Sunday, 5 April 2015

Revenge of the Slitheen written by Gareth Roberts and directed by Alice Troughton

This story in a nutshell: SJA claims its first Doctor Who monster (probably in a cost cutting exercise) and they wind up working much more effectively in the spin off series. The Slitheen are back! And this time they have turned off the sun…

Until Next Time…Ms Smith: Continuing on from the stellar work done with her character in School Reunion and Invasion of the Bane, Revenge of the Slitheen sees Sarah Jane sniffing out mysteries and monsters poking her nose where it isn't wanted at her investigative best. Sarah is finding hard to connect with Luke especially after seeing how effortless it is with Maria and Alan and insists on him calling her Sarah Jane even though she wishes it were mum. Sarah Jane never found the time to get married and thinks there are far better ways of going about things than calling in the army. After she polishes off the Slitheen, Sarah Jane calls in UNIT to mop things up (‘love to the Brig’). Her love/hate relationship with Chrissie continues and Maria's mother takes great delight in getting her name wrong (she calls her Sally-Anne and Susie Q). When he wants to know how she started out Sarah tells Clyde how the Doctor took her out into space and time and showed her things you wouldn’t believe. She has taken up his legacy to help, protect, to make a stand and never give up. Sarah, you rock!

Sarah’s Gang: On the day he was born he saved the Earth and on his first day of school he nearly wipes it out – he doesn’t really have what you would call a stable life, does he? There is a lovely thread that runs through Luke's period on the show that explores what it is like to be socially awkward as an adolescent. It is something that I am sure a lot of teens could empathise with, if I were watching this show when I was younger I would have seen a lot of my self in Luke. Sarah wants him to have a normal life but given their predilection for alien invasions it looks like that is never going to happen. Oh Luke, joining lunchtime science classes and wanting to make friends with the teacher is hardly the best way to blend in at school. 

Maria paints her bedroom wall electric pink, which says something about her sense f style. I really liked the parallels with Invasion of the Bane, this time it is Maria sending Clyde home who wants more answers about how his life has been turned upside down just like Sarah Jane did to Maria in the first episode. Maria is bullied into a corner until she figures what the hell and kills the Headmaster with vinegar. Let's put that in perspective, she's a teenager and she has murdered. It's an issue that is dodged psychologically and just goes for the moment. As ever Chrissie gets some of the best scenes with her complete lack of tact. Turning up at her ex husbands and asking for the double duvet that he will no longer need because she cheated on him is unbelievably thoughtless and by the end of the story she suspects that all the disasters that keep occurring on Bannermen Road are in some way linked to her. It is clear that in Chrissie's eyes the entire universe revolves around her...she simply cannot move for disasters!  I could watch this character all day and night, she is such a delight. 

Introducing Clyde Langer, trouble maker. The producers of the Sarah Jane Adventures judge the situation perfectly and get rid of the insanely irritating Kasey to introduce Clyde. He’s better acted, better written and so much better looking. Luke wonders why everybody likes Clyde when he keeps defying authority. He wants answers to the mystery that is Luke and admits that he is a product of a broken home. It is something that the show would return to time and again to great emotional effect. I loved his insane reaction to Mr Smith coming out of the wall, it pretty much mirrors my own. His answer to their problems is that they bomb the school. I’m glad we’ve got a character who can cut through all the mush and he suggests jokingly that they have a High School Musical moment because everything will be sorted out with a group hug. Or not. If you are going to have a sentimental backbone to a series, you need a character like Clyde to remind you how tacky it is to keep it real. 

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Time to go back to school!’
‘She’s an old woman with a funny lipstick. End of.’

The Good Stuff: The music is wonderful as always and really drags you into the story. One of the best assemblies I have ever heard delivered by a Head Teacher who doesn't give a damn about the students he is advising: ‘Study hard because none of you will ever be pop stars!’ There are references to pornography, which proves this is trying to appeal to parents as well as children: ‘Anything dubious your adolescent minds might be drawn to have been locked out!’ There are mentions of Wularians (Carnival of Monsters), the Blathereen (The Monsters Inside), Judoon (Smith and Jones) and ‘Slitheen in Downing Street’ (World War Three and School Reunion) and with the return of the farting reptiles it is lovely to see so many kisses to the parent series. Unlike Torchwood, which seemed to go out of its way to deny the existence of Doctor Who for the most part. SJA learns from the mistakes of the past with the moments of the Slitheen unsheathing. They do so with much more speed and they move with much more fluidity, Alice Troughton using imaginative angles to capture them and getting the actors to clack claws and twitch their heads to suggest natural movement. There was a moment in Revenge of the Slitheen that made me realise that despite the preposterousness of the story, this show would always manage to thrill me with the scale of it's storytelling. It comes when Mr Smith shows the scale of the Slitheen operation on Earth, linking up the Slitheen bases across the world. Trinity Wells returns to tell us all that ‘Los Angeles has gone dark!’ She really is a portent of doom. Can you imagine the chaos that stopping all the cars in London would generate? Can you imagine the devastating effect of turning the sun off? Despite their comic exaggerations, the Slitheen always think big. The first of many Slitheen gunkings in this series, Clyde and Maria are covered in green jelly in a terrifically entertaining scene. Saving the world with vinegar in squeezes…Gareth Roberts captures a situation that children can mimic at home. I can just imagine little ones running around the house with plastic bottles spraying their podgy parents with water. Cleverly the story makes you feel for the Slitheen child at the end of the story and that is all thanks Elisabeth Sladen’s terrific performance. Mr Smith snaps at Clyde in an unexpected moment, suggesting all is not what it seems with the sentient computer. 

The Bad Stuff: Slitheen – licence to overact? This is one of the very few times the series feels distinctly CBBC and how insulting to be picked to play a Slitheen. Do they have auditions of the fattest actors on the books? The slow motion sonic lipstick is insanely tacky and the love-in in the last scene made me bring up a little sick. The shows only weakness is that it pours syrup down your throat a little too often. Given it is afforded the chance to enjoy a cliffhanger in the middle of every story (ala classic Who), SJA's first chance to have a dramatic pause is a wasted opportunity. The floppy Slitheen toes have to be seen to be believed. 

The cliffhanger isn’t great and the flapping Slitheen toes should have been removed.

The Shallow Bit: This is one attractive cast. Daniel Anthony is a babe and Elisabeth Sladen seems to get younger as she gets older!

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

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