A Doctor Who spin-off set in a school beset by alien invaders? It’ll never catch on. But while I’m yet to see Class, having elected to save it for when it slots into this project, revisiting The Sarah Jane Adventures is a much more appealing prospect, thanks largely to the title character herself. It’s so nice just to know that I’ll be in her company for the next couple of weeks.
Elsewhere in the ensemble, Luke continues to be intriguing, Maria continues to be nice but a little dull, her mum remains annoying, K-9 is still conspicuous by his absence, while Mr Smith seems to have developed an element of snark since the pilot. New boy Clyde is a big improvement on the tedious girl he’s replacing – he occupies the same sort as role as the cynical cool kid, but they had him demonstrate his usefulness several times, as if he was auditioning for a spot on the team.
It was a smart move to start the series with a monster from the main show, and if you’re going to pick one to bring back for the kids’ spin-off, it’s the Slitheen. They’re more brazen with the fart gags here, not that they were ever particularly subtle in the first place. It doesn’t quite work for me, as there’s a little too much mugging, but I’m now probably triple the age of the target audience.
On the whole though, I was pleasantly surprised by the Slitheen. In their human forms, they suffered a little because they weren’t being played by actors of the calibre of the originals, but the design of the monsters has been tweaked to make them more sinewy and insect-like. The implementation is better too, with a darker paint job and more realistic textures, plus they seem to have developed a heightened sense of smell.
They were surprisingly scary towards the end of the first episode, which ramped up nicely to the multi-layered cliffhanger, and the reveal of the child Slitheen was a great twist. The first part was just like a first part from the classic series, with lots of world-building and investigation until the plot is slowly revealed, while the second episode was more like the new series, with our heroes bounding around and facing ever-increasing stakes at a fair old pace. It even had an appearance from Trinity Wells.
It was obviously a lot more light-hearted than your average Who episode, albeit with hints at heavier concepts, such as the dilemma over whether the help the child Slitheen escape. Sarah Jane’s speech about The Doctor was another spine-tingler, much like the one in the pilot, and felt like a mission statement. I think I’m going to enjoy this series a lot more than the other spin-off. As long as I don’t think about the fact that the kids it was aimed at are probably old enough to have their own kids now. They talk about broadband as an impressively new thing.
My one gripe is with the lengthy and not particularly discreet Next Time trailer immediately after the cliffhanger – the main show figured out that this was idiotic ages ago, the first time the Slitheen turned up. There’s over a minute of recap at the start of the second part too, which feels excessive – these are the same kids who watch Doctor Who every week, they don’t need as much of a helping hand as you think.