SJA: The Empty Planet

Almost inevitably, this felt like a bit of a come-down from the very special previous episode, something which has often happened throughout the four series. I don’t know whether it’s just because these episodes are suffering by comparison, or if the post-Doctor slot is used somewhat sacrificially to take a risk on an unconventional episode.

This was a Sarah Jane-lite story, and indeed an every single human being except Clyde and Rani-lite story. Indeed, it was the first time since his departure that Luke couldn’t be bothered to Skype his mum. It was pretty much a two-hander for vast swathes of the first half, which did a great job of using sound – or lack thereof – to create a really eerie atmosphere.

The only snag is that I’m not quite interested enough in Rani and Clyde for them to carry a whole story by themselves. I like them both, but they’re the two least complex and most generic characters in the gang. Sarah Jane’s absence was palpable – in a way that it perhaps wouldn’t if Luke or K-9 were still around – but thankfully the script made the most of its limited resources by leaving plenty of time for a spot of introspection.

I hadn’t really thought about it in these terms before, but Clyde and Rani actually identify what it is that makes you care about them the least – they’re the hangers-on. Unlike Luke, Mr Smith and K-9, they (and previously Maria) are not part of Sarah Jane’s family, so they’re one step removed from her, and therefore a further step removed from The Doctor. Still, the more time we spend with them, the less that’s relevant, and I must say their budding romance is being handled well, feeling natural and patient.

The second part became more of a runaround, with the aid of two big colourful robots. There was an unusual amount of location work, and with the streets being empty it made me notice for the first time just how little the Ealing where Sarah Jane lives looks like the Ealing where I live. They usually compensate by referring to real places in the dialogue, so it was distracting that the denouement took place in the fictional “Ealing Circle” instead of, say, Ealing Common.

The fact that these are the thoughts I’m taking away from this one probably tells you a lot. It was fine, and it kept me adequately entertained, but I can tell it’s going to be one of those that I struggle to remember. The only other notable thing was that the next time trailer at the end was about a minute and a half long, which either tells us that they were really proud of the next story, or that this one was running short.

RATING: 6

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