Sunday, 3 May 2015

The Mark of the Berserker written by Joe Lidster and directed by Joss Agnew

This story in a nutshell: Clyde’s father returns and with him come s a whole load of trouble…

Sumptuous Sarah: Due to other commitments, Elisabeth Sladen has a very minor role in the episode but I don’t think episodes like this do the series any harm because it brings to the fore all of the original elements that SJA has whipped up and shows how confidently it can stand on its own two feet. However there is a wonderful moment where we see exactly what Sarah Jane is up to, chasing the many eyed Travis Polon around a hospital in Tarminster wearing hospital smocks! You really expect Sarah to chew out Clyde at the end of the episode but she understands why he wanted to impress his father so much and would give anything to be able to see her parents again.

Luscious Langer: Daniel Anthony is one of the best performers on the show and give him material of this quality and the episode just sings. Its great to be able to see more of Clyde’s home life, the series always enjoys showing us what goes on behind closed doors at Sarah Jane’s and Maria’s/Rani’s but so far Clyde’s home life has been a bit of a mystery. As ever with this show the casting is superb and Jocelyn Jee Esien very memorably steps into the role of Carla Langer and the affection she and her son have for each other comes off them in waves. I love that Clyde is all witty quips and image on the surface but deep down he is extremely artistic and a great cook – underneath all that bluster is somebody who wants to fight his cool image and express himself. Daniel Anthony plays Clyde’s haunted reaction to his fathers return after 5 years quietly and it really hits the spot, his dad doesn’t even know his age. Despite everything that has happened Clyde really wants to impress Paul, to show him something to make him proud of him (and perhaps even make him stay). He’s furious when Rani dares to call his dad a thief. Once all the frolics of having whatever you want wears off Clyde still needs to tell Paul how him leaving made him feel and every night he went to be thinking what if his mum left him as well, what if he was left all alone. Making Clyde forget his mother is incredibly cruel act. He ponders on whether he could use the pendant to make them love each other and have his family back but he knows it wouldn’t be real. Clyde wants to keep his mum safe so he erases her memory of these events. Sometimes people think he isn’t bothered by stuff, there’s a lot his dad in him and he thinks if he didn’t have Sarah Jane he would end up like him but she thinks that he underestimates himself. 

Sarah’s Apprentice: I really like Rani’s spunk…she investigates the gents whether you are decent or not! Anjili Mohindra just gets stronger and stronger as the series progresses and Berserker is her strongest story yet. There’s a wonderful scene where Rani gets to control her dad and gets him running around on the floor and doing Bianca impressions but then the real danger of the pendant comes to the fore when Haresh asks her if she wants him to kill himself. Her dad still doesn’t approve of Clyde. Turns out when Gita vanishes for an evening, Rani is now in charge – Haresh is surrounded by domineering women! Nice to see how Rani chills on her day off. Poor Haresh is stuck doing all those press-ups – he looks really hot and sweaty! Isn’t it great how potential rivals Rani and Maria meet for the first time and get on really well with none of that silly jealousy getting in the way…they could teach Rose and Sarah and thing or two!

Genius Child: Luke is for once portrayed as a normal lad rather than a brain box who saves the world. There’s a really odd moment in the morning of the sleepover where Luke stares at Clyde’s bare feet hanging out of the bed that is oddly homoerotic. Clyde hangs out with Luke because they are friends for real, not because it makes him look good.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Aliens come to Ealing and meet you!’
‘I knew you could be trouble but I never knew you could be such a monster.’
‘And I think you underestimate yourself.’

The Good Stuff: Remember way back when before the new series of Doctor had even begun and Russell T Davies was saying he wanted a Buffy the Vampire Slayer feel to the series – its ironic then that it is this spin off series that has far more in common with the popular American comedy/drama than the main show. This story opens like an episode of Buffy in its early years, with a creepy kid who doesn’t fit in exhibiting some incredible powers but with a dramatic intensity that we don’t usually get on this show. The Berserker make up tearing through Jacob’s veins is simple but very effective (I really like the creepy blue eyes). The story is full of great little moments of character which really make a difference, watch Paul’s ‘yeah, alright mate’ reaction to Clyde saying he was expelled – he thought he would drop in on his son but he cannot be bothered to listen to all the trouble he has caused. This story really strikes a chord with me because when I was younger my father went to prison – he’s very like Paul in that he tried to absolve himself from responsibility, he runs away from anything he can’t cope with and is generally a very large, bullish, my way or no way sort of guy – so this episode always gives me twinges of what I remember about my father. ‘You mean like those Dalek things’ – nice use of continuity there. Joss Agnew’s direction is phenomenal; he makes the pendant seem like a genuinely frightening artefact thanks to some dramatic camerawork and sound effects. Its wonderful to have Maria back, moving the action to the US opens out the series and it is always wonderful to see yummy Alan! I love the little sigh the car salesman gives before approaching his customer, like he really hates this job but he has to force himself to be happy to drum up business – its a fantastic little touch of character. Hacking the UNIT files, more decent continuity. You’ve got Clyde and Paul racing around in a stolen sports car, shopping and strumming guitars, Rani and Luke investigating with the help of Maria and Alan from the US whilst The Kooks rock on (and poor Haresh keeps up his press ups!) – come on, this is a pretty hip show! Paul’s final transformation by the Docks is seriously scary and it’s a nice open location for the final scenes giving the show a fresh look. Haresh finally collapses (he’s going to ache in the morning!) and the car salesman looks on in horror that the most expensive car has vanished! The three Langers sit by the water, talking – there’s no Eastenders style histrionics here but real family drama. The last scene where Sarah Jane comforts Clyde is very poignant – it always brings tears to the eyes.

The Bad Stuff: Not a fault of the episode…but its that bloody park again! It’s showed up in Doctor Who, Torchwood and Sarah Jane – surely there is another park in Wales! There’s an extremely strange sequence of Luke and Rani picking through a litter in an alley, which is edited together so oddly it looks like they are dancing with traffic cones!

The Shallow Bit: Not sure about Sarah Jane’s hair this season, it’s a bit to retro for my tastes. I’m sure it doesn’t need pointing out every single time I review an episode but this is a fine looking cast – Daniel Anthony in particular has no right playing a 15 year old when he is way older than that and gorgeous – he’ll get me in trouble!

Result: Taking the metaphor of your Dad turning out to be a monster and bringing it to life with real dramatic intensity, The Mark of the Berserker is a great Joe Lidster script because it touches on moments of my own childhood and experiences with my bullish father. Having a Sarah-lite episode really strengthens my belief that this is a confidently casted show and Daniel Anthony in particular takes this moment to shine like never before. The direction is unlike anything else you will see in children’s television and considering the time slot this is a remarkably mature hour of television. The only comparison I can make is the Harry Potter series which have become more darker and intense as they have progressed, the Sarah Jane Adventures is a unique television show and this one of its most accomplished dramas: 9/10

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