One thing after another got in the way back in 2009, and we never actually watched this episode. In fact, when I got the DVD and saw a familiar villainous face on the cover art, I said to myself “I don’t remember any Slitheen in this series!”
There are a couple of Slitheen in this story, but the main baddies aren’t the green baby-faced fiends that we’ve seen before. These are orange-yellow Blathereen, a different family who claim to be much nicer, although no less disgusting, than their distant cousins. They are voiced by Miriam Margolyes and Simon Callow, who I hope really enjoyed the experience of doing something that actors of their caliber rarely get to do: play some belching “simple farming folk” with terrible table manners. And as for their different skin color, the BBC have come a long way from the days when they painted a red Axon costume mostly green for a different monster in “The Seeds of Doom.”
While there is a plot that has to do with the Blathereen, our son was most focused on the B-plot. Clyde brings K9 to school to help him cheat on his biology test. Every line, every camera revelation, every slow burn as Rani silently lets Clyde know what she thinks of this scheme, had him in stitches. Eventually the comedy turns serious when an alien plant sends some spores into the teacher’s face, and the kid was too busy roaring to notice the tone had changed.
That’s all for The Sarah Jane Adventures for now, but there’s more to come. We’ll start series four in October, a couple of weeks after we finish series five of Doctor Who. Stay tuned!
“The Unquiet Dead” is the first TV Who episode written by Mark Gatiss, who’d contribute several episodes, as a writer and, twice, as an actor, over the course of the next ten series. I like most of them a good deal. Gatiss had written a pair of Who novels for Virgin in the 1990s. I remain very surprised that Gatiss has never scripted a TV adaptation of his absolutely splendid book Nightshade, which I imagine could work perfectly as an hour-long episode.
There would be occasions in Who where I looked forward to an episode based on the strength of the writer’s previous work and be badly let down, but I’ve always thought “The Unquiet Dead” was a very clever and strong story. It’s about Charles Dickens’ world getting turned upside down on Christmas Eve, 1869, when he helps the Doctor and Rose deal with some gaseous aliens who are a lot more malevolent than they let on. Dickens is played, naturally, by Simon Callow, in much the same way that if the Doctor ever ran into Oscar Wilde, they’d offer the part to Stephen Fry. Eve Myles, who would later play Gwen in Torchwood, plays a servant girl with second sight.
Our son was excited and a little frightened, but mostly – happily – he wanted to know more about Charles Dickens, thanks to the Doctor telling Dickens that his books would last forever, and me snarking afterward about how that probably wouldn’t include The Pickwick Papers, because that one went on too darn long. So he asked about Dickens and his work and we talked a little about A Christmas Carol, A Tale of Two Cities, Great Expectations, and, of course, both Oliver Twist and its 1968 film adaptation. Hopefully he’ll be as interested in Agatha Christie when the Doctor and Donna meet her in series four. I’m on surer footing when talking about Christie.