Thursday, 16 April 2015

The Last Sontaran written by Phil Ford and directed by Joss Agnew

The story in a nutshell: Shamed by a failed campaign, one lonesome battered, bloodied Sontaran plans the revenge of his people…

Until Next Time…Ms Smith: Elisabeth Sladen enjoyed a massive success with her first year in her own series and you can see how ready she is for more. Sarah Jane has always loved the night’s sky and as a child she used to lie in bed and count the stars and dream of what might be out there. The look on Sarah’s face when Maria tells her she might as well get a lift while she can speaks volumes, she is preparing herself for a whole world of hurt. I really like the fact that she can react in completely the wrong way sometimes, it makes her a far more interesting heroine. Her cold reaction to Maria’s news (‘I’m sure you’ll have a wonderful life in America’) makes her quite unlikeable for a moment (considering how much Maria is hurting) but it is totally understandable. Sarah’s horrified reaction to the Sontaran ship is a glorious moment having connotations right back to her very first appearance in Doctor Who (and again completely logical considering she was tortured in The Sontaran Experiment). She met the Sontarans many years ago and in some years to come. Sarah cannot sacrifice Maria for the sake of the Earth; one life is as sacred as an entire planet (yeah, Jack). Her quiet admission that she feels as though she is losing her family is very touching…don’t worry Sarah, Rani is on the way. 

Sarah’s Gang: From the first scene Maria is supporting her dad in a time of big decisions and she makes his life so much easier but treating this huge news so positively. ‘Look UNIT!’ – is that the best you can do to create a distraction, Maria? I really like how although Maria is going to miss everybody so much (and isn’t it so much more poignant that it is underplayed by everybody?) but she can still see what an incredible opportunity it is going to be. Maria gets to save the world one last time, which is lovely. 

Luke’s science expertise is brought to the fore once again but what I love is his overriding need to protect his mum. In just one year Tommy Knight has grown up so much and this would pretty much continue until he departs in series four. Luke is devastated that Maria is leaving, she has been there since his birth and I think he has a teeny crush on her. Can you see the flaw in Einstein’s theory of relativity? Luke can.

Oh Clyde let me count the ways I love thee! In every way he fulfils the needs of the series in a way that Kelsey didn’t and it was an extremely savvy decision to write her out so quickly and to bring in Daniel Anthony. He is an extremely fine actor, capable of moments of great depth and sensitivity but he also works brilliantly as the joker in the pack. In this story he manages to diffuse a lot of the tense stand offs with his gags (although Sarah does try to make him understand how seriously dangerous a Sontaran is). He’s pretty brave too wanting to search some creepy woods against Sarah Jane’s instructions. I’m glad somebody has finally noticed the resemblance between Sontarans and baked spuds and had the gall to say it to their faces. His ‘Sontar ha!’ never fails to make me smile.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Your veins run with starlight. Astronomy is science gone rock’n’roll.’
‘I reckon that is what you call a toad in the hole!’
‘Do you want some squirrel moving into the most Des Res in the forest?’
‘Try my size fives Humpty!’

The Good Stuff: The Sontaran drones look fabulous dancing about in the night sky. Tycho is a modern day Pharos Project (their mission statement to seek out alien life is exactly the same). Silent windy forests always make for great locations. There are quite a few clever innovations to the Sontarans that are made throughout this story which I hope aren’t ignored if they ever return, I love the fact that they can make themselves invisible and the helmet that slices open looks great. The cloaked Sontaran ship proves that once again SJA is at the cutting edge of modern special effects. Whilst the make up is pretty good, Kaarg’s scar gives his face a far more interesting look than those in Helen Raynor’s two parter. I love that SJA can pick up threads from a Doctor Who episode and give them added depth. The flashback scene justifies this whole approach, giving a whole new dimension to the conclusion of The Poison Sky and featuring some blistering special effects as the escape pod leaves fiery trail through the forest (plus Kaarg screaming with blood oozing down his face is surprisingly nasty for CBBC). Kaarg wants to bring down the satellites and destroy the Earth, one lonesome alien gaining revenge for his species. The music as Kaarg pursues the kids down the gloomy concrete tunnels is fantastic; this really is the cutting edge of children’s television. Getting Chrissie in on the act is the best idea ever but it is such a shame it means it is the last we will see of her character. Alan’s quietly embarrassed ‘Mr Smith…I need you’ makes for a chucklesome moment. Don’t treat Chrissie like a fool, she is intelligent enough to realise her daughters life is in danger. For a couple of minutes it becomes Dawson’s Creek for kids as Maria tells Luke she is going but it is beautifully played and scored. The drones that pursue Luke and Maria through the forest are filmed with dizzying dramatic handheld camerawork. Kaarg is such a great Sontaran, wanting to clear his name and wiping the Sontaran defeat from history. The ship taking off is another exemplary effects shot. Seeing Alan and Maria go is sad but giving it a more thoughtful twist is Chrissie keeping mum about what she knows and giving her family a new start – that’s typical Sarah Jane Adventures, giving these characters some depth that makes them so much more than stereotypes. 

The Bad Stuff: The huge satellite looks so cumbersome atop that tiny building! I’m glad that Sarah Jane and Maria realised something was wrong because the returning Professor is clearly a total zombie! A role-playing game? Come on Alan, you’re as bad as your daughter at this! We could have done without Lucy the sleeper agent; one zombie is more than enough thank you.

The Shallow Bit: A totally shallow observation but I really don’t like Sarah Jane’s season two hairdo! Astonishing how a haircut can make you look older. Thank God Daniel Anthony is in his 20’s or I would find it highly disturbing (potentially illegal!) that he is so hot. Another attractive dad, Skinner is a not your typical scientist on this sort of show!

Result: The characters are growing up and the show is moving on, The Last Sontaran is beautifully directed and scored and proves a fine coming of age story. It is a far better Sontaran story than the series four epic because there is something far more effective in encapsulating the species through one character as exemplified in The Time Warrior. Phil Ford manages to write Maria out with some style, give Chrissie a great role and innovate a well-known Doctor Who species within his script. Given all this and some good old fashioned running about and quips, The Last Sontaran is quietly masterful and an excellent way to kick of series two. What strikes me as particularly impressive about The Last Sontaran is that it isn't one of SJA's big hitters and yet it is still very, very good indeed: 8/10

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