Thursday, 9 April 2015

The Lost Boy written by Phil Ford and directed by Charles Martin

This story in a nutshell: Has Sarah Jane abducted a missing boy?

Until We Meet Again…Miss Smith: ‘That’s the universe Alan, once its chosen to show you some of its secrets you can’t ever turn your back on it…’ – look at how far Sarah has come from those first faltering steps in The Time Warrior. She’s embracing the universe with both arms and loving what it has to offer. I think it’s a wonderful risk for the show to take having Sarah Jane go from loving mother to child snatcher and the sequence where Ashley’s mother screams ‘what have you done to him you witch!’ whilst Luke is dragged from the house is strikingly dramatic. Suddenly the show has taken a dip into reality and Sarah Jane is exposed as a fraud, having kept this boy from his parents for months. Its shocking and beautifully performed by Lis Sladen who is shocked, then panics, then accepts the situation and awaits her punishment. She tries to put a brave face on things and tells Ashley that it is the best day of his life and his parents and that they can protect him the way she can’t. With her new family torn away from her Sarah Jane retreats to that cold place she was at the beginning of the series and tells Maria that children have no place in her life (it never stopped the Doctor!). This is very clever development because by having Sarah Jane go back inside her shell we can see how far she has come in the first season. Its always lovely to have Sarah’s UNIT days referred to and her season eleven photograph gives me a warm fanboy glow. Wisely Sarah chooses to throw herself into a really good mystery at the Pharos Project – if in doubt always return to what you’re good at. Rather wonderfully the new prickly Sarah Jane tells irritating brainchild Nathan Goss that she used to know somebody who could wipe the floor with him! How nice to be able to see a flashback of Sarah Jane in the wilderness years between meeting the Doctor and the beginning of her new series – she looks desperately lonely as she discovers the crystal that brought Mr Smith to life and his backstory is fascinating. We get to see her first reaction to Mr Smith breaking free of the wall and she almost screams and runs away its so dramatic! Sarah calls on K.9 to protect and seems to relish the moment when Mr Smith’s memory is erased by the virus.

Sarah’s Gang: Did anybody else think Luke’s face would be the last person showing up on the missing boy newscast? After dealing with a heartbreaking domestic situation earlier in the season (Sarah Jane gets a young boy home who has gone missing in Warriors of Kudlak) I thought this was going to head down similar lines. To be dragged away from the woman you considered as your mother must be heartbreaking and Luke tries to feel his way into his ‘old life’ but finds nothing that he remembers. It's great to be able to see Maria leading her dad astray as she tries breaking and entering to try and find Luke! To her credit she is the one person who never gives up when all the evidence to the contrary suggests that Luke was kidnapped. Given the fantastic twist that is awaiting regarding Mr Smith it is interesting to note that Alexander Armstrong chooses to play the role with a sinister tone right from the beginning of this episode. 

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘What did that woman do to him?’ – The Lost Boy tackles some pretty hard hitting issues and keeps up its child snatching angle for a good portion of the first episode.
‘You’re right Clyde it is a fake. I faked it.’
‘Its Only Fools and Horses with green skin and claws…’
‘We’re taking on these aliens with bottles of vinegar from the chippy?’
‘Alone? You think I’m alone? Defenceless? Then meet my dog!’
‘In all the universe I never expected to find a family.’

The Good: I tell you one criticism that is aimed at the Sarah Jane Adventures that really gets on my nerves and that is the cynics that consider it too childish because it takes a positive look at the world and the universe. I realise they might lay it on a little thick at times but I don’t think there is anything wrong with looking at the stars and imagining there is something better out there – its those people that have their heads stuck in their careers, bills and the hurly burly of normal life that scoff and I think this series demonstrates a far more adult approach to living your life than some shows (I would name Torchwood but that would be petty). Enjoy what you have and opening your mind to imagination and wonder is something that Doctor promotes in every second of its life and SJA has taken that mantle and carried it on. Maria’s opening speech in this episode is a delight because it captures that wonder you feel as a child and a comet could be an alien pod crashing to Earth. Alan Jackson is a great character in that respect and dragging him on the secret was a great move because here is an adult who finds all this alien nonsense a bit difficult to swallow but by the end of the episode he has been entranced by the possibilities. Swap Alan for an adult viewer scoffing at this series and you get the idea. Stargate SG1 used to have sporadic clip shows to save some money – SJA does the same thing but bundles it into one scene with the purpose of getting Alan up to speed. The way the story cuts from Sarah Jane enjoying a starlight spectacular from the attic window to a plea from two distraught parents asking for help to find their missing boy is a great example of how this show can pull the rug out from under you – switch from something comforting to some real world horrors. The fact that that kid turns out to be Luke threatens to turn the whole series on its head, just as a finale should. There is a really frightening moment that I am surprised they got away with where Luke’s dad enters his bedroom and scares him and then sniffs his tie almost seductively before locking him in – that is touching on some pretty scary themes. Whilst she gives a distinctly CBBC performance I cannot help but find all of Floella Benjamin’s turns as Professor Rivers simply delightful, she imbues the character with a childlike innocence that is hard to resist! Love them or hate them its still a great Slitheen reveal because there is absolutely no indication of their presence (no farting or fatties!). Just when you think that the cliffhanger is going to be a duff Slitheen wobbly claw moment the story pulls the rug out from under you again with the stupendous twist that Mr Smith is the mastermind behind this whole Ashley/Luke deception. It means they’ve sat on the revelation that he has been working against Sarah Jane and secretly plotting behind her back for the whole season. That’s brilliant. Episode two opens with a magnificent sequence of Sarah Jane infiltrating a scientific institute and after dismantling the laser security system being chased by a motorcycle into the woods – its like a scene from the Hinchcliffe years come to life! I was smiling my way through it, drunk on nostalgia. And Lis Sladen looks gorgeous – its like she hasn’t aged a day! I’ve heard some complaints about how cheap Clyde’s trip into Mr Smith’s workings looks but I don’t see it. With some clever dizzying camerawork and the constant montages of digital numbers the director has made what could have been potentially disastrous look visually impressive. Having Clyde inside his workings watching Mr Smith lying his teeth off to Sarah Jane is a lovely concept because you want to scream at the screen just as he is. Suddenly we are in race against time territory as Alan Jackson rushes across the street to warn Sarah Jane that Mr Smith is the bad guy before he murders her. The double cross is nicely worked out – the Slitheen think they are going to harness all of Luke’s telekinetic powers, bottle it and sell it but Mr Smith plans to use that power to bring the moon crashing down to Earth and finally avenge his people. There’s an awesome CGI shot of a Slitheen flying across the room and demolishing a locker. Then we find ourselves in suspense territory as Luke returns to an empty house and is manipulated by Mr Smith. The gravitational effect of the moon tearing the Earth apart is a brand new threat to the Earth that has never been thought of before – kudos for that because I thought all the ‘Earth in danger’ bases had been covered! Its nice to have the news footage of the devastating effect the moon is having on the Earth because the apocalypse on Bannermen Road wouldn’t quite cut it but this hellish explosion of the elements around the world really helps to sell the danger of the situation. Even the solution is really well thought through with Sarah Jane using the Slitheen’s teleport to beam back to the attic and Alan’s Armageddon virus to screw Mr Smith’s apocalyptic desires. And just when you think it can’t get any better along comes K.9 in a punch the air moment of triumph to take down the homicidal computer! Mr Smith’s purpose is to release the Xylock crystals that are embedded in the Earth’s carcass – even he has a great motive. Mr Smith’s elimination is a great HAL homage.

The Bad: It’s the only time we hear Mr Smith open up without the usual fanfare which is a smart move in one way (because it’s a particularly sad moment) but a daft one in others (you can hear how rickety that computer is!). Ryan Watson is extremely annoying as Nathan…but I guess that was rather the point! It only serves to highlight how Luke couldhave been. Alan finding the skin suit should be a great moment but its clearly a rubber body hanging up. The child Slitheen wobbling up the corridor is as terrifying as ever.

Result: Child snatching Sarah Jane? Luke being threatened in his bedroom? Alan Jackson putting the house on the market? What the hell is going on? The Sarah Jane Adventures pull out all the stops in its first season finale with a glorious upheaval of the cosy family the show has created. Its astonishing how much ground this story manages to cover with regards to bringing all the threads of the first season to a close and telling its own story. There’s the shockingly adult first fifteen minutes, the reveal of an old monster, an awesome twist that one of the good guys has been working against Sarah Jane all along, Alan is brought into the fold, an excellent night time action sequence, genuine character development of Sarah Jane, an ‘end of the world’ threat and a punch the air appearance of a Doctor Who favourite. Its all told so breathlessly that you don’t realise how brilliantly structured Phil Ford’s script is until you examine it closely and thanks to some strong direction practically every scene is a gem. Like the best of Sarah Jane there is plenty to keep the kids happy but a wealth of material for adults to enjoy too, this is a family show that knows exactly what its doing and provides a hell of a ride for all ages. The Lost Boy is the best finale the series offered until season four and it contains more surprises and thrills than any of the Doctor Who finales: 9/10

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