SJA: The Vault of Secrets

This series never fails to take me by surprise. The philosophy behind it seems to be to always go for the most fun option, and it’s presumably in this spirit that someone watched Dreamland and decided that the robotic Men In Black, who played an incredibly tiny role in proceedings, were ripe for a live action comeback. I can’t say I’d have drawn the same conclusion, but that’s why I don’t make Doctor Who spin-offs for a living, as Mr Dread and his gang were a fun and effective secondary villain.

The main villain was also a returnee – Androvax from the Judoon one last series – and much like the Men In Black, it’s an idea that was merely one of many in its original appearance, and is much improved by being fleshed out and made more prominent. Last time round he was a straightforward bad guy that simply needed to be chased down and captured, but here he’s more multi-faceted and his motives more equivocal. It means that while he’s still cunning and untrustworthy – something that Sarah Jane frustratingly falls victim to on slightly too many occasions – you can understand his reasons and sympathise with him to a degree.

Meanwhile, Luke is gone, but much like Maria before him, he’s not forgotten, appearing via webcam towards the start and never being far from the other characters’ thoughts throughtout. Shame the same can’t be said for K-9, but that’s hardly a surprise at this stage. Unlike with Maria, there’s no new character to take Luke’s place, but I guess “the kid over the road” is a lot easier to recast than “the title character’s only child”. It means we now have a gang of three, and it’ll be interesting to see how much this affects the dynamic. For a start, it’s clear that Rani and Clyde are getting closer. There’ll be a snog by the time this series is out, you mark my words.

I thought we were going to see Rani’s parents being brought into the fold, like how Maria’s dad gradually became an honourary member of the team, until Gita’s memory was wiped and she reverted to being the slightly annoying comic relief. I worry that with Luke gone, and Rani never having fully inhabited the audience avatar role that Maria had, we’re starting to lose some of the emotional stakes – this was a fun little story that zipped along nicely, but it ultimately felt inconsequential and lightweight. There’s always a place for that within a set of episodes, but I’m just concerned that Luke’s absence leaves too much of a hole.

Regardless, the main thing I’ll remember from this episode is the truly epic back-reference to Pyramids of Mars towards the start. One of those moments that would still have made sense to the kiddies, but that means so much more to the likes of us. It also explains why scientific developments in the real world are not always consistent with established facts from the Doctor Who universe – Sarah Jane and Mr Smith are there to cover everything up.

RATING: 7

SJA: The Nightmare Man

Aww. I’m slightly sad that I’m already on the last full series of The Sarah Jane Adventures, partly because of the awful reason behind it finishing, but also because I could happily watch more of it. It’s such a lovely show, plus it’s all new to me, and the shorter episodes are often more manageable than a full-length New Who episode if I’ve had a long day.

In retrospect, it feels like this story marks the beginning of the end, with Luke departing for university, despite the fact that he still only looks about fourteen. I had no idea he’d left before the end, and it means that Sarah Jane herself is the only original member of the gang left, aside from the odd alien supercomputer.

At least he had a decent send off, with a story that was structured like a Doctor Who two-parter, with the first half being one long set-up for the second. It spent a long time covering the character stuff before the plot kicked in, and it’s to its credit. After a brief introductory montage with an extremely green Slitheen to keep the kids interested, great care is taken to explore what Luke’s departure means for him and everybody else.

I remember my mum bawling her eyes out when she dropped me off at university, but at least we didn’t have to contend with Julian Bleach haunting our dreams. This is his third different villain across three different shows, and it’s a typically bonkers performance – basically Julian Bleach’s interpretation of The Joker. The nightmares he concocts ring so true to the fears we all face while growing up, and it keeps Luke front and centre by always having the scary bits interwoven with the domestic stuff, with each component of the story informing the other.

Then, much like the last Who story I watched, the first episode ends with one big event (in this case, the Nightmare Man crossing to the real world), before a full second episode devoted to the fall-out. Clyde and Rani are dragged into a dream world that features Sarah Jane as an old biddy, and Doon Mackichan as a newsreader. Obviously I was reminded of Collaterlie Sisters, and equally obviously I noted that the method used to escape the dream – simply imagining a door and walking through it – was also the method used to escape Better Than Life in the Red Dwarf novels.

Eventually, the monster is quite literally defeated by the power of friendship, which is a tad trite and perfunctory, but it kind of had to happen that way in order to resolve Luke’s anxieties, and allow him to leave with a smile on his face. However, I was not prepared for K-9 being packed off with him, which seemed very abrupt. While he featured slightly more than average, he didn’t get anywhere near the amount of focus and attention that Luke got. I know that’s fair enough – K-9’s only been in it for a relatively short time, and the kids are going to care much more about Luke – but me and that dog go back a long way, and I don’t feel we’ve got closure.

Mind you, I live in Ealing, and it’s about an hour away from Oxford by road, or you can even get a train directly from Ealing Broadway. They say they won’t see each other until Christmas, but Luke could come back every weekend if he wanted to. They’re all full of shit – they don’t actually care about each other after all.

RATING: 8