The Sarah Jane Adventures 5.5-6 – The Man Who Never Was (parts one and two)

So of course this series came to an end far sooner than planned, but at least we can say that they went out with a very good one. Gareth Roberts’ “The Man Who Never Was” features the awesome Peter Bowles in a small role as one of Sarah Jane’s former editors, and does a brilliant job of subverting the audience’s expectations. The story’s built around yet another must-have consumer good, echoing back to the Bubble Shock drink of the very first story, and Clyde is quite naturally expecting everybody in the neighborhood to start walking up the street like zombies as soon as the mystery baddie switches on whatever malevolent machine is in play.

But beautifully, it’s nothing like that at all. The fad-du-jour is a small laptop called a Serfboard, and it’s not an alien superweapon. It’s basic human junk. It’s the least impressive laptop money can buy, and Clyde and Rani – in a wonderful tip of the hat to fandom, Luke has started calling them “Clani” – even realize that the model they’ve got to test for alien tech comes with one whole free byte of storage space. The all-too human inventor of this expensive paperweight is, however, planning to use alien slaves and their hologram technology to hypnotize humanity into buying it in record numbers. I loved all the Clani stuff – Luke will not stop calling them that – and our son laughed himself silly when Luke and Sky take the reins and start driving the hologram of the American inventor. Unfortunately, Sky’s only experience with how Americans might talk comes from watching Toy Story.

Since the show ended, I have often wondered why Steven Moffat never gave the series a proper sendoff in an episode of Doctor Who. I mean, assuming that Sarah Jane passed away at the same time that Elisabeth Sladen did – and, as it turned out, there was no reason whatever to make that assumption – that would have meant that there’d been an alien supercomputer hanging out in an attic on Bannerman Road since 2011, for starters.

But earlier this year, writer Russell T. Davies, who, with the use of names like “Jackals of the Backwards Clock,” proved that he has lost none of his amazing talent to string words together better than anybody else, penned a little thirteen-minute story set in 2020, at and just after Sarah Jane’s funeral. With a narrator and seven surprise performers sending in their contributions from home studios, “Farewell, Sarah Jane” premiered this past April on YouTube as a delightful, albeit heartbreaking, little piece of lockdown content. I’d held off watching it until tonight, so that our son would be caught up and the family could see it together. I confess to a tear or two.

But the really incredible news from “Farewell, Sarah Jane” is that Nyssa is living on Earth and Luke has passed K9 to a new owner. Seriously! Russell, you’re a genius! Well, we knew that already, but I love this!!

The Sarah Jane Adventures 4.11-12 – Goodbye, Sarah Jane Smith (parts one and two)

Our son was really unhappy with this one for a while. Julie Graham, who I enjoyed very much in Acorn’s Queens of Mystery recently, plays Ruby White, who appears to be another amateur alien-fighter like Sarah Jane, but, to nobody’s surprise, is really another alien. The kid was not fooled for a second. We’re meant to dislike her from the outset before she turns heroic and the good guys welcome her, but the kid stayed unconvinced. He even came close to predicting the resolution. Ruby’s species have separate, second stomachs, and use them to feed on heightened emotions. Our son knew that had to be the way to stop her, but bet on them somehow boring the stomach into starvation rather than overloading it with too much fear. Always bet on overloading the enemy power source / supercomputer / second stomach.

So this is the big finale story, but it’s surprisingly low-key for a SJA finale, with no returning villains or Slitheen. Luke and K9 return for part two, but that’s it. It’s a low-budget battle of wits with few locations or speaking parts or even extras. The story was written by Gareth Roberts and his partner Clayton Hickman, and it’s full of good ideas and a good villain. It’s a shame that Elisabeth Sladen’s sad death meant that Ruby could never come back for a rematch. Julie Graham returned as a different character in series twelve of Doctor Who, and my fingers are crossed that we’ll get a second series of Queens of Mystery, because they sure did leave a lot of unresolved plot threads in that fine little show.

We’ll watch the fifth, final series of The Sarah Jane Adventures in December. Stay tuned!

The Sarah Jane Adventures 4.1-2 – The Nightmare Man (parts one and two)

And now back to the autumn of 2010 and series four of the huggable The Sarah Jane Adventures. This was the series where the team mostly drops to a trio. Tommy Knight left the show and this is Luke’s final appearance as a member of the regular cast, although he shows up in a few more stories to come.

This story feels like a really strange one to launch the new series. It feels like the season cheapie, with almost no additional speaking parts or locations. The Nightmare Man is a being from another dimension who feeds on dream energy. It doesn’t feel like anything that original’s going on here, but it’s done with style and is sufficiently creepy. Our son demurred, saying it’s “more Halloweeny than creepy,” and assuring us that he would not be horrified by the Nightmare Man’s bad dreams. He’s just say “So what? Bored,” and wake up. Then again, this kid has probably had fewer bad dreams in nine years than anybody else in the world. He probably doesn’t understand why people are bothered by them.

The most interesting part of the story is the Nightmare Man himself. He’s played by Julian Bleach, the most recent actor to play Davros in Doctor Who, and he seems to have borrowed his body language from the Child Catcher in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. I thought it was quite a fun performance.

The story ends with Luke driving off to Oxford to start university with K9 in tow. I wonder how he’s going to explain the tin dog to his dorm’s resident assistant.

The Sarah Jane Adventures 3.11-12 – The Gift (parts one and two)

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 Sarah Jane Adventures 3.9-10 Mona Lisa’s Revenge (parts one and two)

And then there was that time that the Mona Lisa came to life and started stomping around a gallery with a Sontaran blaster, trapping people in paintings. Is this the silliest, most wonderfully ridiculous story ever? Yes.

“Mona Lisa’s Revenge” is one of my favorite stories from the series. It’s written by Phil Ford and features Suranne Jones, most recently the star of Gentleman Jack, as a pissed-off painting come to life, looking for her “brother,” another living work of art. Jones plays her as a Batvillain with a northern accent, full of appropriate puns like putting people in the picture.

To help in her scheme, she releases a highwayman from his centuries-old painting. Clyde tries a little small talk with him, asking whether he knows Dick Turpin. The highwayman can’t answer; he was painted with only a mask, and no mouth underneath. I giggled through the whole story because it’s hilarious and huggable, especially cackled at the Dick Turpin gag and our son joined in, despite having no idea who Dick Turpin is. Afraid he was a little lost by this one, complaining between episodes that it was very confusing.

Of course, it might also have hit a little close to home for him. Sarah Jane and Luke are still on the outs after an argument about his untidy bedroom. Today’s actually the big cleaning day for us; the kid’s always had a much larger material world than any child needs, and it really is long past time he let go of some of his preschool-age toys. It’s a tough one, because he donated his Thomas the Tank Engine trains and tracks, which he cared for and loved and treated so incredibly gently for years, to the afterschool program for the littler ones, and watched with horror as the five year-olds went at them like that bit in Toy Story 3 where the smallest daycare kids beat the daylights out of Woody and his crew. He may be too old for Bob the Builder, but if he keeps his big Scoop under the bed, nobody smaller than him can destroy it.

The Sarah Jane Adventures 3.5-6 – The Wedding of Sarah Jane Smith (parts one and two)

You know, the kid just does not like bad guys as much as I do. The third and final duel between Sarah Jane and the Trickster had him grumbling even more than usual – after the lights were turned on, happily – about his antics, with the interesting caveat that he just doesn’t think the Trickster is all that much of a villain. He says that the Trickster doesn’t really do anything villainous, he just lets people make the decision to stay alive instead of dying. We parents protested that changing the future can be pretty amazingly evil. This time, in the guise of an angel, he saves the life of a man named Peter Dalton and plays matchmaker, because a happily married Sarah Jane won’t go saving the planet all the time.

And see, I think this is remarkably and delightfully evil, because the Trickster can only ever be defeated by people agreeing to die. Victory over him demands sacrifice, every time. How wretched is that? He’s a great, great villain, and happily, as I discussed when I was talking about the Replicators in Stargate the other day, the law of diminishing returns never sets in for him. Gareth Roberts used him three times and he’s been retired, which is good. One more appearance would be too many. At least he gets to have that standoff with the Doctor he threatened when we met him.

Oh, yeah, the Doctor’s in this! Bizarrely, because of the complex filming schedules of the Who shows back when they were making three of them, this was actually made after David Tennant’s last Who installments. The Doctor gets to run around with the kids and K9 in a situation that is remarkably like Sapphire & Steel‘s final case, trapped in a lost, repeating second in a building with nothing outside it. They have a completely grand second part to the story with Tennant doing all his running around and shouting and Doctor things while Sarah Jane and Peter get to have the emotional showdown with the baddie. Peter’s last words, if you have a heart, will break it.

Also, for those of you who really like the Tenth Doctor, I’m pretty sure you can slot Panini’s terrific collection The Crimson Hand just perfectly in between “Planet of the Dead” and this story. It’s been a while since I read that; I should dust it off again soon. Wow, it just struck me that we’ll reach the end of Tennant’s run before September. Time flies.

Anyway, all the Doctor stuff is terrific fun, and it makes for a great balance, because he doesn’t dominate the story. The emotional core is happening elsewhere, a second away, in another room. I love it to pieces, without reservation. Anybody who binges Tennant’s run as the Doctor who doesn’t detour here to enjoy this is seriously missing out.

The Sarah Jane Adventures 3.3-4 – The Mad Woman in the Attic (parts one and two)

“The Mad Woman in the Attic” draws its unusual title from a parallel timeline situation where Rani grows up alone, cuts off human contact, and, fifty years after the events of this story, has purchased Sarah Jane’s old house so she can be a bitter old lady lost in her memories. It’s an interesting framing structure, and I have always felt it distracts a little from the much warmer present-day story. It concerns a lonely alien girl called Eve, who may be the only survivor of a race of time-sensitive beings who were “exterminated” in a war between two powerful races. “I know what war that is,” interjected our increasingly vocal nine year-old critic. Most of the story was filmed on an incredibly windy couple of days at the Barry Island Pleasure Park in the spring of 2009. Unfortunately, they seem to have picked the most boring rides in the place to use.

K9 returns to the main cast at the end of this story after just a couple of tiny appearances in the previous series. The BBC’d worked out a rights-sharing agreement with K9’s co-owners at last. The kid got really, really talkative when that happened because he was so happy. He really is getting obnoxious with the commentary and used to be a lot better about keeping quiet. Must remember to talk with him about that…

The Sarah Jane Adventures 3.1-2 – Prisoner of the Judoon (parts one and two)

And now to October 2009 and the completely wonderful third series of The Sarah Jane Adventures. Time’s a little short this evening, so I’ll just say that our son totally loved this fish-out-of-water story by Phil Ford. The three kids assist an incredibly grouchy Judoon police captain who is stomping around on Earth looking for an escaped criminal who is hiding out in Sarah Jane’s body. It kind of suffers from the problem of convenience that you see on almost all adventure TV – an alien fugitive just happens to need some nanotechnology on the same Sunday where Sarah Jane went and interviewed the head of a nanotech company – but on the other hand, there’s a magical scene where a grouchy space rhino in a commandeered cop car orders another driver to turn down his music, which is the funniest thing ever.

The Sarah Jane Adventures 2.11-12 – Enemy of the Bane (parts one and two)

So it’s Luke’s turn for a parent-issues story, but because I’m just that way, here’s a picture of everybody else instead. And everybody else includes Nicholas Courtney, making a long overdue return appearance as Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart! It’s really nice that Courtney got one more shot at helping to save the day. Phil Ford’s story honestly isn’t one that really plays to his strengths, but the reality is that Courtney wasn’t the healthiest of old fellows at the time – he passed away a couple of years later – and yet the actor’s still got some twinkle in his eye, and the Brig’s got a monster-stunning gadget in his cane.

This went over much better than the previous few adventures with our kid. Myself, I think I’d have preferred the main villain – Samantha Bond, returning as the evil Bane called Miss Wormwood – to not have every single answer as the story unfolds, but it’s still a fun romp with several fun and exciting moments, kid-pleasing slimy goop, and a tremendously satisfying cliffhanger that reveals Miss Wormwood is in league with the disgraced Sontaran soldier we met at the beginning of the season.

I completely love that Wormwood and Kaagh have their big blustery bad guy “give us what we want” standoff with our heroes in a small flower shop. And I especially love that after Wormwood gives her long “join with me and rule the universe” speech to Luke, he silently takes the macguffin from her as though he was considering it, and instead just runs away with it, without saying a word. The Sarah Jane Adventures is at its best when it subverts the rules of sci-fi adventure TV. There’s a lot to love about this show.

That’s all from Bannerman Road for now, but we’ll look at the third series very soon, after we’ve watched the next couple of Doctor Who one-off specials. Stay tuned!

The Sarah Jane Adventures 2.9-10 – The Temptation of Sarah Jane Smith (parts one and two)

It’s not as though every installment of Doctor Who and its spin-offs can proudly boast their originality. Never mind the frequent homages to other fiction, the show repeats itself sometimes. So you get a Peladon story that’s a whole lot like the previous one, only longer, and you get Terry Nation writing the same Dalek adventure about three times, and you get this, which is the Christopher Eccleston story “Father’s Day” again.

In its defense, the Trickster remains an interesting opponent, and the clothes in 1951 are nice. But this story doesn’t have Shaun Dingwall to carry the emotions and Sarah Jane has to be written as breathtakingly, criminally stupid to fall for this. It’s a badly-timed story anyway, coming as it does right after Clyde dealt with his abandonment issues in the previous adventure. The direction by Graeme Harper is as good as ever, but this isn’t Gareth Roberts’ best script, and it’s definitely the weakest of the three with the Trickster.

Although there is a little moment I found interesting. A year previously, some critics complained about a scene in Roberts’ “The Shakespeare Code.” Then, Martha was reluctant to leave the TARDIS in the 1600s, fearing the racism and bigotry of people in the period, but two women of color walk by in nice clothes and that settles that. The past just isn’t racist for forty-five minutes and she didn’t have to deal with anybody being ugly toward her color until “Human Nature” later in the season. Here, Rani walks into the all-white village fete and every head in the building turns, leaving her to dismiss them as quickly as she can by saying “yes, ethnic person in the 1950s,” and trying to get down to business. I like “Shakespeare Code” much better overall, but this scene feels much more honest.

Our kid, again, wasn’t very thrilled. It’s too simplistic to just say “he’s seen it all before,” but that’s a big part of it. He’s seen enough to know – from “Father’s Day,” from Star Trek, from Stargate SG-1 – that Sarah Jane should not be interfering in her past. So he shook his head and he scowled and rolled his eyes with an “oh, no” a few times. That’s three in a row that he didn’t enjoy, which I didn’t expect. Hopefully this run will end on a high note for him!

The Sarah Jane Adventures 2.7-8 – The Mark of the Berserker (parts one and two)

There’s no getting around it, this was a tough episode for our son. There’s a sci-fi plot and some side comedy, but the core of the episode is Clyde’s father coming back from out of nowhere, having abandoned his wife and kid five years previously. So it’s an important story that lets actor Daniel Anthony let down Clyde’s guard and be a wounded fifteen year-old for the first time. It drags a lot to the surface and left our son unhappy and confused. We had to talk a bit about families afterward, and why Clyde would still be willing to do anything for his dad, including reveal the secrets of Sarah Jane’s attic. I’ll leave it there, with extra cuddling.