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: The Curse of Clyde Langer

As the end of Sarah Jane’s Adventures grows ever nearer, the penultimate story proves that the show was still in its prime when it came to a premature end. And to think it all started with that strange incident in 21st century Ealing when it rained herring. Where’s a hungry humanoid cat when you need one?

Without me really noticing, Clyde has slowly developed into a really strong character, and Daniel Anthony carries the episode exceptionally well. He’s more than capable of handling a much more emotional performance than we’re used to, and of showing a different side to Clyde: alone, vulnerable and scared. The amount of shit that’s heaped on the poor boy is off the scale, and it’s the type of psychological terror that SJA excels in.

His only ally is a friendly homeless girl called Ellie. When we first meet her, as Clyde hands her some change outside the museum, I assumed it was just there to emphasise his niceness, and that his little speech to Sky about how it’s not her fault that she’s on the streets was a very good message for the kids at home. But it turns out that virtually the whole of the second part is dedicated to really exploring homelessness as a social issue. It goes much further to address a real world problem than the show’s ever gone before, and it feels like it could have been a whole new direction had the series continued.

While Ellie is a remarkably clean character, both literally and metaphorically, there are hints of much darker and more adult issues in her life. It’s never spelled out to the extent that it would cause awkward questions for parents to answer, but it’s heavily implied that she’s the victim of abuse, both as the cause and result of her homelessness. It creates a sinister undercurrent to the mood, which feels more real and relevant than any alien threat. The show never shies away from the harsh reality of life on the streets, and it deserves a lot of credit for the respect this shows to its viewership.

The sci-fi element to the plot is really just a backdrop – an elaborate set-up that exists merely to allow the Clyde and Ellie relationship to play out. It comes to a head when Sky saves the day by figuring out how the curse works; it’s a handy way of proving her usefulness, but it does strike you as convenient that the curse doesn’t affect her. Presumably it’s because she’s not human, but I don’t think this is ever clarified.

The lifting of the curse provides a moment of joy, but it’s balanced out by the agony that it unintentionally causes. Maybe I’m tired and a bit hungover still, but man, it broke my heart that Ellie thought Clyde had abandoned her, after their blossoming romance was so lovely. It’s a really melancholic ending, which feels so unusual for children’s drama, but it’s something that the very best examples of the genre can pull off. And The Sarah Jane Adventures is undoubtedly one of the greats.

But hey, given that Sarah Jane carried on her life off-screen, we can assume that everyone else did too, and so who’s to say that Clyde and Ellie didn’t find each other again at some point in the last few years? It’s so sad that we’ll never find out, and it’s even more sad that the very next serial is the very last. It’ll take me a few days to get round to it now, thanks to my other, much more elaborate sci-fi fandom project, but I’m already bracing myself for tears.

RATING: 9

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