Sunday, 7 June 2015

The Eternity Trap written by Phil Ford and directed by Alice Troughton

This story in a nutshell: Sarah Jane, Clyde and Rani join Professor Rivers and Toby Silverman to Ashen Hill Manor, the creepiest haunted house this side of The Others…

Until Next Time…Ms Smith: This episode is a great example of the sassy Sarah Jane Smith we all remember from our childhoods, you know the one who fought robot mummies and walking brains and way before she started getting menopausal and hanging around with young kids! I exaggerate as usual but there is no denying that Sarah is much more about letting her feelings all hang out these days (it’s the finest development of character so I’m not complaining, especially in stories like The Temptation of Sarah Jane Smith) and it is healthy to reminds us of Sarah of old. She is delighted that Professor Rivers has invited her along and is determined to find a scientific rationale behind all the supernatural events. Her view of the universe is very detailed and she understands the need to believe in the afterlife but she can’t (perhaps the Doctor had more of an effect on her than even we realised). ‘You really shouldn’t believe your own press you know!’ – I really liked that line considering her occupation. She has fought the worse things and barely blinks an eyelid at Erasmus’ tricks.

Sarah’s gang: This is the first indication that Clyde and Rani can hold the show up without Luke; they are confident, contemporary and effortlessly watchable together. Someone has to hold \Clyde’s hand as he faces all the dangers but watched how they keep grabbing for each other – I think love is in the air! Its not like Rani isn’t tempted by eternal torment but she has school in the morning! She doesn’t scare that easily but would feel much better with a Ghostbusters proton pack. I love the pop culture references they keep dropping in; I bet the kids love it too! Clyde aint afraid of no ghost, he’s taken on practically every creep in the universe. He’s not just an action hero; he’s a style icon!

Sparkling Lines: ‘It’s a super spook smack down!’

The Good Stuff: The opening is truly winding and a good indication that you might have to hide the kiddies away for this unsettling piece. There is a sudden pan into the creepiest of mansions, children screaming and their father crying out for their souls as we fade into modern times – it’s a great tension-building teaser. Floella Benjamin is definitely giving a CBBC performance but still think she’s fabulous, a really fun returning character as the show builds up its own mythology. The location is stunningly authentic, a genuinely spooky old house. The musical score is pure horror movie and all the more effective for it. It was dark when this episode was transmitted and I was stuck at work but my Simon was at home and even he found it unsettling, the wet footprints, children laughing and crying, Darkening reaching out from the mirror, the eeriest nursery ever with a chilling lullaby, a manic rocking horse, a disembodied voice crying out for help, toys coming to life, a child singing and GET OUT scribbled on the blackboard! This is pretty strong stuff for a kids show! Adam Gillen gives an enjoyably twitchy performance as Toby and has a nice backstory and good reason to be there. The lighting Darkening’s laboratory is gloriously moody; it genuinely looks like a set from a slasher movie! There is a great scene where we see Darkening’s victims through the ages on the stairs, wearing clothes from various eras. The Billiard Room chaos continues the frights with the balls potting themselves and the triangle going loopy and attacking Clyde and Rani! All the ghosts are revealed to be living people trapped between thanks to Darkening’s trans dimensional accelerator. If they switch off the machine then these people will die. Darkening has been stealing their life energy to gain immortality. The glowing red eyes in the dark and the POV shots really spooked me! I love the simple explanation of all the paranormal activity; Marchwood has been trying to scare them away to save them. Darkening was trying to get home but was using living people to obtain his freedom. The last shot of Marchwood finally reunited with his children is lovely and I can imagine them haunting Ashen Manor for many years to come.

The Bad Stuff: Donald Sumpter is super creepy when he is an apparition in part one but becomes a little too camp (especially ‘Maaaarchwood!’) in part two. I’m still not that sure how they defeated Darkening except that it reminded me strongly of the ending of the Masque of Mandragora (Sarah must have remembered!) and I didn’t understand that either!

The Shallow Bit: Daniel Anthony is really, really hot. There, I said it. Bang me up.

Result: Almost uniquely, The Eternity Trap is an entirely plot driven Sarah Jane Adventure which is a very welcome. Doctor Who’s Midnight saw Alice Troughton create a frightening atmosphere with minimalist elements and here she conjures up a similarly uncomfortable story with lots of subtle, corner of the eye techniques. This is a mini horror movie for children with an intelligent script and highlighting the regulars at their confident best. Even the non event episodes are treasurable, it is hard to fault this spine chilling, moody piece: 8/10

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