Wednesday, 30 November 2011

The TAO Connection written by Barry Letts and directed by Gary Russell

What’s it about: The body of an old man is found floating in the Thames although the DNA of the corpse corresponds to an 18-year old friend of Josh and Ellie. Sarah Jane heads towards West Yorkshire in a bid to discover what killed the man, why someone is kidnapping homeless teenage boys and whether there is a link between that and the retreat of philanthropist Will Butley which hosts The Huang Ti Clinic. Sarah discovers that there is more to ancient Dark Sorcery than she may have otherwise believed.

Until Next Time…Miss Smith: Sarah used to earn her living by ‘finding out’ and still has a notebook full of contacts. One of those is Claudia from the C19 who is lucky to still have her job because Sarah kept her mouth shut about their association before she was discredited. Once they are north of London Sarah puts on the most horrendous upper class accent to gain entrance to a shin dig and then an then deepest mummerset to pose as a cleaner at the clinic. Unfortunately her face is simply too high profile to go undercover and she has to pretend that she is always been mistaken for ‘that Sarah Jane.’ Tripe night was the highlight of the week when Sarah was a lass! Josh describes her as caring about things they investigate but also oddly detached and she remarks she probably picked it up from somebody she once knew and if he had seen the things that she had seen he would be too. She’s a dab hand at Venusian Akido now so the Doctor must have spent some time during season eleven teaching her the skill. Sarah dishes out the only punishment that is worthy of Butley and that is to finally force him to grow old and die – if he remained alive her would exploit more young men for their bodies and their life force and she cannot allow that to happen.

Jubilant Josh: There is a very natural chemistry between SJ and Josh already, mocking each other, sharing lunch and joking about. Rather wonderfully when Sarah is trying to secrete Josh into the clinic and they are caught she orders him to kiss her so it looks like she is using her break to get up to some rumpy pumpy!

Standout Performance: Moray Treadwell’s turn as Will Butley was a revelation as the effete gay billionaire trapped in the clinic, flirting with the guards and trying to escape. There is a gorgeously performed scene between him and his bodyguard (played by Robert Curbishley) where you think he will get a beating for suggesting sexual favours but Read admits he has obliged men of his persuasion before for the right price. Its an odd, uncomfortable moment and the story could have used more of them.

Great Ideas: The Huang-Tai clinic chucked Lotus out for being a right pain in the butt, a fact that Sarah can testify having tangled with her professionally once or twice over the years. Huang-Tai was otherwise known as the Yellow Emperor and was the first Sage of the Chinese religion of Taoism which is like alchemy – trying to find the secret to physical and spiritual immortality. Chi is the secret of their long life, its exploitation through acupuncture. When Sarah discovers the therapy rooms in the clinic she finds that blood is being pumped into their bodies and not out of it. Butley is over 300 years old, born in 1697, the Chi not stopping the ageing process but slowing it down. The secret incantation is ‘Mary had a Little Lamb’ told backwards which Letts seems to love using (The Daemons).

Audio Landscape: Big Ben, car honking, traffic, wading through water, growling car engine, dog barking, pouring tea, crockery, washing up.

Isn’t it Odd: To find a Barry Letts script full of swearing, cutting edge science and a strained gay romance beggars belief! The biggest problem with this story and for the majority of the first series of SJS audios is that the what should have been a hard hitting drama series is far too concerned with the small scale to make much of an impact. Comeback heads to a country village, The TAO Connection to a rural retreat and Ghost Town to a remote Romanian village. Whilst the Sarah Jane Adventures puts itself on a worldwide scale every other week (its one of Russell T Davies’ favourite clichés) it does at least stress the importance of the series and the lead characters role. With so many visits to forgotten towns off the beaten track the audios stutter for a while by suggesting Sarah is good for little more than solving Scooby Doo-esque minor mysteries. Fortunately David Bishop would be around soon to change all that, to force the series into metropolitan London and to kick start an epic story arc that winds up with Sarah heading back into space. But that’s in the future. The double punch of Comeback and TAO seeing Sarah Jane mixing with yokels with country accents suggests that as much as Terry Dicks and Barry Letts want to suggest that they have moved on (you know the swearing and whatnot) they are very much writers of their generation. What’s really odd about The TAO Connection is that there isn’t any supernatural element besides the extended ageing process which would be fine as long as there was some kind of real world threat or stake to the adventure but what transpires is a tale about an old man who enjoys winding people up with his longevity and little more.

Result: The TAO Connection is badly timed, being another low key charmer with little incident and action coming straight after the same thing in the opening story. Barry Letts is the ideal person to write for Sarah and its no great shock that she is characterised very well in this story but Nat disappears for the length of a bible and Josh is sidelined as comic relief. Letts juggles Taoism and homosexuality and it does seem as though he is trying to bring a modern touch to the range but his storytelling is off his time, slackly paced and focussing far more on character then plot. Saying that there are some nice comic diversions and I thought Will Butley was a wonderful sleazy character to hiss at. Its worth a listen because of the nice performances (its great to see Maggie Stables making a cameo as the deadly chef, Mrs Lythe) but its only once you have heard David Bishop’s fast paced and contemporary thriller Test of Nerve that is next in the schedule that you compare the differences and see which approach is more engaging. A flawed piece but adequate: 5/10


mellis said...

Hi! I agree with most of your opinions on this drama, it's a good review :) Check out my review for the same story

Joe Ford said...

Great review, thanks for sharing. I've bookmarked the site for further reading.