Monday, 7 February 2011

The Sarah Jane Adventures: The Temptation of Sarah Jane Smith

Part One

“She didn’t even complain when Steve Wright was on the radio.”

“ Not even when he played the Hoosiers…”

The pre-credits sequence wrong-footed me for a bit: I expected Sarah Jane to end up stranded in 1951, whereas in fact being stranded in time is in fact the only relevant bad thing which doesn’t happen this episode. But this is brilliant, the best SJA yet, although I do wonder if the timey-wimey stuff would have been a bit too complex for the very young kids. It matters not, I suspect; I don’t seem to recall placing much emphasis on the plots of the programmes I was watching back when I were a lad.

Right from the start our expectations are played with. The big reveals are made very early on- the ‘50s kid is a Graske, the Trickster is back, the whole thing is an obvious trap and every one knows it. In fact, we know exactly what’s going to happen throughout the whole episode from very early on, but that’s the point, and the fun of it. We get to see how all this happens, and experience the great pleasure of “I told you so” as a dramatic device. We know what Sarah Jane will do, because we know her, and the whole theme of her parents’ disappearance has been foreshadowed for a while now. This is a great piece of writing from Gareth Roberts.

The team dynamic is great here, too; Sarah Jane is fooling nobody. They all know her far too well by now, and Luke is very sensible in encouraging her to do what she’s going to do anyway because, after all, anyone would.

One slight niggle here, though: I know I keep going on about it but there’s the small fact that Sarah Jane is a Scouser, and this has continuity implications. It’s not just Lis Sladen’s not-quite-erased Liverpool vowels; in Invasion of the Dinosaurs Sarah Jane mentions the Liverpool Docks as something which are quintessentially normal to her. Sarah Jane grew up in Liverpool. Yet neither her Aunt Lavinia (who we met in K-9 and Company) nor her parents (who we meet here) reflect this in any way. It might not quite be up there with UNIT dating but this is still a fairly major continuity error.

On the other hand, it’s mentioned that if Sarah Jane ever touched herself as a baby then bad stuff would happen, in a nod to Father’s Day. Also, there’s fixed points in time and miners on Peladon. So, swings and roundabouts.

Great cliffhanger; I suspect the allusion to the 1980 scene in Pyramids of Mars for the older viewers is quite intentional, but it’s the perfect climax to the episode. Next episode, we won’t quite know what to expect.

Part Two

“ Yes, hello! Ethnic person in the ‘50s. Hi!”

Well, ok, this episode is not that unpredictable. Obviously, Sarah Jane can’t save the day by killing her own parents as this is a kids’ show, so her parents are inevitably going to save the day by heroically sacrificing their lives. Still, the details are up for grabs. This episode, unlike the last, runs on dramatic tension. And great characterisation. And a great performance from Lis Sladen.

There are lots of nice little touches: the police box; Rani pecking Clyde on the cheek and his reaction (“Cool. Must be heroic more often.”); Clyde having the presence of mind to bargain with the Graske, and the integrity to keep his word. Personally, I like the nicely economical explanation on how this alternate universe can have a version of Gita in it- after all, in a world which diverged so radically from our own as far back as 1951 it’s vanishingly unlikely for the same sperm to have fertilised the same egg. But we’re told that “When time goes wrong it tries to compensate, keep people on the same track.” That’s a nice little addition to the Whoniverse, I think.

Blimey, this story is really bringing out the geek in me!

The conclusion, aside from being very effectively moving, is also quite conceptually interesting; the whole reason why Sarah Jane alone in her pram is because of the Trickster’s machinations and Sarah Jane’s decision to change history. Which means this always happened, history never changed at all, and things have come full circle. Nice little paradox there.

Superb. 5/5. One thing I don’t understand, though- yes, Sarah Jane’s rather nice parents drive off to their fate, but what actually kills them?

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