Wednesday, 27 January 2016

The Man Who Wasn’t There written by Gareth Roberts and directed by Joss Agnew

This story in a nutshell: The last ever televised Sarah Jane Smith adventure…

Until Next Time…Miss Smith: This seems an opportune moment to mention my all time favourite Sarah Jane moments…or rather a favourite moment from each story!
The Time Warrior: ‘Why don’t you take of that ridiculous costume and go home to your butchers shop!’
Invasion of the Dinosaurs: ‘Run along and play whilst the adults get on with the real business!’ 
Death to the Daleks: ‘I can sink anywhere…’
The Monster of Peladon: ‘There’s nothing only about being a girl, your majesty.’ 
Planet of the Spiders: ‘Please, don’t die…’
Robot: ‘But you can’t take on the whole world! Don’t you understand they’ll destroy you!’
The Ark in Space: ‘Conned again! You’re a brute!’
The Sontaran Experiment: ‘Heeeeey! (feet kicking out of a ditch)
Genesis of the Daleks: ‘We’re talking about the Daleks. The most evil creatures ever invented! You must destroy them! You must complete your mission for the Time Lords!’
Revenge of the Cybermen: ‘Will you stop going on about your wretched gold, Harry!’
Terror of the Zygons: ‘Well as long as you don’t turn into a Zygon…’
Planet of Evil: ‘But the power is low...'
Pyramids of Mars: ‘We’ve got to go back…’
The Android Invasion: ‘I came here once on a story...'
The Brain of Morbius: ‘I was attacked by a great claw thing that looked like it was mad of butchers leftovers!’ 
The Seeds of Doom: ‘You’re as bad as Chase, Scorby. All these guards, all these guns. Other people don’t matter! You’re not complete unless you’ve got a gun in your hand!’ 
The Masque of Mandragora: ‘You don’t have to use that fifteenth century doubletalk with me! I speak da pretty good inglish!’ 
The Hand of Fear: ‘Oh come one. I can’t miss Gallifrey!’ 
K.9 and Company: ‘You didn’t forget…’ 
The Five Doctors: ‘Thank you very much for rescuing me Doctor but now will you kindly tell me why I need rescuing!’ 
School Reunion: ‘He replaced you with a brand new model! Yeah, he does that.’
The Stolen Earth: ‘You’re so young…’
The End of Time: That look she gives him…

Look at all this gorgeous material Sarah Jane gave us before she was given her own series? What companion can boast so many quality moments? I would have thought this day would never come…the last story to ever feature Elisabeth Sladen playing Sarah Jane Smith. I’ll tell you something – it’s a death that has hit me more than any other in my life to this point. I have lost family to the ravages of age and disease but they have never been close relations. For some reason this hit really hard and I felt completely numb for almost a week. Simon had to come home from work because I wouldn’t stop crying (that’s a three hour train journey from Luton to Eastbourne) and I felt so ridiculous because this was a woman I had only met once (as fabulous as that was) and in actuality it was just a character I was grieving. It took me nearly a week to figure out why I was so upset, not only had I lost my childhood hero (I had started watching Sarah Jane classic Who’s when I was about six and instantly fell in love) but Sarah Jane represents the perfect Doctor Who companion, the every woman, us. She was our window into adventures with the Doctor and I think when Elisabeth Sladen died and the character was no more, a little bit of each of us died too. It’s a testament to her warmth, wit and wonder in the role that she touched so many peoples hearts and even more so that there was a moment of national mourning when she was taken from her family. Rather than mourn her death any longer (I still get pangs every time I think of the character) I want to continue to celebrate her astonishing body of work in this section of the website and the classic Who areas too. She will always be my hero and she’s up on my wall so I can look at her every day. Love you Sarah Jane and in my eyes you’re adventures will go on forever…

Poor Sarah, her harem of children all seem to think that the money that pays for the house grows on trees! When she suggests that three of the top journalists have been invited to the launch of the Serfboard Rani asks painfully if she knows any of them! She tries to bask in the glory of being the best parent on the Earth for obtaining a Serfboard for her kids before anybody else (‘Hurrah for mum!’) and then snatch away her moment of glory by introducing an element of mystery that Sarah cannot resist. We get to see her at her journalistic best, enthusing about the Serfboard whilst candidly informing Harrison that she spotted the flaw in his presentation and will expose his secret unless he exceeds to her demands of a personal interview. All with a smile on her face. I actually punched the air with excitement when Sarah sees through Serf’s attempts to hypnotise her (‘I’m an old hand at hypnotism…’) because that is something that long characterised her time on classic Who. Clearly her time wasn’t wasted with the Doctor because she has a hundred and one ways to escape a locked room but finds the classics are the best! She suggests she is about to do something devilishly clever and the next time we see her she is dressed up as a cleaning lady – the third Doctor must have told her about his ingenious scheme in The Green Death! 

Boy Genius: Clyde confirms that no matter where you originated from, even if you were created by an alien species with the intelligence of thousands…once you leave for university you become a slob and who doesn’t know how to fill a cupboard, only empty them. Clyde refers to him as Franken-bane’s monster and his greatest success! When Luke reveals his dog whistle so he can call K.9 whenever he wants I beamed…he’s become a proto-Doctor! The way Tommy Knight gently plays his scenes with Sinead Michael shows just how far he has come as an actor, he taps into a very sensitive side of Luke and shows how this relationship would have been a very rewarding one to follow. 

Graphic Artist & Journalist in Training: Calling Clyde and Rani ‘Clani’ is wonderful because it confirms at last that these two have finally got it together (although that had happened around the time they first met its just that neither one of them could admit it!) and its also one of those horrendous ‘shipper’ nicknames that do the rounds on the internet (another show that has taken the piss out of such a bizarre phenomena is Supernatural with its digs at ‘Wincest!`). Frankly I cannot imagine a better place to leave these two in the series than as a couple, happy with their lives and continuing to save the universe and back in time for a cuddle and a kiss. Its where we’ve been leading for the past two seasons now. You might be disappointed that Clyde and Rani are left out of the action for so long but it allows them to enjoy plenty of time together in their last adventure and revel in the chemistry between Anjili Mohindra and Daniel Anthony. Clyde is delicate in a very manly way…he’s got artists fingers don’t’cha know? Watching them dressed up as mad scientist trying to dissect the Serfboard is very funny and they’re right, it is just like the old days. There has been so much talk about Rani wanting to be a journalist and now she gets the chance to jump into action, invent a cover story for her and Clyde and infiltrate Serf Industries. She’s clearly learnt from the best. 

New Kid: Bless her, she is really nervous about meeting Luke for the first time considering she is practically his replacement since he left. Imagine if the series has ended and we hadn’t had the chance to see Luke and Sky working together like this. In a way it is sad because they make such an effective little Smith unit but we should be grateful that they got to rock on in the last story together. Watch as they activate the Serf levers all on their own proving what a winning combination of kids Sarah Jane has. Sky writing Serf’s dialogue had me in stitches…especially when she tries to make him sound authentically American. ‘You’ve been watching Toy Story again!’ 

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘What do you think pays for all this? Taking in washing?’ 
‘I pride myself that I can deal with any old spanners that can get into the works!’ 
‘How are you going to feel when everybody is walking down Bannerman Road tonight with their arms out crying serve the computer…?’ – you’ve got to love a show that takes the piss out of its own plots so brazenly! This applies to both Invasion of the Bane and The Secrets of the Stars! 
‘I expected high class industrial spies! Not Mumsnet!’ 
‘I’m going to stop you!’ ‘What are you going to do? Hit me with your handbag?’ 
GRAB HARRISON’S PEN… ‘I’ve never been so glad to see a full stop!’ – is this the naughtiest joke ever seen in Doctor Who and related spin off material? 
‘Remember he’s American!’ ‘Yeeee-hah!’ 

The Good: 
· Its really funny because I was just discussing with Simon the other the how Rise of the Cybermen takes a ‘new fad’ and does something sinister with it but this is the most blatant and enjoyable example yet. The Serfboard (whilst being a little clunky) would be exactly the sort of mobile computer that kids would go nuts for and beg their parents to buy for them. So it’s a perfectly exploitable greed for an alien menace to take advantage of. And with that ripe American smile attached to the product how can we possibly refused…since everything that is a hit over there is surely going to catch on here. Its basically a huge Apple Mac parody but delivered with such unashamed confidence you cannot help but be dragged in. 
· Isn’t it great that even this close to the end they were still finding ways to innovate this character and meeting up with Lionel, an old friend (‘I could have been so much more!’) from her younger journalistic days adds some more background colour to her past. As a massive fan of Peter Bowles (well my Nan is the fan, he’s the only bloke that can still get her randy (!!!) but I adore To the Manor Born) it is great to see an actor so sophisticated and suave to play this role. 
· James Dreyfus is the perfect actor to play a villain in the Sarah Jane Adventures because he has that wonderful archness to his delivery that makes me howl even when he is being menacing. Its only when you encounter a deliberately terrible baddie like him that you realise just how good the hit rate has been for this series (The Trickster, The Nightmare Man, etc) and Dreyfus throws himself into this part with absolute confidence and no ego whatsoever. The result is a glorious z-grade villain who has a witty insult for every occasion but couldn’t organise a piss up in a brewery never mind the launch of the latest ‘in thing.’ To create a great villain who winds up being a total flop because of his earnestness is the norm on Doctor Who but to create a deliberately naff villain who is great because of it…well that’s a very clever pin on things and deserves a round of applause from me. ‘Tea? Coffee? Anthrax?’ When he gets to show his true colours he turns out to be a pathetic little man that needs to torture slaves in order to bring his plans to fruition…what a loathsome prick. ‘Read my lips Pollyanna…I don’t care!’ When it all boils down to money (as it so often does in any story) Harrison’s reaction (‘Shock horror!’) is Gareth Roberts telling us that he knows how often this has been peddled out but its still a lesson worth remembering. And like all bad villains he gets a wonderful ‘Noooooo!’ curse at the end! 
· Mr Smith casually tries to pretend that it will take a while to do what Sarah Jane asks of him and then brings it up within seconds. Even the computer on this show kicks ass! Clyde and Rani trying to discreetly suggest that Mr Smith might have been affected by the Serfboard is chucklesome (‘I can hear you Clyde…’). 
· I remember watching this when it first broadcast with Simon and he was howling with laughter at the interview scene where Sarah tries to get Joseph Serf to touch something by what ever means necessary whilst still keeping up appearances. That’s Sarah Jane, making my husband laugh right up until the end. Great stuff. 
· How cool is the reveal of how Mr Serf works? Tiny Jawa-like aliens with one eye working a steampunk device that controls every aspect of his face and body! I don’t know which came first, the Tesselecta from Let’s Kill Hitler or this but they are both a glorious idea. Whereas the Doctor Who version is trying to be slick and clever (one of the reasons why in later years I would rather watch SJA) the Skullion version is far more entertaining with huge labels showing which part of Serf they are manipulating and the general oily, hissing dilapidated state of the technology. It has character and functionality whereas the Who version only had a poor plot device to end the season with. This is exactly who classic Who would have represented the idea had it taken place around the same time as Carnival of Monsters brought the Miniscope to life, great cranking levers, clunky typewriter and all! What other show could take such a ridiculous concept and make it work so well? The fact that one of the levers reads ‘BUM’ makes my day! 
· The design and make up of the Skullions is really well done because they are just freaky enough to be pretty gross to look at whilst also being cute enough to feel sorry for them. Trust SJA to inject a social commentary into all of this madness and the thought of a black market in alien species existing out there is enough to turn your stomach. Talk about science fantasy commenting on reality! ‘You’re so naive! This is the way the world works!’ is what Harrison says to Sarah Jane when she expresses her disgust and to a degree he really has a point. Luckily we have Sky who is new the planet to have the horror of slavery explained to her and her quiet reaction (‘is this what humans are like?’) takes this from being a preachy scene to something much more profound. 
· There’s a line about a deliberate leak of information about the Serfboard to drum up extra interest. Is this a sneaky comment on the pirate copy of Rose that made it online before transmission by any chance? 
· I’ve heard ‘you and whose army?’ so many times in science fiction usually as the punchline to a dreadful joke but SJA follows it up with a moment of pure cinema as a spaceship fills the heavens above them. Imagine me punching the air with excitement because that’s what I did. 
· Can you imagine a better note for this series to go out on? Not a cliffhanger ending that leaves everybody in suspense and without wrapping up all the loose threads either. All of our favourite characters together having prevented a filthy scheme and back at home in time for tea. With endless adventures still to come in our imaginations as the story goes on…forever. The last image of Sarah Jane is her smiling at her friends and that’s a great way to remember her and everything she has gained since this series has begun. Imagine if this series had not been given the go ahead…we would have had three incredible years with Sarah during the seventies but here we have been fortunate enough to have 28 more hours with her at her absolute best. A huge thank you to Russell T Davies for taking a risk with this series and winning big time. 

The Bad: Edyta Budnik is the one weak link in this otherwise flawlessly cast story. Fortunately we don’t see a great of her. 

The Shallow Bit: Elisabeth Sladen joined the series in 1973 and left the Doctor Who universe in 2011…and she was absolutely beautiful throughout. Somehow she managed to get better looking as she got older. Perhaps that had something to do with us getting to know the character and the actress better over time but just look at Elisabeth Sladen in The Man Who Never Was. Smart, funny, gorgeous. Considering he began the series in a white smock Luke has come a long way under Clyde’s tutorage and he dresses very modern but understated. Me likes. 

Result: A delightfully zany plot for the Sarah Jane Adventures to bow out on and the chance to see Elisabeth Sladen at her best, the amazing chemistry between the cast and what a fine innovation Sky was to the series. It is just about the perfect note to end the series on. I can’t imagine closing a show as warm as The Sarah Jane Adventures with a story as dark as The Curse of Clyde Langer or The Nightmare Man and whilst they might have better stories they aren’t really what this show was all about. There is a pace to events, a confidence in the writing and a general sunniness to the material that reminds you precisely why you fell in love with this show in the first place. Gareth Roberts fills the story full of charming character scenes and really funny jokes and the emphasis on the Smith family allows us to get close to this gorgeous unit for one last time. The slavery angle adds some depth but its laboured and it really makes my heart sing to think that in her very last adventure (as far as we see – in my head she just goes on and on…) Sarah Jane helps free an exploited slave race. I really thought re-watching this would make me weep like a baby so imagine my surprise when it had me laughing my head off throughout and luxuriating in the glow of the chemistry between the actors. Sarah Jane Smith kicked ass, right until the end and this is a winning send of for her. Go back and watch it with your grief switched off and bask in the glory that is this show:8/10

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hey, I see you are filling gaps in your reviews, reviewing old episodis. Are you.planning to review Who stories like the Tv movie or the Christmas specials A Christmas Carol and The Doctor Widow and the Wardrobe?