Thursday, 7 April 2011

The Sarah Jane Adventures: The Eternity Trap

Part One

“I bet he made a mean balloon giraffe at children’s parties.”

I knew this was going to be great as soon as I heard the splendidly Dickensian name “Erasmus Darkening”. Absolutely no ambiguity about who the baddie is here.

A ghost story is something very new for SJA, and this feels very fresh. It’s also great to see everybody’s favourite Lib Dem peer, Floella Benjamin, as Professor Rivers, who now even gets given a first name: Celeste. And then promptly, er, disappears. I like the well portrayed and Uriah Heep-like Toby, too, in spite of the fact that he was a bit of an obvious red herring. But this story from Phil Ford is superb not because of any particular stand-out gimmicks but because it feels fresh, it’s very well-told and it’s got oodles of atmosphere. This is simultaneously very kid-friendly and yet as scary as anything I’ve come across during the Marathon.

It’s fun to see Sarah Jane playing the sceptic for once, and as this is a Luke-lite story it’s nice to see more of the developing chemistry between Rani and Clyde. I love the way this story shamelessly and deliberately has fun with all sorts of ghost story tropes, and we even get a blatant Nigel Kneale reference which almost made me fall of my chair. “Stone Tape manifestation", indeed…! The nursery is very scary indeed. A million times more so because of that rocking horse, for some reason. Reminds me of Ghost Light.

This is great. We get Rani being really investigative and Clyde being really witty. We get the missing Professor Rivers “ghosting” through her walkie-talkie, like Miss Evangelista. We get secret passages. Secret passages are cool. We get ancient electronic oojimaflips. And we get “This is Hogwarts, Tim Burton style”. I’m loving this.

Part Two

“Oh boy, this is worse than The Sixth Sense.”

There’s inevitably a slightly disappointing air to part twos in general as the way the plot is resolved is seldom quite as satisfying as it could be, even in a good quality drama. But here it’s satisfying in very possible way: from the plot mechanics side, the all-apparent-magic-is-really-science, Dæmons-fashion, side, from the loads-of-atmosphere side, and from the lots-of-fun-with-tropes side. This is unremittingly great.

I can’t do enough gushing. It all ties up, there are some nice plot revelations, it all looks fantastic, the dashing Lord Marchwood gets to be heroic, Toby turns out not to be such a Uriah Heep after all once Sarah Jane has broadened his horizons, and we get to see Clyde and Rani being very brave and stoic. This is a top 5/5. And although it’s not an “arc” story, or a particularly important story for any particular character, I see no reason to mark it down for being a non-“event” episode. This is the best episode of SJA yet.

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