Until Next Time…Miss Smith: Why is Sarah ignoring all of her friends? In this series she has been aloof and prickly but now she is deliberately turning her back on them. As much as she has tried to make a new life for herself under various aliases you cannot be a reporter on the television without some people recognising you. She brought down some big companies by going undercover and exposing their nastier secrets. She has become so mistrustful of everybody, probably with good reason but it is not a very endearing trait. Clearly something had to break otherwise she would have entered her second season as an entirely unlikable character. The only person she can bring herself to have a civil conversation with is another journalist who knows the cost of careless talk. She’s quite handy with an ashtray when her life is at risk. This story ultimately proves to be a vindication of Sarah’s paranoid attitude since practically every person that she meets turns out to be a plant working for Miss Winters. It doesn’t excuse her bad attitude, but it does support her decision to cover her tracks and not trust anybody. Sarah’s last Planet 3 brief was to investigate one of Miss Winters’ companies and she laughed as she seized the bait and ended her own career. For Miss Winters it is hugely satisfying to see Sarah living a pathetic, neurotic, hand-to-mouth existence. She remembers that home is where her friends her and that she needs to be around them. They know who they are facing now and she is going to be ready for whatever they throw at her next.
Jubilant Josh: It’s the first time that he has ever fired a gun and he only does so to save Sarah’s life. The whole experience shakes him up terribly, taking a life.
Natty: It is long past time somebody called Sarah up on her paranoid behaviour and it hits home more coming from Nat who was almost killed whilst working with her. Now Josh has suffered a similar experience, Nat feels ready to point out that Sarah is too cautious and those preventative measures are actually putting people in danger. She condemns Sarah in as vicious a fashion as Sarah has been doing to other people. If you ever want to increase your funds than Nat is a handy person to know, she increases Josh’s limit to £10,000 at the press of a button!
Standout Performance: Peter Miles can always be relied on to bring something a bit different to each production he is involved in. He has played a psychotic director, a misguided scientist (Invasion of the Dinosaurs) and the right hand man to one (Genesis of the Daleks) so he knows exactly what is required of him in this role. It’s nice to hear Louise Faulkner is different role too, I believe this is pre-Bev Tarrant and she makes an engaging foil for Sarah whilst she is hobnobbing it in India.
Sparkling Dialogue: ‘You’re looking in your rear view mirror all the time for something that’s not there!’
‘Always looking over your shoulder and never seeing me peering back…’
Great Ideas: Wendy figures a great way to getting out of paying her half of the bill after her meal with Sarah – pretend you are being stalked and hurry off! Sarah is investigating a story about biological warfare experiments in the 1940s and clearly those in the know want her out of the way. British scientists bungled some germ warfare trials in a rehearsal for possible biological attacks in the UK, murdering hundreds of animals. I’ve recently been studying psychology and looking into a manifold of unethical experiments that were performed in the 60s, 70s and 80s – morally questionable but we learnt a great deal about how the mind worked because of it. There’s plenty of discussion in this story that reminded me of those trials except this time they are biological. Animals that were cured of a sickness only to be killed in the experiments to get the results they are after. Morally debatable and yet those experiments might have saved millions of lives. As human being I condone them, and as a rational man I would have to look inside myself to ask whether the ends justify the means. Sarah mentions that she has K.9 stored away in a box but the parts to restore him wont be invented for many, many years. SCALA have developed a virus which is self replicating and it is going to be released through the biggest turbines, poisoning huge amounts of water and killing millions. Miss Winters got fifteen years for trying to blackmail the world with an apocalypse but they never managed to pin murder on her (Jellicoe went down for that). Harris was working as a member of the SRS when UNIT broke up that final meeting. This is a lovely use of Doctor Who continuity to give greater depth to this series. We have seen how the companions got along after they left the Doctor (not very well if this series is anything to go by) but it’s really interesting to catch up with some villains as well. Wendy is Jellicoe’s daughter, working for Miss Winters. I love the idea that Miss Winters doesn’t just want to bring Sarah down (because she has already achieved that) but in her death she wants to humiliate her and destroy her reputation permanently. Given how Sarah has behaved of late it wouldn’t take that much to convince people that she was suffering from paranoid delusions (the missing piece of information would of course be that they weren’t delusions at all, her life has been systematically pulled to pieces). Using the cannibalised remains of K.9 to destroy her makes it all the more personal and using her career to ruin her. The story wraps up Miss Winters latest project but she is still out there somewhere and now with an even greater vendetta against Sarah…
Audio Landscape: Voicemail, plane coming in to land, lapping waves, eating in a restaurant, a struggle over the phone, Nat in her car, a jeep pursuing across sand, the clackety clack of a train, birds screaming, an engine, gunshots, splashing through water.
Musical Cues: Darlington always seems to enjoy bringing a more exotic flavour to the series when it heads abroad and this trip to India is no different.
Isn’t it Odd: I realise that she is in an untenable position and a bit jumpy but I couldn’t see any good reason why Sarah would threaten to turn on her rape alarm to shut up a taxi driver who is waxing lyrical about her. I don’t think you can have such a riveting position in the media and not expect people to know who you are and you certainly should go around accusing them of doing something wrong when they do. She chose that career path, after all. Even if her instincts are proven right about the taxi drivers involvement. And it does set up the rape alarms use in the climax. She’s needs to learn to put on her poker face.
Standout Scene: The eventual showdown between Sarah and Miss Winters. Patricia Maynard still has that icy cold touch.
Result: The first series of Sarah Jane Smith audios is a curious beast. With a cutting edge setting, an international flavour, a strong cast of nuanced characters and a terrific protagonist in Sarah it looks set to be the best spin off the Big Finish have ever produced. And yet it struggles a bit because of poor storytelling choices. Every story should have been as gripping as Test of Nerve (nerve gas being released in the London Underground) but instead it wastes time with ghost stories and sinister goings on in country villages. Personally I think the fault lies in the writers chosen, if I was trying to write a contemporary thriller series Terrance Dicks and Barry Letts wouldn’t have been my first port of call. The regulars have been finely honed so they are never an obvious ensemble, Sarah can be extremely unlikable at times and both Nat and Josh have their moments when they doubt her methods (and her sanity). It’s a series that wants to take more risks than it does. Which is why I’m glad that it was renewed for a second season, given one strong writer who saw that potential to take risks and ran with it. Mirror Signal Manoeuvre reminds me of the best and the worst of this season – in its discussion of biological experiments and its handling of an ex-Doctor Who baddie it unearths an atmosphere of terror that is worth exploring. At the same time it flounders about for ages, the pace flagging in the first half and the narrative not really kicking in until about halfway through. This series has been leading up to a smashing confrontation between Sarah and Miss Winters and it does deliver the thrill that it should but considering the bombshell about her identity was dropped a story and a bit ago it has taken far too long to pay off the patient listener. I did like the increased use of Nat and Josh but their story exists so independent of Sarah that I am starting forget that they are a team. I like how this story vindicates Sarah’s paranoid attitude but at the same time also condemns her for not trusting her friends (who ultimately save the day and millions of lives). Somehow Mirror Signal Manoeuvre manages to be both a satisfying close to the first season (everything is explained well and the connections to classic Who give it some real impact) and the perfect demonstration of why it took an age to get going. As such I recommend it but with several caveats. I’m quite optimistic about season two, though: 7/10