master and the Daleks), Jo mentions visiting Karfel (Timelash), Drashigs (Carnival of Monsters), Axons (The Claws of Axos), Ogrons (Day of the Daleks, Frontier in Space), the Daleks (Planet of the Daleks), Azal (The Daemons), Sarah mentions Italy (The Masque of Mandragora), Cybermen (Revenge of the Cybermen), Zygons (Terror of the Zygons). The way that exquisite harp music stirs up these memories really makes my heart sing because we can close our eyes and see all the excitement and memorable dangers that Sarah and Jo got into during the classic series’ peak. Its one reference after another that breaks down any resistance I might have to fanwank and forces me to surrender to the past. The smell of lapacho reminds Jo of the royal palace of Peladon and Sarah admits that she has been there too (but there’s none of that ‘rebound’ nonsense that we had when the Doctor took Martha to New Earth, merely a sense of them loving the fact that they both visited somewhere that special). Whilst we’re basking in the warm glow of classic Who its rather fitting that there should be some exciting ventilation shaft scenes but given a contemporary spin (‘shuffle for your lives!’). If all this wasn’t enough to get your fanboy heart beating faster then there is also a spanking new quarry bleached crimson with planets filling the sky! It’s the first time that either Sarah or Jo have stepped foot on another planet since they left the Doctor and if that isn’t worth celebrating then I don’t know what is. Isn’t it wonderful that a throwaway line that the Doctor can regenerate 507 times in this story was taking so seriously by both the press and the shows fans? It shows that you are allowed to blow kisses to the past but don’t you dare meddle with it! During the nostalgia infused climax we get to walk through a whole plethora of Sarah Jane Adventures too and realise that she has built up her own mythology too which is a fine statement for this story to make.
Result: ‘Echoes of the Doctor all over the world. With friends like us he’s never going to die, is he?’ Death of the Doctor is on the cusp of being my favourite Sarah Jane Adventure and there are so many treasures to be unearthed that during its first screening I sat there with a massive grin throughout. Most of those treasures are kisses to the past and as a celebration of everything that made classic Doctor Who great I can’t imagine this being bettered. The flashiest claim is that it brings the eleventh Doctor into orbit with Sarah Jane but astonishingly Davies manages to make the return of Jo as special and her interaction with Sarah just as important. Beyond that there are so many wonderful moments that will whip you up into a nostalgic frenzy including a quarry posing as a planet, chases through ventilation shafts, imaginative but daft looking aliens and enough mentions of the past (and glorious clips) to keep even the most ardent Doctor Who fan sated. You can also look forward to a continuation of the story that began in The Wedding of Sarah Jane Smith, the astonishing notion of dealing with the Doctor’s death and a marvelously insane plot that forces our heroines to look backwards to give the villains the secret of time travel. Its absolutely packed with substance and so massive kudos to Russell T Davies for managing to make this so deliriously entertaining and not feel hurried and filling it to bursting with witty lines and glorious character moments. Its an astonishing achievement and for the chance to see him write for Matt Smith it is practically unmissable. The chemistry between Elisabeth Sladen and Katy Manning is so good you’ll wish Jo stuck around and Matt Smith’s gleeful interaction with the kids kicks ass and with both being juggled in the last episode you’ve got a story which keeps giving until its delightful final scene. Given the tragedy of recent years the moment when Jo cups Sarah’s face and tells her she is beautiful always brings a tear to my eye, its such a stunning statement about both characters and a fine tribute to Elisabeth Sladen. When so much of the Sarah Jane Adventures is about looking forward this is a gorgeous pause to look over its shoulder at everything that came before and acknowledge the weight of history that these characters share. Magnificent: 10/10
The Empty Planet written by Gareth Roberts and directed by Ashley Way
The Empty Planet written by Gareth Roberts and directed by Ashley Way
Until Next Time...Miss Smith: AWOL.
Schoolgirl Investigator & Graphic Artist: Nowhere else is the strength of the Clyde and Rani relationship more potently realised and given that they are exceptional all of the time that is some statement. The Empty Planet is given over to the two actors as a gift for all their hard work on the show, it is practically a two hander for them to really show off their acting chops. There has been a subtle thread of romance running through the series (especially series four) between them that has been pleasing tease, the two of them often acknowledging how they feel for each other but rarely to each others faces. Now they have to come to face the idea that they might be the only two individuals left on the planet and all they will have is each other. It is very telling that when they find themselves in a town empty of people that their first thoughts are of each other. One thing I adore about Daniel Anthony's performances as Clyde is that he is isn't afraid to show the characters sensitive side whilst still being the trendiest person on the show. In this panic stricken situation, this one lad who isn't afraid to show that he is frightened. Rani deploying the sonic lipstick shows somebody who is naturally following in Sarah Jane's footsteps. It is so nice to have children's television featuring intelligent kids who can reason out their situation without having to turn to adults, it is quite the rarity. Clyde and Rani are smart and capable, not suffering tantrums every five minutes (or the curse of Dawn Summers as it is otherwise known). Even questions like if this their punishment for being so close to Sarah Jane and her amazing life are sensible. It is exactly the sort of self assessment you would ut yourself through if you were cut off from everybody else. Clyde asks if they would have been friends if they hadn't had nosed their way into 13 Bannerman Road. He doesn't see much of his old gang anymore, the trouble makers. The final scene should be unbearably mushy for all its sentimentality about Clyde and Rani finding a better life with Sarah Jane but it works a treat because the chemistry between the actors is so good. And the final reveal that Clyde and Rani will never be alone because they have found each other is perfect.
Sparkling Dialogue: 'You can definitely have Prince Charles! Take Camilla too if you want.'
'I am the most important person on the planet!' 'Well it's just the three of us at the moment.'
Standout Scene: We travel through the stars to another world and witness an alien child running through the grass towards a city of spires with a ringed planet dominating the sky. Sometimes this show knocks the wind out of me.
Result: Things to love about The Empty Planet: the boldness of pulling off a 28 Days Later evacuation of the planet, the ever-gorgeous Clyde and Rani relationship and a chance to give Daniel Anthony and Anjili Mohindra a chance to shine like never before, the mounting tension, some of the best robot costumes you are ever likely to see in science fiction, a furious pace, stylish direction and a very smart and engaging script from Gareth Roberts that thinks through it's terrifying scenario and comes to a smart resolution. Roberts' work on SJA has been exemplary, a world away from his fluffy escapades on Doctor Who. Paradoxically on a children's show he seems to have found his niche of writing some remarkably adult storylines (that is adult as in intelligent and insightful, not adult as in Torchwood). For what is essentially an hour long chase around the deserted streets of Ealing this is a remarkably polished production and a story that asks some smart questions. I was blown away when I first saw it and I have been blown away re-visiting it for the purposes of this review. Is it any wonder this show was so admired? In the year it was broadcast it had half the content of the Doctor Who season but it was by far the most accomplished collection of stories. Extremely well written and made, The Sarah Jane Adventures chalks up another knockout adventure in series four: 9/10
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!
Until Next Time…Miss Smith: 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 because everybody 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 simply beautiful.
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
Goodbye, Sarah Jane Smith written by Clayton Hickman & Gareth Roberts and directed by Joss Agnew
This story in a nutshell: Sarah Jane grows ill and a new replacement arrives…
Until Next Time…Miss Smith: This is probably the most bitter pill for fans of the character and the show to swallow. A story that features the slow deterioration and near death of our beloved Sarah Jane, mirroring the events that would happen to Elisabeth Sladen in less than a year. Enough time has passed now for me to be able to put my emotions aside and watch this as a piece of escapism in its own right (and a damn good one it is too) and regardless it was an extremely brave move (bravery was something this show was never short of) to destabilise the children watching the show by forcing them to endure the increasing obsolescence and infirmity of their heroine. It gives Elisabeth Sladen the chance to get her teeth into some proper acting and it ends the strongest season of the show on a bittersweet, elegiac note. At the time (before Sladen’s demise) I thought it was a very bold piece of work and since her death I think it stands as a terrific example of the new areas they explored with the character and the actress.
Hickman and Roberts prove what an effective unit they have become to the point that Sarah barely needs to tell them what to do when the latest extraterrestrial crisis hits. Writing out Luke has had the pleasing side effect that Sarah Jane is basically the female Doctor we have always been promised with two hip, likable companions of her own. Its great to note that Sarah Jane isn’t so perfect that she can’t help but feel a pang of jealousy when somebody turns up who can do her job as good as she does. Its these little prickly imperfections that keep her real. She’s also not above admitting when she is wrong and holds out a hand of friendship when she realises that together they would be quite a team. I love how the story subtly hints at Sarah’s growing senility – leaving the handbrake on, getting forgetful, losing herself in her thoughts – things that anybody could do but they soon stack up until you realise something is wrong. Suddenly she’s behaving in a very irrational way, enjoying alien incursions a little too much and handing out guns to repel them. The most gutting moment comes when Sarah cannot even remember the Doctor’s name, the most important man ever to walk into her life. When she admits that her life has made her ill it is clear that she needs to step down or at least have a rest – this is not the same woman that we share adventures with week in, week out. I have never felt more for the character than when she begs Ruby to let her speak to her son one last time. Its nice to see that she hasn’t lost her bite when things return to normal, condemning Ruby to a life of solitude in her prison cell in space.
Journalist in Training: Rani and Sarah share a close bond now and she’s not going to be put off when her mentor tries to shrug off the idea that anything is wrong with her and Sarah knows it. All that CBBC acting is tossed out of the window as Mina Anwar aces the scene where she tries to comfort Rani after Sarah has ‘run away.’ Its astonishing that a children’s series is capable of moments of choking depth like this and Gita admitting that she is envious of her daughters relationship with Sarah Jane but it makes her happy that she is happy. Its Gita’s shining moment in the series.
Graphic Artist: Clyde’s anger towards Rani when Sarah Jane has left feels very real because its another example of a parental figure in his life walking away from him without a thought to his feelings and you always wind up lashing out at those closest to you. The message that he leaves on his phone when he thinks he is going to die is very touching and its superbly played by Daniel Anthony. I especially love the fact that he is so selfless about his impending death, insisting that Sarah Jane doesn’t blame herself for it. And we all know he was going to admit how he feels about Rani with his dying breath.
Ruby Ruby Ruby Ruby: A star turn from Julie Graham who has to step into the series and out Sarah Jane Elisabeth Sladen. To her credit she is confident, stylish, resourceful and winning and it’s a long way into the story before you even suspect that Ruby is up to no good. Had things not transpired the way they did there was certainly enough space in the show to accommodate such an engaging new character, an ally for Sarah Jane. There are lots of lovely touches that reminded me of the remote Sarah Jane from Invasion of the Bane – criticising the choice of working with children and there is a direct steal as Gita calls out to Ruby as she heads to her car just as Maria and Alan did to Sarah in the pilot. Watching this story for a second time is very rewarding because the way Ruby twists her dialogue so that her nom de plume is parody of Sarah Jane whilst she is slow sucking them life out of the real article is very cruel. Mocking and devouring. Scenes of Ruby striking up a great relationship with Clyde and Rani with Sarah Jane watching on wistfully should be agonising but they judged perfectly, given the right edge of acceptance on her part. Watch how Graham’s performance twists uncomfortably from naturalistic (when Sarah Jane insists that she takes over from her) to pure villainous (revealing that she was responsible). There are very few top notch villains in Doctor Who these days but the way Ruby enjoys torturing Sarah Jane both physically and emotionally puts her up on a pedestal. The idea of Ruby taking Sarah Jane’s place but aiding the alien invaders rather than fighting them is so delicious I wish we had the time to watch that in action. She’s so malicious its not enough to tell Sarah Jane she is going to break Clyde and Rani’s heart…she makes her watch it as well. ‘I almost upsetted myself…’ she says as she gleefully chokes back a sob, soaking up the angst she is causing. What a great villain. She loves playing with the kids too, not even bothering with the pretence that she is anything other than a baddie with Clyde. The cat and mouse game between her and Rani where both pretends that everything is normal had me howling with laughter.
Sparkling Dialogue: ‘I can’t put a sign on the dark side of the moon saying ‘DON’T INVADE THIS WEEK BECAUSE OL’ SMITH IS ON HER HOLS.’
‘They want all the water? Go ahead – drink up! Mineral wealth that way! Colonise? Pick a continent!’
‘With a team like this I think I can go on forever…’ and you will.
The Good: They call it the Ealing Triangle because so many unusual and otherworldly events have transpired here. Its great to see SJA has built up enough mythology to be able to reference previous adventures with such conviction. Joss Agnew’s direction always stretches way beyond that of a kids TV show but his handling of the Dark Horde approach is something else. I especially liked the dramatic crane shot across the scrapyard and how their scare tactic bolts reach out of the TV to hit the audience. Qetesh is basically the most insidious villain that Sarah Jane has ever confronted because it drains away all the things that make her such a delightful character – excitement and a lust for life. She is basically the anti-Russell T Davies, trying eliminate all that desire for adventure (‘a trip of a lifetime’) that he injected back into the public consciousness. A giant stomach pulsating in a cellar should be pure b-movie but it works but the effects work is just grotesque enough to make it work. Tossed out into space in a prison no larger than the average toilet and forced to float about for all eternity – no wonder Ruby was vengeful. It allows the story to stretch beyond the Earth and affords some simple but effective visuals of the ship hanging in space with Clyde running out of oxygen. Luke’s return to the show, far more mature than when he left it, is a moment of pure triumph. The only story ever where a meteor attack on the Earth is the way that they defeat the bad guy. It shits all over the ‘angelic Doctor fed by positive vibes’ ending of Last of the Time Lords and then goes back for seconds.
The Bad: Kids are very perceptive and don’t need things spelt out to them so Clyde’s ‘she’s exactly like you’ with regards to Ruby really wasn’t necessary. Regardless of its ambitious storytelling, I’m very pleased that this did not wind up being the final Sarah Jane Adventure. It would have been a little too realistic to end the series on such an melancholic note.
Result: ‘My story is finished…’ A strong end to a near peerless season of SJA, Goodbye, Sarah Jane Smith might be hard to watch in the wake of Elisabeth Sladen’s death but it stands up as a superior slice of children’s drama and one that isn’t afraid to take real risks. The first half is beautifully paced to give Sarah Jane’s senility a chance to spread with conviction and only twists into a dangerous situation when we realise just how much Ruby has been responsible for. We’ve seen iniquitous harpies (the delightful Mrs Wormwood), duplicitous UNIT operatives and even Sarah Jane herself take the mantle of villainy but this is still the closest the show ever got to producing a anti-heroine worthy of the titular character. Ruby is insidious, has an appetite for cruelty and is played with relish and conviction by Julie Graham. Had the series continued she would have been a dead cert for a return appearance. The script is remarkably efficient; leaving room for character drama, development, the triumphant return of an old character, new aliens, a trip into space and even time to subvert the standard splurging gag. If this sounds incredibly packed then marvel at how Joss Agnew so stylishly holds it all together, delivering a polished final result that will convince you this show commands a much larger budget than in reality. The strongest finale since The Lost Boy and proof that this show was delivering the goods right up to the end. And for those of you who hated the end of Last of the Time Lords you should definitely give this a watch – the climax is its antithesis as Luke scares the population of the Earth into gorging Ruby to death: 9/10
Sky written by Phil Ford and directed by Ashley Way
Sky written by Phil Ford and directed by Ashley Way
This story in a nutshell: What would Sarah Jane do if a baby was dropped on her doorstep?
Until Next Time...Miss Smith: This is the first time since Luke's departure where we have seen how lonely Sarah Jane is when the day comes to an end and Clyde and Rani have gone home. With Luke in university she is rattling around in that big old house on her own again. Obviously they are paving the way for the introduction of Sky, filling a gap in Sarah's life that she has come to get a great deal of pleasure from. She always thought that babies looked a bit rubbery. Sarah has been an excellent role model for mothers over the past five years and I really sat up and took notice when she declared Miss Myers an unfit parent - it shows how far she has come from those early days of Revenge of the Slitheen where she wasn't sure how to communicate with Luke. How crabby is Sarah Jane with Mr Smith in this story? I like the cold edge to her, it stops her getting too mumsy. Never break in the same place twice...as a reporter she never breaks that superstition.
Sarah's Gang: This is the second time that Luke has mentioned Sanjay (The Death of the Doctor was the first instance) and Russell T. Davies has since admitted that this was paving the way to Luke coming out and having a boyfriend after CBBC asked for a strong role model for children who were struggling with their sexuality. It would have been great for this to have come to fruition but as least they managed to achieve their goal with Benny on Wizards vs. Aliens and I thought it was handled very adroitly. Luke was a strong character and would have made a wonderful role model for gay teens. Comparing Rani to Sky is a useful experience because she was only a handful of years older than her when she joined the series in Day of the Clown but now she has matured into a striking young woman. Can you imagine Gita's reaction if Rani started asking for advice about baby's? Rani sees a natural father in Clyde...which would have led to The Thirteenth Floor later in the season, a story where they would have been trapped in another dimension where time ran at a different rate and they would have grown old and had children together. How interesting to see the seeds being sown in these early episodes.
Sparkling Dialogue: 'She cried earlier and every bulb in the house blew...'
'I'm in the middle of a nuclear power station and I'm carrying baby bang-bang!'
'You remember when you were a baby?' 'Well it was only about half an hour ago.'
'There are other ways to end a war. You just have to want peace more than death.'
All Change: There is a deliberate shift in tone from the latter half of series four to the debut of series five that had me worried at the time but in hindsight was precisely the right thing to do. Series four saw this show grow up exponentially. Luke had gone off to university (but not before a final stunning coming of age story) which left Clyde and Rani (played by two older actors) and Sarah Jane to front the show. It felt remarkably sophisticated, especially given the standard of the writing and themes that were being explored (nostalgia, romance, fate, dementia). The one thing that was missing with Luke absent was a character who was going on a learning curve, a character that was growing up just like the children who would be watching this show to relate to (as fantastic as Clyde and Rani are as characters they are probably just a little too old for the younger ones to identify with). Enter Sky, the latest addition to Sarah Jane's family and somebody who isn't even from Earth to experience everything fresh during their adventures. They avoid any comparisons with Luke by casting a girl and I'm sure if the series had continued we would have seen a very different emotional journey than the one that Luke went on. Looking back I saw the inclusion of Sky as a regressive step since the show had grown up so much but I was wrong - the kids need an identification figure and in only three adventures Sky proves her worth on the series. Had it continued to the end of the season we would have been spoilt with a surprise twist that Sky is the progeny of the Trickster who inserted her into Sarah Jane's life to bring her down for good. In my head that story took place and it was bloody marvellous (as I'm sure it would have been). Any doubts I might have had about the series dumbing down were soon addressed in the next story (bizarrely another Phil Ford script and his most assured and mature entry in the series) and any series that can spend its final three adventures examining parenthood, homelessness and slavery poignantly without talking down to its core audience is doing something very right in my book.
The Good: Trust this show to attempt to re-stage the opening of Terminator and not even blink. An invisible robot screaming down to Earth in a fireball, striking a used car scrap yard with an almighty explosion and marching from the wreckage. There's a great theme for the Metal kind too, Sam Watts' music continuing to give the series real scope. A clever design too, partly a costume (the visor, the armour) and partly make up (the mouth painted silver) to give the impression of something part machine and part person. The idea of dumping a baby on Sarah Jane's doorstep was obviously too good an opportunity to miss. Her reaction is a scream. And then Rani's. And then Clyde's. Giving the baby such an influence over her surroundings depending on her mood is great fun, bringing Clyde's sense of whimsy to the fore to keep her amused and stop her reducing Bannerman Road to a pile of rubble. Another nuclear power station for Sarah Jane to play in? It's an impressive location and looks vast on screen. Christine Stephen-Daly is giving an operatic turn as Miss Myers, decked out in outrageous finery as though she has just stepped out of Dynasty but even with some ripe dialogue she manages to contain her performance to a degree so it doesn't trip over into panto. She another in a long line of impressive female villains in the series (Mrs Wormwood, Sister Helena, Mona Lisa, Colonel Karim, Ruby White), the writers enjoying having Sarah squaring up to her own sex. She's pure CBBC but I just love every appearance of Floella Benjamin as Professor Rivers ('Wait for me! I'm in wellingtons!'). For once an invisible creature is a creative decision rather than a budgetary requirement...after all they have already spent the money bringing the imposing Metalkind robot to life. There is a phenomenal physical effect that sees Sky tossing the Metalkind across the room and leaving a robot sized dent in the wall. How cruel is the idea of creating a biological weapon through a child, an innocent harbinger of doom for the Metalkind. What sort of parent could conceive a child and turn it into a genocidal device? I'm pleased that somebody pointed out that Sky's curiosity about the world is familiar and it is best coming from Clyde who took Luke under his wing in the early seasons. A species that has evolved from metal...I don't think I have ever seen that idea explored before and yet it is such an obvious and exciting notion. You can see how Sky's abilities could come in very handy on these adventures...what is interesting is that in the next two stories it isn't her supernatural ability that it is utilised but her empathy as a child. Interestingly we learn that the flesh kind (possibly humanity?) in the future raped the planet of the Metalkind to create weapons - the war started because they decided to protect themselves. Phil Ford has obviously been taking lessons from Terrance Dicks, the grand master of stacking up threats that need to be overcome at the climax of a story. A nuclear reactor that has gone critical, an invasion of the world by revenge seeking robots and the possible death of a child who has been created as a weapon. Whoever the Shopkeeper and the Captain were, they were a brilliant addition to the series. This story ends on a real high with their appearance.
The Bad: In a story that has characters as broad as Professor Rivers and Miss Myers, it may have been a mistake for the tramp to be played quite this ravingly. It feels like beyond the regular everybody is being characterised to an extreme. 'The end is nigh!' The opening half of episode one feels like this might be a deeper piece than it turns out to be. Once the action moves to the power station we are in pure action adventure territory.
The Shallow Bit: Doesn't Elizabeth Sladen look radiant dashing down her drive in her robe?
Result: Returning to its roots as a children's TV show after a year of sophisticated storytelling, Sky is the most kiddie friendly Sarah Jane Adventure since...well since the last Phil Ford script. Don't mistake that for a lack of quality though, there is absolutely nothing wrong with pitching a story at the target audience as long as it is done with some consideration, which Sky clearly has been. Any story featuring the fallout of a genocidal war and a commentary on bad parenting isn't exactly simplifying things but it does so be tethering its adult themes to a story featuring an invisible robot, a ruthless harpy from a another world, a nuclear power plant threatening to meltdown, war on Earth and an ex Playschool presenter camping it up in wellies. That's quite a lot to pack in and my one serious complaint is that every character that isn't a regular on this show (excluding Sky) is written in such an extreme fashion that it is hard to take them seriously...even when the situation calls on us to do so. Sky herself is a marvellous creation, well written and cast and you can already see lots of potential with the character and a chance to rekindle that audience identification with the core audience of this show. Phil Ford is a reliable writer and always brings something interesting to the table, this might not be one of his strongest efforts but Sky shows that five years on even a middling Sarah Jane Adventure is good cut above average. Highlights include the phenomenal realisation of the Metalkind (including a great theme, physical effects and a striking costume/make up), strong support from Clyde and Rani (as ever), some stunning location work at a power station, the sense of whimsy surrounding Sky, both as a baby and a grown up child and the surprise appearance of the Shopkeeper and the Captain at the climax. A fun start to a new year: 7/10
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
The Man Who Wasn’t There written by Gareth Roberts and directed by Joss Agnew
This story in a nutshell: The last ever televised Sarah Jane Smith adventure…
Until Next Time…Miss Smith: This seems an opportune moment to mention my all time favourite Sarah Jane moments…or rather a favourite moment from each story!
The Time Warrior: ‘Why don’t you take of that ridiculous costume and go home to your butchers shop!’
Invasion of the Dinosaurs: ‘Run along and play whilst the adults get on with the real business!’
Death to the Daleks: ‘I can sink anywhere…’
The Monster of Peladon: ‘There’s nothing only about being a girl, your majesty.’
Planet of the Spiders: ‘Please, don’t die…’
Robot: ‘But you can’t take on the whole world! Don’t you understand they’ll destroy you!’
The Ark in Space: ‘Conned again! You’re a brute!’
The Sontaran Experiment: ‘Heeeeey! (feet kicking out of a ditch)
Genesis of the Daleks: ‘We’re talking about the Daleks. The most evil creatures ever invented! You must destroy them! You must complete your mission for the Time Lords!’
Revenge of the Cybermen: ‘Will you stop going on about your wretched gold, Harry!’
Terror of the Zygons: ‘Well as long as you don’t turn into a Zygon…’
Planet of Evil: ‘But the power is low...'
Pyramids of Mars: ‘We’ve got to go back…’
The Android Invasion: ‘I came here once on a story...'
The Brain of Morbius: ‘I was attacked by a great claw thing that looked like it was mad of butchers leftovers!’
The Seeds of Doom: ‘You’re as bad as Chase, Scorby. All these guards, all these guns. Other people don’t matter! You’re not complete unless you’ve got a gun in your hand!’
The Masque of Mandragora: ‘You don’t have to use that fifteenth century doubletalk with me! I speak da pretty good inglish!’
The Hand of Fear: ‘Oh come one. I can’t miss Gallifrey!’
K.9 and Company: ‘You didn’t forget…’
The Five Doctors: ‘Thank you very much for rescuing me Doctor but now will you kindly tell me why I need rescuing!’
School Reunion: ‘He replaced you with a brand new model! Yeah, he does that.’
The Stolen Earth: ‘You’re so young…’
The End of Time: That look she gives him…
Look at all this gorgeous material Sarah Jane gave us before she was given her own series? What companion can boast so many quality moments? I would have thought this day would never come…the last story to ever feature Elisabeth Sladen playing Sarah Jane Smith. I’ll tell you something – it’s a death that has hit me more than any other in my life to this point. I have lost family to the ravages of age and disease but they have never been close relations. For some reason this hit really hard and I felt completely numb for almost a week. Simon had to come home from work because I wouldn’t stop crying (that’s a three hour train journey from Luton to Eastbourne) and I felt so ridiculous because this was a woman I had only met once (as fabulous as that was) and in actuality it was just a character I was grieving. It took me nearly a week to figure out why I was so upset, not only had I lost my childhood hero (I had started watching Sarah Jane classic Who’s when I was about six and instantly fell in love) but Sarah Jane represents the perfect Doctor Who companion, the every woman, us. She was our window into adventures with the Doctor and I think when Elisabeth Sladen died and the character was no more, a little bit of each of us died too. It’s a testament to her warmth, wit and wonder in the role that she touched so many peoples hearts and even more so that there was a moment of national mourning when she was taken from her family. Rather than mourn her death any longer (I still get pangs every time I think of the character) I want to continue to celebrate her astonishing body of work in this section of the website and the classic Who areas too. She will always be my hero and she’s up on my wall so I can look at her every day. Love you Sarah Jane and in my eyes you’re adventures will go on forever…
Poor Sarah, her harem of children all seem to think that the money that pays for the house grows on trees! When she suggests that three of the top journalists have been invited to the launch of the Serfboard Rani asks painfully if she knows any of them! She tries to bask in the glory of being the best parent on the Earth for obtaining a Serfboard for her kids before anybody else (‘Hurrah for mum!’) and then snatch away her moment of glory by introducing an element of mystery that Sarah cannot resist. We get to see her at her journalistic best, enthusing about the Serfboard whilst candidly informing Harrison that she spotted the flaw in his presentation and will expose his secret unless he exceeds to her demands of a personal interview. All with a smile on her face. I actually punched the air with excitement when Sarah sees through Serf’s attempts to hypnotise her (‘I’m an old hand at hypnotism…’) because that is something that long characterised her time on classic Who. Clearly her time wasn’t wasted with the Doctor because she has a hundred and one ways to escape a locked room but finds the classics are the best! She suggests she is about to do something devilishly clever and the next time we see her she is dressed up as a cleaning lady – the third Doctor must have told her about his ingenious scheme in The Green Death!
Boy Genius: Clyde confirms that no matter where you originated from, even if you were created by an alien species with the intelligence of thousands…once you leave for university you become a slob and who doesn’t know how to fill a cupboard, only empty them. Clyde refers to him as Franken-bane’s monster and his greatest success! When Luke reveals his dog whistle so he can call K.9 whenever he wants I beamed…he’s become a proto-Doctor! The way Tommy Knight gently plays his scenes with Sinead Michael shows just how far he has come as an actor, he taps into a very sensitive side of Luke and shows how this relationship would have been a very rewarding one to follow.
Graphic Artist & Journalist in Training: Calling Clyde and Rani ‘Clani’ is wonderful because it confirms at last that these two have finally got it together (although that had happened around the time they first met its just that neither one of them could admit it!) and its also one of those horrendous ‘shipper’ nicknames that do the rounds on the internet (another show that has taken the piss out of such a bizarre phenomena is Supernatural with its digs at ‘Wincest!`). Frankly I cannot imagine a better place to leave these two in the series than as a couple, happy with their lives and continuing to save the universe and back in time for a cuddle and a kiss. Its where we’ve been leading for the past two seasons now. You might be disappointed that Clyde and Rani are left out of the action for so long but it allows them to enjoy plenty of time together in their last adventure and revel in the chemistry between Anjili Mohindra and Daniel Anthony. Clyde is delicate in a very manly way…he’s got artists fingers don’t’cha know? Watching them dressed up as mad scientist trying to dissect the Serfboard is very funny and they’re right, it is just like the old days. There has been so much talk about Rani wanting to be a journalist and now she gets the chance to jump into action, invent a cover story for her and Clyde and infiltrate Serf Industries. She’s clearly learnt from the best.
New Kid: Bless her, she is really nervous about meeting Luke for the first time considering she is practically his replacement since he left. Imagine if the series has ended and we hadn’t had the chance to see Luke and Sky working together like this. In a way it is sad because they make such an effective little Smith unit but we should be grateful that they got to rock on in the last story together. Watch as they activate the Serf levers all on their own proving what a winning combination of kids Sarah Jane has. Sky writing Serf’s dialogue had me in stitches…especially when she tries to make him sound authentically American. ‘You’ve been watching Toy Story again!’
Sparkling Dialogue: ‘What do you think pays for all this? Taking in washing?’
‘I pride myself that I can deal with any old spanners that can get into the works!’
‘How are you going to feel when everybody is walking down Bannerman Road tonight with their arms out crying serve the computer…?’ – you’ve got to love a show that takes the piss out of its own plots so brazenly! This applies to both Invasion of the Bane and The Secrets of the Stars!
‘I expected high class industrial spies! Not Mumsnet!’
‘I’m going to stop you!’ ‘What are you going to do? Hit me with your handbag?’
GRAB HARRISON’S PEN… ‘I’ve never been so glad to see a full stop!’ – is this the naughtiest joke ever seen in Doctor Who and related spin off material?
‘Remember he’s American!’ ‘Yeeee-hah!’
· Its really funny because I was just discussing with Simon the other the how Rise of the Cybermen takes a ‘new fad’ and does something sinister with it but this is the most blatant and enjoyable example yet. The Serfboard (whilst being a little clunky) would be exactly the sort of mobile computer that kids would go nuts for and beg their parents to buy for them. So it’s a perfectly exploitable greed for an alien menace to take advantage of. And with that ripe American smile attached to the product how can we possibly refused…since everything that is a hit over there is surely going to catch on here. Its basically a huge Apple Mac parody but delivered with such unashamed confidence you cannot help but be dragged in.
· Isn’t it great that even this close to the end they were still finding ways to innovate this character and meeting up with Lionel, an old friend (‘I could have been so much more!’) from her younger journalistic days adds some more background colour to her past. As a massive fan of Peter Bowles (well my Nan is the fan, he’s the only bloke that can still get her randy (!!!) but I adore To the Manor Born) it is great to see an actor so sophisticated and suave to play this role.
· James Dreyfus is the perfect actor to play a villain in the Sarah Jane Adventures because he has that wonderful archness to his delivery that makes me howl even when he is being menacing. Its only when you encounter a deliberately terrible baddie like him that you realise just how good the hit rate has been for this series (The Trickster, The Nightmare Man, etc) and Dreyfus throws himself into this part with absolute confidence and no ego whatsoever. The result is a glorious z-grade villain who has a witty insult for every occasion but couldn’t organise a piss up in a brewery never mind the launch of the latest ‘in thing.’ To create a great villain who winds up being a total flop because of his earnestness is the norm on Doctor Who but to create a deliberately naff villain who is great because of it…well that’s a very clever pin on things and deserves a round of applause from me. ‘Tea? Coffee? Anthrax?’ When he gets to show his true colours he turns out to be a pathetic little man that needs to torture slaves in order to bring his plans to fruition…what a loathsome prick. ‘Read my lips Pollyanna…I don’t care!’ When it all boils down to money (as it so often does in any story) Harrison’s reaction (‘Shock horror!’) is Gareth Roberts telling us that he knows how often this has been peddled out but its still a lesson worth remembering. And like all bad villains he gets a wonderful ‘Noooooo!’ curse at the end!
· Mr Smith casually tries to pretend that it will take a while to do what Sarah Jane asks of him and then brings it up within seconds. Even the computer on this show kicks ass! Clyde and Rani trying to discreetly suggest that Mr Smith might have been affected by the Serfboard is chucklesome (‘I can hear you Clyde…’).
· I remember watching this when it first broadcast with Simon and he was howling with laughter at the interview scene where Sarah tries to get Joseph Serf to touch something by what ever means necessary whilst still keeping up appearances. That’s Sarah Jane, making my husband laugh right up until the end. Great stuff.
· How cool is the reveal of how Mr Serf works? Tiny Jawa-like aliens with one eye working a steampunk device that controls every aspect of his face and body! I don’t know which came first, the Tesselecta from Let’s Kill Hitler or this but they are both a glorious idea. Whereas the Doctor Who version is trying to be slick and clever (one of the reasons why in later years I would rather watch SJA) the Skullion version is far more entertaining with huge labels showing which part of Serf they are manipulating and the general oily, hissing dilapidated state of the technology. It has character and functionality whereas the Who version only had a poor plot device to end the season with. This is exactly who classic Who would have represented the idea had it taken place around the same time as Carnival of Monsters brought the Miniscope to life, great cranking levers, clunky typewriter and all! What other show could take such a ridiculous concept and make it work so well? The fact that one of the levers reads ‘BUM’ makes my day!
· The design and make up of the Skullions is really well done because they are just freaky enough to be pretty gross to look at whilst also being cute enough to feel sorry for them. Trust SJA to inject a social commentary into all of this madness and the thought of a black market in alien species existing out there is enough to turn your stomach. Talk about science fantasy commenting on reality! ‘You’re so naive! This is the way the world works!’ is what Harrison says to Sarah Jane when she expresses her disgust and to a degree he really has a point. Luckily we have Sky who is new the planet to have the horror of slavery explained to her and her quiet reaction (‘is this what humans are like?’) takes this from being a preachy scene to something much more profound.
· There’s a line about a deliberate leak of information about the Serfboard to drum up extra interest. Is this a sneaky comment on the pirate copy of Rose that made it online before transmission by any chance?
· I’ve heard ‘you and whose army?’ so many times in science fiction usually as the punchline to a dreadful joke but SJA follows it up with a moment of pure cinema as a spaceship fills the heavens above them. Imagine me punching the air with excitement because that’s what I did.
· Can you imagine a better note for this series to go out on? Not a cliffhanger ending that leaves everybody in suspense and without wrapping up all the loose threads either. All of our favourite characters together having prevented a filthy scheme and back at home in time for tea. With endless adventures still to come in our imaginations as the story goes on…forever. The last image of Sarah Jane is her smiling at her friends and that’s a great way to remember her and everything she has gained since this series has begun. Imagine if this series had not been given the go ahead…we would have had three incredible years with Sarah during the seventies but here we have been fortunate enough to have 28 more hours with her at her absolute best. A huge thank you to Russell T Davies for taking a risk with this series and winning big time.
The Bad: Edyta Budnik is the one weak link in this otherwise flawlessly cast story. Fortunately we don’t see a great of her.
The Shallow Bit: Elisabeth Sladen joined the series in 1973 and left the Doctor Who universe in 2011…and she was absolutely beautiful throughout. Somehow she managed to get better looking as she got older. Perhaps that had something to do with us getting to know the character and the actress better over time but just look at Elisabeth Sladen in The Man Who Never Was. Smart, funny, gorgeous. Considering he began the series in a white smock Luke has come a long way under Clyde’s tutorage and he dresses very modern but understated. Me likes.
Result: A delightfully zany plot for the Sarah Jane Adventures to bow out on and the chance to see Elisabeth Sladen at her best, the amazing chemistry between the cast and what a fine innovation Sky was to the series. It is just about the perfect note to end the series on. I can’t imagine closing a show as warm as The Sarah Jane Adventures with a story as dark as The Curse of Clyde Langer or The Nightmare Man and whilst they might have better stories they aren’t really what this show was all about. There is a pace to events, a confidence in the writing and a general sunniness to the material that reminds you precisely why you fell in love with this show in the first place. Gareth Roberts fills the story full of charming character scenes and really funny jokes and the emphasis on the Smith family allows us to get close to this gorgeous unit for one last time. The slavery angle adds some depth but its laboured and it really makes my heart sing to think that in her very last adventure (as far as we see – in my head she just goes on and on…) Sarah Jane helps free an exploited slave race. I really thought re-watching this would make me weep like a baby so imagine my surprise when it had me laughing my head off throughout and luxuriating in the glow of the chemistry between the actors. Sarah Jane Smith kicked ass, right until the end and this is a winning send of for her. Go back and watch it with your grief switched off and bask in the glory that is this show: 8/10