This is the first episode of a Doctor Who spin-off ever to be named after a DVD boxset, and it’s also the third format-breaker in a row, which leads me to conclude that SJA doesn’t really have a format any more, and that’s not a bad thing. It’s developed the same ability Who has to be able to go anywhere and do anything, despite a budget of pence and the lack of a handy time-and-spaceship.
Here, without even time to chat to Luke or consult Mr Smith, we’re thrown right into a really straight-forward quest structure, which really appeals to the parts of my brain that are on the spectrum. Each of the gang are sent off on individual missions to retrieve bits of a thing – it was like an ultra-compacted Key To Time, especially with the mystery components all disguised as contemporaneous objects.
Telling three mini-stories instead of one big one worked a treat; it was like a Treehouse of Horror style anthology episode, but you can cut between them to stop them getting dull. Two of the three – Rani meeting Lady Jane Grey and Clyde vs The Nazis – really felt like old Who historicals, complete with lack of aliens, and the plot coming merely from our heroes getting caught up in real life events.
Sarah Jane’s story was the exception, and the old Who thing it reminded me of was Ghost Light, but better. As well as being the only one with a sci-fi element, of sorts, Clyde and Rani both had to stop the timey-wimey objects being used to change history, whereas Sarah Jane uses her key to save those children from burning to death. I thought we were going to go down a very dark path where Sarah Jane has to leave them to die in order to save the world, but then I remembered which spin-off I was watching.
It all wrapped up very nicely; despite the moments where everyone looked up what happened to the people they met being a bit sickly, the method by which Sarah Jane’s key was returned to her was very neat and clever. And I liked the reveal that the parrot was behind the whole thing – very Douglas Adams. The episode also introduces children to the possibility that their teacher might be a secret Nazi double agent. Plus points all round.