Tuesday, 24 May 2011

The Sarah Jane Adventures: Lost in Time

Part One

“They’re dead clever where I come from.”

No messing about with this opening teaser: we’re straight into the story and no mistake. It’s a shop, full of bric-a-brac, including (it’s implied) the very arrow with which King Harold was shot. There’s a mysterious shopkeeper, played brilliantly by Cyril Nri. This chap has real charisma, is enigmatic without being annoying (not always an easy combination), and has a parrot called “The Captain”. It takes him just a few sentences to explain this story’s plot, and it’s a quest narrative. Our three heroes are to individually go back into time to find some McGuffins because, like, bad stuff will happen if they don’t.

So, as part of this history lesson for the kids, Clyde is in 1941, hiding behind a beach as Nazis come ashore. Sarah Jane is in 1889, helping a girl called Emily investigate a ghost. And Rani is with Lady Jane Grey. Ouch. Lady Jane is a pretty bloody tragic figure and what happened to her is really quite upsetting. I can’t help thinking of that painting by Paul Delaroche (all right, I googled him), showing a terrified and blindfolded sixteen-year-old girl being escorted to the nearby block to be beheaded. That’s horrible.

Emily, meanwhile, has lost her mother, and being a late Victorian she turns to Spiritualism for comfort. This “ghost” seems to be another tribute to The Stone Tape, except that these are recorded voices not from the past, but from the future. Meanwhile, Clyde and his ‘40s mate George are captured by suitably evil Nazis, and they have a secret weapon: Thor’s hammer, which for some reason has radar-scrambling properties. Meanwhile, Jane’s mate Lady Matilda seems to be plotting something…

Part Two

“This is so unfair…”

On paper this is a decent script from Rupert Laight, but there seems to be something missing. There isn’t really any overarching theme between the three historical romps, I suppose. Still, this is an entertaining bit of fluff, although perhaps they should have gone for something other than the Lady Jane Grey stuff in a kids’ programme. Perhaps I’m getting a bit soft with my relatively advancing years (I’m only 34, mind!), but the idea of a sixteen-year-old girl knowing that she soon faces execution is quite profoundly upsetting.

The full horror is hinted at early on; Rani may have saved Jane from being murdered by Matilda (oh, and the knife is the MacGuffin), but in doing so she’s condemned her friend to an imminent and much more unpleasant fate. This is done in a relatively soft way for the kid viewers, but I still think they should have steered well clear of this. Am I overreacting? I was quite upset by this!

Fortunately, Clyde’s boys’ own adventure with Nazis and Sarah Jane’s ghost story (even though it involves children dying in a house fire) are a bit of a break from the Jane story. The best thing about both of these, of course, is Clyde’s magnificent and inspiring speech to George. Shame he has to lose his phone.

Clyde and Rani get their McGuffin back from the past without much trouble, but Sarah Jane doesn’t do as well. Fortunately, we get a resolution straight out of Back to the Future II (and Blink), as Emily’s granddaughter gives Sarah the key, using the newspaper clipping handed to Emily earlier on. The shopkeeper and his parrot disappear, enigmatic as ever, while both Rani and Clyde read up on what happened to their friends from the past.

I can’t put my finger on much that’s wrong with this one, but it didn’t quite do it for me. I admit, it’s mostly because I find the thought of a sixteen-year-old child facing being beheaded profoundly upsetting, but there was something a bit by-the-numbers about this story.

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