The Best and Worst of The Sarah Jane Adventures: Series 3

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For previous installments:

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For the firs time in Doctor Who history, the Doctor himself appeared in spin-off media, as the Tenth Doctor, predicted in The Mad Woman in the Attic, making Series 3 certainly one of the best series produced for The Sarah Jane Adventures.

The Best:

The Mad Woman in the Attic, and The Wedding of Sarah Jane Smith

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The Mad Woman in the Attic could potentially serve as an epilogue for The Sarah Jane Adventures as a whole, considering that it predicts that Clyde Langer and Rani Chandra will get married, have children, and retire from investigating alien activity. It also predicts the following story, The Wedding of Sarah Jane Smith. According to the Den of Geek review for Part 1:

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Talking mirrors, a ‘haunted’ fairground, a creepy old man, boys who look like they’re all in the same boy band and a troublingly attractive female lead – this week’s first installment of The Sarah Jane Adventures has it all!

Right from the get-go the chills start with a scene from the future. Rani has become a crazy old woman in Sarah Jane’s attic and is visited by Adam, a young boy who would be best described as a better-looking Luke. We quickly learn that all is not well and that somewhere down the line Rani and the gang went their separate ways.

The tale really grabs you into the mystery and the average Who fan will be more than familiar with the vernacular Joe Lidster chooses in which to tell the story, quickly jumping between two time zones. Lidster, who has written audios for Doctor Who and televisual adventures for The Sarah Jane Adventures (the superb Mark Of The Berserker) and Torchwood, captures the mood perfectly in this very dark episode.

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This psychologically taut tale is matched by a rather eerie and beautiful score from series composer Sam Watts, work of a true craftsman. Even better is the way in which it’s used, sparsely and with a seductive subtlety.

Seductive could also describe the ‘villain’ of the piece, Eve. This bright red thing is straight out of The Lost Boys, mischievous, playful and, dare I say it, a little bit sexy. She’s played brilliantly by Eleanor Tomlinson and compliments Anjli Mohindra (Rani) exquisitely, exemplified during their conversation with the line “GSCEs and Judoon” – a marriage of the mundane and the miraculous.

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It is a dark episode but there is, of course, the odd laugh from Clyde who teams up with Sarah Jane this time (mocking her age, of all things!) and there’s plenty of references to the mythology of the series (loads of flashbacks) and Doctor Who (Daleks and Cybermen get name-checked not to mention an intriguing back story for Eve’s alien race). Perhaps too much for your average viewer (though it didn’t bother me, I have to say) to fully grasp, though it would perhaps entice others into its history enough to buy a box set.

But one has to ask, two girls as the leads in a science-fiction story? Has the world gone flippin’ mad?

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According to the Den of Geek review of Part 2:

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And so the mystery of just what happened between Rani and Sarah Jane’s gang continues with the ‘villain’ of the piece, a redhead that goes by the name of Eve, creating havoc in a teenage-angsty kind of way everywhere she goes.

The tension and sense of the unwell continues and builds throughout the two-parter as our favourite inhabitants of Bannerman Road find themselves separated for much of the story – Luke hardly gets a, well, look-in. And this is one of the joys of the series. The cast are so strong that characters can dip in and out of the show to let others have the limelight, and here it belongs firmly to Anjli Mohindra (Rani).

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The youngster handles the material with great sensitivity and maturity, hitting all the right moments with the appropriate tone. Series 2 did suffer from the loss of Maria Jackson and her family (especially her gorgeously self-obsessed mother) but Rani has firmly placed herself not so much as a replacement for Maria, but as an equal to her. (Though the same cannot be said for Rani’s parents, but that’s a matter for another time.) Mohindra is to be congratulated for filling the role so perfectly and is to be commended for superseding the boys’ antics.

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Elsewhere in the cast, Brian “I’m married to Elisabeth Sladen, no really” Miller performs stoutly as a creepy old man, but there’s more to him than just that. In fact, there’s more going on in this story than at first or second glance would suggest.

In my review of the first part, I praised Joseph Lidster’s excellent writing and here, again, he expands on the first installment by concentrating on the theme of friendships, particularly teenage ones.

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Worthy of plaudits, too, is director Alice Troughton, who never patronises the intended audience and creates a production so cinematic and damn intense that you will be wondering if, in fact, it’s Saturday night at 7pm and not teatime on a Friday; the production values are of a supreme value (though the inside of Eve’s spaceship did leave a little to be desired).

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Again, the viewer is treated to a number of flashbacks and references to the series and its ‘parent’ show Doctor Who (see this story on just what they are – beware spoilers!) which add to the delight. The Sarah Jane Adventures is proving that it’s simply far too good for its allotted time slot and deserves a wider audience – and one feels that next week’s story, with an appearance from a certain Time Lord, may well just do that…

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According to the Den of Geek review for Part 1:

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And so it here it is, the moment that David Tennant returns to the small screen, after an interminable break, as The Tenth Doctor. But don’t get too excited just yet. As many of us guessed after seeing the promotional pictures from the first episode, the Time Lord takes his flippin’ time to get to the wedding of the year. But more of Gallifrey’s finest later.

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The Wedding of Sarah Jane Smith kicks off, as usual, with a mystery but this time Luke, Clyde and Rani are investigating Sarah Jane herself. She’s been secretive about her activities and the gang are so suspicious that they employ K9 and Mr Smith (who turn out to be quite the comedy double act) to discover she’s seeing a bloke! Hilarity ensues as our favourite threesome take a peak into the adults’ date and witness, wait for it, a kiss! Clyde’s response is priceless.

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Peter Dalton, the bloke in question, is as suave as his Bond surname would suggest and is played pitch-perfect by the adorable Nigel “Nice Sermon Vicar” Havers. Not to mention he’s a thoroughly good egg to boot. So thoroughly good, it would appear, that Sarah Jane agrees to be his wife pretty sharpish. (Well, at her age, why not?)

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The denouement of the first episode is the event itself and we get fan-pleasing references to Metebelis 3, The Brigadier and Sarah Jane Adventures alumni Maria Jackson before the nuptials kick off. Rani’s parents, for the first time, are gifted a number of gigglesome moments and add an appropriate degree of levity to Sarah’s big day. But the levity is about to take a turn for the worst as a familiar wheezing and groaning (whoaning? grozing??) filters through the air.

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Here the sound of the TARDIS materialising becomes very sinister, as if it’s heralding a disaster (which, of course, it is). We hear the time machine’s noises a few times during the episode and this builds the tension alongside the ongoing proceedings and suspicions (from Clyde and Rani) of SJ’s new fella. The cast are wonderful and the ‘kids’ Anjili Mohindra, Daniel Anthony and Tommy Knight continue to impress with their magnificently rounded performances.

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Predictably, David Tennant make his entrance at the exact moment that I think we’re all expecting but it’s played out so damn perfectly that you’ll be too busy cheering with glee (or wiping away tears) to care. A truly amazing television event with a cliffhanger worthy of Who itself.

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Indeed, writer Gareth Roberts has packed so much warmth, character and, as always with the Gaz-man, humour. I won’t list every gag for you but K9 steals many of the laughs; notably the line “Activating stair negotiation – hover mode.” One scene in particular, the ‘box’ scene, has so much hilarity going on that it even manages to cover up a FDCGA (that’s a “Fairly Dodgy Computer Generated Alien) with chuckles and LOLs.

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And that’s the only flaw (and in no way did it impair my enjoyment) in this utter gem. So good actually that you’ll not even mind that The Doctor isn’t there for the majority of this installment. A more heartwarming and life-affirming small screen half hour (or so) you are not likely to find this year.

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According to the Den of Geek review of Part 2:

Yesterday, in my review for part one, I foolishly suggested that a “A more heartwarming and life-affirming small screen half hour (or so) you are not likely to find this year”. Well, I probably should have realised that competition would come in the guise of part two, and by crikey it did. And it won.

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But the heart-warming and life-affirmation will have to wait a while as Sarah Jane and the gang, now accompanied by The Doctor, have to to set the world right and get back together as The Trickster has returned to play one of his, erm, tricks. Those familiar with The Sarah Jane Adventures will be all too aware of just how dastardly, but at the same time awesome, this chap is. Indeed, he was even name-checked in the Doctor Who episode Turn Left.

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Mores beside, The Doctor knows of this blaggard (calling him “an eternal exile who exists to wreak havoc”) and his cronies, The Pantheon Of Discord. The Trickster, of course, details The Doctor intimately; referring to his past in some detail (Tom Baker fans will get another chance to get all nostalgic) and his future (apparently ‘The Gate’ is waiting….). The no-eyed one has been waiting some time for a tete-a-tete with everyone’s favourite Time Lord and we get a delicious conversation between the pair of them.

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But it’s not all time sensitive beings being pompously arrogant and self-referential. Nigel Havers has an achingly sad story to play out and is complimented with beauty by the effervescent Elisabeth Sladen.

And there’s laughs too! Writer Gareth Roberts perfectly matches the pain with mirth, most notably in a Steven Moffat-ish “I’ll explain later” comment from The Doctor just before he wields a football clacker (or whatever they’re called) as the kids won’t accept his Curse of the Fatal Death-esque answer. David Tennant revels in his role here, dancing from the light beats of humour to the heavier foreboding touches of his regeneration.

The goodbye scene between Sarah Jane and The Doctor is a poetic reply, if you like, to SJ’s farewell scene in The Hand Of Fear where she asked “Don’t forget me.” (As a side-note, look out for the cuddly Owl she held when she first left the TARDIS now sitting in the Bannerman Road attic during part one of this story.) Sarah’s answer is kitten-strokingly beautiful but also filled with pathos at the knowledge of what’s to come – Lizzy S and Davey T perform remarkably and if there’s a dry eye in your house then you must be a flippin’ robot.

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The Wedding of Sarah Jane Smith is a joyous experience where the story itself takes a back seat to the wonderful performances, hilarity and the inevitable sadness. It’s packed with scenes that will make your heart fill up with wonder and cheer – witness as SJ and the gang enter the TARDIS (made me wish they popped off for another adventure). But more than that, it’ll reaffirm (if it were needed) that Doctor Who and its spin-off worlds are in safe hands and as groin-grabbingly good as ever.

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And what’s more amazing about this episode is that Mr Smith booted up without the bloody fanfare – finally!

The Worst:

The Gift

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Ending such a good year on a bad note is what happened with the awful The Gift. According to the Den of Geek review:

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The population of the UK were feeling mighty generous on Friday as the BBC screened their annual telethon, Children In Need, but any charitable thoughts felt by this reviewer could not be extended to the final two-parter in this year’s series of The Sarah Jane Adventures.

It was a stinker.

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The Gift saw the return of the Slitheen but it also saw the rare return of the ‘clunker’ for Sarah Jane and the gang. We’ve had three series worth excellent stories with only the odd duffer in there. And like last year’s finale, this one fails to entertain. In fact, it serves only to annoy.

I’ve nothing against the inhabitants of Raxicoricofallapatorius and have enjoyed their outings in both The Sarah Jane Adventures and Doctor Who but The Gift is another retread of a revisiting of the Slitheen and their naughty ways. Though this time we get introduced their relatives, the Blathereen, who are a ghastly shade of orange as opposed to the more familiar green.

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At first we’re meant to think the Blathereen (voiced by Simon Callow and Miriam Margolyes) are benevolent but, as SJ & Co. suspect, something is rotten in the borough of Ealing. And that something is the titular gift left by the aliens – a plant known as the Rackweed.

The first part of the finale was painfully paced with interest lacking throughout – having a meal with two of the blighters does not an episode make. Sadly, the second part proved to be no more fruitful with some dire camera work thrown in for good measure. It’s a pity really because the cast deserve better and this series has seen some stout work from Lis Sladen, Tommy Knight, Daniel Anthony and Anjli Mohindra. To go out like this does not do them any kind of service.

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But it wasn’t all bad…

Old-school Who fans may have pricked their ears hearing Perivale and it was a nice touch to have Ace’s home mentioned in the same breath as Donna Noble’s Chiswick. There was also a nod to another clunker, the Peter Davison atrocity Warriors Of The Deep. After the Blathereen had “farted themselves to death” (Clyde’s words not mine), Sarah Jane commented, a la The Fifth Doctor, “there should have been another way”.

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That’s exactly what I was thinking, after such a good series with rip-roaring stories and tip-top production values – there should have been another way.

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Next is the best and worst of Series 2.

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5 thoughts on “The Best and Worst of The Sarah Jane Adventures: Series 3

  1. Having watched the Sarah Jane Adventures, what are your hopes for the New Doctor Who Spin off, “Class”?

  2. Pingback: The Best and Worst of The Sarah Jane Adventures: Series 2 | The Progressive Democrat

  3. Pingback: The Best and Worst of The Sarah Jane Adventures: Series 1 | The Progressive Democrat

  4. Pingback: The Best and Worst of Constantine | The Progressive Democrat

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