Wednesday, 5 August 2015

The Nightmare Man written by Joe Lidster and directed by Joss Agnew

This story in a nutshell: Luke’s leaving the series but he’s being plagued by nightmares…

Until Next Time…Miss Smith: When did our Sarah Jane become such a convincing mother? She stands outside waiting for Luke’s results with a mixture of anticipation and sadness. Her ‘apart from that’ when Luke lists all the terrifying things that happened when he first joined Park Vale is very funny. Turns out she is a dreadful cook and nearly sets the kitchen on fire making scrambled eggs! The scene between Luke and Sarah in the car where he asks if she is going to miss him is absolutely gorgeous, it gives me goosebumps every time I watch it. Both Elisabeth Sladen and Tommy Knight pour their heart into that moment and it is beautifully scored. I defy anybody who has been on either side of someone leaving home, be it parent of child, not to be moved. Amazing that a show that is geared at children can produce moments of such powerful honesty. For years it was just Sarah Jane and K.9 and Luke gave her something real to live for. She is terrified of him leaving because it feels as if she is losing him but that wont stop her letting him go out there and having the best life that he can. Have I ever loved the character more? Lis Sladen clearly had a ball playing the older, senile Sarah Jane and she milks it for every laugh she can get. The Nightmare Man tried to manipulate Sarah by poking fun at her nightmares about the horrors she has seen, about the Doctor never coming back for her and Luke leaving her forever but this just makes her stronger and more determined to fight back. Can you think of a better gift to send Luke off to Uni with but K.9?

Sarah’s Gang: Amazing to think that four years Luke was a squeaky voiced little boy in a white robe and now his balls and voice have dropped, he’s developed a sense of style and he is old enough to be heading off to university. Watching the character (and the actor) grow has been one of the highlights of this series. In a story that sees Luke depart the series for a break it is nice that he provides the voice over for the opening scenes of the series. His quiet ‘I’m clever’ when talking to his mum about taking his A-Levels early is almost apologetic. His nightmares are very telling, showing his mother laughing at his fears of leaving and saying that he wasn’t really her son and she’ll be rid of him soon. Worse he fears he will be replaced when he leaves. He almost breaks down when he has a nightmare about Clyde tearing up a drawing of the two of them. You should want to crawl away and die at the punch of syrup in Luke’s final speech to the Nightmare Man but Tommy Knight has come a long way as an actor and (just about) sells it.

Rani is such a realist, she understands that Luke has got to meet knew people and see knew things if she is jealous that he gets to do it a year before she does. Her dream sequences in the BBC news studio are terrifying because it is something so instantly recognisable and yet feels totally off kilter. Rani’s worst nightmare comes in her dream of being a reporter leading her to having to expose Sarah Jane and her world saving antics. Rani insists that Sarah Jane has given her a better life but gets a real slap in the face, being told to grow up and if she wants to be a journalist she has to stop worrying about people’s feelings. Her admission that she is envious of him heading off into the big wide world before her but for him not to think for one second that she isn’t pleased for him makes me love Rani that little bit more.

Clyde suggests that he is trying to help Luke adjust to his friends not being around but you can see that underneath his bluster he is hurting a lot. Love the sexual tension between Clyde and Rani which will only develop as the season continues – you just want to scream at them to acknowledge their feelings for each other! There’s a wonderfully awkward moment between Clyde and Luke at the party where they both want to admit how much they are going to miss each other but have to cover up with posturing. Clyde’s nightmares see him serving burgers in a dead end restaurant being criticised for never being as smart as Luke.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Oooh! Did someone say aliens?’
‘You can’t say my name…you can’t tell anyone about me…’
‘Its time…go to sleep…’
‘Remember the sentient concrete disguised as the Chiswick flyover?’
‘Well what do you need Mr Smith? I have stuff here from planets across the universe! You just tell me what you need!’ ‘I need a USB lead, Sarah Jane.’
‘Bad dog!’
‘You’re going back into your nightmares forever. Night night children…’
‘Goodbye Mr Smith. You were adequate company…’ ‘You could always contact me if you need me’ ‘I knew you would miss me.’

The Good Stuff: The structure of this story is awesome, showing the stages in Luke’s life that has lead to this moment where he is leaving for University. What a brilliant reminder of how this show mixes the domestic life of Sarah and her insane role saving the Earth where Luke drops a bombshell about his future as they are handcuffed to an explosive! That is the best gunging of exploding Slitheen ever – look at K.9, he’s absolutely covered! I really like how the show handles Luke going off to university in so many different ways with Sarah Jane terrified that she is losing her son, Rani happy for her friend but quietly jealous and Clyde ignoring him because he feels as if someone else in his life is walking away and Luke himself frightened of what the future might bring. Its astonishing how well defined these characters are now that one idea can perpetuate such a excellent character development. Luke’s nightmare sequences are filmed with a sense of wrongness about them, just an arms throw from reality but with some twisted camera angles that really disorient you. The triple loser sign is hilarious! Once again the Sarah Jane Adventures goes for the jugular with its villain and Julian Bleach is perfectly cast as the very creepy Nightmare Man. Painted up like a twisted black and white clown and skipping through Luke’s nightmares with a sense of twisted humour and quiet menace, he is one of the best original villains we’ve seen in years. It’s so well done that beyond a seconds thought that this is ‘Freddie Krueger for CBBC’ you soon forget the similarities because the character drama gives this an edge. Joe Lidster seems to be the only writer who remembers Maria and mentions her in every script he wrote for the series. The cliffhanger deserves a round of applause; it’s really creepy and reminded me strongly of Sapphire and Steel (anything that can do that gets my vote). How brilliant is it that the first thing the Nightmare Man does when he is set free is spin on a swivel chair? There is something of the Child Catcher about the Nightmare Man as he creeps amongst the sleeping. Can you imagine anything more freaky than watching the television and the newsreader talking directly to you, and worse pulling you inside? That is the spookiest BBC newsreader ever. I always get a chill of that Harry Potter-esque wonder of the ordinary colliding with the magical when the Nightmare Man skips out into an everyday street and sends his sends his glowing tendrils into so many homes to invade their dreams and turn them into nightmares. As ever this series is sporting some unforgettable imagery. I love it when Mr Smith asks tentatively how K.9 is…aww! I honestly cannot think of a single ending to an episode that has given me goosebumps simply by being so cheerfully optimistic about the future.

The Bad Stuff: My one complaint is that Luke couldn’t leave without one more love in with his friends. I don’t want to say cringe inducing but it verges towards it slightly.

The Shallow Bit: I love Sarah Jane in a waistcoat, she looks so stylish! Rani looks gorgeous in her golden hat when she is dancing.

Result: I cannot believe this is aimed at children because considering the time slot and audience The Nightmare Man is exquisitely written with some very raw emotion and scary scenes. This kicked off a near flawless season of the Sarah Jane Adventures that really saw the show coming of age and producing stories that were as good as and (dare I say it) better than the Doctor Who being screened the same year. Our dreams are something we still don’t quite understand so something that can pervert and menace them is pretty terrifying and Joe Lidster and Joss Agnew really tap into that sense of disturbing unreality when you fall asleep. Whilst I cannot praise Julian Bleach enough for conjuring up a delicately menacing creation in the Nightmare Man what really impresses is the strength of the character work between the four regulars. Lidster shows how far we have come and forces the series to move on offering hope for the future. Luke’s departure might just bring a tear to your eye before this story finishes and Sladen, Knight, Mohindra and Anthony have gelled into an awesome ensemble. I have to mention Sam Watts, the musician for the series, who has provided four years worth of memorable and emotive music and truly excels himself here. A confident piece of drama, addictively watchable and a consistently superb show: 10/10

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