The Best and Worst of The Sarah Jane Adventures: Series 1

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For previous installments:

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On April 19th, 2011, the actress who plays Sarah Jane Smith, Elizabeth Sladen, passed away from cancer. With her death, there was to be no more episodes of The Sarah Jane Adventures produced.

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The Best:

Eye of the Gorgon, and Whatever Happened to Sarah Jane?

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Eye of the Gorgon is quite a fantastic story overall. According to the Digital Spy review of Part 1:

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After the underwhelming Slitheen story comes this terrific adventure featuring naughty nuns, peculiar pensioners and a gruesome Gorgon. It’s so damn good that it sends my alliteration into overdrive.

Free from the pantomime mugging that dogged the previous adventure, ‘Eye of the Gorgon’ finds exactly the right tone for the young target audience and invites those of all ages to embark on an adventure alongside Sarah Jane and her gang. The action is played straight, but still generates a great sense of fun.

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The creepy atmosphere is established right from the opening scene with the scary image of a sinister nun, lit by the pale moonlight, appearing in an elderly lady’s bedroom. The sense of mystery continues to build throughout, as does our desire to uncover the truth. Phyllida Law’s superb performance as Mrs Nelson-Stanley is worth noting, for she plays a vital role in engaging us and establishes a very intriguing character with apparent ease.

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There’s also a great deal of honesty surrounding the treatment of Maria’s trouble-stricken family. Her mother comes out with so much hot air that it would be no surprise if there’s a Slitheen lurking under her skin.

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According to the Ditigal Spy review of Part 2:

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The second part of this excellent and sinister story offers a satisfactory conclusion to the tale, with a winning blend of thrilling action sequences and earnest emotions that don’t feel contrived whatsoever.

Phyllida Law continued to impress as the Alzheimer-addled Mrs Nelson Stanley, and the fact that Maria couldn’t cure her with the talisman provided a very adult twist to the narrative. It’s pleasing to see that the children tuning into this show aren’t being patronised. Similarly, the sequence involving Maria’s mother confessing her feelings to the statue of her estranged hubby Alan was also heartfelt, with Alan’s tear trickling down his stony cheek a very touching moment.

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There were flaws however, as the Gorgon felt somewhat underdeveloped given the big build up to its unveiling in the first part, while the Mr Smith computer is slightly on the dull side. Can’t Sarah Jane negotiate a transfer with Holly from Red Dwarf? Also, the final set piece involving the Gorgon being killed by Maria’s mirror did lack the creepy atmospherics present in the first part. Some dark, moody lighting would have done wonders.

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Nonetheless, ‘Eye of the Gorgon’ worked as a surprisingly adult story that was constantly gripping and continued to build our emotional investment in the characters. Besides, how can anyone dislike an adventure involving killer nuns?

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According to the Firefox review of Whatever Happened to Sarah Jane?:

The series’ twin axes have always been the strange and alien and the domestic and for the first time, those come together completely here. Opening with a genuinely funny sequence at a local skate park, the story builds on this moment of normality, of domesticity and twists it into something unique and in many ways exponentially more effective than either of its two sister shows.The surprising lack of screen time for Maria in Warriors of Kudlak is more than made up for her as Yasmin Paige remains front and centre for almost the entire story. As she struggles to understand how the world around her has changed, there are some surprisingly subtle character beats that reveal not only a ruthlessness that very few Whoverse characters are allowed to display but also the sort of intelligence and perception that marks her out as a genuinely interesting, intelligent main character. There’s one scene in particular where she’s butting heads with Jane Asher as Andrea Yates and not only holding her own but winning that’s amazing to watch. Paige is a genuinely talented actress and is finally given the chance to shine here. The end result is fantastic and shows Paige up as one of the best things about this series.

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Whilst Tommy Knight and Daniel Anthony get very little to do here (Apart from a beautifully timed Clyde double take in the final few minutes), their absence is more than made up for by a guest star and a surprising member of the regular cast stepping up to the plate. Jane Asher is superb as Andrea Yates, cheerful, brassy and just a little desperate from the get go. Even before you find out why Andrea is there, there’s a sense that she’s dancing a little too fast, smiling a little too widely that makes for some really nicely handled, and very unsettling moments. Her final scene, whilst unsurprising, is also genuinely affecting and she stands out as one of the best guest stars not only on this show, but in the Whoverse as a whole.However, full honours have to go to Joseph Millson as Maria’s dad, Alan. He’s been an amiable if slightly dim presence throughout the series but here, Alan does a lot of the dramatic heavy lifting and crucially, moves forward. ‘New Who’ has been regularly and justifiably criticised for being a show where apocalyptic world events pass unnoticed and everything remains exactly as it was before. This story, for the first time, changes that and it’ll be fascinating to see how the relationship between the characters, and the change in Alan’s world view, affects it. Plus, top marks must go to all involved for the best skateboard action sequence in years.This is the darkest, most ambitious and most effective Sarah Jane story to date and it’s interesting to note that it takes a standard Torchwood trope (Impact of alien technology on normal life) and does it orders of magnitude better than that series has managed to date. Intelligent, complex and potentially game-changing, this isn’t just one of the best Sarah Jane stories to date, it’s one of the best New Who stories to date.

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The Worst:

Revenge of the Slitheen

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I have never been a big fan of the Slitheen, whether they were in Doctor Who‘s Aliens of London, World War Three, and Boom Town, or now The Sarah Jane Adventures. Not my favorite foe at all. According to the Digital Spy review of Part 1:

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Sarah Jane drops off her young neighbor and adopted son Luke at school, but an unsuspecting science teacher enters the school and is taken over by the Slitheen, with the Headmaster one of their number. During assembly, the Headmaster breaks wind many times and tells form 10B they will visit the new technology block. Luke and classmate Clyde notice that the farts smell metallic, while they later find the canteen food to be rotting and inedible.

Luke is nervous after his first day, but Sarah Jane assures him things will be fine and they will learn together. She ventures online and discovers that new technology blocks have been cropping up in various schools, built by Coldfire construction, but with a mysterious space unaccounted for in each of them. The Slitheen Headmaster and science teacher disable the region’s power supply from their control room, but soon have to restore it when the system overloads.

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Maria’s dad tells Sarah Jane that his ex wife ran off with the judo instructor and reveals he was involved in building the technology blocks. Sarah Jane decides to investigate the mysterious space in the one in her local school.

In science class Luke unveils a great knowledge of science, with the teacher inviting him and portly pupil Carl to a lunchtime session. Luke unwittingly gives the disguised Slitheen crucial advice on how to improve the damaged transformer to stabilise the power. Later, the teacher and Headmaster are elated with this new breakthrough and declare they will end the planet that night.

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In the school, Sarah Jane discovers that everything is rotting sooner than it should, but she is being observed on CCTV by a Slitheen called Janine from Coldfire. They later meet and Sarah Jane confronts her with her findings, but after she ignores her threats to leave, Janine unzips herself and her true Slitheen form becomes apparent.

Maria, Luke and Clyde head off to investigate the new block after school. Maria is found by the science teacher in a classroom. He is angered by her and sheds his skin, and gives pursuit to the fleeing Maria, while Janine is hunting down Sarah Jane via her perfume.

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Luke is soon trapped with the Headmaster and Maria and Clyde are joined by Carl to take refuge, but the swot sheds his skin and proclaims that he is a child Slitheen looking forward to a hunt.

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According to the Digital Spy review of Part 2:

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The concluding part of ‘Revenge of the Slitheen’ is a very satisfying watch, containing good gags, well-paced action and genuine poignancy.

Aimed at a predominantly young audience, the show certainly showcases it’s moral core during this episode through two key moments. Firstly, we are forced into mourning the deaths of the Slitheen father and son after they begged Sarah Jane to let them escape from the blast.

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The alien parent begging the humans to let his young son live suddenly gives the villains an extra dimension, which is surprising given the overly pantomime-esque tone adopted previously. The ability to show mercy and compassion is very much seen as a good thing here, without the show ever becoming ‘preachy’, and is backed up by Sarah Jane’s subsequent sadness over the deaths.

Secondly, the relationship between Sarah Jane and Luke is particularly touching and demonstrates the importance of acceptance and love. There’s certainly a lump in the old throat when they start referring to each other as ‘mummy’ or ‘son’.

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Clyde, now amusingly armed with his Wolverine deodorant, continues to shine as a character. Young actor Daniel Anthony delivers the funny lines with relish and his engaging, energetic performance functions as a brilliant foil to the understated, morose Luke.

Overall, the second part of ‘Revenge of the Slitheen’ is a distinct improvement on the previous installment and brings up some complex emotional issues in a very accessible manner.

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One thought on “The Best and Worst of The Sarah Jane Adventures: Series 1

  1. Pingback: A Special Look at: The Time Warrior | The Progressive Democrat

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