SJA: The Man Who Never Was

This was obviously never designed to be a series finale, and so naturally it’s not going to be as epic or climactic as you’d ideally want the last ever episode to be. It was fortunate that this supposedly mid-season story was chosen for an in-the-flesh appearance by Luke, with his meeting and bonding with his new little sister providing a full stop to that storyline, even if it was only originally intended to be a semi-colon. It’s also nice that someone other than Sarah Jane was in both the first and last episodes; people have come and gone over the years, but the show has always been, at its heart, the story of a mother and her son.

It’s only a shame that Rani’s mum wasn’t in this one, just so that Constable Habib could be reunited with Constable Goody. James Dreyfus was the main baddy in a story that did its originally intended purpose – a run-of-the-mill but entertaining mid-series romp – very well indeed. There was also a hologram who was basically Steve Jobs, right down to the assessment of his products as being “bog standard, they just look cool”.

While by no means a complicated plot, it did have a couple of nice little twists. You think it’s about someone trying to take over the world with evil technology, but it’s in fact just about someone trying to make money by selling the world shit technology. And the reveal that the hologram is being puppeteered by bumbling little aliens is brilliant – it’s even more like The Numbskulls than the Teselecter was.

Other than those guys, my highlight was a very rude joke for a kids’ show, when Clyde says he’s never been so relieved to see a full stop after receiving the message “grab Harrison’s pen”. Another theme of the episode that works serendipitously well for a finale is the shipping of “Clani”. Unlike Luke and Sky becoming friends, their story doesn’t remotely feel like its reached its conclusion yet, but it’s not hard to extrapolate what their future holds, even if Clyde and Ellie from the last story would have been my OTP.

It was a good story, but it was always leading to the sad inevitability of it coming to an end, taking the show with it. There were shades of Survival in the requirement of a voice-over to add a sense of finality, and no matter how clearly cobbled together than voice-over was, it really tugs at the heartstrings, as does the montage of clips from right across Sarah Jane’s 21st Century adventures. Inevitably, I cried, for the loss of Sarah Jane, for the loss of the show, but mostly – almost entirely – for the loss of Elisabeth Sladen, a woman who I never met but I somehow felt I knew.

The final caption allowed me a brief smile through the tears. “And the story goes on… forever”. Sarah Jane will never die. She’s still out there, saving the world and making it a better place in the process. It’s just that we won’t be able to witness it any more. I’m just so grateful that Russell decided she was the one to bring back in Series 2, and that he saw the potential for this wonderful spin-off. One of Doctor Who‘s greatest ever companions got a second lease of life, and Elisabeth Sladen took the opportunity to show us even more of what she could do. The Sarah Jane Adventures is a very special, very precious thing. But for now…

Goodbye, Sarah Jane Smith.

RATING: 8

SERIES AVERAGE RATING: 8

  • SJA series watched: 5 of 5
  • SJA stories watched: 27 of 27
  • Individual SJA episodes watched: 53 of 53
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SJA: Sky

Back to Bannerman Road for one final, sadly truncated, series of Sarah Jane Adventures. I’ll cherish these last six episodes, as I’m dreading the moment when these adventures come to a premature end. These are precious opportunities to see this brilliant character one last time, and the series kicks off with a particularly strong story for Elisabeth Sladen, thriving with big speeches about death and morality.

With Luke still only appearing via Skype, Sarah Jane’s role has been much less maternal than it was in the early days, and the gang are a member down, so it was high time for a new “companion”. This time it’s a lot less simple than a new family moving in, with shades of River Song in the way Sky was bred to be a killer. Also, her rapidly getting older within her first appearance was almost like an extreme twist on the way we were introduced to Amy Pond.

Even by the end of the episode, she’s still a lot younger than the other two kids, which promises for an interesting dynamic. All the young characters so far have been peers, but Sky seems even younger than they all were when they first appeared, let alone now. Her skipping straight to adolescence obviously gives her similar characteristics to a young Luke, but her constant “what is X?” questions started to get a little annoying even in the space of one episode. Her power of scrambling electronics with her mind could come in handy though.

Sky was of course central to the plot of her introductory episode, and I liked the backstory about the Fleshkind vs the Metalkind – a morally ambiguous conflict that gave Sarah Jane the opportunity for her aforementioned big speeches. There’s not many shows that would combine the shutting down of a nuclear reactor and a lesson about the colours of the spectrum to form its action-packed finale, but it feels like exactly the sort of thing a Doctor Who spin-off for kids should be doing. It was mightily convenient that the resultant reaction unexpectedly turned Sky into a normal girl, with absolutely no ill-effects, but ho hum.

I’m looking forward to seeing Sky become part of the team, but there’s a rather obvious shadow hanging over this series. It’s so sad; plans are being made, pieces put into place to be paid off later on, and then it all had to be cut short. There’s an intriguing bit at the end when Captain Parrot and the mysterious shopkeeper turn up again, and Sarah Jane says we’ll find out who they really are in good time. But I worry that we won’t, nor will we find out more about how Sky ended up here, or see her relationship with Sarah Jane really develop. It’s a constant nagging reminder that the end is nigh, and I really don’t want it to be.

RATING: 7

SJA: Goodbye, Sarah Jane Smith

I was apprehensive about watching an episode called Goodbye, Sarah Jane Smith, knowing that I’m going to have to say that for real after just three more stories, and I’m not looking forward to that one bit. I’ve really loved taking this opportunity to spend more time in Sarah Jane’s company, but I’m always aware in the back of my mind that it’s not going to end happily.

There’s been a few moments along the way that have felt sad in hindsight, but this was the first time that it hit me in a big way. The episode was pootling along beautifully, with an intriguing new character who could have been either a new friend or the guest villain, and it genuinely felt like it could go either way. Clyde was running around with a big gun, which seemed a little bit strong for CBBC, even after we found out that it was unfireable. And it was revealed that Mr Smith films everything that happens in the attic, which made me ponder whether the show we’re watching is put together by him, like in Trial of a Time Lord.

And then the worrying hints that something was amiss with Sarah Jane came to a head, and Mr Smith told her that she’s “very ill indeed”. And then I was sobbing, for reasons that are obvious to anyone reading this, but that couldn’t possibly have been foreseen when this episode was made. It’s a horrible, cruel coincidence that adds a tragic edge to proceedings and it’s difficult to overlook. Objectively, I can see that this stuff is well-judged and sensitively handled, but my emotional response is far more extreme than the episode intends to give me.

But as always with SJA, there’s so much more going on. Clyde and Rani’s grief at hearing Sarah Jane was “gone” set me off again during Part Two, but when they themselves were put in peril – especially Clyde, as his perilous situation was so extreme – it made me realise that I do care about those characters after all. I think their budding romance is sweet (although I was wrong with my prediction of a snog in the finale), and being put further into the spotlight has served them well in the end – as the series has gone on, they’ve become much easier to empathise with.

Inevitably Luke shows up for the finale, having gained a poncey scarf and a slightly disconcerting aggressive streak. For once, K-9 was also allowed to join the party, albeit only via Skype, but I was glad that he was the one who rallied the troops and kick-started the fightback. It was also nice to give him and Mr Smith a little bit of closure, with a cessation of hostilities and a newfound mutual respect. Speaking of talking computers, I only realised after seeing the credits that Mr White was voiced by Eddie Marsan! What a bizarrely famous choice to play such a tiny role, entirely in keeping with the show’s proud history.

There’s another sad note right at the end, as a rejuvenated Sarah Jane vows to carry on forever, which is obviously supposed to be a happy note. This neatly illustrates the difficulty in knowing what to take from this story, but regardless of anything else, it’s an exciting, funny, high-stakes thriller, and a great way to end to another brilliant series.

RATING: 8

SERIES AVERAGE RATING: 7.83

  • SJA series watched: 4 of 5
  • SJA stories watched: 24 of 27
  • Individual SJA episodes watched: 47 of 53

I’m feeling slightly gloomy now, due to thinking so much about Elisabeth Sladen, and realising how little of Sarah Jane I have left to watch. But hey – next up, it’s Christmas. Again.

SJA: Death of the Doctor

Oh, that was just incredible. I was expecting a huge nostalgia fest due to the presence of Jo Grant, and I got that and so much more. It felt like a huge love letter to the whole of the classic era, written by the man who loved it so much that he brought it back from the dead, made it the biggest show on TV and then, after handing over the reins of the main show, couldn’t resist using the also-hugely-successful spin-off to play with his favourite toys one last time.

As you’d expect from RTD, emotions are running high throughout, and I felt like I was constantly on the verge of tears for the whole of the first part. Obviously the Doctor wasn’t actually dead – apart from anything else, this would have been a very strange place to drop that particular bombshell – but it was hard to watch Sarah Jane going through that grief. The lines were deliberately blurred between her justifiable (and ultimately correct) suspicion of a conspiracy, and the suggestion that this was just denial as a coping mechanism.

Then you throw Jo Grant in to the mix, and oh man, you don’t realise how much you’ve missed her until you see her again. Age has not diminished her spirit and her radiance – quite remarkable considering she’s apparently had seven children, which makes you wonder how she had time to travel the world and change it as she went. Like Sarah Jane greeting her as an old friend despite them never having met before, you just want to give her a huge hug.

I said at the time that Jo was the first of a new type of companion, and there was no better candidate for someone to stand alongside Sarah Jane, occupying that same special place in people’s affections. It was wonderful to watch them bond, comparing notes on the Doctor and swapping anecdotes about Peladon. But there was a serious side too; I’d often wondered how other companions would have felt about the Doctor having post-departure adventures with Sarah Jane and not them, and that was addressed beautifully.

I’d have been more than happy with Katy Manning being the headline guest star – backed up by a future Doctor (sort of) voicing a giant space vulture – but then of course the real deal turns up, travelling via the body of a teenage boy. I was worried at first that it wouldn’t be as special as the last time, considering that Sarah Jane has no history with this particular Doctor. Jo being taken aback by his baby face was funny, but it reinforced the fact that this is the first time either of them have met him, and therefore they don’t have that special instant connection.

Within minutes of Part Two, these fears were proved to be completely unfounded, as Matt Smith rolled back the years with a performance that really sold the idea that this is completely the same man who appeared in flashbacks looking like Pertwee and Baker. The tears were flowing during his big chat with Jo, which revealed how much she’d longed to see him again, whilst simultaneously providing her with the closure she’s been waiting for. It also revealed that the Tenth Doctor did visit every single companion on his farewell tour after all, which is just wonderful.

This rare off-world trip for SJA was also one last hurrah for Jo and Sarah Jane, and it just felt so right to see them slip effortlessly back into those traditional companion roles. They give us wide-eyed wonder as they experience an alien planet, they help the Doctor solve every problem he’s faced with, and they even end up getting kidnapped and placed in mortal danger. The culmination of the plot is what tips us into a full on celebration of Classic Who, with the message being that Jo and Sarah Jane’s adventures were so awesome, the mere memory of them is enough to save the universe.

This then continues with an unprecedented amount of back-references to characters who were last seen decades before the target audience were born, and it’s honestly one of the most heart-warming things I’ve ever seen. We’d already heard that Liz Shaw now lives on the Moon, which was awesome enough, but I really love the idea that just about everyone who travels with the Doctor goes on to do incredible things; their lives vastly improved by having known him.

Tegan’s back in Australia fighting for Aboriginal rights, Ben and Polly set up an orphanage, Ace has raised billions for charity, and Harry – sadly discussed in the past tense – saved countless lives by curing diseases. But most of all, I’m so happy that Ian and Barbara got married, and that they’ll literally live happily ever after, having not aged since the 60s. This feels like a parting gift from Russell – he’d already given us so much joy, but he decided we deserved even more.

This was one of those episodes that really reminds you why you love Doctor Who so much. And it’s not even an episode of Doctor Who.

RATING: 10

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

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…

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

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 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