THE SARAH JANE ADVENTURES
Sarah Jane Smith - Elisabeth Sladen
Luke Smith - Thomas Knight
Maria Jackson - Yasmin Paige
Clyde Langer - Daniel Anthony
OTHER SARAH JANE ADVENTURES SERIES
The Sarah Jane Smith Years
The Tom Baker Years
The Christopher Ecclestone Year
The David Tennant Years
There's a new soft drink on the market. It's called Bubbleshock and they're practically giving it away. They needn't bother because as soon as you've tasted it, you'll want more, unless you're one of the two percent of people with the wrong kind of tastebuds. The secret ingredient is called Bane and it's organic, but nobody's been able to analyse the recipe. All of which makes journalist Sarah Jane Smith very interested. When her new neighbour Lucy takes a tour, some very interesting things about Bane come to light, things that will put their lives in deadly danger.
Sarah Jane Smith, the Doctor's best and most popular companion gets a second chance at a spin off series (following K9 and Company) following her return appearance in the School Reunion episode of Doctor Who last year. This is the pilot, proving that the Doctor's grip on the nation's TV is complete as this ruled the New Year's Day schedule as the Christmas edition of the host show ruled Christmas Day.
But is it any good?
Russell T Davies, creatively responsible for the good Doctor's reinvention, doesn't write children's drama, he writes adult drama from a child's point of view, which means that this is not a children's show, but one that all the family can enjoy. Admittedly, the nostalgia factor is high for those who remembered Sarah Jane from the first time around, but that isn't what the show is based upon. This is a Doctor Who without the Doctor. The adults are allowed to have adult emotions that perhaps the kids don't understand, which makes the show all the deeper. Sarah Jane lives alone except for a sense of loss and longing. She is initially resentful when the local kids crash into her life, but then starts to realise what she has been missing.
The wonderful sense of the absurd from its parent show is also present. K9 is locked behind a vault door that leads to a black hole that he is in orbit of, trying to seal. It's stupid and silly and a really great moment. A shame that copyright issues have kept him out of the show for more than a brief cameo. The format seems to have found its own identity and is far more comfortable in this one episode than Torchwood has managed in a whole series.
There is also a sense of deja vu with this pilot episode. The mind control of the populace by the drink smacks of the blood control from the Doctor's first Christmas special (The Christmas Invasion) whilst the Bane mother monster is dangerously like the creature from The Long Game in the first series of the new version Doctor Who. Oh and I'm sorry, but a sonic lipstick? That we could have done without.
Fortunately, Sarah Jane Smith is no Doctor. She has her own style and her own problems and Elizabeth Sladen is absolutely marvellous in the role, just as she was in School Reunion. The kids in support were less convincing, but will have time to improve. Samantha Bond's pantomime villain was the only hint of the show being aimed directly at kids.
The pilot episode negotiated successfully, we look forwards to the series later this year.
It's first day of a new term at a new school for both Maria and Luke. As they try to settle in and make friends (well, friend singular - Clyde) it becomes abundantly clear that not all is well at the school. Food in the canteen is rotting, there is a bad smell and the teachers are farting. Sarah Jane Smith, Luke's adoptive mother, learns that there are many schools with new science blocks just like the one at her son's school in a ring all around London. Then the Slitheen take off their human suits.
The series proper gets off to a cracking start that is everything that the pilot show promised at New Year. Admittedly, the use of the Slitheen from Doctor Who shows a hint of uncertainty, grabbing the crossover audience as soon as possible, but as they are fat, funny and fart a lot they make the perfect children's alien and the show is squarely aimed at children.
That doesn't mean that all the fans of the show's parent series or of Elisabeth Sladen's Sarah Jane Smith character are left out. There is a certain amount of parental angst as she struggles to come to terms with being a parent so suddenly, something that every new parent can identify with.
And every kid will be able to identify with the fear of being the new kid, of not fitting in, of not being cool. It's clever to play on this shared fear to win the audience over.
The script snaps and sizzles and gives the cast plenty to get their acting skills around. The children handle it all well enough and Elisabeth Sladen is, as ever, delightful.
The pilot episode negotiated successfully, we look forwards to the series later this year.
The Slitheen's plot of destroying the Earth by extracting all the energy out of both it and the sun in revenge for the family that they previously lost (see Aliens of London in Doctor Who) finally becomes known to Sarah and the kids and they are the only people in the world that can stop it. Of course, there's the small matter of escaping the Slitheen hunt alive to deal with first.
The set up taken care of in part one, this episode just races through the preposterous plot with all the energy of a school full of kids after too many bottles of bubbleshock. It makes absolutely no sense whatsoever, but that isn't the agenda of the show. The aliens get sillier as the plot gets sillier, but there's still time for a surprisingly moral dilemma as Sarah is confronted with a choice to allow a child Slitheen to die or save it and risk its vengeance in the future.
It's only the second episode of the series proper and already the cast have gelled together into a unit in a way that the Torchwood cast never managed in a whole series. Admittedly, this is a children's show with less subtle aims, but it is full of fun and is definitely going to run and run.
The idea that a ghostly nun is terrorising a nearby old people's home takes Sarah Jane and the boys in search of a story. Luke is given an alien object by one of the residents who apparently fought monsters with her husband in the distant past. An order of most unorthodox nuns is keen to get hold of the talisman as it has great importance to the creature that they are hiding, the last of the gorgons, a creature capable of turning those that see it to stone, as Maria's father finds out to his cost.
Mafia-like nuns are such a great idea that it's surprising that we haven't seen more of them before. There's even a nice reference to 'How do you solve a problem like Maria? from THE SOUND OF MUSIC. The plot rattles from the hint of a ghost story to intrigue and then to the revelation of the gorgon by way of Greek mythology (explained in a scene of far too much exposition), but there is even time to throw in some angst for Maria when her mother moves in expecting to be welcomed with open arms by the daughter that she walked out on.
On top of this, it makes the case for kids connecting with the older members of their families, who have possibly lived more than they can imagine, without labouring the case.
Bright, breezy and pacy, just as a show like this ought to be.
The nuns have the talisman and the way of opening the portal to allow the rest of the Gorgons into our world, but whilst alignment proceeds the Gorgon already here needs a new host body and has chosen Sarah Jane.
It's the second part of a Sarah Jane Adventure which means no more set up, just a lot of running around and sorting out the problem. For the first time, the episode has some big problems, mainly that of Maria finding a way into the convent so easily when everyone else has struggled and the nuns doing nothing to stop her using her mirror on the Gorgon or taking the Talisman. This is a children's show, but that doesn't mean it can be sloppy.
That said, it's still rip-roaring entertainment.
Aliens are using the laserquest-style game Combat 3000 to kidnap children who show the potential to make great warriors. Sarah and Maria are closing in on those responsible, but Luke and Clyde have just found that they're good at it.
Laserquest is somewhat past its most popular period, but it is the perfect setting for this particular story. It takes its premise from the movie THE LAST STARFIGHTER (video game winners make for real warriors), but it features a really excellently realised insectoid creature and sets up the story without giving too much away.
Whilst the kids attempt to escape from the aliens, Sarah Jane tracks down the alien spacecraft they are being held in and gets herself and Maria beamed aboard. Together again, they can reveal the truth about the war that they have been gathered to fight.
As usual, the second episode of a story involves a lot of running around. The manner in which the children manage to outwit and escape their captors never convinces for a second, but it is entertaining enough for the younger viewers. The message that war is not a good thing is hammered home a bit too hard, turning into a bit of a sermon, but the wonder inspired by the sight of the planet from orbit was nicely done..
Sarah Jane leaves a puzzle box in Maria's keeping and then disappears as if she never existed. There is a stranger in her house and nobody remembers her at all, nobody but Maria. Maria hunts down the clues and discovers that the newcomer has somehow stolen Sarah's life at a turning poing in 1964. Maria needs to get Sarah back as there is a giant meteor on target to collide with the earth and only Sarah Jane can stop it.
This is simply the best set up that the show has come up with to date. The giant meteor is a bit clumsy as the ticking-time-bomb of the plot, but everything else is exceptional. Jane Asher plays Andrea Yates, the usurper, and does a remarkable job of being like Elisabeth Sladen, but not. The troll alien that turns up to steal Maria is a bit too childish, but the main alien is quite creepy and hardly seen under its robe. Transporting Maria back to 1964 to meet the young Sarah Jane is a masterstroke.
Roll on next week.
Maria fails to prevent Sarah Jane from dying in the past which leaves Earth with only two hopes. The first is Maria's father and the second is Andrea, the woman that stole Sarah Jane's life.
The conclusion to this story does not disappoint following the set up last week. Whilst much of the story follows predictable paths, the playing of it is good enough for that not to matter. Jane Asher's performance as Andrea, a woman whose life was unfairly snatched away and just wants to live, is excellent and the writing gives her and Elisabeth Sladen a chance to show what they can really do. This is as much for the adults watching with the kids as for the kids themselves and is the most mature story the show has yet come up with.
The dwarf troll thing still distracts and even one of the characters calls it ridiculous, but that isn't enough to spoil a quality story. The show just keeps on getting better.
The search for a missing child takes a dramatic turn when it appears that the boy in question is Luke. The parents come to claim him, but Sarah Jane is released because of her 'powerful friends'. She tries to move on, investigating a clinic researching into telekinesis, but all is not what it appears to be with the parents - and they are not the only ones hiding a secret.
Having taken away Sarah Jane in the last story, this story examines the effects of taking away Luke. No matter what she may believe, Sarah Jane is now committed to the boy and there is some nice acting from Elisabeth Sladen, her best of the series so far, as she fails to come to terms with the loss This might be lost on the younger audience, but then the show has been growing in maturity and this is another example of that.
As for the parents' secret, well it's no surprise that the series should finish as it began, but the final twist in the tail is a classic one.
Clyde is taken inside Mr Smith who is acting under the influence of some alien force that wants to tear the planet apart so that they can escape. They have been using the Slitheen to further their plan and intend to harness Luke's mind through a thought-enhancer to pull the moon down until the gravitational forces destroy the earth. Sarah Jane still has one friend, a girl's best friend, upon whom she can rely to save the day.
There is just so much plot to get through in this last episode of the series that at one point you begin to believe that the show is setting up a cliffhanger to come back to at the start of series two, but everything gets resolved in a flurry of incident that happens so fast that it is neither fully comprehensible nor believable. On top of Luke escaping (very poorly executed), there is the entire backstory of Mr Smith to fit in, the moon to pull down, the Slitheen to challenge, Clyde to rescue. It's too much and the second half of the show is rushed through and will leave younger audiences needing a second viewing just to realise what happened.
Sarah calls upon an old friend for help, but doesn't really seem to need him (although it's always a delight) and even the coda at the end gets barely a moment to register before the credits run.
Also the horrible computer illiteracy of a simple reboot turning the computer from evil to good will take the breath away of any suitably knowledgeable older audience.
This is sadly a rather disappointing way to end what has been a really promising (and at times thoroughly excellent) opening season of what we hope will become a long-running series.
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