Thursday, 26 May 2011

The Sarah Jane Adventures: Goodbye, Sarah Jane Smith

Part One

“Don’t think I haven’t met amateurs before.”

Just six months after it was broadcast and this title has now acquired some unintentionally tragic associations. The plot, with Sarah Jane suffering a serious illness, is quite a different experience, watching it for the first time now, than it would have seemed at the time.

The pre-titles sequence sees our Scoobies upstages by a suspiciously convenient Sarah Jane-a-like, and once the names of the writers (Clayton Hickman and Gareth Roberts) appear on screen, I can’t help but suspect that this is going to be a semi-remake of Big Finish audio The One Doctor. I simply must get around to listening to that some time. I’ve owned it for years.

Coincidence piles upon coincidence, as this mysterious Ruby White (Mary Sue, surely? They missed a trick there.) turns out to have moved into Bannerman Road and Sarah Jane seems to start forgetting things. Oh, and Ruby White refers amusingly to the mysterious goings-on within the “Ealing Triangle”.

When Sarah Jane’s mistakes almost get Clyde and Rani killed, though, Ruby White comes to the rescue. She’s now turned suspiciously friendly. Of course, we, the viewers, know that she’s up to no good, but that’s all part of the fun, and a good thing for the target audience. Ruby is almost a perfect pantomime villain in that the viewers want to shout “Oh no she isn’t!” at the characters who suspect nothing.

Sarah Jane reminisces to Ruby, confirming that she was twenty-three during the events of The Time Warrior, and if I could be bothered I could use that to date this story. Another piece of evidence for the UNIT dating debate, this. But she forgets the Doctor- unthinkable- and a scan by Mr Smith confirms it: she’s suffering some sort of mental decline.

Sarah Jane gives up suspiciously easy, handing everything she has to Ruby on a plate. Everything feels wrong; she’s leaving immediately, seemingly with nowhere to live, and absent-mindedly forgets to say goodbye to Luke before relinquishing control of Mr Smith. In an odd way the character comes across as quite strong here: she’s decisive, and acts without self-pity. But it’s shocking to see her abandon Luke because she doesn’t want to be a “burden” to him. We know she’s not herself.

And then Ruby reveals her true colours, as an alien who keeps her stomach in the cellar. As you do…

Part Two

“Sharing your big secret… don’t think I haven’t noticed!”

Heh! Ruby wants to help aliens to do naughty things. And she wants to do so while living Sarah Jane’s life, including Clyde and Rani. They’re not quite convinced, though. Believably, Clyde is upset and blames Rani for pushing Sarah Jane away: “She’s gone, like my Dad’s gone, and it’s all your fault. Just stay away from me!” This tells us so much about Clyde.

And Rani is upset. It’s only when she talks to her mother (the lovely, lovely Gita) that she realises something is wrong. Clyde, of course, suspects this from the beginning, especially once Mr Smith starts to drop some heavy hints. He confronts Ruby, but he’s overpowered by Ruby, and taken to her orbiting prison. Like Cessair of Diplos, is seems she’s escaped from prison, with the aid of, er, a kind of Space Playstation. Unfortunately, Clyde is now trapped in a place with no oxygen other than that which he brought with him…

When all seems lost, though, Luke and K-9 arrive. He and Rani start arguing (Tommy Knight is strangely unconvincing here), but K-9 soon works out exactly what’s going on. Good dog!

Meanwhile, Clyde is delivering a final message, which is really quite affecting; this is a good episode for him. But all is not lost- Rani distracts Ruby with some girly chat, which gives K-9 the chance to teleport a bewildered Clyde back to the attic. He’s still a bit bewildered, though, and lets out a “Rani, I love you!”

They all head over to rescue Sarah Jane, only to be menaced by an unconvincing stomach with sharp teeth. Ho hum. Luke saves the day, though, and Ruby’s off back to prison, this time with no Playstation.

It’s a happy ending; even K-9 and Mr Smith are getting on. There’s a bittersweet note at the end, though: Sarah Jane saying “I think I can go on forever” now seems cruelly ironic, with this being the last episode to be broadcast during Elisabeth Sladen’s lifetime.

A good episode, if lacking enough to be particularly special. And with that, I’m up to date with The Sarah Jane Adventures! Next will be a mix of Blake’s 7 and the current series of Doctor Who

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