The Best and Worst of The Sarah Jane Adventures: Series 2

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For previous installments:

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A Brief History of Brigadier Sir Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart

Series 2 saw the last appearance of Brigadier Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart in live-action television, the last time he would be depicted, in Enemy of the Bane. The Brigadier first appeared in as a Colonel in the Scots Guard commanding a British Army detachment sent to investigate in the London Underground in The Wed of Fear.

He would next appear in The Invasion, being promoted to Brigadier by this point, and working for UNIT.

Following the Third Doctor’s exile to Earth by the other Time Lords, the Doctor would begin working with UNIT as their scientific advisor throughout this incarnation. This exile begins in Spearhead from Space.

The Brigadier would also appear in Doctor Who and the Silurians, The Ambassadors of Death, and Inferno.

Like Season 7, in which he appeared in every serial, the same occurred in Season 8, which had every serial dealing with the Master in some way, beginning with Terror of the Autons.

He would also appear in The Mind of Evil, The Claws of Axos, Colony in Space, and The Dæmons, during this season.

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He would later appear in The Day of the Daleks, The Time Monster, The Three Doctors, The Green Death, The Time Warrior, Invasion of the Dinosaurs, Planet of the Spiders, Robot, and Terror of the Zygons (the story in which the Zygons first appear).

His final appearances in the classic series took place in Mawdyrn Undead, The Five Doctors, and Battlefield.

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He appeared with former companions of the Doctor, Sarah Jane Smith and Victoria Waterfield, in the 1995 direct-to-video movie, Downtime, alongside his daughter, Kate Lethbridge-Stewart.

In The Poison Sky, the Tenth Doctor mentions the Brigadier.

In The Wedding of River Song, the Eleventh Doctor receives a phone call regarding the death of Brigadier Sir Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart.

In The Power of Three, the Eleventh Doctor mentions the Brigadier to his daughter, Kate Stewart, now in charge of UNIT.

In Death in Heaven, a Cyberman version of the Brigadier is witnessed by the Twefth Doctor.

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The Best:

   The Temptation of Sarah Jane Smith, and Enemy of the Bane

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I really, really enjoyed The Temptation of Sarah Jane Smith as a serial. This is often due to the fact that the perennial foe, The Trickster, can put the charcters in positions that they otherwise wouldn’t be in. The other aspect is that this is mostly a Sarah Jane Smith story. Although The Mad Woman in the Attic (Series 3) can be credited with preciting the return of the Doctor, one scene within this serial can also be credited the same way, adding to the overall depth of the storytelling, while simultaneously fortelling his reappreance next series. According to the Digital Spy review of Part 1:

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Perhaps the best Sarah Jane yet, the opening part of the terrifying Trickster’s comeback story is a perfectly executed and absorbing piece of drama. Packed full of astounding visuals and poignant emotions, this episode is far too good and dark to be dumped in such an awful timeslot. In fact, it’s up there with some of the best Doctor Who adventures in recent times.

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The pre-credits sequence superbly establishes the intrigue, with the unexpected transformation of the little Oscar from helpless kid to devious hunter. A character study of Sarah Jane ensues and although lacking in action, the sheer sincerity of Elisabeth Sladen’s performance and engaging camerawork keep up the momentum.

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The time-altering dilemma Sarah Jane faces is similar to that encountered by Donna Noble in ‘The Fires Of Pompeii’, but on a far more personal note. Wisely for a family show, the traumatic situation is nicely eased by the occasional flash of humor, such as Luke and Sarah Jane’s hilarious foray as David and Victoria Beckham.

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A wonderfully bleak ending, complete with a ruined Big Ben, must have eaten up a large chunk of the show’s effects budget. It’s worth it though, as it creates a neat juxtaposition with the dream-like visual qualities of the Foxgrove that Sarah Jane visits.

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The prospect of a Trickster rampage neatly whets the appetite for the concluding part, although it has a great deal to live up to. Could it be Sarah Jane’s finest hour?

The Temptation of Sarah Jane Smith (2)

According to the Digital Spy review for Part 2:

A bit of a disappointment after last week’s pulsating first part, the conclusion of ‘The Temptation Of Sarah Jane Smith’ still manages to impress with its sublime direction and lead performances. Yet there’s something all too familiar about the story elements.

An evil force seeps through cracks in time in the past, with a religious place being the entry point. The parents of a main character sacrifice themselves in a car-related demise. Is this Sarah Jane or the Doctor Who episode ‘Father’s Day’ we’re watching?

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At least The Trickster provides a fresh slant to this formula. A very scary villain indeed, he would be well suited for a key role in Doctor Who itself, especially as his character has echoes of the Time Lord’s enigmatic nemesis from the ‘classic series’ – The Black Guardian. The flashback involving the Graske in his ship is spine-tingling due to The Trickster’s haunting presence, which is expertly directed by veteran helmer Graeme Harper.

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The bleak tone of the episode is nicely punctuated by a couple of funny moments. Sarah Jane mistaking an innocent 1950s police box for a TARDIS is cleverly done, while Rani’s quip of “ethnic person in the 50s” to the stunned onlookers is hilarious.

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The great thing about Sarah Jane is that even when it falls short of expectations, there’s still so much to like about it.

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The return of the Brigadier! Just seeing such a fantastic character back in Doctor Who was really quite a treat! According to the Digital Spy review of Part 1:

tumblr_lykxq2s51v1qlvd4eo6_r1_250tumblr_lykxq2s51v1qlvd4eo7_r1_250Woohoo – the Brigadier is back! Boohoo – his long-awaited return is in a stinker of a story that is far too uninteresting and uneventful for the first part of a season finale.

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Even the reunion scene between the UNIT legend and Sarah Jane falls flat, precipitated by a poor build up instead of us being whipped up into anticipation about the meeting of two legendary figures. Of course, the show’s target audience wasn’t even born when the Brigadier made his last Doctor Who appearance, but such a mythical figure in Who folklore deserves a better reintroduction.

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The whole plot about the Black Archives and this mysterious Horath is a total mess, and the reliance on flashbacks to the previous Bane story seriously dogs the pace of the episode. At least the Sontaran Commander Kaagh returns at the end of the story, although the circumstances for his presence are unknown and, like the Brigadier, his appearance was hardly built up with suitable tension.

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Samantha Bond is good value as the devious Mrs. Wormwood and clearly relishes the part, although the character is inexplicably accepted by Sarah Jane and the gang. Luke’s sudden yearning for his real ‘maternal’ figure is almost as unconvincing as Anjli Mohindra’s acting as Rani, who is unable to create a sense of panic at her mother’s disappearance – despite unleashing the usual array of bizarre facial expressions.

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All in all, the final part of Sarah Jane‘s uneven second season needs to do a great deal in order to salvage the finale. It’s still excellent children’s television even at its worst, but the problem is that the show is capable of so much more than this stale episode.

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According to the Digital Spy review of Part 2:

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Sterling performances from two warring matriarchs go some way towards rescuing the Sarah Jane finale, but can’t prevent it from being a damp squib. Or should that be damp squid given the Bane’s tentacular nature?

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Samantha Bond’s Wormwood and Elisabeth Sladen’s Sarah Jane share a number of tasty verbal duels throughout the episode, which is certainly better than the first part. The tussle over Luke is superbly portrayed by both actresses, with both delivering passionate, emotive pleas to the poor lad.

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However, for a finale this story lacks the necessary impact and oomph. The action sequences are surprisingly poor, especially Kaagh’s pursuit of Luke, and the lackluster CGI is glaringly exposed in broad daylight through the Bane, who possess neither presence nor menace in their true state.

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The Brigadier’s introduction to a new audience continues to be unworthy of such a great and iconic character, although it is pleasing to see him reel off one round (rapid of course) from his walking stick towards the pantomime villain Major.

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Overall, the season finale is nowhere near as good as last year’s thrilling and exhilarating equivalent. Although still superior children’s television even during its worst episodes, the ‘Enemy Of The Bane’ simply didn’t give a talented cast the story they deserved.

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The Worst:

The Day of the Clown

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I didn’t find The Day of the Clown, which introduces Rani Chandra, to a particularly good story. It lacked a lot. According to the Den of Geek review:

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After a strong opener with ‘The Last Sontaran’, The Sarah Jane Adventures hits the ground running with this, the first part of its second serial, ‘Day of the Clown’. Delving into the old favourites, this episode pits our titular heroine and her band of pint-sized playmates against a shape-shifting ‘spooky clown’ played by Bradley Walsh, a sort of pied piper figure who turns out to be… well, the pied piper, as it happens.

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As ‘The Last Sontraran’ reintroduced Sarah Jane and her junior Scoobies, the spotlight in ‘Day of the Clown’ is reserved for new girl Rani Chandra – played by Anjli Mohinder – and her family. And, as ever, it’s to the Sarah Jane team’s credit that the adult cast are as important as their younger colleagues in this show which never talks down to its young audience. There are some particularly impressive character moments in scenes between Elisabeth Sladen’s Sarah Jane and Rani’s mum, Gita, played by Mina Anwar, with the usually frosty Miss Smith turning up on Mrs Chandra’s doorstop with a flask of tea, a plate of baked goods and something closely resembling neighbourly cheer. It’s all a ruse, of course, with Sarah Jane quickly busting out her Jane Bond gadgetry – here, an alien detector disguised as a sassy watch – to check for any alien activity. Elsewhere, in a nod towards the opening episode of series one, Ace Bhatti’s Haresh Chandra is quickly established as Park Vale’s new headmaster, and a foil to class clown Clyde.

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Rani herself is another asset to the fledgling cast: a gabby young journalist whose inquisitive nature leads to a run in with alien foes. How do they come up with this stuff? etc. Comparisons between Rani and Sarah Jane’s former companion Maria are almost inevitable, and bound to be divisive, but – based on this episode, at least – Anwar gives as good as she takes, and her character manages to be interesting and endearing without treading on Miss Jackson’s toes.

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To his credit, writer Phil Ford – who’s at the pen for three of this series’ six serials – doesn’t carry on as if the recently departed Jackson family never existed; indeed, Maria’s absence isn’t merely commented on, but built into the narrative itself. Perpetually puppy-eyed Luke is feeling particularly guilty for making friends with Rani so quickly after his first friend – indeed, the first person he ever met – took flight; cockier Clyde is putting on a brave face, reverting to chatting up the new girl and giving her headmaster Dad lip in the name of moving on. Sarah Jane continues her ascent into Doctordom – watch out for her donning The Brainy Specs towards the beginning of the episode – dispensing wit and worldly wisdom in equal measure. God love her.

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In all, the sci-fi plays second fiddle to the drama in this story of friends, old and new, although that’s not to suggest it’s necessarily a bad thing. Indeed, the episode could probably do with less of Bradley Walsh – undoubtedly the weak link here – who runs a gamut of terrible accents in his portrayal of the same alien under a number of different guises. His Pennywise impression is perhaps the most alarming, in that it lives in the middle zone between horrifying and – unintentionally – hilarious. That said, the cliffhanger, with the coulrophobic Sarah Jane and her pals backed into a corner by an army of animated clown statues, is classic Doctor Who: in equal measures silly and scary, and brilliant for being both.

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Next is the best and worst of Series 1.

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One thought on “The Best and Worst of The Sarah Jane Adventures: Series 2

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

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