Sunday, 17 May 2015

The Mad Woman in the Attic written by Joe Lidster and directed by Alice Troughton

This story in a nutshell: Rani heads off to her old hometown to investigate strange goings on in a deserted amusements park…

Until We Meet Again…Miss Smith: The first review of a Sarah Jane story since Elisabeth Sladen’s shocking and upsetting passing but instead of writing something maudlin I intend to enthuse about her incredible work in the both Doctor Who and her own show. I would much rather celebrate the wonderful moments of joy this woman brought to my life than dwell on the ones that wont be coming anymore. My wonderful Sarah Jane, she’s at the height of her powers in this story – although she was always so good it kind of makes that description redundant. Rani describes Sarah Jane as mysterious and moody and you don’t want to get on the wrong side of her. Look at how fabulous she looks in the sun blazing attic room, smiling with her friends and rocking on in that gorgeous waistcoat. When she discovers that Rani has betrayed their secret to an old friend she is initially furious. There is a wonderful moment between Sarah and Clyde where they poke fun at each other’s foibles (she’s a bit slow and he’s a bit scared) – it's almost flirtatiously fun. You can kick things down or jump over the top but her way is more stylish. Poor Sarah Jane doesn’t know what the loser sign is – she’s not down with the kids speak! She is haunted by the flash-forward she gets of the TARDIS appearing in the attic, a wonderful teaser for the next episode. Once again she speaks of her parents dying and she bravely uses that as an example of why life isn’t easy. I love how understanding she is, initially cross with Rani but reasoning that she is the one at fault because she has been alone for so long that she finds it difficult to trust people. Not all aliens are out to get us and sometimes Sarah forgets that. Love you, Sarah Jane.

Sarah’s Gang: Every year Joe Lidster writes a superb character focussing on one of the regulars – we learnt so much about Clyde in The Mark of the Berserker, Luke gets some startling development in The Nightmare Man and here it is Rani’s turn to shine, showing us her old life and what she really feels about things deep down. The story has a superb framing device showing an older, more decrepit Rani looking back on the mistakes of her life. She’s forgotten people and places and exists now as the mad old woman in Bannermen Road. All she has is pictures and faded memories now. She tells a story of our young, beautiful Rani annoyed because she brings potentially interesting stories to investigate and doesn’t get taken seriously plus she walks in on a love-in about Maria which makes her feel excluded. Rani is worried that her parents are disappointed in her, especially her dad, and she hides it behind jokes and laughter. She’s worried that Sarah Jane doesn’t think she is as useful as Maria. Eve however can see how they look at her and they love her and are proud of her. Life is difficult as a teenager; GCSE’s and Judoon, her parents and Sarah Jane and trying to keep it all secret. This all sounds quite Dawn-from-Buffy whiney doesn’t it but nothing could be further from the truth, Anjili Mohindra is such a strong actress that she manages to convey all this angst and still remain as wonderfully hip as ever. Sam started ignoring her when she moved because she had an incredible new life on Bannermen road. She is scared of the future, scared of growing old – she sees a glimpse of what is to come and it terrifies her. How gorgeous does Rani look with those glowing red eyes?

Clyde admits that sometimes he does get scared. I love it when Clyde (who fancies the ass off her) shouts at Rani when they catch up with her as if she was her dad (‘you could have been in a ditch or something!’). His faux kung fu moves make a return – very funny!

Luke thinks he can make a connection with Sam which just goes to show that his social interaction is getting better and better. Sam suggests he is some kind of Frankenstein’s creature.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘People can’t afford to have fun anymore.’
‘The universe is full of nightmares and you make fake ones.’
‘Sometimes they just need a helping hand.’

The Good Stuff: The opening with the bitter and twisted Rani living amongst the cobwebs in the lightning streaked attic is an arresting opening and immediately gets you wondering how on Earth this could have happened. Souad Faress is extraordinarily good as the older Rani, they have found someone who matches her look to the letter and she gets all the mannerisms and speech perfect. I love a beach location and the deserted amusement park has a melancholic, out of season atmosphere. The story employs some very simple but creepy effects; the red face in the mirror looks gorgeous but nothing could have prepared me for the grinning red eyed zombies on the ride, especially the guy in the hoodie whose smile is terrifying!). ‘I could eat children for all you know’ – rather than just using them as a framing device Lidster builds a lovely relationship up between the older Rani and Adam. I love how the Sarah Jane Adventures can add even more depth to the Time War, Eve’s race were attacked by the Daleks because they could read the timelines. There are lots of flashbacks that remind you of Sarah’s long association with the Doctor and flash forwards that hint at wonderful things to come. Rani stands in front of the mirror and the scene splits between her older and younger self, that is some mighty fine direction. The camerawork and editing as Eve makes the rides go faster and faster is as exhilarating and disorienting as if you were on the ride yourself. How cool is the spaceship under the beach – every time kids visit the seaside now they will be imagining all sorts under the sand! We get a wonderful fairytale ending that sees the dysfunctional family of Harry, Samuel and Eve heading off in Ship. A cried with joy at the line ‘K.9’s coming home!’ and his immediate tension with Mr Smith promises great things. I love how Joe Lidster subverts the shows staples by undercutting the usual twee schlock with a tragic ending. The framing device manages to surprise you too with Adam turning out to be Eve and Sam’s son and returning to change Rani’s life. Love Ship tearing free of the sands and the team sharing a joyous moment captured on celluloid is ultra poignant given recent events. 

The Bad Stuff: Sam is so obstinate in the first episode that if I was Luke I would slap him round the face with a wet halibut and throw him out his bedroom window. ‘I’m just a stupid kid that can’t get anything right!’ – that is the only moment in this two parter that feels CBBC.

The Shallow Bit: Far too many cute boys for me to get a handle on the action at times with Sam, Clyde, Luke and Adam all very attractive lads. Anjili Mohindra is an exceptionally beautiful young lady and it is always worth remembering how gorgeous Lis Sladen looks.

Result: Bringing Joe Lidster across to the Sarah Jane Adventures was a stroke of genius, he manages to take a show that is aimed at children and add some remarkable depth to the regulars. The Mad Woman in the Attic has a clever, characterful framing device that gives the tale a real sense of frisson and we get to explore Rani’s feelings about a whole manner of things and come out knowing the character so much better. It is beautifully directed by Alice Troughton who once again proves that a lack of money doesn’t mean a lack of skill and there are plenty of creative touches and visual splendour. The episode ends with a warm burst of pleasing sentiment that really appealed to me - there are no villains in this story, just a misunderstanding and as an example of why this cast works so well together it is another great illustration. Impressive: 9/10

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