Saturday, 27 June 2015

Mona Lisa’s Revenge written by Phil Ford and directed by Joss Agnew

This story in a nutshell: The Mona Lisa steps from her painting to claim her brother…

Until Next Time…Miss Smith: ‘Seems like no-one wants you around, Sezza! Even your son…’ Wow, how much does Sarah Jane remind me of my mum during my teenage years when she comes down on Luke like a ton of bricks about his room. She’s a tad over the top about what is essentially a messy room but I can remember my mum having to tell me that she was disappointed in me (the ultimate weapon of mothers, that statement) because I refused to take responsibility of my own space (oh and I seem to recall the odd mouldy cup in there like Luke does too). It’s a nice reminder that Luke is growing up and getting a little out of control (as most teenagers do) and as a mother you can’t hold onto your precious little boy forever. This isn’t just enforced development for the sake of it, it’s a touch of foreboding for his departure from Sarah Jane’s daily life in The Nightmare Man (only two stories away). This makes his passing a little more natural and a little less sudden. Its unbelievable that a show in the CBBC schedule would feature a scene as touching as the one where Sarah Jane discusses the pain of losing her grip on her son. But then that is this shows raison detre, the ability to throw in genuinely adult (or should that be adolescent) issues whilst dealing with monsters from outer space. If Elisabeth Sladen is going to take a rest for a story than having her trapped in a painting is certainly more imaginative than her investigations into supernatural goings on at a nearby hospital (although the glimpses of that in Mark of the Berserker were fun).

Graphic Artist: Watch Anjili Mohindra and Daniel Anthony in this story, especially in part one. Whilst Tommy Knight remains as likable as ever it is clear that the real acting talent in this team belongs to Rani and Clyde and there is a real sense that they are completely stepping out of his shadow to take dominance over the show. When Clyde talks about art being in the soul and that it is something that captures your soul and not your mind its another reminder that there is much greater depth to him than you would perhaps see on the surface. He admits that as a child he used to draw for company because he never had any siblings and this is the first time he has felt that he could actually do something with his art when he leaves school.

Boy Genius: Its nice of Luke to think of what’s good for Clyde rather than bowing down to his image and putting his work in for an art competition is the start of a promising trend where he looks out for his friends best interests rather than the other way around.

Journalist in Training: Rani’s impersonation of the Mona Lisa is hilarious. Anjili Mohindra’s comic timing is impeccable.

The Genuine Article: ‘You can’t fake this kind of class…’ Your reaction to this story is probably going to be based around your opinion of Suranne Jones’ turn as the Mona Lisa. Jones is hot property these days and its great to see that this show continued to acquire the services of some quality actresses to bring its characters to life. Mona Lisa is loud, crude and brutal and it gives Jones the chance to go over the top and have great fun in the role and yet at the same time she manages to find some real pathos in the villainess at the same time. She’s a brassy northern painting brought to life and she’s packing a Sontaran blaster stolen from Clyde’s painting. She’s been hanging on a wall for five centuries and its driven her slightly kaka, all she wants is to knock some heads together and have some fun. The way Harding fawns and lusts after Mona Lisa adds a layer of complexity to their relationship, she can exploit him with her expressive sexuality. There’s a clever notion in play that Lisa cannot exist outside of the gallery and step into the outside world, she’s trapped within the confines of the building and all she wants to be able to walk free like any normal person. She might be a dangerous lunatic who is jealous of the woman who inspired her creation but there is a lot going on beneath the surface of all the bluster. Like all good Doctor Who/Sarah Jane villains (Sil, the Master), she has a penchant for giggling like loon when things go her way.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Nothing stays perfect forever…’
‘Her most detailed personal profile can be found on where she lists her interests as salsa dancing. She says she is ‘open minded and willing to try…’ ‘Thank you Mr Smith!’
‘That enigmatic smile that everybody bangs on about – wind.’
‘This sultana blaster…’ ‘I think you mean Sontaran’ ‘Whatever…’ – this isn’t subtle dialogue but the performances are just delightful.

The Good: Finally a great use of the Millennium Centre! Instead of posing as a space station from the future, an alien hospital, a building for Amy to grow old in or an underground Silurian debating chamber, here it is utilised as an art gallery (much like it was in Vincent and the Doctor) and as such we can wander around its vast and splendid corridors as the public services building that it actually is. Jeff Rawle and Suranne Jones are broken out before the credits kick in, its another terrific cast for a Sarah Jane Adventures following on from an appearance by Donald Sumpter in the last story. Sam Watts’ amusing classical musical score is another winner for the composer, highlighting the quality of the art and the look of the story. There’s a lovely role for Haresh in the first episode who gets to be more than the monster breathing down Clyde’s neck. Instead he is proud of something the boy has accomplished and played far more likeably as a result. Phyllis Trupp is one of those comical characters that is touched by tragedy and its played to the hilt by Lisa Sadovy, her unrequited love for Curator Harding a delicate thread running through the story and making both characters more interesting for it (there’s a touch of Revelation of the Daleks’ Jobel and Tasembeker about them). Showing he has a great eye for detail (I would never say that Phil Ford’s plotting is at fault), the very first shot of this story is the solution to the problem at the climax – a drawing of K.9. Its clear that the episode is building to a dramatic moment surrounding the Mona Lisa and I love how Joss Agnew captures the moment in such a blackly comical light, the unveiling of Miss Trupp captured in the painting. Its even touched with tragedy because she would love to harvest the affection that Harding has for the real painting and so putting her in its frame looking so plain and dumpy is really quite soul destroying for her. It also introduces the idea of the Mona Lisa being able to walk from the painting and trap others in oils which is phenomenal on anyone’s watch. Mona Lisa can also steal anything of use that has been painted in the gallery so soon avails herself of a Sontaran blaster from Clyde’s artwork. You’ve just got to love a show that is playing around with ideas that are this kooky. It reminds me of Doctor Who at its best. Watch out for the reference to Planet of the Dead. Sarah Jane being trapped in the painting with a look of fear trapped on her face feels like it has stepped out of Sapphire and Steel and proves to be one of the more conceptual cliffhangers the show has attempted. Without a method of time travel (occasionally circumvented in episodes such as The Temptation of Sarah Jane Smith) there has to be a way to bring elements of the past and future to the show and extracting the Dark Rider from a painting is one of the more imaginative on offer. Suddenly the story becomes a romp around the art gallery as the kids are pursued by a highwaywoman packing flintlocks. The whole idea of the Abomination by Giuseppe de Cattivo is so captivatingly explained I (to my shame) actually looked it up online to see if there was such a painting/artist. Fortunately (its nice to know that I’m not an exclusive sap) others had done the same thing! Obviously I didn’t believe in the idea of sentient paint made from alien elements (or did I…?) but this is exactly the sort of myth that shows like Doctor Who and The Sarah Jane Adventures can build their stories on (like the Gorgon in season one). Kudos to Phil Ford for duping me so completely. Proving once again that the Sarah Jane Adventures recognises discretion where Torchwood dives in head first, Mona Lisa’s Revenge mimics the ending of End of Days with a slavering, horned beast being released. Instead of having it stomping over Cardiff in a ridiculous fashion it is all achieved with glimpses of its hands and silhouette and subtle lighting making the effect far more frightening. We never get to see the whole of the Abomination but the glimpses on offer are more than enough to make you sweat. This show would never take the obvious route of having Miss Trupp and Harding fall into each others arms at the climax and it undercuts the romantic possibilities with a cracking insult (‘you art tart!’).

The Bad: Unfortunately the painting of Clyde’s that is getting all the recognition really isn’t that good.

Result: In turn Mona Lisa’s Revenge is inventive, colourful, surreal and exciting. Most unlike a Phil Ford script, this feels more like something that Gareth Roberts would put together if he had taken enough mind altering drugs. By the time the cliffhanger kicks we’ve strayed pastSapphire and Steel territory (policeman trapped in paintings) into the sort of creativity that has always made Doctor Who such a treat for is audience (the Mona Lisa breaking free of her painting and re-imagined as brassy northern psychotic that can pull any resource that has been captured in oil from a painting). Its absolute madness but played engagingly by the cast and injected with some slick touches by director Joss Agnew who judges the tone of the piece with absolute precision (because as exaggerated as this is it could have dive bombed into caricature of the show I recognise). There’s even space for a twisted love triangle between Lisa, Harding and Miss Trupp which makes all of their characters more interesting because of it and a burgeoning distance developing between Sarah Jane and Luke pre-empting his departure in a few stories time. My one complaint is that the second half doesn’t quite have the snap, crackle and pop of the first and things lead to a slightly underwhelming conclusion. But the energy levels are high, the gags are relentless, the cast are at the top of their game at this point (Mohindra and Anthony rule) and the whole piece is elevated by the lighter than usual tone. Kudos to Suranne Jones who manages to go wildly over the top and make me crack up whilst still finding subtleties to exploit within the character of Lisa: 8/10

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