SJA Series 2 (Mar 27 - Apr 1, Apr 3)

March 27: The Last Sontaran Parts One & Two
March 28: The Day of the Clown Parts One & Two
March 29: Secrets of the Stars Parts One & Two
March 30: The Mark of the Berserker Parts One & Two
March 31: The Temptation of Sarah Jane Smith Parts One & Two
April 1: Enemy of the Bane Parts One & Two
April 3: Comic Relief Special ["From Raxacoricofallapatorius with Love"]

March 27: The Last Sontaran Parts One & Two

Other than the major cast upheaval at the end of Part Two, the opening story of The Sarah Jane Adventures series 2 is pretty much business as usual.  This is a sort-of sequel to "The Sontaran Stratagem" / "The Poison Sky" from series 4 of Doctor Who, with Commander Kaagh explicitly being the only Sontaran survivor from the events of that story.  Kaagh wants to destroy the planet in order to avenge the destruction of the Tenth Sontaran Battlefleet, and it's up to Sarah Jane and company to stop him.

But as I said, this is largely business as usual.  We get a lot of running around a forest, avoiding Kaagh while also trying to foil his plan of crashing a whole bunch of satellites into nuclear power plants and thus turning Earth into "a cinder floating in space" (and I'm willing to bet this is a deliberate reference to one of William Hartnell's more infamous fluffs, from The Chase -- Phil Ford knows his stuff).  Part one is probably the better of the two, because we actually discover things and get some mystery.  (Even if they decide to keep the identity of the alien villain a mystery for a bit, with some sort of invisibility field and a couple of shots of just hands -- thus keeping alive the grand old Who tradition of holding back the first appearance of the monster named in the episode's title.)  There are floating balls of light and some sort of invisible creature causing problems for an isolated radio telescope father-and-daughter combination, and when we do finally see Kaagh revealed we get some entertaining exposition about what he's doing, as well as a couple references to Sarah Jane's time on Doctor Who (including Kaagh's desire to perform experiments on Clyde -- see The Sontaran Experiment if you need reminding).  Part two, on the other hand, is essentially an extended chase sequence.  Who Kaagh is chasing and where varies from sequence to sequence, but we're still just watching them scramble around, while Kaagh goes after one group or the other, as they try to stop his plan.

Luke, Clyde, Maria, and Sarah Jane are confronted by Commander
Kaagh. (The Last Sontaran Part One) ©BBC
But where this episode succeeds is in the character moments. Anthony O'Donnell does a great job as Kaagh, trying to erase the disgrace of an entire Sontaran Battlefleet having been defeated by a single man.  Meanwhile, Yasmin Paige gives a great performance as the conflicted Maria, who wants to go to America with her dad but is still sad about leaving her friends behind.  And Joseph Millson and Juliet Cowan are really quite lovely as Alan and Chrissie; it's especially nice to see Chrissie matter-of-factly accepting the existence of aliens and being worried about Maria's safety instead.  (And it's also really nice how, after Maria tries the old "make her think she just had a weird dream" trick, Chrissie reveals at the end that she wasn't remotely fooled: "I remember it all, you know," she says to Sarah Jane as Alan and Maria drive away.)  Of course, that's always been one of the great strengths of The Sarah Jane Adventures -- the way the characters interact with each other and react to the situations -- but it's still good to see it continue.  And I also like how, at the end, Kaagh is sent on his way, rather than being killed or anything like that; it's good to see this show retain its sense of mercy and compassion.

However, this is indeed the final story for Maria Jackson (barring a cameo or two) and her family.  As she's been the primary audience identification figure for the show, it'll be interesting to see how the dynamics change.  But Yasmin Paige has been very good as one of the leads, and it'll be sad to see her go -- and indeed, to see Joseph Millson go as well, as Alan has often been one of the best parts of the show.  They could have done a lot more with this (particularly with Alan now being comfortable with the idea of aliens), but alas, it wasn't to be.  (And it's not like it was for a bad reason, mind -- Paige wanted to focus on her studies, which is a laudable thing.)

Still, while it might not be the most fantastic send-off ever, The Last Sontaran is a great representation of what The Sarah Jane Adventures are usually like.  One of the great things about this show is that so far they haven't had a story that was of noticeably lesser quality than the others, and The Last Sontaran continues that trend.  It's actually probably one of the weaker entries in the show thus far, and when that's the case you know things are going well.

March 28: The Day of the Clown Parts One & Two

So Maria and Alan Jackson have moved to Washington (with a quick little voice cameo from Maria at the top of the story) and a new family is moving in across the street from Sarah Jane: Haresh and Gita Chandra, and their daughter Rani.201  Rani quickly establishes herself as distinct from Maria -- she seems much more headstrong and determined, and essentially bullies her way into Sarah Jane's affairs, despite Sarah Jane's warnings to Luke and Clyde.  Although, to be fair, she's also seeing a creepy clown, so she has a vested interest -- it's not like she's snooping around or anything.

Odd Bob offers a balloon to Clyde. (The Day of the Clown
Part One) ©BBC
But yes, as you may have worked out from the title, the main problem this time around is a clown wandering around snatching up kids -- but only some people can see him, for some reason.  Well, I say "some reason", but it's all the kids who have a ticket to Spellman's Magical Museum of the Circus.  Rani and Clyde both have tickets, so they've both been seeing this sinister clown flitting about.

Even for someone like me who's not particularly scared by clowns, The Day of the Clown does a really good job of creating a creepy atmosphere.  Odd Bob the Clown is not a particularly unthreatening-looking clown, and the way he appears and disappears is really well done.  The first part of The Day of the Clown is filled with effective shots like this -- so kudos to director Michael Kerrigan (who you might remember as the director of Battlefield -- making him the second director, after Graeme Harper, to work on both the original Doctor Who and the modern franchise) -- that do a great job of making Odd Bob seem mysterious and threatening.  And Phil Ford's decision to tie in this weird clown with the Pied Piper is really lovely -- it lends things a thematic consistency (making it easier to have a clown be interested in taking children) and gives the story a bit of that extra impact, being rooted in history (a lot like Hinchcliffe-era Who, which took old tales and such and put a new spin on them).

As I said, Spellman and his other incarnations make a very effective villain, and the scenes of Sarah Jane being confronted by clowns and trying to overcome her fear of them are really well done.  I particularly like the part where she enters the hall of mirrors while trying to find Luke -- her decision to smash them is a good one.  The resolution is, perhaps, not the action-packed sequence we would like, but there is something oddly satisfying about watching an entity that feeds off fear being weakened and ultimately dealt with thanks to a load of rubbish jokes ("Police toilet stolen -- the cops have nothing to go on").  It's a nice ending to a good story.

The Day of the Clown is a really well-done tale -- not only is it suitably creepy and engaging, but there are also lovely character moments with the introduction of Rani and her family.  Making her father the new head teacher at Park Vale Comprehensive School is a good move, as well as softening his character from his initial appearance ("Did your dad go all Captain Bligh again?" Gita asks Rani), and Gita is really lovely and charming (even if she keeps forgetting the "Jane" of "Sarah Jane" -- apparently Sarah Jane is more touchy about this subject than she was in the '70s, when the Doctor would call her "Sarah" all the time).  If the series continues like this, we'll be in for a real treat.

March 29: Secrets of the Stars Parts One & Two

Part of me, when hearing about celestial alignments and seeing red energy projected down to Earth, really wanted this to be the return of the Mandragora Helix from The Masque of Mandragora.  Alas, it wasn't to be...202

It's odd; in many ways this feels like a standard Sarah Jane Adventures story, with a strange new alien influence and a great villain in the form of Russ Abbot's Martin Trueman, who's been taken over by the Ancient Lights.  We even get an interesting explanation for the Ancient Lights, as energy from the universe before this one (so nobody tell the Doctor about it -- see "The Impossible Planet" / "The Satan Pit" if you need to be reminded why).

Sarah Jane and Clyde watch as Martin Trueman prepares for his
apotheosis. (Secrets of the Stars Part Two) ©BBC
But that might actually be the problem with Secrets of the Stars: while we do get an explanation, it does feel rather hand-wavy at times, as if they put in a placeholder explanation and never got around to expanding upon it.  And while Russ Abbot does an outstanding job of being charismatic and charming as Martin Trueman, there's never really a sense of menace, other than the moment near the end of part one where he threatens Sarah Jane and Rani -- he's so convinced that he's right that he doesn't even need to threaten people, which is great from a villainous standpoint but less successful from a dramatic one.  There's also the issue that people's possession by the Ancient Lights doesn't seem as threatening or creepy as the possession in the previous story -- it's certainly a good idea, but it lacks punch onscreen.  (This is especially curious given that this story was also directed by Michael Kerrigan, who did such a good job with The Day of the Clown.)

I should be clear; there's nothing actually terrible about Secrets of the Stars.  The storyline is interesting, the casting is great, and everyone seems spot-on.  They're also taking cares to make Rani's dad more likeable, after his abrasive introduction in the previous story, and that's a good thing.  It just feels, at the end of it all, that it's missing something; there's a sense of "is that it?" as part two wraps up.  There are also a number of questions at the end (How do the Ancient Lights actually work?  Do other planets need to worry about the Ancient Lights?  Will they ever come back?) that aren't even brought up to be set aside, and that leads to an unfinished feel.  Oh, it's entertaining enough, but it lacks that extra punch that the best Sarah Jane stories have provided.

March 30: The Mark of the Berserker Parts One & Two

And so the moral of the story is, clearly don't let Sarah Jane go deal with monsters in Tarminster and leave the others by themselves...

In some respects The Mark of the Berserker wants to be about strained family relations, about what happens when the father who left comes back, and when he's not emotionally ready to have a serious relationship with his now-older son.  Clyde's father Paul comes back, but he seems really awkward around Clyde, as if he doesn't know how to behave or react -- but the fact that he came to see him still says something.  The only problem is that Paul seems to be too selfish to handle this well, and throwing in an alien artifact into the mix only makes things worse.  This is The Sarah Jane Adventures, after all, and it wouldn't be the same without something alien causing problems.

Clyde and his dad laugh as Rani's dad is compelled to do
push-ups. (The Mark of the Berserker Part One) ©BBC
Now while there are some additional consequences of this (such as Haresh Chandra being compelled to do push-ups forever, more or less), the primary focus is on Paul and his relationship with Clyde.  Paul doesn't seem to be a bad person so much as a weak one, and the Berserker pendant gives him the opportunity to have what he wants: cars, clothes, and his son by his side (even if Clyde has had to be compelled to forget his friends and mum).  It does provide an interesting twist, though; Paul doesn't want to rule the world or anything like that -- he just wants to escape his responsibilities.

The nice surprise in The Mark of the Berserker is the guest appearance from Maria and Alan Jackson, who are enlisted to help Luke and Rani while Sarah Jane is off tracking down an alien slug.  It's a lovely little appearance, and it's nice to see them helping out -- "And you thought we'd left it all behind," Maria tells her dad.  (They must be racking up one hell of a phone bill on that international call, though.)

If there's a problem with The Mark of the Berserker, it's that there doesn't seem to be a real connection between Paul Langer and the Berserker pendant -- it's used to extend Paul's wish-fulfillment, but as he's not actually a bad person, turning him into a Berserker soldier doesn't carry quite the impact that the script is hoping for.  It's interesting to get a look into Clyde's family dynamics, and it's fun to see Maria and Alan again, but this story ultimately ends up being an average tale.

March 31: The Temptation of Sarah Jane Smith Parts One & Two

After a number of stories dealing with alien threats and/or other cast members, The Temptation of Sarah Jane Smith puts the focus squarely on Sarah Jane herself, as she's confronted with a time fissure that leads to the time and place where her parents died while she was just a baby.  The story that results is in some ways the sister to stories like "Father's Day", where one small change leads to a whole new future.

What's really great about this story is how the stakes seem low but keep getting higher and higher -- Sarah Jane initially just wants to see her parents, and then she just wants to talk to them, and by the end of part one she's decided to prevent them from going to their deaths.  The whole time Sarah Jane keeps giving in to the temptation a little at a time (with Luke warning her the whole way), until she's finally done what she knows she shouldn't have -- which sets the scene for the post-apocalyptic 21st-century stuff, with the planet almost completely lifeless and under the thrall of the Graske, who is nevertheless controlled by the Trickster.  These scenes are sort of nice, but they really feel disconnected from the main plot -- yes, the world is screwed if Sarah Jane condemns her parents to die, but it's hard to feel much of anything other than an abstract sense of wrongness from the alternate timeline.  Despite the script's efforts to make us care with the presence of Gita, who is very clearly not Rani's mother in this timeline, even though Rani refuses to see that at any point.

Barbara and Eddie Smith say goodbye to their daughter. (The
Temptation of Sarah Jane Smith
Part Two) ©BBC
No, the best parts of The Temptation of Sarah Jane Smith have to do with the events of August 18, 1951203, and Sarah Jane's decision on that day. It's really great how Sarah Jane, even after seeing the problems that her initial decision cost, tries so hard to find another way to solve the problem: she simply cannot condemn her parents to death.  Elisabeth Sladen gives a fantastic performance, as Sarah Jane is desperate to save her parents: she's emotional, brave, and defeated, all at the same time.  It's mesmerizing to watch, in the best way possible.  (Oh, and the moment in part two, where Sarah Jane thinks the Doctor has come, only to find that the "TARDIS" is actually a genuine police box, is a lot of fun.)

And it's fitting that the decision is in fact taken from her, as Barbara and Eddie realize that "Victoria Beckham" (another nice joke, by the way) is actually their daughter, and that they have to die in order for things to be put right.  (So this is really like "Father's Day" then.)  It gets around the issue of Sarah Jane being forced to choose while putting her parents in a good light; they didn't abandon her as a baby because of some unknown whim, they abandoned her because they knew they had to face their fate.  It's a great move, and one that the Trickster didn't count on.  (Although, if we're talking about the Trickster... what was it about the Abbot's Gateway that made it the place for the Trickster to manifest?  They sort of hint that it has something to do with the ruin's age, but it's actually never made clear.)

The Temptation of Sarah Jane Smith is a story with heart, with great performances from the cast and a gorgeous ending (the closing shot, showing one of Barbara's notes to Eddie, is particularly sweet).  It feels like things really matter here, and we're never in doubt as to how important this is to Sarah Jane and therefore to the world.  Gareth Roberts has written a standout story that makes it clear just how good this show can be.

And what this?  The Brigadier is in the next episode?!  About time they got him into the modern franchise...

April 1: Enemy of the Bane Parts One & Two

Wow, it's like old home week on The Sarah Jane Adventures, with the return of the show's first villain, Mrs. Wormwood, as well as (in the surprise part one cliffhanger) Kaagh from The Last Sontaran -- and, most excitingly of all, a special guest appearance from Brigadier Sir Alastair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart (ret.).  (Apparently it was originally going to be Martha Jones, but the Brigadier is infinitely more thrilling.)

Rani, Clyde, the Brigadier, and Sarah Jane check if the coast
is clear. (Enemy of the Bane Part Two) ©BBC
It's fun how quickly they get us involved in the action, with Gita kidnapped and a clue left for Sarah Jane to follow up on.  That means that not only do we get to find out that Mrs. Wormwood is apparently now considered an enemy of the Bane, after her failure with the Bubble Shock venture, but we're quickly introduced to the Brigadier, now retired but just as feisty as ever and willing to help Sarah Jane break into UNIT's Black Archive, the high clearance top secret facility where all the alien stuff is stored.  Nicholas Courtney is visibly older here than the last time we saw him in Dimensions in Time (or Battlefield, if you've erased Dimensions in Time from your memory), and while he's wielding a cane now, he still seems quite energetic and full of life and ready to charge into danger as needed.  It's a genuine pleasure to see him in action again.

But it's not just the Brigadier; we also get some fun with Sarah Jane and Rani infiltrating the Black Archive to find the Tunguska Scroll, as well as Mrs. Wormwood and Kaagh plotting their revenge against Sarah Jane and her friends.  The best part of this particular plot is when Mrs. Wormwood coerces Luke to come with her and Kaagh because she apparently has some motherly urges, and at one point she tries to convince Luke to help her rule the galaxy as mother and son (so not quite Darth Vader, but close).  Luke seems entranced by the idea, and Mrs. Wormwood has him hold the device that will let them locate some sort of war supercomputer.  Luke holds it, captivated... and then bolts with the device.  I genuinely laughed out loud at that point; what did Mrs. Wormwood think was going to happen?

This is an action-packed story, with lots of great moments and performances, and it ends with Kaagh redeeming himself by destroying Mrs. Wormwood before she can enslave the galaxy.  Enemy of the Bane is a very solid effort, and a great way to send off series 2.  (Although I'll be including the Comic Relief short unofficially referred to as "From Raxacoricofallapatorius with Love" as part of series 2 -- but fair enough if you don't.)

The word that probably best describes series 2 of The Sarah Jane Adventures is "even".  This has been a very solid season, and even the stories that weren't as good as the others were still entertaining and worthwhile.  If there's a problem, it's that this series hasn't gone in for surprises -- the storylines often feel more straightforward than they could have been.  But at this point that's not really a major issue.  (If series 3 is also like this then we might have cause to be worried about things like predictability and formulas -- but not yet.)  Series 2 doesn't give us a heavy, angsty show, and that's just fine.  Because as is, The Sarah Jane Adventures is undeniably fun to watch; what more do you need?

April 3: Comic Relief special ["From Raxacoricofallapatorius with Love"]

Rahnius reveals himself to be a Slitheen. ("From
Raxacoricofallapatorius with Love") ©BBC
In March 2009 the biennial charity telethon Comic Relief (well, strictly speaking, Red Nose Day is the name of the telethon) aired -- as you may recall, Doctor Who had previously been associated with this effort in 1999, with Steven Moffat's Doctor Who and the Curse of Fatal Death spoof.  But this time around it's The Sarah Jane Adventures who are helping the cause, with this five-minute short that officially doesn't have a title but everyone calls "From Raxacoricofallapatorius with Love", as that's what co-writer Clayton Hickman said he and Gareth Roberts had called it.  (This can be found on disc 3 of the series 2 DVD boxset of The Sarah Jane Adventures -- it's the "special footage prize" mentioned on the back for completing an easy quiz.)

It's a cute little scene, but for British viewers the main impact is that they've gotten cherished National Treasure Ronnie Corbert to appear in this as an alien.  As such there are a number of references to his best-known sketch show The Two Ronnies (including, most obviously, Rahnius's declaration, upon learning Rani's name, that they could be called "the two Ranis"), and some of the elements of The Sarah Jane Adventures are gently mocked -- K-9 is put in a wheel clamp and the sonic lipstick is derided ("What's next?  The Bionic Blusher?" Rahnius says).  As I said, it's a quick, fun sketch and little beyond that -- but it's not trying to be, and it'll bring a smile to your face.


201 Not that Rani.  Now you're imagining a show where Elisabeth Sladen and Kate O'Mara team up to fight aliens.  Stop it.
202 At one point, apparently, it actually was going to be a sequel to The Masque of Mandragora, until they decided the Ancient Lights didn't quite fit with what we'd seen in the 1976 story.  But there's clearly still enough left in the final version to clue me in.  And to be fair, they never say it's not the Mandragora Helix...
203 This is consistent with what we're told in Whatever Happened to Sarah Jane?  But look, more confirmation for early '70s UNIT dates.