The Best and Worst of The Sarah Jane Adventures: Series 5

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The origins of The Sarah Jane Adventures are best understood with knowledge of two of the primary characters: Sarah Jane Smith, and K-9.

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A Brief History of Sarah Jane Smith

Sarah Jane Smith, posing as her aunt Lavinia Smith, first encountered the Third Doctor at a UNIT Facility during Season 11 of Doctor Who, in The Time Warrior. This serial also introduced the race known as Sontarans. She would become his new companion through Invasion of the Dinosaurs, Death to the Daleks, The Monster of Peladon, and Planet of the Spiders.

During Planet of the Spiders, the Third Doctor regenerated into the Fourth Doctor.

By the end of Robot, she would continue travelling with the Fourth Doctor, with UNIT Surgeon Harry Sullivan.

Beginning with The Ark in Space, companions Sarah Jane and Harry Sullivan travelled with the Fourth Doctor through The Sontaran Experiment, Genesis of the Daleks, and Revenge of the Cybermen.

During Genesis of the Daleks, the Doctor encountered Davros, the mad scientist creator of the Daleks, and also one of my favorite classic serials. This is explicitly mentioned by Sarah Jane Smith and Davros during the Series 4 episode, Journey’s End:

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While Sarah Jane would continue travelling with the Doctor, Harry Sullivan would depart in Terror of the Zygons, the first serial to feature the Zygons.

Sarah Jane would continue travelling with the Doctor in Planet of Evil and Pyramids of Mars, before reuniting with Harry Sullivan in The Android Invasion.

Sarah Jane would continue travelling with the Doctor through The Brain of Morbius, The Seeds of Doom, and The Masque of Mandragora.

During The Hand of Fear, Sarah Jane would abruptly leave the Doctor. She would return in the failed show, K9 and Company, in “A Girl’s Best Friend,” with K-9 Mark III.

During The Five Doctors, Sarah Jane reunited with the Third Doctor, as well as meeting the First, Second, Fifth Doctors as well as companion Tegan Jovanka.

After the show was revived in 2005, Sarah Jane returned to Doctor Who, meeting the Tenth Doctor and his companions Rose Tyler and Mickey Smith in School Reunion.

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A Brief History of K-9

The original K-9, retroactively called “Mark I,” first appared as a creation of Professor Marius, who appared in the fifteenth season serial, The Invisble Enemy, alongside the Fourth Doctor and his companion, Leela.

This version would appear next in The Sun Makers, followed by Underworld, before making it’s last appearance in The Invasion of Time.

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At the end of The Invasion of Time, a box appeared with “Mark II” which would be the next model seen during The Key To Time Series, beginning with The Ribos Operation, with new companion Romana.

He continued to travel with the Doctor and Romana in The Pirate Planet, The Androids of Tara, The Power of Kroll, and The Armageddon Factor, as well as Destiny of the Daleks, City of Death, and The Creature from the Pit.

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During the E-Space Trilogy, K-9 appeared in State of Decay, before staying in E-Space with Romana in Warrior’s Gate.

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K-9 “Mark III” debuted in K9 and Company‘s “A Girl’s Best Friend,” alongside Sarah Jane Smith.

He would next appear in School Reunion alongside Sarah Jane, the Tenth Doctor, Mickey Smith, and Rose Tyler, sacrificing himself to destroy the Krillitanes.

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Following the destruction of the “Mark III,” the Tenth Doctor replaced him with “Mark IV” which the version that appears throughout the Sarah Jane Adventures.

The Best:

The Curse of Clyde Langer

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The first time I ever saw The Curse of Clyde Langer, I really fell in love with it. It’s a simple narrative that touches the human heartstrings quite superbly and effectively. According to the Den of Geek revirew for Part 1:

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Ever feel like the whole world’s turned against you? That’s the premise of the latest episode from The Sarah Jane Adventures team. But for Clyde Langer, it’s more than a feeling…

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Things start off innocuously enough, as West London is pelted with fish from above – in other words, a typical day for our intrepid adventurers. Having ticked off several sci-fi tropes in last week’s story, the gang’s search for answers brings them into contact with a more supernatural staple, namely a big old artifact (in this instance, a totem pole) taking pride of place in a temporary exhibition at the local museum.

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Unfortunately for the team, there’s no sign of life within the totem pole, and they’re forced to leave empty-handed. Except for Clyde, that is, who gets a shiny finger splinter. Splinters can be a nightmare at the best of times (just ask the Ninja Turtles), but this one is more of a pain than most. For when Clyde wakes up the next morning, he finds that the mere mention of his name is enough to make even his closest friends show him the door…

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For the last four years, Daniel Anthony’s Clyde Langer has easily been one of the best things about The Sarah Jane Adventures. Brought in to replace the excruciating Kelsey character from the pilot episode, he brought a refreshing cynicism and humour to the at-times rather saccharine team of SJ, Luke and Maria. It’s clear that the writers enjoy writing for him. Even on the rare occasion that the show churned out a duff episode, there’d usually be a few choice Clyde lines to put in the quote book.

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As the story title suggests, this is very much Clyde’s episode from start to finish, and it’s all the better for it. The early scenes of the episode have him at his wisecracking best, bantering with Mr Smith and the rest of the gang over the fish incident, and sharing a tender scene with his mum. The show also continues to look to the future after last week’s opener, as Clyde’s ambition to become a comic book artist once he’s finished school is explored further.

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This is all set-up, of course, for the beating (both metaphorically and literally) that Clyde receives during the remainder of the episode. Having seen Clyde bond with Sarah Jane and Rani over the past three to four series, it’s genuinely painful to watch them reject him so completely and suddenly, and Anthony does a great job of showing the character in utter shock at the events unfolding. It’s during the closing scenes of the episode, however, that he really shines, as Clyde is rejected by his own mother and is forced to wander the streets.

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Helped by some great direction, Clyde’s downfall is utterly heartbreaking to watch, and Daniel Anthony pitches his performance perfectly as Clyde’s wisecracking exterior is stripped away to reveal the vulnerable child inside.

Though this is Clyde’s episode, there’s meaty scenes too for both Elisabeth Sladen and Jocelyn Jee Esien (Clyde’s mum). Although both are under the influence of a curse, there’s seeds of genuine emotion bubbling to the surface, as Sarah Jane takes Clyde to task on his barrage of jokes aimed at her son during the show’s early years, and Carla confronts Clyde about the fact he’s kept so much from her since meeting Sarah Jane and the others.

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We also get to see just how far Clyde has come, as he runs into an old friend playing football in the park, having left school at 16. When we met Clyde back in Series 1 he was ‘cool’ and a bit of a troublemaker, and in this scene we get a hint of just how different his life might have been had he not befriended Luke and Maria when he did.

Not everyone is well-treated by this story, unfortunately. Considering that the writers have hinted on several occasions at something more than platonic brewing beneath the surface between Clyde and Rani, it’s absolutely baffling that when Rani’s turn to turn her back on Clyde comes, she’s reduced to a bit of generic shouting at him to go away. It really does feel at times as though the writers don’t really know what to do with her as a character.

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Plot-wise, the episode is a bit threadbare, and at times more than a little convenient; I don’t know how often you refer to your nearest and dearest by their full names, but it seemingly happens all the time on Bannerman Road. Heck, even the museum curator manages it, despite having only met him in passing the previous day. It gets particularly silly when Clyde attempts to use a cash machine and it displays the words ‘Clyde Langer’ over and over again…

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All of this can be forgiven though, I think, as it’s the plot’s simplicity which allows for such a strong central performance to shine through. And with the episode ending on such a downbeat note, without even the usual cliffhanger, you have to wonder how much worse things are going to get for young Clyde Langer…

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What makes this story so great is really found within Part 2. According to the Den of Geek review:

I am filled with dread whenever I hear that a ‘children’s’ TV series is going to tackle a serious issue. After all, who can forget Jessie Spano from Saved By The Bell’s caffeine-fuelled rendition of “I’m So Excited”? Certainly not Elizabeth Berkeley. Or the episode of Saved By The Bell where the gang are offered marijuana? Or the one where they went drink-driving and crashed Lisa’s mother’s car?

I suppose what I’m trying to say is, I’ve watched a lot of Saved By The Bell.

The Sarah Jane Adventures has largely stayed away from real-life issues until now. Child abduction was touched on in series one, and divorce was covered in another Clyde-centric episode in series two, but there’s always been a big alien threat to bury the issue as much as possible. Surprisingly, this episode discards any pretence or euphemism and tackles the problem of homelessness head-on, with Clyde being plunged into a world which, as Sarah Jane puts it, is more alien than any other they’ve come across.

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What is less surprising is that the subject is handled incredibly well, for the most part. Clyde is befriended by ‘Ellie’, a homeless teenager played by Skins actress Lily Loveless, who acts as his guide to this lonely new existence.

Ellie may be the most attractive, clean, well-groomed homeless person ever – clearly her glossy blonde hair and perfect teeth were protected by her contract – but she’s also a sympathetic, likeable character, who does a great job of showing Clyde (and, by extension, the children watching) that the homeless are fully-rounded individuals too, rather than the stereotypes that are wheeled out all too often.

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And of course, Ellie acts as an episodic love interest for Clyde. In normal circumstances I’d be sceptical of such a bond forming over the space of a couple of days, but there’s a great chemistry between Lily Loveless and Daniel Anthony, and it makes for an interesting reversal of the Luke/Clyde dynamic of earlier series, with Ellie the experienced, streetwise one and Clyde the nervous, naive one.

As for Daniel Anthony, his performance in this episode is nothing short of outstanding. An episode like this wouldn’t work without a strong performance at its core, and Anthony delivers in buckets. This was easily his finest hour, and I predict we’re going to see a lot more of him in the future.

I talked at length in my review of part one about how Clyde is the heart of Sarah Jane’s gang, and we get to see them suffering without him here. I’ve also written about the writers’ apparent contempt/apathy towards Rani before, and in this episode she even goes so far as to tell her father that she’s not herself anymore with Clyde gone.

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And that’s the crux of it: aside from a sketchy “wants to be a journalist” outline, Rani’s never been defined very well outside of her relationship with the other characters on the show. It’s a shame, and not something we’re ever likely to have rectified in the one story we have left.

New girl Sky gets more to do in this episode, being the one person unaffected by the curse, thanks to her parentage. She has dropped the over-enthusiasm which made her so eye-scratchingly hard to watch in the series’ opener, and is perfectly adequate here, but I find it hard to care about her as a character. The ‘Next Time’ preview suggests she’ll get a bit more focus next week, so perhaps my opinion of her will change then.

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Eventually the gang are reunited, but rather than being a joyous moment, it’s a heart-breaking one, as Clyde is forced to choose between his new love and saving the world. I’m sure I can’t have been the only one hoping that Clyde would find her again at the end and somehow ‘take her away from all this’… But of course, that would’ve been at odds with the message and the realism of the story.

The fact that Clyde never finds her, and his realisation that he didn’t even know her name, make for some of the most moving scenes The Sarah Jane Adventures has ever attempted. The writers are to be applauded for not taking the easy way out, and also for the repeated references to the ‘night dragon’, which we were led to believe might be related to the monster of the day, but was in fact something far more real and poignant.

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As with the previous episode, the alien plot was almost inconsequential here. The way in which the totem (looking now like something straight out of 80s CITV series Knightmare) was defeated probably doesn’t bear up to much scrutiny, though it was nice to see the attic coming under direct attack. But as with the recent Doctor Who episode Closing Time, anyone complaining about the ease with which the menace was dispatched has missed the point of the story entirely.

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This has to be one of my all-time favourite episodes of The Sarah Jane Adventures, up there with the Trickster stories and last year’s Death Of The Doctor. It’s not the sort of episode that they could have done every week, but the fact they completed filming on this one is a very welcome one indeed.

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On Mystic Mags: There have been many mystics, psychics, seers, soothsayers, and witches depicted within the parent series, often but not always women, as well as it’s spin-offs , The Sarah Jane Adventures and Torchwood. They include The Moment in The Day of the Doctor, Ohila of the Sisterhood of Karn in The Night of the Doctor and PrologueClara Oswald to the young Doctor in Listen, River Song in A Good Man Goes to War, Idris in The Doctor’s Wife, The Visionary, The Woman and The Ood in The End of Time, Carmen in Planet of the Dead, Dalek Caan in The Stolen Earth and Journey’s End, the Fortune Teller in Turn Left, Ood Sigma in Planet of the Ood, the Sibylline Sisterhood, Evelina, and Lucius Petrus in The Fires of Pompeii, the Face of Boe in Gridlock, Lilith and the Carrionites in The Shakespeare Code, The Beast in The Impossible Planet and The Satan Pit, and Rose Tyler-as-the-Bad Wolf Entity in The Parting of the Ways.

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In The Sarah Jane Adventures, Ship in The Mad Woman in the Attic predicated that the Doctor’s TARDIS would soon appeare in her attic, and that Luke Smith would graduate from university.

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In Torchwood‘s “Dead Man Walking,” the Little Girl informed Captain Jack Harkness where to find the second resurrection gauntlet. In “Fragments,” taking place in 1897, she is shown predicting that Captain Jack Harkness will have to wait two new centuries with Torchwood before once more meeting the Doctor.

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On Clyde Langer and Ellie Farber: There seems to be a running stereotype I simply don’t find appealing here. First, both Clyde Langer and Ellie Farber are shown drawing (art), with Ellie being homeless, and Clyde ending up so through the narrative. Much of this ties into a stereotype that homeless people are “eccentric artists,” or holding some innate artistic capabilities, when in fact there is nothing to show that this is wholeheartedly true to actual people. Seldom do people actually embody stereotypes that we perceive them to, or would want them to, so that we may feel comfortable about ourselves (to justifying our own ignorance, or dignify common popular memes about others). No matter where you go, or where you are, people are fundamentally diverse and this holds true for any population.

The Worst:

The Man That Never Was

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I never found this story particularly wonderful or moving. According to Den of Geek on Part 1:

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It seems that every couple of weeks now there’s a new Apple product launch. Whether it’s a phone that can play music, or a clipboard that can make phone calls, every time there’s a new iWhatever, people want one. And writer Gareth Roberts is clearly no stranger to those 8am queues outside the phone shop, if the latest episode of The Sarah Jane Adventures is anything to go by.

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Treading rather more traditional territory after last week’s excellent character piece The Curse of Clyde Langer, The Man Who Never Was tells the story of the charismatic Joseph Serf, whose new laptop – the SerfBoard – is due to launch, amidst a wave of anticipation. But when Luke and Sky spot something odd about Serf, the gang go into full investigation mode. What is the secret of Joseph Serf? And is the SerfBoard going to enslave the human race..?

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Fittingly, given that this story has the unenviable (and unfortunate) task of being the de facto series finale, it’s absolutely Sarah Jane Smith’s episode, and Roberts gives her the best lines and the lion’s share of the action. For the first time in a while, we see her doing the day job, as it were. She’s not at the press launch because it’s weird (to begin with), she’s there because she’s the best there is at what she does.

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And she’s having such fun, too. When Sarah Jane goes into her interview with Serf, there’s a glint in her eye which is sure to remind all viewers of a certain age exactly why they fell in love with Sarah Jane Smith all those years ago. She’s cunning, confident and determined, but with just a hint of mischief and playfulness. This is absolutely the same character who travelled with Messrs Pertwee and Baker: the villain of the piece even tries to hypnotise her at one point!

Ah yes, the villain of the piece. It is not, unfortunately, the charismatic Mr Serf, nor indeed the rather fantastic (if Jawa-like) Sculptors, that the gang are up against. Instead, it’s Constable Goody from The Thin Blue Line.

That’s a little unfair, admittedly. Compared to his past sitcom performances, James Dreyfus is positively restrained here. But it’s still a performance that sits on the wrong side of ‘arch’, with a lot of villainous pouting and eyebrow-raising going on. It’s a performance that works well enough when we’re asked to believe him as an underling, but is less effective when he’s supposed to be the maniacal mastermind behind the whole thing.

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If anything, that role would’ve been better allocated to guest star Peter Bowles, who puts in a cameo as Sarah’s former editor (and, cheekily, almost much more). He’s absolutely charming with his few minutes of screen time, and feels slightly wasted in such a minor role.

The main subplot of the episode involves a contractually-obliged visit from prodigal son Luke, as he and Sky meet for the first time. Neither Tommy Knight nor Sinead Michael are the most accomplished actors ever to have graced the attic, but their awkwardness actually pays off here, as the pair struggle to come to terms with the situation. It also says a lot about the creative team that they confront this issue head-on. A lesser show would’ve had them acting as one big happy family the moment Sky turned up on the doorstep. Children’s TV needs more shows with this level of intelligence, and we can only hope there are some shows of a similar calibre lined up to fill the hole that Sarah Jane will leave in CBBC’s schedules.

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The events of last week are addressed, too. There have always been hints of a potential relationship between Clyde and Rani (with Luke going to far as to honour the fan community by using a ‘Clani’ moniker), and so last week’s story did cast a shadow on that, as Clyde found someone else. It was slightly jarring to see them behaving as if nothing had happened this week, so kudos again to the writers for having Clyde eventually bring it up in a quiet moment between the two.

While this episode may not be an instant classic, it’s a solid ensemble piece with a decent sci-fi setup, and a chance to see Elisabeth Sladen at her twinkly best. And what could be better than that?

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According to Den of Geek on Part 2:

The Sarah Jane Adventures really is a remarkable show. Over the last six episodes, we’ve had a Terminator pastiche in which the Earth was nearly caught in the middle of an interplanetary war, a tender story about Clyde falling for a homeless girl, and now, in this final episode, Sarah Jane and her friends must stop a businessman out to make a quick billion, and help some alien slaves to go home.

It’s not the largest-scale threat the Earth has ever seen, and I’m sure that whatever Russell T Davies had planned for the show’s eventual finale would’ve been much bigger. But a smaller, more personal threat is fitting for a series which has always shown so much heart. After all, The Sarah Jane Adventures was never about big epic battles. It was about family and friendship, and most of all, making a difference.

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While Part 1 of this story very much belonged to Elisabeth Sladen, the second part is a proper ensemble piece, with everyone doing their bit to stop the dastardly Harrison. Sarah Jane is front and centre, of course, as she teams up with the girl from the beginning of Part 1 (whose accent resembles an anti-Borg weapon from Star Trek, in that it’s different with every line) to free the slaves.

Luke and Sky, meanwhile, are left to do some brother-sister bonding as they are left in charge of Joseph Serf during his big press conference. I’ve stated my misgivings about Sinead Michael’s performance more than once over the last three weeks, but in this episode, Sky and Luke both bring their A-game, and some of the interplay between the brother and sister duo is genuinely amusing.

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With the episode penned by Gareth Roberts, author of recent Doctor Who episodes The Lodger and Closing Time, it’s little surprise that there are some brilliantly funny lines in this one, including one wonderfully rude joke from Clyde that will hopefully sail over the heads of most of the children watching (“I’m so glad to see a full stop!”).

Clyde and Rani do get most of the funniest moments in the episode, as they pose as a married couple to infiltrate the press launch. Peter Bowles is back, too, with a little more to do. I have the feeling that he would have appeared again, had the series run for longer.

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There’s a definite sense of lost opportunities around the end of this show. Though it doesn’t have much in the way of ongoing mysteries (although the Shopkeeper and the Captain made for a wonderfully enigmatic duo), there are many things it’s a shame we’ll never see. There’s the Clyde/Rani situation, for one, but also we’ll never see Sky settle in, or Sarah Jane learn to adapt when Clyde and Rani ‘fly the coop’. Or the millions of fabulous adventures that the gang are still out there having – the end caption was a nice touch, and brought a tear to this reviewer’s eye. Sarah Jane Smith quite rightly joins Ian Chesterton and Barbara Wright on the list of companions whose adventures will never end.

In the spirit of the show, however, we should not be mourning what is no longer there, but instead celebrating what we’ve had. Since 2007, The Sarah Jane Adventures has gone far above and beyond what is expected of a ‘children’s’ programme. It has been thought-provoking, emotional, amusing, exciting and downright fun. When the series was commissioned, it was in some senses a gamble – after all, would children buy into a show whose lead character was in her late 50s/early 60s? But it’s a gamble that paid off in spades, thanks to Elisabeth Sladen and the ‘kids’, and a team of talented writers and directors.

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Given the circumstances, I can think of no better episode to end on than this lavish piece, which had Sarah Jane and friends truly working as a team, with a fun, optimistic script from one of the series’ best writers. Yes, it wasn’t an ending in the true sense of the word, but it certainly was a celebration.

As a fan, I just want to say this. Thanks to everyone involved in the show’s production over the last five years, but most of all, thank you to Elisabeth Sladen, wherever you are. You made a difference.

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Next is the best and worst of Series 4.

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6 thoughts on “The Best and Worst of The Sarah Jane Adventures: Series 5

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