The Sarah Jane Adventures 2.1-2 – The Last Sontaran (parts one and two)

And now back to 2008, where we get to read between the lines and realize that when the Daleks stole the planet Earth the last time we saw the Doctor, they unwittingly took with them a pissed off Sontaran who’d been grouchily repairing his ship since the destruction of General Staal’s fleet. This one’s called Commander Kaagh and he’s a fun, fun villain. Our son likes the Sontarans, but he’s been confusing them at first glance with the Judoon every time. I think that’s why they decided to give Sontarans blue armor in the modern age, but it apparently doesn’t help as much as a grownup might think.

Phil Ford’s story really feels like what I was talking about with Stargate earlier this week. They’ve got some woods, an old relay station, an alien and two speaking parts, and they made wonders from it. There really is a lot of running back and forth, but it’s done with lots of action, a baddie who couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn with his laser rifle, and one of Doctor Who‘s finest “thumped in the back of the neck” resolutions. Maybe Kaagh can’t shoot straight because the injury that left him that scar messed up his depth perception?

And so this is a farewell to the original SJA team. Actress Yasmin Paige decided to focus on her education, so this was Maria’s final story. I like the character who replaces her, but it always seems a shame that she left so soon since Maria was the original audience identification figure. But honestly, the program, which was good from the beginning, gets even better from here.

The Sarah Jane Adventures 1.9-10 – The Lost Boy (parts one and two)

I just adore watching the way our son responds when friends or foes from the past resurface. Toward the end of part one of Phil Ford’s “The Lost Boy,” the baddies start unzipping their foreheads, revealing themselves to be Slitheen, and the kid bellowed “You have GOT to be kidding!” Then at the end of the adventure, K9 gets to come out of hiding for a contractually-obligated cameo and he shouted “Yay!” He also joined in with my laughter when he absolutely no idea why I was laughing. Maria explains to her dad that Slitheen are not a race, but a family of chancers, like Only Fools and Horses, but green. So I got a very good giggle and he fake-laughed atop me despite clearly not getting the joke.

Should I tell him that Only Fools and Horses is the same program that Jackie Tyler was referencing when she called Pete a “Del Boy” back in “Father’s Day”, and that it starred David Jason, who he knows as the wonderful Captain Fantastic in Do Not Adjust Your Set, which we watch together every couple of weeks? Probably not.

Anyway, “The Lost Boy” is a fine season finale. It does what the Who world typically does in a finale: bring back an old baddie, pull the rug out from under us, threaten the unity of the heroes, threaten the planet, that sort of thing. It’s incredibly fun watching it all unfold, and realizing that the Slitheen cannot trust their mysterious, unseen ally. I especially like how Clyde proves that he’s more essential than anybody credits him, believably using his wits in a couple of key scenes. And while nobody’s heart is broken by the Slitheen returning to the shelf for a couple of years, I just can’t help myself. I really enjoy the big green farting chancers!

The Sarah Jane Adventures will return to our lineup in the summer, after we have watched series four of Doctor Who. Stay tuned!

The Sarah Jane Adventures 1.7-8 – Whatever Happened to Sarah Jane? (parts one and two)

Blindingly brilliant. Gareth Roberts’ “Whatever Happened to Sarah Jane?” introduces us to a fabulous villain called the Trickster. The entity fades in and out of history, causing chaos and creating alternate timelines. In his first gambit, he causes thirteen year-old Sarah Jane to switch places with a friend who died in 1964. It was Andrea Yates, played by Jane Asher, who gets forty more years of life, and the house across from Maria. One day, Sarah is just gone, Luke never existed, Clyde has no idea why Maria has his number, and Maria is the only person on Earth who knows that this party-loving artist across the road is in the wrong time.

Graeme Harper directed this one. I’ve praised him several times in this blog and this is among his finest hours. The tension is unbelievable and everybody’s performances are just amazing. I’ve never said much about Joseph Millson, who plays Alan, Maria’s dad, because there’s not always room in this little blog, but he’s on fire this time. He spends part one afraid that something’s wrong with his daughter because she insists in this story about Sarah Jane, and then once Maria vanishes and only he can remember her, he’s cold fury. And I love how the soundtrack plays with our emotions with snatches of the Kinks and Sandie Shaw. There is not a better choice in all of music for this story’s tale of memory and inspiration than “Always Something There to Remind Me,” so somebody thank Bachrach and David for writing it, would you?

The kid loved it, and was about to explode with excitement in the end, although he was quick to qualify that the Slitheen story is his favorite. I correctly guessed that he would really hate the Trickster, which is a shame, because he’s going to have to put up with him a few more times. I can’t wait.

The Sarah Jane Adventures 1.5-6 – Warriors of Kudlak (parts one and two)

Last time, I said that The Sarah Jane Adventures never fell on its face like Doctor Who occasionally does. That said, “Warriors of Kudlak” is certainly the program’s weakest story, but it’s still very fun and is guaranteed to have eight year-olds thrilled. It’s the one where an ugly space alien is abducting teenagers who score really high in a Laser Tag game. The premise is ridiculous and the resolution is unbelievable, but it’s done with spirit and wit and a sense of fun, embracing the silliness in a way that keeps kids engaged. Ours absolutely loved this one. He’s only played laser tag a couple of times, but of course he loves it and was really looking forward to this story. Hopefully once this virus horror is over we can take him to Splitz Alley for another round.

The Sarah Jane Adventures 1.3-4 – Eye of the Gorgon (parts one and two)

The very best decision that the Who production staff of the time – Russell T. Davies, Phil Collinson, and Julie Gardner – made might have been commissioning Phil Ford to write the lion’s share of The Sarah Jane Adventures. The previous two stories were certainly entertaining, if a little heavy on the kid-friendly gak, but “Eye of the Gorgon” is on another level and extremely good. I often said that this program was as good as and occasionally better than Who, and never, ever fumbled like Who sometimes does. Ford’s a big reason why. He has a perfect touch for the show. His scripts are both witty and dramatic and often have some light continuity references. Playful but serious. This story has some sinister nuns in service to a three thousand year-old space monster, which is really the sort of thing we watch Who for in the first place.

It also has a remarkably interesting supporting character, Bea Nelson-Stanley, played by Phyllida Law. When she was younger, she and her late husband Edgar were archaeologists and they came up against aliens on at least two occasions: they battled both the Gorgons – the space monsters of this adventure – and the Sontarans, whom Sarah Jane had met a couple of times. Two things strike me as worth mentioning about Bea: first, it’s a really sympathetic portrayal of somebody suffering from Alzheimer’s. Second, Chris Chibnall should totally commission Phil Ford to write a story where our current Doctor meets up with Edgar and Bea in the 1950s. I think there’s a beautiful history there that I’d love to see.

The Sarah Jane Adventures 1.1-2 Revenge of the Slitheen (parts one and two)

And now back to September 2007 and the first proper series of The Sarah Jane Adventures and the debut of one of my favorite Who characters, Clyde Langer, played with a perfect mix of disbelief and teenage swagger by Daniel Anthony. He’s a fine actor who hasn’t worked nearly enough, I say.

“Revenge of the Slitheen” was written by Gareth Roberts and it’s a pretty perfect mix of everything that an eight year-old Who fan would want to see. It’s got the return – as the title promises – of the big green baby-faced farting aliens and it’s got evil teachers planning the end of the world from secret rooms, which is more than a bit like “School Reunion,” the Who episode that brought Sarah Jane back. Gross cafeteria food, aliens that explode in slime and goo when they’re not seriously overacting, kids feeling left out and trying to fit in at their new school… it’s honestly like throwing things that worked in Who into a blender with Captain Underpants.

So of course our favorite eight year-old critic loved this to bits and can’t wait to see more. I decided to throw out my moratorium against the “next time” trailers and he’s super-excited for the creepy, shrouded monster that’s coming up in a few days. As much as he smiled and cheered with the craziness here, he says that he was most pleased by deducing that the shrouded monster is a creature like Medusa. Me, I deduce that the print on the wall behind the kids is the Jagaroth spaceship from “City of Death,” but how Sarah Jane knows anything about that caper I couldn’t tell you. There’s probably fanfic.

The Sarah Jane Adventures 1.0 – Invasion of the Bane

On January 1, 2007, one week after the Doctor Who episode “The Runaway Bride,” BBC One showed a special preview episode of the forthcoming Sarah Jane Adventures series. “Invasion of the Bane,” co-written by Russell T. Davies and Gareth Roberts, functions as a pilot episode, setting up the unusual premise. It’s set more than a year since we last saw Sarah Jane in “School Reunion.” She’s had to temporarily part company with K9, who’s on a mission in space, and she’s using an attic room full of alien tech to help stranded or lost extraterrestrials find their way home. Occasionally she has to put her foot down when some visitors from space – like this story’s Bane – have a little more malice in mind.

The obvious question is where did Sarah get all this gear? I figure that as soon as she spotted Daleks in the sky above Canary Wharf, Sarah got down there just in time for the Doctor to clean up the mess, and loaded the back seat of her car with whatever space junk would fit before the government and/or UNIT figured out what was going on. From what we learn later, she picked up “Mister Smith,” the crystal alien that powers her supercomputer, around the same time. The sonic lipstick is a cheeky gift from the Doctor which he left inside the new K9 that he left her. Problem mostly solved!

In the first episode, Sarah meets a new ally in the form of 13 year-old Maria, played by Yasmin Paige, and an adopted son – an artificial human rescued from the bad guys – called Luke, played by Tommy Knight. The villains are a race of blob monsters called the Bane who take on human forms. Samantha Bond plays the nasty Mrs. Wormwood and her “mother” is a big CGI eyeball with a mass of thrashing green tentacles in the factory ceiling. Our son’s only complaint about this story is that we didn’t get to see the Bane Mother in full. “Invasion of the Bane” is centered around the aliens getting England hooked on a new soft drink, which is a pleasantly 2000s update to plastic daffodils. The baddies have even hired a big bus just like the Autons and the Master did thirty-six years previously, and darn if the Bane Mother didn’t look a lot like the original Nestene Consciousness. We never learn how these villains got their drink distributed to shops throughout the UK and afforded the massive advertising campaign, but at least their factory gets blown up real good.

I always felt that The Sarah Jane Adventures was a splendid companion to Who in its day. I love its goofy, kid-friendly tone, although, as much as I liked the character of Maria, the first run was the weakest of the five because they were trying a little too hard to come up with stories that would appeal to young teens instead of just flying by the seat of their pants and doing wild and ridiculous monster stories as they’d do later on. We’ll see whether it holds up in a few months’ time, and pencil it in for April, right after we finish series three of Doctor Who.