Saturday, 4 April 2015

Invasion of the Bane written by Russell T Davies & Gareth Roberts and directed by Colin Teague

The series in a nutshell: Have you ever watched CBBC? It does occasionally talk down to children in the worst of ways. Look at the presenters that introduce Sarah Jane Adventures, they behave in completely unrealistically in order to appeal to the daftness that is locked inside every child. Astonishingly this show comes along which treats its audience with intelligence, subtlety and warm and wonderful characters – it is no wonder it redefined children’s television at the time and was a constant ratings winner on the channel. By concentrating on its characters strengths and with scripts fizzing with fun and thoughtful moments the result is a show that is far more adult in its nature than the gratuitously melodramatic Torchwood.

This story in a nutshell: Who is that mysterious woman over the road who doesn’t like strangers and has aliens floating around her garden in the evenings?

Until Next Time…Ms Smith: My God…Davies and Russell have got this as perfect as they got Jack wrong in Torchwood. The car, perfect. The house, perfect. The look (how on Earth does Elisabeth Sladen age backwards?), perfect. Sarah has a bit of a reputation as a mad woman but Maria thinks she is quite glamorous. Just like she was in season eleven (I love that this was picked out after The Time Warrior as you really can see the parallels) she is a career woman with facts and contacts at her fingertips. She hasn’t had any children and secretly thinks she has wasted her life. Her life is dangerous and she doesn’t want to put their lives in danger, she is very responsible here but extremely prickly. I really love the scene where they subtly out her as a time traveller, it reveals her backstory without having to go to TV Movie style lengths of reams of exposition leaving the audience scratching their heads. When Luke asks if he can live with Sarah she says no but her body language screams yes. Some organisations go in guns blazing but Sarah thinks there is a better way (yeah Jack). She met a special man called the Doctor once and they travelled together but it came to an end and she had to adjust to normal life, she tried to forget him. But he appeared in her life again years later and she realised she could carry on their work without him. Her life began again. in the words of the embarrassingly straightforward talking Kelsey best friend is a mechanical dog with his bum stuck inside a black hole. She misses K.9, her daft metal dog and now she is on her own. The people she fights have plans and weapons but she doesn’t, it's what makes her different. I love her philosophy, there are two types of people in the world, those who panic and then there’s us. Her possible names for Luke - Harry, Alistair…

Sarah’s gang: Whilst I prefer Rani because she is much hipper and more confident than Maria, she is still pitched really well throughout her tenure. Yasmin Paige might lack Anjili Mohindra’s contemporary image (there is something of an old woman trapped in a young persons body about her) but she is still extremely likeable. I love her line ‘I’d rather have a cup of tea’; you just know she will get on so well with Sarah Jane, who had a similar line in The Time Warrior. She doesn’t abandon Kelsey (mores the pity) and she rescues Luke selflessly. It's wonderful to think of proto a Sarah Jane in the making…although Rani really takes on that role and embodies it. At one point she  does have a mini tantrum but then Sarah's prickly attitude would be enough to turn anybody sour. 

Can you believe that that is Luke? His voice hasn’t broken and he looks practically angelic. A far cry from the grungy lad he would become. Whilst Luke hardly becomes the voice of cool (that’s Clyde) come series four he is independent, dressing well and doing his own thing. A proto Wesley Crusher should be really annoying as all boy geniuses generally are and it takes geniuses like Davies and Roberts to pull this off so Luke is the exact opposite, intriguing and very sweet. He is everyone, he was born running…and he has no belly button! He’s only 360 minutes old and he knows nothing about the world, everything is new to him. It’s a lovely concept to explore human behaviour Star Trek style without having characters such as Data and Seven of Nine really grinding the point home. And how wonderful is it that Sarah Jane has an adopted son…if it doesn’t make you go all warm inside then you are a Dalek. His deadpan (lack of) humour looks like it is going to provide some great moments (‘These are the clothes I was born in’).

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘And she worships something call the Holy Oak! No, Hollyoaks!’
‘This is so not happening!’ ‘That contradicts the facts’ – haha I loved this! Another line you can drop into conversation ad nauseum.
‘Until next time…Ms Smith!’ – its been too long since we have had a villain with a parting line like that.

The Good Stuff: The opening special FX open the story magically. Alan and Chrissie are the best family in all of NuWho and their various spinoffery – the Nobles come very close but he is a single father (which just works considering he is so damn hot) and she is the money hungry ex wife (but really funny with it) and the chemistry between the two actors is just gorgeous. They would sparkle all the way through to their departure, which was a potentially damaging moment for the show. The atmosphere of the early scenes is spot on; suggesting magic, wonder and capturing your senses – the mysterious woman over the road and her night-time spectre (and the music sends chills down my spine). The mixture of the suburban and the supernatural captures that glorious Harry Potter feel of something supernatural happening on your road. The bubble shock bus is brilliant, I screamed like I was ten years old again when I saw it so I can only imagine what it did to the ten year olds in the audience. Samantha Bond really knows how to play a villain, playing it for real but with a wink at the audience…it took a long time before they bested her (and then she came back to raise the bar again). The bubbleshock factory is a fabulous location to play about in, it's all pipes and wires, steamy clouds and bleached lighting and the direction during the action scenes has lots of flourishes (tilted angles and dynamic tracking shots). It's impossible not to be thrilled by this blissful old school Doctor Who action, it feels as right as all the sex, swearing and gore in Torchwood felt wrong. Alan is so lovely, can’t he be my dad (actually maybe not…there could be complications given the fact that he is gorgeous too). Filleting memories sounds like a terrifying procedure, favoured by the Bane. The Bane CGI is extraordinarily good and I don’t say that lightly. I have a few issues with cartoony CGI versus live action effects (which I generally prefer) but not only did they go for something totally alien and memorable but it tears through her house and up the stairs awkwardly causing absolute mayhem. It is one of the best mixtures of live action and CGI in NuWho (and the POVs are disorienting and dramatic). Just when you think things can’t get any better we head up into the attic and it is majestic area for Sarah Jane to tuck herself away and investigate paranormal happenings. And then K.9 appears. The conversion scenes are very The Christmas Invasion but they are well stages and for what is such an insane idea (people holding out a bottle of pop and intoning ‘drink it!’). Driving the bus through the wall…I just love Sarah’s style. Like a good UNIT story it all ends with a huge explosion and it was the most impressive explosion to come out of Cardiff at the time. Every show needs a Chrissie (‘There he was chasing me around the bedroom with a bottle of pop saying ‘drink it’. I thought, that’s novel.’). I simply cannot get enough of her. 

The Bad Stuff: Kelsey. That’s it really. ‘I am so shamed for you!’ She’s shallow, sex mad and rude and it pains me to say that there are more Kelsey’s out there than Maria’s. The shot that comes out of Kelsey’s mouth is the most chilling piece of television I have ever seen. What a gaping maw. ‘Kelsey you’re an alien!’ Don’t you think she makes a far more convincing zombie? Its odd, Mr Smith seems like a step too far into kid’s camp but by the end of the first series he is the most awesome computer and I can’t imagine the series without him (and his bitchy relationship with K.9 is a scream). The slow motion hugging at the end is the only moment the sentiment was too much for me. SJA does occasionally tip over into sugary schmaltz overdrive, trying to show that everything is safe again. 

The Shallow Bit: Elisabeth Sladen has discovered the fountain of youth and looks more gorgeous than ever. Alan is the best looking guy in Doctor Who (and its various spin offs). Oh hang on…Davey is a total muffin too (sorry…).

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

1 comment:

John Salway said...

"I have absolutely no shame in confessing my shame for the Sarah Jane Adventures."

Slight amusing typo. Love the review (and the site in general) though!