Sarah Jane Adventures Series 3, The (UK - DVD R2)
The Wilson Bros always respond when older women say "I need you" to them...
Once Sarah Jane Smith left the company of The Doctor all those years ago, it was only a brief appearance in The Five Doctors, and that awful episode she went through in the 80s that gave us a glimpse of what her future would be. Being a hard-nosed journalist, we figured her career taking her down a very different path to what was eventually revealed. To us, she would be sitting at a desk in the newsroom of a seedy tabloid, stinking of cheap scotch, with fags spilling over the top of a broken ashtray as she makes phone-calls of the following variety:
“…you tell your boss I’m getting sick and bloody tired of waiting for an interview he promised me two days ago. As the head of a couple of children’s charities, he knows he’s in a very dicey position, so you your head out of your arse and get me that Goddamn interview or he’ll find out mud sticks. Got that? MUD STICKS!”
Well, you get the idea.
The legacy of the shudder-inducing K-9 and Company extended to Sarah Jane being partnered (though not in the Biblical sense) with K-9 in The Five Doctors, and continued with her appearance in New-Who story, School Reunion. Like the Tolpuddle Martyrs, the legacy is what will be remembered and felt today, rather than the incident that initiated it. Though they didn't share any time together during the 1970s, Sarah Jane Smith and K-9 are now as inextricably interlinked as Laurel and Hardy, Cannon and Ball, or Manning and Crompton - well, maybe not that last example.
The success of School Reunion, the second series Doctor Who episode that saw The Doctor reunited with one of his most popular companions, Sarah Jane Smith, started things rumbling within the Doctor Who production office and the result was that not long after the story went out, it was decided that the plucky journalist would have her own series. The main difference between The Sarah Jane Adventures and Doctor Who was that where the original show was aimed at a family audience, Elisabeth Sladen's spin-off would be strictly aimed at children.
The premise is that Sarah Jane Smith now lives in a suburban street (one that was bizarrely named after Sylvester McCoy era story, Delta and the Bannermen) in Ealing and she is still investigating possible alien presences on Earth. She is assisted by smug super-computer Mr Smith (voiced by the ubiquitous Alexander Armstrong) along with several teenagers from the neighbourhood. The irritating fanfare that accompanies Mr Smith's activation was even joking criticised during the final story in New-Who's fourth series. She also has a "son", Luke (Tommy Knight), who is really a genetically-engineered lifeform that she has adopted. There have also been a changing line-up of youngsters, the most constant of which has been Clyde (Daniel Anthony) a solid, dependable type, not unlike Doctor Who companion Ben; along with Luke and Clyde is Rani (Anjli Mohindra), a young woman with a nose for investigation.
With the reappearance of K-9 from the dreaded copyright black hole, there will doubtless be sniggering from some sections of Doctor Who fandom, as the internet has been around long enough to form a solid backbone for rumours about what single, middle-aged women get up to with their dogs.
The Sarah Jane Adventures seems to adhere to the principles of legendary movie producer Milton Subotsky, who advocated that horror films shouldn’t be the exclusive domain of the adult, and that kids should have their own fright flicks. This echoes a problem with the show which stops it being as much fun for grown-ups as the intended audience - that is in trying not to be too scary or contain too much politics in the stories, there is less to engage the older viewers. It is certainly not without entertainment value, but there is something inherently “safe” about the experience.
Prisoner of the Judoon:
An unidentified object enters Earth's atmosphere, but this is no ordinary meteor; Androvax the Annihilator has managed to escape his captors - the Judoon - and there is a race against time to recapture the fugitive Veil before he can wreak havoc upon Earth's technology and before the Judoon fleet reaches Earth and impose their rather fascist and blanket penalties upon the entire planet.
This was a transparent attempt to link the series more directly with New-Who by featuring one of the popular villains, but sadly they weren't available, so they had to make do with bringing back the Judoon. Enough comedic moments featuring the fascist Captain Tybo keep the two-part story bubbling along nicely enough and the possession elements that have Androvax inhabiting the bodies of humans allow for numerous interesting, if not terribly original, possibilities and story twists.
The Mad Woman in the Attic:
In the year 2059, a young boy named Adam happens to explore the seemingly deserted 13 Bannerman Road, where he encounters the titular female - an elderly Rani Chandra - who begins to tell Adam her story of how she came to be in the uppermost room in her house.
This is quite possibly the best story of this series, with a fascinating premise and a well-written and intriguing script; the decision to have a large part of the action set in an abandoned funfair was a good one, as there is something undeniably creepy about a place of joy being run-down and deathly quiet. There is the well-worn concept of time and effect, but this is well-handled and the end of the two-part story will put a smile on the lips of all but the most hard-bitten of viewers.
The Wedding of Sarah Jane Smith:
Sarah Jane has been acting suspiciously; a little investigating leads Luke, Clyde and Rani to discover that not only does she have a boyfriend, she also happens to have a fiancée and the nuptials are imminent. Forthcoming groom Peter Dalton (Nigel Havers) is a Charmer, but there is more to him than meets the eye, and only the intervention of a certain Time Lord can save the (wedding) day.
It's hard to see this story as anything but a cynical attempt to get more mileage out of the David Tennant Victory Lap that was 2009, the Tenth Doctor appears in this two-part story, which was actually the last thing he filmed as The Doctor. Tennant seems to be having a ball, probably because he was starting to feel the sense of liberation that was about to become, but it was also possibly due to being back with Elisabeth Sladen once again. The scenes with Tennant force all of the younger performers to raise their game and this can certainly be seen on-screen.
The Eternity Trap:
Professor Rivers (Floella Benjamin) returns and this time she is in charge of a team investigating apparent supernatural manifestations in a sprawling mansion, Sarah Jane and company eventually discover that the goings-on in the house are the product of science rather than phantoms...
This is another great story, which does what Doctor Who frequently does - takes a classic horror staple (in this case, the haunted house) and applies science to it - but whereas attempts to do this in New-Who have been patchy, it works very well here. An interesting premise and a satisfying conclusion that sticks to the noble ideals of Doctor Who. It's nice, if a little odd, to see former Play School presenter Floella Benjamin in a dramatic role, but it works, and if she had started singing, that would have made her Professor Rivers Song. Oh, and if there is one element to this story that didn't work for us, it's Adam Gillen as Toby Silverman. Adam delivers a performance that we can only hope was intentionally annoying.
Mona Lisa's Revenge:
The subject of Leonardo Da Vinci's most famous painting comes to life in a London art gallery; she gets her hands on a Sontaron weapon and begins to unleash hell in the search for her brother, The Abomination, just as Clyde, Luke and Rani are visiting on a school trip.
Now this one really got on our nerves. Take an intriguing premise and then urinate all over it by pandering to the lowest common denominator. Mona Lisa (Suranne Jones) is indeed brought to life, but not in the manner that anyone over the mental age of 12 would anticipate - the Mona Lisa seen here is a hip, trash-talking sassy bitch, which grates the nerves of anyone old enough to legally drink alcohol in a pub. This is far and away the worst story (from the usually reliable Phil Ford) in this series - the idea of bringing the subject of a famous piece of art to life is an interesting one, but it is done in such a ghastly manner that you have to wonder just how this was allowed to go ahead by The-Powers-That-Be. It sets a bad example for young people - we know that we sound like a couple of old farts for saying this, but we honestly couldn't care less. Oh and the idiocy of this premise was briefly touched upon in the fourth series story, Death of the Doctor.
The supposed enemy of the Slitheen - the Blathereen - arrive on Earth and give a gift to humanity, Rakweed, a hardy plant that could bring about the end of global famine. The motives of the Blathereen turn out to be far from honest, as Rakweed generates spores that could possibly wipe out all life on Earth and the race is on to stop both the spores and the Blathereen.
This is a fun story to finish the third series on, with a nice spin on an old (and not very well liked) enemy; there's a pleasing amount of jeopardy and some great performances - including having such acting luminaries as Simon Callow and Miriam Margolyes voicing the Blathereen; that all combine to make something which thrills and entertains in equal measures.
The anamorphic 1.78:1 image is pretty pleasing; looking a little better than the way you saw it look on television. The vibrant colour palette is faithfully reproduced and levels of detail are quite high. This is good stuff.
Sadly, there is no Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack for this Doctor Who related set - what you get is merely a Dolby Digital 2.0 track, but it can produce a reasonably good surround track when you set your amplifier to the appropriate setting.
It's a bummer to report that the only extra included in this set is a 2m5s extract from a forthcoming Sarah Jane Adventures audio book, The White Wolf; read (or should that be narrated?) by Elisabeth Sladen, it's a transparent plug for related merchandise. Given all the plugging and promotion that the series has on CBBC, surely it wouldn't have been too much of a stretch to find something to include? Even an audio commentary or two from the kids would have been good, especially on the crossover episode - but no, all fans get is just a plug for a bloody audiobook.
The Sarah Jane Adventures is a fun little show, with good performances and interesting stories (well, apart from the odd crap one...) - kids love it for the action and older viewers can enjoy it for Elisabeth Sladen and the references to Doctor Who. It's a nice set at a great price, but it's just a pity that 2Entertain have seen fit to skimp on the extras.
Review by Wilson Bros
General viewing, but some scenes may be unsuitable for young children
Release Date: 1st November 2010
Disc Type: Single side, dual layer
Audio: English Dolby Digital 2.0
Extras: Extract from audio book
Easter Egg: No
Cast: Elisabeth Sladen, Daniel Anthony, Tommy Knight, Anjli Mohindra, David Tennant
Length: 336 minutes
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