The Beast Below

Meanwhile in the TARDIS: The Series 5 DVD/Bluray contains a couple of additional scenes that slot in between episodes. The first is a prequel to The Beast Below, featuring more of Amy’s first experience of the TARDIS. She asks The Doctor all the obvious questions about how it works and why it’s like it is, which is exactly what Bill does in the first few episodes of Series 10. It ends with The Doctor chucking her out the front door, which is a lot more alarming that the serene spacewalk depicted in the episode proper.

* I wonder if everyone on Starship UK lives in the sector that corresponds to where they lived in the actual UK. Scotland managed to successfully secede to their own ship, so that’s good news for IndyRef206 in the 29th Century. I like the aesthetic of Starship UK, with familiar design elements in new and unsettling contexts, particularly the old style BBC graphics in the voting booth videos. Incidentally, from the picture above, it’s nice to see that Jeremy Corbyn still has a role to play in British politics in eight hundred years’ time.

* Bloody hell, it’s The Demon Headmaster! I’d forgotten he’d been in Doctor Who, which emphasises how minor his role is. The show is attracting some incredible guest stars these days, but it feels like a wasted opportunity when they’re given so little to do. It’s not like the 60s any more, when you could have someone back a couple of months later playing a different character, so it’s a shame to squander the good ones.

* Amy is not by any means a conventional companion. Not only is she out in her nightie and dressing gown, she takes to travelling like a duck to perfectly still water. The Doctor sends her out on her own on her very first trip, and instead of being scared by the Smilers or the intimidating keep out signs, she steams ahead and starts to explore. After the first episode was largely dedicated to establishing the new Doctor’s character, this is Amy’s turn.

* This is one of those stories that relies heavily on the element of surprise, and so it does suffer a bit on repeated viewing. To be fair, Starship UK’s big secret is largely given away by the title of the episode, but I remember the reveal of Liz 10’s identity being a big moment. I very much like this predicted development for the Royal Family and it does make sense – they have changed over the generations, just not as quickly as the rest of us, so naturally, eight hundred years in the future, they’re only just catching up with us.

* When the big secret is officially unveiled, we’re told that most of the other countries had escaped Earth, and the UK was left behind, stranded. But why couldn’t the UK do whatever it was that all the other countries did to escape? It’s bloody Brexit, isn’t it? Eight hundred years later, we’ve completely isolated ourselves from the entire world, in the reckless pursuit of self-determination, even when the only choice on offer is between ignorance and death.

* Nevertheless, it’s great that Amy gets to saves the day, even if the constant repetition of information we’d just been told was a little excessive. The point is that on her very first trip, she has the balls to take control of the situation, make a decision on the best course of action, and make it happen completely independently of The Doctor. She can do this because she already knows him so well, which makes sense considering she’s hero-worshipped him for virtually her entire life. She genuinely is like no companion that’s come before, and it’s a really exciting new dynamic.

* Of course Winston Churchill turns up at the end. I like it when the adventures are linked in some way, a practice which harks back to the very earliest of the show’s early days.

RATING: 8

The Eleventh Hour

* This is hands down one of my favourite episodes ever. I have such fond memories of its debut – a big group of us all watching together for the first time in ages, and it was one of the last times as it happens, as work and families and geography started getting in the way. It was such a joyous occasion, not just because the episode was amazing, but because it was such a relief. I remember having serious reservations about both Matt and Karen – he was so young and she just didn’t seem to fit with him. It didn’t take me long to realise my fears were completely unfounded.

* I’m not a fan of the new theme tune – the extra elements at the start drown out the bassline, which takes it too far away from the spirit of the original. The new title sequence isn’t too bad; it’s a nice evolution of the previous one, rather than unnecessarily reinventing the wheel, but the effects haven’t aged particularly well, considering it’s only been seven years. Knowing how that version of the logo developed over time, it now seems weird to see the big “DW” thing in the middle, but I must admit I like how it animates into the TARDIS here. But the middle eight has gone from the end theme. Boo.

* I adore little Amelia Pond, and I adore that Moffat found an entirely new way of introducing a companion. It’s such a mission statement for the new regime – funny, clever, a hint of menace, and a timey-wimey twist at its heart. It’s exactly what you want from Moffat’s Who. And then the sight of her sitting on her suitcase, just waiting, is heartbreaking.

* What. A. Guest. Cast. Nina Wadia! Olivia Colman! Perry Benson! Annette Crosbie! Patrick Moore, the one-eyed right-wing astronomer! All of these people (apart from the last one) deserve to have had much more substantial roles in Doctor Who. It’s absolutely inconceivable now that you’d cast an actor of Olivia Colman’s caliber in such a tiny part.

* New additions to the list of things that Moffat wants to make children scared of: cracks in the wall, and literally anything that’s in the corner of your eye.

* Despite my love for this episode, I barely remembered anything about Prisoner Zero or the Atraxi. You’d have thought the godawful CGI would have stuck in my mind. But the story is so much about The Eleventh Doctor, Amy and their relationship that nothing else is important – the plot itself is just there to give them something to do while they get to know each other.

* In fact, it’s easy to forget that this episode actually introduces two companions, although Rory is still some distance away from reaching that status yet. He’s much more of a prat at this stage than he’d later become, but he plays the role he was given well. He’s already streaks ahead of Mickey when he was merely the slightly pathetic boyfriend; his insecurity about The Doctor describing Jeff as “the good looking one” tells us so much about his and Amy’s relationship.

* The Doctor finding his new outfit is a fine and noble tradition, and I had a huge grin on my face throughout the Atraxi showdown, which was essentially both The Doctor and Steven Moffat showing off and telling everyone to stay tuned. I obviously loved all the old footage, which included a glimpse of a Sea Devil, of all things. And then stepping through Tennant’s face to reveal the finished article – The Eleventh Doctor in full outfit, complete with bow tie. Perfection.

* I also love how The Doctor is so excited to see the new TARDIS interior. The episode seems to suggest that it regenerates too, and that you never know what you’re going to get when that happens, just like with a Time Lord. Crucially, we don’t see it until Amy does, confirming her position as the new focal point for the audience. Overall, I preferred the aesthetic of the previous one, but I do like all the weird and wonderful gadgets that make up the controls. The Doctor is a mad man in an equally mad box.

* Favourite lines that I’d previously forgotten: “You’re Scottish, fry something.” / “Carrots? Are you insane?” / “They’re all terrified of wood.” / “I’m the Doctor, I’m worse than everybody’s aunt.” Other comedic highlights include The Doctor making an old woman’s mobility scooter whizz off on its own, and the inclusion in a list of prominent social networks of Bebo.

RATING: 10

The End of Time

* Of all the one-off companions The Doctor has ever had, Wilfred is by far the best. He’s initially the focus of this epic story; we’re introduced to it through him, and his band of alien-hunting pensioners. How refreshing to have an older man fulfilling the traditional companion role, and for him to prove so worthy of the position – he dives in feet first, his deep love for The Doctor matching that of the audience.

* It’s a bit weird that, from The Doctor’s perspective, this doesn’t carry straight on from The Waters of Mars. It rather undermines the seriousness of that story’s climax; instead of carrying the weight of his huge mistake and his impending death, he swans in fresh from his holidays and boasts about shagging Queen Elizabeth.

* I’d forgotten exactly what Lucy Saxon’s role was in The Master’s resurrection. I’d seemed to recall that she was complicit in the plan – shooting him so that she could then retrieve the ring – but I must have been remembering my theory from beforehand, rather than the actual episode. Turns out that she’d just been caught up in all of it, and in fact managed to throw a spanner in the works right at the crucial moment.

*  Unfortunately, I’m not keen on the effects of her spanner. The whole concept of the resurrection was a very TVM-esque interpretation of The Master as some sort of irrepressible form of energy, rather than mere flesh and blood. I’m not quite on board with this – he’s more scary if he’s just an evil version of The Doctor, not if he’s shooting lightning bolts from his hands and flying about like a comic book villain. I’m not sure why the trauma has made him blonde either.

* Today’s “oh, it’s them!” watch: David Harewood! In a surprisingly small role for someone of his pedigree. June Whitfield! Her and Cribbins are totally at it. The woman werewolf from Being Human! I had to look her up, because I knew I recognised her from something but couldn’t place what. In my defence, she spent most of the episode disguised as a cactus.

* “President Obama has promised to end the recession”. This was less than eight years ago, but wow, the world truly was a different place, back when we had: a) a President who people around the world respected; and b) so few problems that one single action could make a tangible difference.

* It’s not very festive, is it? Other than the odd bit of tinsel, the only major concession to Christmas is The Master devouring a giant turkey. That’s about it until Part One ends with the words: “And so it came to pass, on Christmas Day, that the human race did cease to exist”. Well, Merry fucking Christmas to you too, James Bond.

* The Master making everyone into copies of himself is basically what happens in The Empty Child, but with an evil genius instead of an innocent boy. Honestly, it’s Simm City out there. With nearly seven billion clones milling about, it’s a good job the original Master seems to be in control of them – I’d have thought they’d all want to be in charge, bickering over who got to show off in front of The Doctor and who had to do the minor admin. It’d be like the Red Dwarf episode Me2, except they’d have to call it Me6.8billion.

* Considering all the epic stuff that’s going on, with The Master victorious and bloody Rassilon turning up with his special glove, the first time I felt moved was when Wilfred tearfully told The Doctor he didn’t want him to die. He’s so sweet, and his presence raises the stakes even further – we know that Doctors die all the time, so can be blasé about it, but I don’t want Wilf to lose his Doctor.

* Although let’s face it, how the fuck does he survive jumping from a spaceship and falling face first through a glass ceiling? That should have been it – Tennant dead and buried before the Time Lords even arrive.

* There’s certainly a hell of a lot going on here, but it’s hard to see what the point of anything of it is, other than it all being a prelude to The Doctor’s death. The Master being back was a big threat, but Rasillon undoes everything he’d done within seconds, so that’s all sorted. So therefore the Time Lords are now the big epic thing, but they turn up far too late in the day to really make their presence felt – we were told how dangerous they were without ever experiencing it ourselves. And then they’re dealt with in five minutes. Those five minutes are good, and it’s nice to see The Master getting some element of redemption, but it’s all very hasty.

* And so it comes to pass that what finally fells the Tenth Doctor is none of these things. He emerges unscathed, and the ultimate irony is that it’s poor old Wilf that inadvertently brings him down. That’s a lovely twist, but don’t be angry at Wilf about it, you prick. He was only in danger because he saved someone else, plus you can regenerate and he can’t. This attitude left a bitter aftertaste to the Tenth Doctor’s era – I hadn’t remembered until now, but my dislike for him towards the end has clouded my view of this incarnation.

* Then of course, there’s the famous farewell tour. First up, Martha, who’s left UNIT, dumped her fiance and married Mickey. That’s quite strange; I wouldn’t have pictured them as a couple, and I hope they weren’t put together just because they have one thing in common. I like how The Doctor saves their lives, then does the same for Luke, but that his gift for Jack is to get him laid. He knows him so well.

* I’ve always wondered why he tracks down Joan’s great-granddaughter, rather than going back and just visiting her himself. But I guess it would be a bit traumatic for her if he suddenly rocked up again, plus “Verity Newman” is a lovely touch. It’s sweet that he wants to make sure Joan was happy, and I found it quite touching this time round. Although obviously not as touching as when Cribbins cries again, and therefore I cry again.

* The bit with Rose is really nice, but it would have been infinitely better had she not reappeared in Series 4, so that a distant glimpse at a woman who doesn’t know him was the closest The Doctor got to seeing her again. In fact, that’s true of the whole sequence – it would have had so much impact if Journey’s End hadn’t have happened, and it still baffles me that the big multi-companion reunion wasn’t Tennant’s swansong.

* God, he doesn’t half make a fuss about regenerating this time, doesn’t he? The Universe itself sings him on his way, which seems a bit excessive when past regenerations have been about as ceremonious as getting a bump on the head whilst wearing a blonde fuzzy wig. It doesn’t really seem to be in the spirit of the show by making such a big fuss about one particular Doctor and one particular showrunner leaving – the console room being destroyed and “I don’t want to go” make everything seem so final, which could have really undermined the incoming regime.

* Mind you, we did see much more of the new Doctor than we normally do. I remember being distinctly unsure about Matt Smith at the time, but now with the power of hindsight, it feels like a baton being passed from a good Doctor to an even better one. But that’s another story…

RATING: 8

So it’s the end of an era – my era, in fact, considering I only became a fan thanks to Russell bringing the show back. It wasn’t without its flaws – looking back, I think the constant desire to make everything exponentially bigger and better began to harm the show towards the end – but I’ll always be incredibly fond of Russell’s work on the show, and indeed incredibly grateful. It was the first version of Doctor Who that I fell in love with, and twelve years later, I can barely remember what it was like to not love Doctor Who.

Technically speaking, this isn’t the end of a series, but I feel like I should do one of these anyway:

SPECIALS AVERAGE RATING: 7.5

  • Seasons/Series watched: Still 30 of 36
  • Stories watched: 202 of 275
  • Individual episodes watched: 756 of 839

It’s taken ages to get through these specials, what with all the spin-offs in between, so I’m really looking forward to having a nice regular series coming up next. I’m about to start the show’s current era, and I hope I can squeeze it all in before it’s no longer the current era…

Dreamland

I’d never seen this curio before, and having finally caught up after eight years, I don’t feel like I’ve been missing out. With the cartoon-y art style rendered in clunky CGI, it felt like I was watching someone else play a computer game. The structure added to this, with the action jumping from place to place every six minutes, featuring such stock levels as the escape from an underground base, the flying saucer chase and the abandoned mine cart.

Luckily the setting was pretty good – I can’t believe it’s taken the show this long to visit Area 51 – and it was fun to hang around with the actual Roswell aliens. But frustratingly, the premise wasn’t done justice by the plot, which had plenty of good ideas but very little drama. It relied too heavily on scenes ending with one of the various baddies turning up unexpectedly, and it seemed like this was the only method used for moving the plot forward.

It also resorted to borrowing a lot of its imagery from elsewhere in popular culture. I’ll forgive the Men In Black, as they’re a phenomenon that predate Men In Black, but the discovery a giant alien queen and her eggs was extremely familiar. They might have got away with it had The Doctor not directly name-checked Aliens five minutes earlier. Then there was the big warehouse full of alien artifacts in crates, from which – just to further add to the video game vibe – The Doctor escapes by sneaking around in an upturned box, like he’s Solid Snake.

(Incidentally, the Cold War Americana setting really reminded me of The Impossible Astronaut, which was still a couple of years away. I bet there’s fan fiction that says the diner in this is Clara’s TARDIS.)

The most disappointing aspect was the two one-off companions, neither of whom had anything approaching a distinctive character – they were purely there as plot devices and nothing more. One was Georgia Moffett, sounding a lot like her mum, whereas the other guy just sounded like he was reading each line off a card one-by-one. There was no shortage of talent in the voice cast – although I didn’t notice until the credits that among them were spin-off legend Lisa Bowerman and Lester Freamon from The Wire – but several flat and dreary performances.

On the plus side, Tennant is pretty good, certainly the most confident of the performances on display. Which as just as well, seeing as by the time this weekend is out, I’ll have reached the end of his tenure…

RATING: 5

Today saw the sad news about Deborah Watling. She starred in a run of truly excellent stories, and was part of an iconic TARDIS team. In amongst the sadness, I was pleased to see this clip from Tomb of the Cybermen shared widely on social media; it stood out to me at the time as being particularly special, and it seems more poignant than ever now that neither of the actors are still with us. RIP.

SJA: The Gift

We start the big series finale with the gang chasing a fat lad through an industrial estate, an unmistakable sign that the Slitheen are back once again. They’re starting to become synonymous with the show, and while I don’t completely hate them, it’s a bit of a shame that they feel the need to keep bringing them back. There seemed to be a higher concentration of fart jokes too, even when the various Raxacoricofallapatorians were naked and thus not using the gas exchange thingy.

But at least there was a big variation on the theme, with the main Raxacoricofallapatorians in question being the Blathereen, voiced, quite remarkably, by Miriam Margolyes and Simon Callow. It’s a shame that they only appeared in voice over, but even so, bloody hell, they’ve got a great casting director to consistently attract such talent on what is presumably a flimsy budget.

I was obviously expecting the Blathereen to turn out to be evil, but even so I was slightly disappointed that they did. Even after their friendly gift had put Luke in a coma, I was giving them the benefit of the doubt, that maybe they didn’t know the Rakweed would be dangerous, and it had mutated unexpectedly due to something in the Earth’s atmosphere or some such. Instead, they turn out to just be a palette-swapped version of the Slitheen, which makes the previous indications that this would be a unique twist seem like red herrings.

Still, the Rakweed itself was a surprisingly effective threat, and the scale was suitably epic for the end of a season. It was great to see K-9 take a much bigger role than we’re used to. Not only did him and Mr Smith resume snark-based hostilities, but I loved the unintentionally hilarious juxtaposition of cutting between Sarah Jane desperately trying to save her terminally ill son, and the comedic caper of Clyde sneaking K-9 into school in order to cheat on a science test.

More bizarre juxtaposition was used – in a way that seemed much more deliberate – in the climax, where Sarah Jane tries to appeal to the Blathereen’s better nature. After all, they were only doing this to fuel their debilitating addiction of Rakweed, like a vegetarian version of The 456. Sadly, it all ends in violence, as Mr Smith plays them the ultimate brown noise, the Blathereen literally fart themselves to death, and Sarah Jane is left guiltily contemplating that “there should have been another way”

…all while her, the kids, the two supercomputers and indeed the entire attic are dripping with tomato-soup-esque Raxacoricofallapatorian guts. That’s what I love about The Sarah Jane Adventures – it sometimes retreads old ground, and it sometimes struggles to match its ambitions, but throughout it all it’s so much fun. It’s a thing of absolute joy.

One last thing, however. Nothing much to do with this episode per se, but something that’s only just occurred to me. Every time you see a child Slitheen disguised as a human, that means an actual child has been murdered and skinned. What is this, Sarah Jane or Torchwood?

RATING: 8

SERIES AVERAGE RATING: 7.33

  • SJA series watched: 3 of 5
  • SJA stories watched: 18 of 27
  • Individual SJA episodes watched: 35 of 53

The Waters of Mars

* Yes, sorry, I’m back. Luckily nothing major has happened in the world of Doctor Who since I’ve been away, right? I’m returning with a story that features an accomplished female space adventurer, and it’s one that is largely overlooked in the pantheon of great episodes, but it really is a corker.

* Gemma Chan! Playing someone called Mia, no less. This is a really early role for her, which makes this the equivalent of when the likes of Martin Clunes or Gail Platt turned up in the classic series. And yet it still feels so recent. I am getting old.

* “Bowie Base One” was a lovely touch back in 2009, but even more so now. It’s a great setting – this is basically a celebrity historical, but with celebrities from our future. Clever too that fictional events can be fixed points in time, as well as ones from Earth’s real-life past – it means you can explore what happens when The Doctor interferes with “history”, without any danger of affecting the present.

* I’d completely forgotten about Gadget! He’s adorable. As with Series 4, I haven’t revisited this period of the show very much in the intervening years – in fact, there’s probably only a handful of episodes from now on that I’ve seen more than once. It’s fun that this rewatch still has the ability to surprise me, even though it is simply down to my own terrible memory.

* Lindsay Duncan is a much better one-off companion than Michelle Ryan was (which seems like ages ago now, considering it was only the previous episode). Mind you, this is far from the traditional companion role – Adelaide isn’t there to assist The Doctor, it’s her that’s in charge of him. She’s lived her best life and achieved so much more than most of the characters we usually meet, and she happens to be utterly brilliant too.

* The Flood are a cheap monster, but an effective one. It’s RTD and/or Phil Ford doing for water what Moffat has done for statues and shadows. Compare “just one drop” to “don’t blink”. Of course, people being piss wet through with gushing water now reminds me of Bill and her soggy girlfriend.

* I love the sequence with young Adelaide and the Dalek. Seeing previous adventures from different perspectives is something I associate with Moffat’s era, but RTD has beaten him to it a fair few times. The Dalek spared her because of her historical significance, which means they have more respect for the laws of time and space than The Doctor has at this stage. At least he eventually tells Adelaide exactly what he knows about her and the fate of the base, unlike most people who know the future.

* The Doctor does a bad thing, but you can see why, and in fact you’re urging him to save the day while all his instincts are telling him to walk away. It’s only when it works, when he gets cocky and declares himself Time Lord Victorious, that you realise he’s gone too far; significantly, this is before The Doctor himself realises this, which makes him the bad guy in the story, albeit briefly. He robs Adelaide of her destiny, but she takes it back with one single, devastating action. It’s so powerful. This is a great story.

RATING: 9

SJA: Mona Lisa’s Revenge

This was completely batshit, but in a good way. The Mona Lisa has never struck me as somebody who was particularly in need of revenge, but then I do share Luke’s lack of certainty as to why it’s considered so much more beautiful than all other paintings. With Luke, you can blame the fact he was created in a lab, but I’m afraid I’m just a philistine. Besides, it’s probably a fake anyway.

It’s becoming clear that this series is beset with a few limitations – it’s possible that they’re being too ambitious, but then that’s to be applauded. It’s a shame that in this story they couldn’t afford to show us the big monster that they’d spent all episode building up, and it feels like there’s a slightly higher ratio of cheaper episodes to balance out the big blockbusters this time round.

Luckily, the show usually gets around these limitations quite well, often in surprising ways. There’s hardly any Sarah Jane in this one, but her absence isn’t too conspicuous because it was inevitable that *someone* was going to get trapped in a painting. By the way, I’m assuming that the police officers were all trapped in Constables, am I right? Is this thing on?

Similarly, it’s bullshit that K-9 has once again been left out of the action, with Sarah Jane’s explanation that he’s not allowed out until Luke tidies his room being right up there with all those hastily-written excuses from Tom Baker’s days. But at least they found a way to get him involved at the climax, thanks to Clyde’s sketchbook containing Chekhov’s drawing of a robot dog.

And the one thing they’re not scrimping on this series is guest stars. Not only do we have George from Drop The Dead Donkey as the curator, Mona Lisa herself is none other than Suranne Jones, although I wasn’t sure it was her at first due to the slightly freaky lack of eyebrows. It’s a very northern portrayal of the Mona Lisa, with some rather eccentric and cartoonish tendencies, but a great deal of fun. Not quite hitting the heights of her later performance as an anthropomorphised objet d’art in Doctor Who, but nevertheless well suited to the purpose.

Finally, I wasn’t sure what to make of Miss Trupp, a somewhat stereotypical frumpy middle-aged spinster, desperately in love with her boss who barely notices she exists. A story we’ve all seen thousands of times before, and one which hardly does much to challenge the patriarchy. But once again my expectations were confounded when, after the man finally realises he’s in love with her too, she calls him a creep and tells him to get stuffed. Go on, Miss Trupp.

Actually, one more thing: why did BBC News send Entertainment Correspondent Lizo Mzimba along to cover an art theft?

RATING: 7

This series of Sarah Jane Adventures is not yet over, but as I’m going through all of this in as precise a chronological order as possible, it’s the traditional mid-November Doctor Who special next. Irritatingly, it might be a while before I find time to watch it, due to work and social commitments, but hopefully not too long. After all, I figured out the other day that if I stick to the current pace, I’ll be up-to-date by around Christmas, and that would work out very nicely…

SJA: The Eternity Trap

This is just bloody typical. K-9 turns up and is awesome, and then for the next story he’s left at home. Forty years of this shit. But not only that, Luke was left at home too, and we didn’t see hide nor hair of Mr Smith. It was weird that there wasn’t so much as a cutaway or a bookend featuring them, and also that, no offence to Clyde and Rani, apart from Sarah Jane herself, they elected to make an episode without any of the best characters.

Naturally this felt like a bit of a disappointment after the show hit new heights last time. It wasn’t that it was bad necessarily, more that it lacked anything particularly special. The haunted house is such a standard setting that it seemed rather by the numbers – a succession of stock scares that we’ve seen dozens of times before, including such cliches as the creepy toy room, books flying off the shelves, doors slamming, a stuck record, a secret passage behind a bookcase and creepy children down the end of a corridor. Although the self-playing snooker table was a nice touch.

One thing that it did have in its favour was none other than Donald Sumpter, another very big name for a CBBC show. He was having a lovely time camping it up and being daft, but it did feel like he wasn’t quite taking it seriously enough towards the end. Maybe it’s because he went on to be Rassilon very briefly, but I thought his character would turn out to be a rogue Time Lord. He had a home-made inter-dimensional device in a cellar and a face that hasn’t changed in 300 years, but then I remembered that the Time Lords are all supposed to be completely dead at this stage.

Elsewhere in the guest cast, Floella Benjamin is back as a part-time companion of sorts, for some reason. That’s all well and good, but her assistant is absolutely woeful. I spent most of the first part worrying about how I was going to approach this write-up, because I wasn’t sure whether he had something wrong with him or if he’s just shit. Thankfully, having looked him up and seen he’s just a normal man who’s gone on to have a half-decent career, it’s the latter, so I can take the piss. He’s *dreadful*. He sounds like Bob Mortimer’s impression of Harry Kane from Athletico Mince.

RATING: 5

SJA: The Wedding of Sarah Jane Smith

Wow. That was very special indeed, and not just because of the very special guest star. The annual Trickster episodes have always been the highlight of each series so far, and this is no exception – it’s quite easily the very best Sarah Jane story I’ve seen. It seems that at this particular period, the spin-offs were in better form than the main show.

It’s such a joy to have K-9 joining the gang properly that it’s hard not to rue the fact he wasn’t there from the beginning. Not only does he provide so many great moments on his own – such as when he’s trying to be inconspicuous by saying “do not look at me, everything is normal” – but he also improves Mr Smith immeasurably. You’d think that having two supercomputers around would make one of them redundant, but it turns out that giving each of them just half of the exposition to cover leaves them both free to fill the gaps with humour.

This episode is proper laugh-out-loud funny, and I could listen to John Leeson and Alexander Armstrong exchange insults all day. K-9 criticising Mr Smith for being too opinionated, the pair of them accidentally dobbing the kids in for spying on Sarah Jane, Mr Smith getting insecure about there being “no need to consult the dog”. Absolutely marvellous. Plus, K-9 now has an as-yet-unseen hover mode to negotiate the stairs in and out of the attic. I fucking love K-9.

While I’d have been happy with the show turning into a full-on supercomputer sitcom, this episode also had Nigel bloody Havers! He’s such a smooth bastard, and a great coup for the show. He’s so irresistibly charming that you really root for Sarah Jane and Peter as a couple, even though it’s perfectly clear throughout that something’s not right. This show has so much heart, from the way Sarah Jane slowly allows herself to fall in love, to her continually lovely relationship with Luke.

And I haven’t even mentioned the headline act yet. It’s a superb entrance from The Doctor at the end of Part One – let’s face it, that particular moment in the wedding ceremony was designed for people like him – and it’s exciting to see him running around with Luke, Clyde and Rani. It’s a shame that there wasn’t more of him and Sarah Jane together, but you can’t have everything; it felt like Tennant wasn’t available for more than a couple of days, with his scenes being relatively simple and self-contained.

But it really didn’t matter; it’s a testament to the quality of the story that the presence of the greatest hero in television history wasn’t really the main attraction. What Sarah Jane and Peter have to do to defeat The Trickster is so sad, partly down to the gravitas and style that Havers brings to proceedings, and also because I love Sarah Jane so much that I can’t bear the thought of her going through so much pain.

(Incidentally, it’s just occurred to me that The Trickster’s thing about needing consent in order to bring his chaos makes him very similar to the Monks from Who Series Ten. Only better.)

The moment that finally made me cry, however, wasn’t intended to be a sad one. It was The Doctor’s latest goodbye to Sarah Jane, with him talking about the things she’ll do that are still to come. I’ve been thinking a lot about Elisabeth Sladen recently, and how tragic it was that she was taken from us just when she was back where she belonged. This just brought it home – she was still so young, and had so much more to give.

A bittersweet experience then, but make no mistake that this has got absolutely everything you want from a Doctor Who-based story: laughs, twists, timey-wimey stuff, a great villain, heartbreak, K-9, back-references to Metebelis III and The Key to Time, and even The Doctor himself. Never mind the fact that it’s from a spin-off – this is simply solid Doctor Who.

RATING: 10

SJA: The Mad Woman in the Attic

I’m glad that I stopped watching Sarah Jane when it was originally on, simply because it’s a joy to have something completely fresh to watch at this stage of the project. Surprises have been short on the ground of late, and this story’s first one was that the eponymous mad woman isn’t Sarah Jane herself.

Instead it’s a timely opportunity for Rani to take centre stage, as she’s been slightly peripheral since settling in so quickly. It’s a shame that the future Rani was played by an older actress, rather than sticking Anjli Mohindra in make-up and giving her the chance to really try something different. Her anxieties about the gang not treating her with the same respect as Maria are reasonable, although I did feel she got let off rather lightly on the whole “telling some kid absolutely everything about your secret double life” thing.

Eve was an interesting alien – one of those morally ambiguous ones I like, where they’re doing bad things but have innocent intentions. She’s a victim of the Time War, and you know I’m also a fan of exploring the consequences of The Doctor’s actions, and of those occasions where things that happen in the main show have an impact on the spin-offs.

The story kept you guessing about the nature of what we were seeing of Rani’s future. Was it a cautionary tale about what would happen if she didn’t improve her relationship with the others, or was it something that the aliens were actively making happen? In the end, it was down to a misunderstanding on the part of Ship, the evil face in the mirror that was revealed to be essentially a slightly malevolent Holly. This was a pretty satisfying reveal, although I did totally call it from the way Rani said “I wish” in a way that was almost asking to be taken literally.

Less satisfying was the fact that it was all reversed within a minute or so of this revelation, but that wasn’t important at this stage, because we’d just had the second big surprise: K-9 is back! And for good this time, having successfully completed his mission to piss about with a black hole / unsuccessfully completed his unofficial Australian spin-off. We didn’t get to see much of him initially – although it was all worth it for Mr Smith’s sarcastic “oh good” on his return – but it’ll be interesting to see how the SJA team handle the same logistical and storytelling challenges that the DW team faced in the 70s.

It all ended with Eve going off on adventures new, alongside Rani’s best mate (with whom she’ll one day have a mixed-species son), the old man from the fairground and their wacky on-board computer. If Big Finish ever run out of spin-offs, there’s a sitcom right there. The revelation that the lad from the future is Sam’s son explains why the two of them look so alike, but not why they both look so similar to Luke. There must have been a fashion for teenage boys to all have the same big emo hair in 2009.

One more thing: with the silly intro and a particularly lengthy “previously” recap, episode two didn’t actually start until two minutes and 30 seconds in. This is ridiculous, although pretty much the first thing you see is footage of Sarah Jane with Pertwee and Baker, so all is forgiven.

RATING: 8