Monday, 2 May 2011

The Sarah Jane Adventures: Death of the Doctor

Part One

“Faster. Shuffle for your life!”

Again we begin with a brief conversation with Luke, at uni, on a screen. Interesting that, although Luke isn’t a full member of the team any more, they’re not severing the links completely. Does this indicate limited availability for Tommy Knight?

This is a special episode; the first RTD script for The Sarah Jane Adventures since it began, and his first script for anything since he left Doctor Who. It’s also, of course, fanwank of the very best kind.

The plot wastes no time is getting started, as UNIT surround Sarah Jane’s house and inform her that the Doctor has snuffed it. His remains have been brought back to Earth by a race of space undertakes known as the Shansheeth. They, er, look like vultures. This not only tells us they’re up to no good but reminds us who wrote this. Likes his aliens to look like animals, does RTD.

The early moments, with Sarah Jane in denial and Haresh’s nice little comments about bereavement being hard to accept are well-judged, however much they may be more than a little undermined by later events! Very soon the gang are ensconced in a rather dark and claustrophobic base under the supervision of the suitably sinister Colonel Karim.

It seems there’s not going to be much of a turnout. The Brig’s in Peru (again!), and Liz Shaw is on “the moonbase”. There are some comedy Graske at UNIT too, or rather “Groske”. I rather like the little darlings. They seem to think Clyde “smells of time”. Hmm.

Sarah Jane sits in silence by the coffin with nothing to comfort her in her grief apart from a couple of clips from Pyramids of Mars and Death to the Daleks. Just as things are really getting a bit mournful, Jo Grant makes her entrance, and it’s quite an entrance. Katy Manning is clearly as lovely and as mad as ever. Although the lines about needing her glasses seem to somewhat blur he distinction between actress and character. Still, I like in-jokes. In-jokes are good.

It’s great to see Jo and Sarah Jane finally meet. Jo’s life since The Green Death rings true; forever wandering, uber-leftie, loads of sprogs, grandson called Santiago. Who, incidentally, has recently travelled through somewhere called “Las Malvinas”. Ooh, controversial!

There are a lot of echoes of School Reunion, of course. Jo feels sad that the Doctor never returned and, when Sarah Jane lets slip she’s seen him several times, Jo is clearly hurt. This is all the more heartbreaking because Jo is so nice and not- jealous about it (“He must have really liked you.”). Great stuff. We see the two of them reminiscing over Peladon, and there’s a moment of true fanwank joy as Jo finally mentions Karfel.

We soon discover the Shansheeth are up to no good. Now there’s a surprise. It seems they intend to “drain the minds” of the two “wise old women”, which is not very nice.

We finish with Clyde’s body exchanging places with… the Doctor. This is all really rather exciting.

Part Two

“Come along, Smith!”

It’s rather pleasing, after the shocking recent news of Elisabeth Sladen’s unexpected death, that Sarah Jane and Matt Smith’s Doctor got their chance to meet. Both Sarah Jane and Jo are overwhelmed by the “Wasteland of the Crimson Heart”, their first alien planet for ages.

Meanwhile, back on Earth, Clyde is back. Rani hugs him (definitely something going on here!!!), and that sinister Colonel Karim turns out to be a baddie.

There are some nice character moments in between the fast-paced action. The Doctor and Sarah discuss his recent regeneration (it always hurts), and the Doctor and Jo have a good catch-up. Once again it’s clear that Jo feels sad that the Doctor never returned for her, and once again this is so much sadder because of her lack of bitterness. The Doctor’s response provides a sort of catharsis, but it’s still implied that he didn’t think to look up Jo until “the last time he died”. I’m reminded of the things the Dream Lord said about his abandonment of his friends once they stop their travels.

Back on Earth, there are cool things happening. The Groske’s cunning plan is… to hide in a room and eat some pizza, on the entirely reasonable grounds that the Shansheeth are a bit scary, and Santiago is a bit jealous of the exciting lifestyles of Clyde and Rani, with all the “aliens, and cheese, and stuff”.

It’s just about time for the climax, but just before we get to that RTD lobs in a grenade of a line about the Doctor being able to regenerate 507 times. Bet you he was chuckling while he wrote that, and sent an email to Ben Cook about how naughty he was feeling.

It turns out the Shansheeth’s cunning plan is to get Jo and Sarah Jane to remember the TARDIS key, which they can then conjure into existence. They will then be able to use the TARDIS to stop anyone ever dying, ever. Just like that episode of Family Guy.

Fortunately the Doctor has a cunning plan for Sarah Jane and Jo to show lots of brief clips from the 1970s and stop the Shansheeth in their tracks. Fitting that the alien baddies should be defeated by nostalgia!

We then end with Jo getting to see the inside of the TARDIS, generally being lovely, and saying goodbye to everyone in a rather adorable way. She’s as mad as a pencil, mind.

And call me a sentimental old fan, but I just love learning what all of the old companions have been up to! Tegan’s in Australia campaigning for Aboriginal rights; Ben and Polly are running an orphanage in India; Harry became a campaigning Doctor, although he sadly seems to have died; “Dorothy” is running some charity or other; and Ian and Barbara are married, are both professors at Cambridge, and haven’t aged at all. Love it!

That may have been a load of old fanwank, but I loved it. Matt Smith may not really have had the screen time to really shine, but I’m glad he was there. And it was so, so great to see Katy Manning again.


  1. Really enjoyed this one, on my short list of fave RTD scripts, save for one small (actually, petty, I'll admit) point...

    ...It's hard to find a bigger Ace fan than me. She's had my heart since I was 16 and Sophie was pretending to be 16. What Kate Orman and Paul Cornell did with her in the NA's cemented her forever as one of the big characters in the mythos.

    But....a charity?!? A freakin' CHARITY?!? I just can't accept that! LOL. Ace was a warrior. A revolutionary. A (in Cornell's brilliant phrase) battle chemist who never said surrender. The idea of her running a bureaucracy and soliciting donations, no matter the worthiness of the cause, strikes me as wrong on a fundamental-make-the-universe-fall-apart level.

    In my mind Ace died in battle, is feared and honored in the Dalek pantheon as The Terrifying Small One, covered the retreat of the Paris Commune and -- after leaving the Doctor -- continued his legacy, because not only did she learn HOW to play the Doctor's game, she learned WHY he played it.

    Petty, sure. But deeply felt.

  2. Oooh yes, I'm totally with you on Ace and the NA's, and especially Paul Cornell and Kate Orman's stuff (Set Piece, especially!), although perhaps less so for certain other authors! The NA's were as much a part of my teenage years as Nirvana, pot, and being shy around girls.

    Actually, I'm not sure the idea of her running a charity is even consistent with the character we saw on screen. It's very surprising, watching the McCoy stories, just how prominent her character arc was, and just how much darkness was in her.