Wednesday, 17 April 2013

Buried Secrets written by David Bishop and directed by John Ainsworth

What’s it about: Sarah Jane Smith believes her days as a crusading investigator are behind her, safe from those who tried to destroy her. But others believe she has a destiny and they will stop at nothing to prevent her fulfilling it. A trip to Florence to help an old friend leads to the unearthing of a murderous conspiracy buried within the city's catacombs…

Until Next Time…Miss Smith: There is a genuine feeling of this being a fresh start for Sarah, Josh and Nat and everybody seems perked up by the news that Miss Winters and Harris have been removed from their lives for good. She wouldn’t wish death on anybody but she is relieved that the nightmare is over. Ever since the news broke Sarah has been hounded by journalists of the good (those that leave you alone) and bad (those that rummage through your litter and hound you incessantly) variety. Elisabeth Sladen is playing the part with much less anger this year, this is a Sarah Jane Smith more akin to that of the TV series with a zest for life and a lust for adventure. She’s living out of a caravan which she loves, Sarah can think of much better things to spend her inheritance on than a fat mortgage. She’s spent too many years looking over her shoulder and she doesn’t have to do that anymore and she also feels that she has done her bit and now enjoys funding over peoples good work. It is easy to see how Sarah moved from this series to the Sarah Jane Adventures now (if you want to wrap this all up in the same continuing story). I couldn’t reconcile the unlikable version of her character from season one with the Sarah Jane of her own show but I would go as far as to say that as presented here she is less prickly than she appeared in Invasion of the Bane. Perhaps something happened between now and then to turn her into the lonely recluse she appears to be when Maria moves onto Bannermen Road. I can’t wait to see what.

Jubilant Josh: Josh has quit another job (that’s six in two years) because nothing quite lives up to his work with SJ. Now it’s Josh who is paranoid and thinking that everybody has an ulterior motive. Sarah describes him as a rough diamond that means well and you can tell she enjoys having him watching over her even if she publicly states the contrary. Sarah knows he misses the way things were but she insists that he has to find his own way of making a difference. This is the second time Josh has taken a life to protect Sarah and she thanks him for always having her back.

Natty: Nat is making a new life for herself, taking herself back to school abroad and letting a man into her life. It is so nice to hear Nat laughing and enjoying the company of her friends, it felt like she was constantly in a bad mood all the time in the first year and there was very little to actually like about her (beyond her resourcefulness). Discovering her new fella has been using her the whole time to get to Sarah has got to stick in the craw a bit, though.

Standout Performance: To match the new, confident tone of the series John Ainsworth casts two terrific actors in the shape of Tom Chadbon and Jacqueline Pearce in the roles of ally and enemy for Sarah. Chadbon quickly develops a pleasant chemistry with Sladen and Pearce’s husky tones ensure that she is still the perfect choice for an effective villainess. I can’t wait to hear more from her.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘He once told me that he liked to call women “old girl” just to see their nostrils flare!’

Great Ideas: The worlds first space flight for tourists is about to launch, the maiden voyage of the Dauntless has been pushed forward. This gives you an idea of how far ahead David Bishop was thinking, setting up his final story of the season before the first one is even underway. The Medici project has already found evidence that challenges previously accepted history of Renaissance Italy. Introducing Will Sullivan is a lovely touch, Harry’s brother who he used to tell the most extraordinary stories to when he came home from shore leave. Harry never mentioned Will but then he was never big on revealing his feelings or much about his personal life. Will is about to spend the summer working on the ice for a British research team (story two sorted), one that Sarah just happens to be helping fund for the purposes of limiting the damaging effects of global warming. Clearly Bishop was looking for a new broom approach and so swiftly cuts Hilda Winters out of the series, a news report discussing her death in the opening scenes. A shame that the series should go to such lengths to build her up as a continuing threat in the first series only to abandon that approach in the second but I do understand why the writer would prefer to create his own original villain rather than continuing the work of somebody else (I prefer originality over nostalgia for the most part). Proving that Bishop’s instincts are spot on, the scene where Sarah receives a letter from Miss Winters from beyond the grave warning her about an imminent threat gave me goosebumps. Sarah recognises her handwriting because Miss Winters sent her regular letters from prison. The Exemplar Crass contains several predictions which is why it is called The Book of Tomorrows, a very specific forecast of the future. An apocalyptic event to take place in contemporary times. I love the idea of as Doomsday Cult stretching across the world and back through time, obsessing over the scribblings of a prophet. It’s the sort of premise that the recent HBO series The Following is built upon, where nobody can be trusted because anybody could be a member of the cult. The amusing notion that mankind’s development has been aided by alien intervention is mocked by Josh but as fans of the show it is something that we know to be true, at least within Doctor Who continuity. Over the years two different interpretations have emerged about what was written in the journal, one half believes that aliens will taken them away to a better life (the White Chapter) and the other half think the aliens are coming to wipe them out (the Crimson Chapter). The Cult were the ones responsible for funding Miss Winters activities in the previous season and who wiped out all evidence of her machinations when she failed to destroy to Sarah’s life. This ties up the two seasons whilst still letting Bishop do his own thing. Very clever. Pages of the journal list the name Sarah, a woman who arrived in past and carrying with her the wisdom of the future – a seer from the future. If you think about how many times Sarah travelled backwards in time that far then the central villain of the series can be determined. I love how this ties into her trip to San Martino in The Masque of Mandragora, it is a very clever way of working in Doctor Who continuity but allowing this series to stand independent and pick up the pieces of Sarah’s travels in the TARDIS.

Audio Landscape: Radio broadcast, ringing telephone, birdsong, traffic, taxi, walking on gravel, crackling electrics, a café environment.

Musical Cues: I think I preferred the original theme tune for the series because it suggested a much darker, sinister range but there is nothing technically wrong with the new theme. In fact it sounds remarkably like a slower version of the Jago & Litefoot title music. The atmosphere music in the Italian restaurant feels authentic.

Isn’t it Odd: Harris is dead which is a shame because he was a memorable nasty. I don’t think the twist that Luca is working for the Doomsday Cult came as any great surprise to anyone. Who else could it be?

Standout Scene: Sarah’s anniversary dinner with Harry is loaded with emotion because Sarah’s nostalgic discussion of her time travelling with him and working with UNIT is merged with Sladen’s wistful reminiscence of Ian Marter. Sarah and Harry used to meet in the same restaurant every year to chew over old times and she still makes the rendezvous every year, hoping that he will turn up full of bluff and bluster. She always thought of him as the big brother she never had.

Result: Season two of Sarah Jane Smith immediately feels more assured. With one writer and one director responsible for the entire set of stories it feels like there is a clear vision for the range and this story kicks off things in the style of a Russell T Davies season opener (before its time); breezy, exciting, characterful and hugely entertaining. Buried Secrets captures the tone and pace of The DaVinci Code long before it was released, sending Sarah to Florence to uncover a mystery of the past that threatens to have a profound effect on the present day. At the same time David Bishop cleverly sets up all of the other stories in this sequence (mentions of a research expedition to Antarctica, animal rights activists and the launch of a space shuttle for tourists), merging the four individual stories into a tetrology, with one set of villains watching over and manipulating Sarah’s activities and waiting to make their move. Elisabeth Sladen pushes the character away from the paranoid soul of the first series into somebody that it is altogether much easier to take pleasure in spending time with and her interaction with Josh and Nat has never been more enjoyable. With the introduction of impressive performers like Tom Chadbon and Jacqueline Pearce the series is really starting to make a name for itself. After listening to Buried Secrets I have nothing but confidence for the rest of the second year. Season one had great fun offering up a sequel (of sorts) to Robot but series two is doing something much more interesting with Doctor Who continuity. This is a remarkably easy adventure to enjoy and whilst I’m sure Bishop and Ainsworth worked very hard to beat the series into shape, they make it look effortless: 8/10


Audrey the Leviathan Vampire Girl said...

I gave this a re-listen over the weekend in anticipation for your review. Sarah's conversation with Harry is completely heartbreaking. Beautifully played by Elisabeth Sladen.

P.s. I might give 'The Following' a go, sounds right up my alley. Do you recommend it?

Joe Ford said...

It is absolutely superb, Audrey. Anybody who enjoys a taut thriller serial where not a single word is wasted should find it a treat.


One day Joe will get to the rest of this series...


One day...