On New Years Day 2007, there were no less than three new episodes of Doctor Who spin-offs transmitted on the same day. This is one of the very rare occasions that my rewatch will be going at a slower pace than original broadcast. First up, we welcome The Sarah Jane Adventures to the fold, with a debut that comes along and demonstrates exactly how a spin-off series should be started.
The answer is to basically do Rose, whereby the audience is introduced to the companion figure first (it’s a younger character this time because it’s a younger audience), and we then meet the mysterious alien-y figure through her eyes. It’s a role that Sarah Jane is obviously more than capable of fulfilling; that was evident the first time they tried this show, regardless of its many other faults.
Maria seems just as well-suited to her role, but the big problem in this episode is clearly Kelsey. She’s got some quite funny lines, but as Mrs Wormwood points out, “she’s all noise and ignorance”. I remember being so relieved when I heard she wouldn’t be returning for the main series. Maybe she could have been toned down as she developed, but when you’ve just been introduced to the likes of Owen Harper and Donna Noble, you want the CBBC spin-off to be a safe haven from these brash, disruptive, antagonistic characters.
Luke, on the other hand, is absolutely great, both in concept and performance. It’s an idea with so much potential for both drama and comedy, and you’ve got the makings of a good little gang there, once Kelsey is replaced. Sarah Jane’s attic is very cool indeed, even if the reveal of Mr Smith was a little overblown – this time round, it reminded me of the study being revealed as a TARDIS in Shada. The pictures of The Brigadier and Harry were a particularly nice touch.
It’s just a shame that K-9 can’t join the party, continuing the long-standing tradition of the poor bugger being restricted to a tiny cameo appearance during a story that doesn’t involve him. I’ve never seen the Australian K-9 series, due to the fact that it looked like a load of old bollocks, but it can’t have been worth the sacrifice of a potential series full of adventures for Sarah and K-9 together. The black hole explanation for his absence seems tacked on and not terribly convincing, but that was kind of unavoidable.
The plot is a straight-forward one – the latest in a long line of Willy Wonka retellings, with quite a similar premise to the Futurama version. The monsters were pleasingly old school in design; lumpy and mucky, as if they were made of the same rubber, latex and heavy paint that Sarah Jane faced all those years ago. Apart from the one that’s recycled from Torchwood, of course, although thankfully this one is a star poet, rather than a sexy mind-reading murderer.
It was a fun and happy way to spend an hour, full of warmth and heart. That’s thanks to Elisabeth Sladen of course, who was always such a magnetic presence. The final scenes with her talking about how nobody could compare to The Doctor tugged at the heartstrings, and made me really look forward to seeing more of her – I did watch the first series or so of SJA at the time, but I kind of fell behind at some point and there’s loads of it that I haven’t yet seen.
I’m particularly looking forward to seeing whether that middle eight in the closing theme is a regular thing, or whether it was dropped after this initial special, because it was bloody mental.