Friday, 15 May 2015

Prisoner of the Judoon written by Phil Ford and directed by Joss Agnew

This story in a nutshell: A Judoon and a body stealing prisoner spells double trouble for Sarah Jane who isn’t quite looking herself…

Until Next Time…Miss Smith: The Earth melting into Sarah Jane’s eyes is a lovely visual representation of the world she has sworn to protect. This ones’ literally got stars in her eyes. Sarah is still in the market for a good scoop and asks the tough questions even if it means she is ejected from the premises with a punt up the posterior (besides she has the perfect revenge plan – inflicting Gita on them!). She doesn’t want UNIT finding out about Mr Smith and so tried to have as little contact with them as possible. Sarah tosses aside a gun as though it is the most offensive thing she has ever held. When the Tybo tries to swat aside their interference in his hunt Sarah is strong enough to stand up to this lumbering space rhino and tell him that he has to answer to her! Elisabeth Sladen is having great fun playing Androvax and your enjoyment of this story might come down to how well you can take to her eye rolling villainy. On the plus side she adopts a much more sinister body language and has the terrific moment where she slides into the attic and purrs ‘Mr Smith…I need you’ which is one of the most chilling moments in the entire series. On the downside she later adopts a comical voice (it sounds as though she is being sick with every line she utters) which almost threatens to dispel the illusion. I can see entirely why the writers would go for this approach because to see Sarah Jane, their authority figure in this series, behaving so inappropriately must have been pretty scary. But I would say that Sladen did a better job of it with her childlike menace in The Hand of Fear overall. However they do learn some lessons from this story and the possession performances in Androvax’s second story are much more subtle and menacing. Sarah tries to fight her way out of him by afflicting him with her conscience. Sladen’s ‘don’t you want to give me a hug?’ as Androvax is delightful, poking fun at the occasional lovey doviness of the series. Destruction is part of the universe but Sarah has been taught by the best and understands that when it comes that just means the beginning of something else new and exciting.

Sarah’s Gang: This is definitely the point where Tommy Knight went from being cute little alien Luke Smith to being ‘I don’t want to look like a dweeb in front of my mates’ Luke Smith. He’s been alive for over two years now so its nice that he’s finally talking the talk and dressing a bit smarter. Clearly Clyde is rubbing off on him1 Luke, Clyde and Rani trying to wrestle Tybo into the shadows to prevent Gita and Haresh from seeing the Judoon is some of the best physical comedy you will see on this show. Knight, Anthony and Mohindra are like a well oiled machine by now. Clyde admits that he usually gets by on good looks and one liners and who am I to argue with him? Why is it when a brain child like Wesley Crusher in Star Trek TNG saves the day it is nauseating but when Luke shows off his talents it feels like the most natural thing in the world? He gets to flaunt some nifty technical knowledge here and save the world (again). He’s done it so often now he shrugs his shoulders at the praise.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘UNIT carry guns and so do the Judoon. If you ask me that spells trouble…’
‘You know a planet could start to get a complex!’
‘Who d’you think you are, Jack Bauer?

The Good:
  • One thing this show always did so well was to suggest the excitement and the beauty of venturing out into space without ever actually getting to do it very often! This show opens out on a stunning, kaleidoscopic journey through the solar system with a beautiful Elisabeth Sladen voiceover. I love the zooming in shot of the nanobots too, homing in on one of the little metallic beasts that slices its antennae to the camera. For a show that was starved of money they sure made what little they had count.
  • There’s a very funny moment when the show almost seems to be parodying itself when Sarah Jane suggests if you can keep your eyes and minds open you will see extraordinary things everywhere…and looks up to see a bloody great flaming escape pod tearing across the skies of London! Trust me it isn’t just going to take somebody with an open mind to see that!
  • ‘From what I’ve heard their methods aren’t exactly softly softly…’ How wonderful that this show can continue to explore races that have appeared in Doctor Who with a little more depth. They did it before with the Sontarans and the Judoon get a similarly good showing. The Commander is introduced in spectacular style firing his gun with casual abandon as he tries to take down his escaping prisoner. What’s brilliant about Tybo is how much humour they manage to derive from his character without every undermining him or diminishing his presence. I love his mad strop in the hall tossing the props about and how he tackles the lout in the car who is making a racket with his noisy music (basically pointing a gun in his face). This scene is remarkably similar to the one in Torchwood with the blowfish at the beginning of season two except it is much, much funnier and more charming. Its great fun watching the gang trying to cope with this lumbering oaf and Rani’s reaction when the police car pulls up is a scream. Tybo tears the handbrake out of the police car (and the very image of him driving is worth watching this story for) but at the same time insists they stick to the speed limit! He is a police officer after all! When rushing to the rescue of Sarah Jane Tybo holds up the kids by forcing them to Pay and Display! After the kids lock him up in the second episode he is ready to gun them all down in return once he breaks free.
  • The Judoon prosthetics are free (borrowed directly from Smith and Jones/The Stolen Earth) and as detailed as ever (I love the scene where he bleeds, nice to see a little blood on this show) and before anybody complains that this is a cheap tactic they should take a look at the detailed make up of Androvax who is a wholly original piece of work. The Vale are an intriguing species with a backstory that is gagging to be explored further (see seasons fours The Vault of Secrets) and thanks to some subtle music and Mark Goldthorp’s unnerving performance the prisoner of the title is a genuinely menacing presence. Androvax travelled the stars and when he returned to his home planet he found it a ball of ice and his people frozen at its heart. He’s been alone for so long and seen so many worlds teeming with life and considers it his life’s work teach them what the universe will do to them.
  • Its deeply obvious that the little girl is Androvax in disguise and I was screaming at the TV for Sarah Jane to realise so it’s a good thing that they don’t try and keep this subterfuge going longer than a minute. The moment when he bursts free of her made me recoil its done so suddenly.
  • On a purely ‘Oh my God how cool!’ level the imagery of the nanobots flooding away like an stream of black water and assembling a space craft on the roof of the NanoTech building definitely gets my vote!
  • As much as this is pure escapism the events of Prisoner of the Judoon do have consequences. Androvax would be back in next seasons Secrets of the Vaults and would undergo a radical character change as we learn that he isn’t quite as villainous as he appears. Gita would also be seeking advice on her encounter with aliens from this story in its sequel. Plus Rani and Clyde’s grounding by the Judoon is referenced in The Wedding of Sarah Jane Smith and is the reason why they aren’t beamed away with the rest of the Earth’s population in The Empty Planet.

The Bad: Thank goodness the estate that the escape pod crashed into is one that has been on the council renewal list for years! Had this been Torchwood it would have been a fully populated and full of dead bodies but since this is SJA it is completely empty! It would have been better had they just said it hit a warehouse or something that is always deserted. The direction of some of the early scenes is a little pedestrian, it literally feels as though some fans went out to some back streets with a camera to shoot some Sarah Jane action. I get that Gita’s plan is to interest corporate business in buying more attractive foliage for their offices but is turning up and dumping a whole van load of plants on their doorstep really the most subtle way (guerrilla planting?) to go about it? At least with Haresh there to point out how crazy she is! The Mr Smith is a bomb cliffhanger is simply a moment of jeopardy to get us the first episode to the second rather than a necessary part of the plot. The security guard that locks up Gita and Haresh is definitely from the CBBC school of acting. Sometimes their scenes are very funny (Gita meeting the Judoon) but more often they miss the mark and by the end it just feels like they are disconnected from the action and just hanging around corridors waiting for the world to end. More thought to go into their inclusion next time please.

Result: Prisoner of the Judoon is not one of the best Sarah Jane Adventures but its still an engaging action adventure tale with plenty to recommend about it. Bringing the Judoon into Sarah Jane’s world is as obvious as the Sontarans and it works just as well and we are treated to some charming and very funny comedy moments with the lumbering Tybo. I wouldn’t have complained had they decided to keep the character on somehow because he was an absolute blast. The criminal Androvax is a sinister presence (with terrific prosthetics) and clearly has more of a story to tell beyond this adventure. And the very idea of building a spaceship out of nanobots is really exciting and makes for a visually impressive concluding part. It surprises me where the show falls down because these are not areas that I am used to SJA faltering; the direction is a little lacklustre in places (Agnew is usually more than reliable), the nonsensical Gita/Haresh subplot eats up too much time (mind the look on Gita’s face when she first spots the Judoon made me howl) and Elisabeth Sladen occasionally enjoys her turn as Androvax a little too much. Solid action adventure enlivened considerably by the Judoon: 6/10

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