Sunday, 31 May 2015

The Wedding of Sarah Jane Smith written by Gareth Roberts and directed by Joss Agnew

This story in a nutshell: Its all there in the title! It’s a wedding and some of the guests just might surprise you!

Until Next Time…Miss Smith: I’m so pleased that this story was written because it has felt like we have explored so many of aspects of Sarah’s except romantically. It helps to make her a more rounded character to think she has been sneaking off and seeing a hot date behind everybody’s backs. Its not all extraterrestrial visits and saving the world, she has a life on Earth and one she intends to enjoy. When she kisses K.9 and calls him a romantic I was on the verge of tears – we really have been robbed of one of the finest Doctor Who characters. She admits that men were interested before but she never thought a relationship could go anywhere with her bizarre lifestyle. Somehow she is going to have to explain that she used to travel in time and space, her son was an experiment created by aliens, she’s got a talking computer, a robot dog and her lipstick is deadly! Whilst these are funny lines it does make you wonder how the other companions that wound back on Earth treated their adventures with the Doctor when they fell in love and settled down. Did they talk about it or simply pretend it never happened. Its really nice to see those sorts of questions being asked here because that is exactly the sort of gift the Russell T Davies gave to the show. Its wonderful that Peter and Luke take the piss out of what was her defining characteristic when she joined in The Time Warrior (‘Why do you ask so many questions?’ ‘Because I’m a journalist!’). When you realise that she is being manipulated (in a very subtly played scene where Sarah makes excuses about the vacant flat) it becomes clear there will be a broken heart before this story has ended. There’s something very sad about Sarah wanting a normal life for a change and none the outer space junk getting in the way. Considering what we learnt about her in School Reunion I am sure there is more than a grain of truth in that. Is it just me or does listening to Sarah shout out ‘Doctor!’ peel away the intervening years and give you goosebumps? Although he is doing it for entirely selfish reasons there is something very personal about how the Trickster wants to bestow the gift of being happy in a normal life on Sarah Jane since it is something she has always longed for. The flash forward to Sarah and Peter laughing and enjoying their lives together shows just how special it could be if she just let go of her responsibilities. However the Trickster doesn’t know who he is dealing with and Sarah is willing to suffer a broken heart and loneliness in a selfless act to save the planet. What works so well as that Peter isn’t a trick to get rid of Sarah Jane, he is as much of a victim as she is and their feelings for each other are real. That is what makes their parting and his decision to kill himself and set her free from an agonising choice so poignant because there was the potential there for it to work. The trouble is they never should have met in the first place. They suffer this loss because they were giving the opportunity of finding each other. That’s real tragedy. And giving up your life for another – that’s love. Astonishing for what is supposed to be a kids show. When Sarah sits there in tears and the Doctor embraces her I can’t help myself…the tear just roll down my face. Lis Sladen knows how to break my heart and walking down the aisle on her own is an enduring image.

Mockney Dude: Oh come on if the Doctor hadn’t have burst in during the ‘does anybody new of any reason why these two shouldn’t be married…’ it would have been really disappointing. It manages to be a classic Doctor Who and SJA moment in one. If you ever wanted an opportunity to see how Clyde, Rani and Luke would work out as Doctor Who companions now is your chance. I love his method of shutting the noisy kids up! The whole Sarah Jane/Sarah debate has a line drawn neatly under it when the Doctor tells Rani he’ll call her what he likes. As much as I have longed for the Sarah Jane kids to step into the TARDIS I have salivated for a confrontation between the Trickster and the Doctor more. I love how they segue this into the Doctor’s current storyline (post Journey’s End) and how the Trickster offers some foreboding hints about his approaching regeneration. The Doctor says he has fought the Trickster’s Shadows (The Armageddon Factor) and changelings (Turn Left). Its lovely how the two shows are intertwining like this. He (like the audience) is mocked for enjoying the company of children and he wonderfully, defiantly says ‘they’re my friends.’ Love it. Sarah thinks that the Doctor leaving in a hurry is him all over but Sarah is his best friend and he comes back to make sure she is alright. There was a very good chance that this was the last time the Doctor would see Sarah (but isn’t it glorious that she met the eleventh Doctor?) and so his ‘don’t forget me, Sarah’ is a touching and deliberately play on the end of The Hand of Fear.

Boy Genius: The Wedding of Sarah Jane Smith features another of the real issues that this show throws in every now and again (like child abduction in The Lost Boy and relocating friends in The Last Sontaran) and this time it is Luke who is at the centre of it all. Being a child of a single parent family and having your mother fall in love with a new man who may step into the role of your father is a huge shift in your personal life. Tommy Knight nails the tentative nerves that Luke feels just before meeting Peter for the first time, wondering what to call him or if he will even like him and what that would mean for their romance.

Graphic Artist: Clyde’s reaction to Sarah Jane and Peter kissing is akin to every kid when they see their parents do anything intimate (‘ohh people are eating!’). The way he wants to protect Sarah Jane is very sweet and investigating Peter behind her back is the best we he knows how to do that without upsetting her. He wont have any of the Doctor’s ‘I’ll explain later’ that he has been peddling to his companions for years (it was a favourite of the fifth Doctor) and demands an explanation. Its time for Clyde to be a hero and stand up to the Trickster when he gets blasted with artron energy and more importantly it paves the way for his brilliant body swap with the eleventh Doctor in Death of the Doctor.

Journalist in Training: Having to deal with two adolescent lads must be tiresome for Rani and she has to explain that Sarah Jane wants her romance with Peter kept a secret so they pretend they know nothing. Thank goodness there is somebody sensitive in this group of friends! Anjili Mohindra is so comfortable in her role these days and is far more confident and charismatic now than Yasmin Paige’s Maria ever was – I love her grumpy reaction to being dobbed in by K.9 (‘the gob on you!’). I’m sorry but she’s just gorgeous, isn’t she?

Sophisticated Charmer: I cannot imagine a better person to play Sarah’s fiancé than Nigel Havers who effortlessly slips into the series and with Peter’s impeccable manners and understated charm you can see precisely why she fell for him.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Her excuses are getting lamer and lamer!’ ‘Affirmative! Veracity level 12%’ – oh doesn’t that sound just like the K.9 who used to drive the fourth Doctor mad?
‘And goodbye to all that…’
‘Besides where would I send the invite? Metebelies Three?’
‘And I love you, Sarah Jane Dalton…’

The Good: Its easy to figure out what separates The Sarah Jane Adventures from the rest of bilge that CBBC produces – Gareth Roberts hit it on the nail during his recent interview in DWM when he admitted that Russell T Davies instructed him to write for it as if it was any other adult drama. Its all in the tone, I think. There’s enough fun and excitement in each episode to keep the kids happy but with a striking performance from Elisabeth Sladen, complex storylines and the way it refusing to patronise its audience by dealing with its ideas sensitively can draw in an impressive adult crowd too. Its definitely classic Doctor Who for the next generation. Look at the director of this serial. Joss Agnew has directed Casualty, Waterloo Road, Dream Team, Mile High (we wont hold that last one against him). They haven’t just roped in some godawful newbie director to bring this series to life but an experienced drama director (and with Graeme Harper on board too the show couldn’t really go wrong!).

The early scenes of the kids trying to figure what Sarah Jane is hiding from them are delightful because we initially think along with them that it is some cataclysmic disaster she is trying to keep from them when in fact she just wants a bit of male company! Its another reminder of just how comfortable it is to be around Clyde, Luke and Rani and their interaction is more charismatic than ever (throw in K.9 and Mr Smith bitching and it’s a belter of a scene!). Gareth Roberts very cleverly uses the TARDIS in a way that has never been done before (and I would have thought that was an impossibility): as a portent of doom and every time that wheezing, groaning sound sounds it seems to signal the approach of something really momentous. It also has the secondary function of whetting the audiences appetite for the reunion between the Doctor and Sarah, this time on her turf. The whole sequence where Peter turns up and Travis Polon (the nasty little space centipede that was last scene running away from Sarah in Mark of the Berserker) breaks free makes me howl with laughter. Its gloriously filmed and played with some marvellous reactions from the characters - Gita wants to have a nose at Sarah’s new man, Sarah herself is desperate to get the bloody alien away from her new man, K.9 trips out the door to protect her and Rani is being wonderfully bossy with Clyde! Its absolutely delightful to watch and shot on a gloriously sunny day. Just as Sarah Jane’s happiness reaches its apotheosis Clyde and Rani discover that Peter’s house is empty and the ring she is given starts glowing. Something wicked this way comes… There is something very poignant about seeing Mr Smith deactivated and the attic left silent and dark especially given the events of the past year. Sarah, the Doctor, K.9 and the Trickster in one scene – the climax to the first episode is goosebump central! The visual of the hotel hanging in space is a lovely, nightmarish shot that is very reminiscent of the hospital in the void in The X-Files’ episode Audrey Pauley. The endlessly ticking clock is very Sapphire and Steel. These Trickster episodes are never afraid to shy away from some pretty serious horrors and Peter falling down the stairs to his death and making a pact with the devil to save his life is pretty bewitching. The Trickster’s benevolence in offering Sarah Jane happiness and as a consequence claiming the world is really chilling (and Paul Marc Davis’ silky voice is more sinister than ever). He’s such a clever villain because there is always a personal stake and there are always emotional consequences. I hope this isn’t the last we see of him. The kids in (ahem) the best console room since the show came back is a dream come true.

The Bad: What a shame Nicholas Courtney was too poorly to take part in this adventure. It would have been very special indeed.

The Shallow Bit: I have to admit for his age Nigel Havers is something of a hottie! Its something to do with his gentlemanly charms that really appeals to me. How gorgeous do Anjili Mohindra and Elisabeth Sladen look when they step out of the car. I may be locked up for inappropriate comments but push over Doctor Who and Torchwood – this is the best looking cast by far!

Result: A strong contender for best story of the season, The Wedding of Sarah Jane Smith reunites Sarah with her best friend (the Doctor) and her worst enemy (the Trickster) and fulfils a dream of mine to see the character enjoy a charming romance. It mixes domestic drama, comedy, clever science fiction ideas and tragedy with real elegance and always manages to have me in tears before Sarah had to face the aisle all on her own. What I found especially interesting about this story was that I preferred the first episode to the second – whilst the concluding part was still very strong the delightful interactions between the cast and the subtle build up of tension in the opening instalment were absolutely flawless. Its possibly because it goes from the Sarah Jane Adventures to Doctor Who at the halfway point and whilst the latter is well executed here the former is at its peak. If you haven’t stuck this on because it’s a kids show you are really missing out – where else will you see Sarah Jane blissfully happy in love, the TARDIS as an ominous beacon of horror, a hilarious sequence featuring a slippery alien caterpillar, a hotel caught inside one second, a horrific being that can rip peoples lives apart and a heartbreaking conclusion where the Doctor has to console his grieving best friend? A classy, poignant drama that confidently changes its tone without ever losing its identity, its another great Sarah Jane Adventure: 9/10

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