SJA Series 5 (Jun 13 - Jun 15)

June 13: Sky Parts One & Two
June 14: The Curse of Clyde Langer Parts One & Two
June 15: The Man Who Never Was Parts One & Two

June 13: Sky Parts One & Two

As you may recall, Elisabeth Sladen passed away on 19 April 2011, just before "The Impossible Astronaut" aired.  She'd been more or less in the middle of filming the fifth series when she died; they'd completed the first half, and then postponed filming of the second half due to Sladen's illness -- but she succumbed to cancer, leaving that second block unfilmed.  So what we get is an abbreviated fifth series, consisting of those first six episodes comprising three stories, and the first story, Sky, is as solid as ever.

This story is essentially a game of two halves.  The first half (part one) is about Sarah Jane receiving a mysterious baby on her doorstep -- coincidentally(...?) on the same night as something crashed to Earth.  This is clearly not a human baby, as its cries have the ability to blow out light bulbs and short out car alarms, which leads to some rather wonderful moments of Sarah Jane, Clyde, and Rani trying desperately to stop the baby from crying, while Haresh and Gita deal with the fallout of when she does.  (Oh, and incidentally, this happens to be Mina Anwar's last story as Gita Chandra; one by one we're having to say goodbye to some beloved characters.)  In particular, Clyde's efforts to stop Sky (named on the spur of the moment, as she basically fell out of the sky) from crying are imbued with great charm and fun -- Daniel Anthony continues to excel as Clyde Langer.  (And it's also fun how Mr. Smith refuses to open up in her presence and be accidentally shorted out.)  This leaves Sarah Jane and Rani free to investigate the site of the crash -- which is already being investigated by Professor Celeste Rivers (thus marking her fourth return to the show), although it's an interview with a local tramp, who talks about a man made of metal, that ends up being the most helpful.  These scenes are interesting, but as they're concerned with advancing the storyline they're not as much fun as Clyde's scenes.

Sarah Jane, Sky, Rani, and Clyde. (Sky Part Two) ©BBC
The second half (so part two) is a little different.  The cliffhanger of part one involved the baby Sky being taken into a nuclear power station by Clyde and someone claiming to be Sky's mother, only for Sky to be surrounded by energy and age twelve years in as many seconds.  So that means now we have a twelve-year-old girl running around, still with the same electrical powers but with a bit more control over them.  Part two isn't quite as much fun, just because it's much more heavily plot-oriented, but it's still entertaining.  Sky is some sort of living weapon designed to kill the metal man's people (the Metalkind, who are boron-based lifeforms -- hey, why not?  It makes as much sense as silicon-based life), but it's not a destiny Sky is particular happy about.  Sinead Michael seems rather awkward and hesitant as Sky, but that might be a deliberate performance choice (as Sky is meant to be completely unknowledgeable about the world), so I'm willing to give her the benefit of the doubt for now.

Because yes, Sky manages to thwart her mother's plans for her, leaving her no longer a weapon and free to live with Sarah Jane -- thus making her a series regular.  (And thus the youngest series regular to date on any of the Doctor Who-related shows, as Sinead Michael actually was twelve at the time of filming -- thus making her younger than the Paul McGann movie.  Blimey.)  It seems she was dropped off at Sarah Jane's door by the Captain and the Shopkeeper (who you might remember from last series' Lost in Time).  "I'd still like to know who you are," Sarah Jane asks.  "Both of you."  "Consider us servants of the universe," the Shopkeeper replies.  "... Sometimes things can't be left to chance.  Sometimes a breeze must blow from east to west, not north to south.  Sometimes a sky should be blue, not laden with cloud.  And sometimes, a child must find her way home.  Which is my task, Miss Smith.  To put things in the right place."  "But who are you?" Sarah Jane repeats.  "All in good time," the Shopkeeper replies, and you get a sudden pang of sadness at the thought that that mystery will go unrevealed.237  But yeah, looks like Luke's got a little sister now.  I wonder if they'll get the chance to play with that at all.

In many ways this story feels like an excuse to introduce a new cast member, to replace Tommy Knight as Luke (now only sporadically appearing on the show), but while there's nothing too surprising or compelling here, what we get is another solid, well done tale.  It's still a nice job, even if it's not the greatest thing ever.

June 14: The Curse of Clyde Langer Parts One & Two

One of the impressive things about The Curse of Clyde Langer is how much unlike a typical Sarah Jane tale it is.  In some ways this is the closest The Sarah Jane Adventures have come to a straightforward, SF/fantasy-free story -- other than the totem pole's curse being bestowed upon Clyde and causing everyone to turn against him, this might be a story from any number of more mundane dramas.

Even more so than the last story, this is a game of two halves.  The first half taps into a deep-seated fear among everyone, but especially children: what if everyone you knew suddenly rejected you?  What would you do?  Where would you go?  This is the "curse" that Clyde receives: anyone who hears or sees his name is suddenly filled with anger and hatred towards Clyde, even going so far as to call the police on him.  It's a pretty primal dread, but Daniel Anthony absolutely delivers as Clyde in portraying the confusion and hurt that Clyde is feeling.  It's a genuinely astonishing performance from someone who's already been one of the best things about the show, demonstrating just how good Anthony can be.  Whether it's being verbally abused by Rani ("I hate you!" she yells at him with undiluted venom, which seems to really shake Clyde to his core) or being rejected by his mother Carla, Anthony is absolutely riveting.  It's a fantastic job.

Ellie and Clyde seek shelter from a storm. (The Curse of Clyde
Part Two) ©BBC
But if the first episode is about the fear of being rejected, the second episode shifts the focus to those who've been rejected by society, as Clyde, forced to live on the streets, is befriended by a young homeless girl named Ellie.  We're given a first-hand account of what it's like to be homeless -- obviously sanitized somewhat for television, but still leagues away from the sort of thing the show normally covers.  Watching Ellie point out everyone in the soup kitchen, briefly telling Clyde who they used to be, is well done, and the chemistry between her and Clyde is handled well.  The most interesting part is how readily Clyde is willing to spend time with Ellie as he adjusts to his new life.  "You know," he tells her, "I was thinking I could do [sketches of people], like a street artist.  We could go up to Covent Garden or somewhere and people will pay to have their portraits drawn. ... I'm telling you, Ellie, we can do this.  We can get off the streets together."  Clyde's starting to get his new life together, so that's when his old life intervenes, Sky having eventually convinced Sarah Jane and Rani that there's something going on with Clyde and the totem pole that he got the curse from.  (She seemed to be immune to the curse -- probably because she's not actually human, although this isn't explicitly stated.)  There's some stuff about stopping an alien who was posing as a Mojave god from manifesting itself using Clyde, but this is really just a way to split up Clyde and Ellie; Clyde had to leave so quickly to save the world from Hetocumtek, he didn't get a chance to tell Ellie where he was going.  That means the end of the episode involves Clyde trying really hard to find her again, but to no avail: it turns out she'd been using an assumed name, just like Clyde had been, and now she's gone away, believing Clyde abandoned her.

It's a sad ending to this very atypical story, but it makes perfect sense in context.  The Curse of Clyde Langer might not be your standard Sarah Jane Adventures story, but it's done so well that it's an easy thing to look past.  Daniel Anthony had already been one of the best things about the show, and this just cements that.  In its examination of abandonment, both personal and societal, The Curse of Clyde Langer might be one of the best stories The Sarah Jane Adventures has ever turned out.

June 15: The Man Who Never Was Parts One & Two

(Hooray!  It's my birthday once again today!  And I'm glad to once again get such a good story with which to celebrate...)

It wasn't supposed to end like this, of course; there were supposed to be at least three more stories, stories that would have seen Rani and Clyde finally become a couple, Jo Jones (née Grant) make another appearance (and possibly Ace too, depending on which version you read), and the Trickster showing up for the fourth time.  But, despite the fact that it wasn't intended to be the series finale, The Man Who Never Was is a surprisingly fitting sendoff.

This story is a lot more like a "typical" Sarah Jane Adventures tale than The Curse of Clyde Langer was, but Gareth Roberts has given us a story that absolutely sparkles with wit and intrigue.  It helps that they've got a great guest cast on this show: James Dreyfus is marvelously villainous as Mr. Harrison -- the evil businessman incarnate -- while Mark Aiken must be having an absolute blast as Joseph Serf, the artificial person being controlled by a bunch of aliens in the basement who occasionally get it wrong (which means Aiken has lots of strange dialogue and odd movements to deal with that he lands absolutely perfectly).  And Peter Bowles, one of those actors who it seemed inevitable would show up somewhere in a Doctor Who or related series, finally does so as Lionel Carson, Sarah Jane's old editor.  And, happily, this is an episode where Tommy Knight makes a prominent appearance as Luke -- here encountering his new adopted sister Sky in person for the first time.  There's some initial tension there, but fortunately they don't make a big deal of it.

No, instead they're having far too much fun trying to uncover Serf Systems' evil plot concerning their new computer, the SerfBoard (Luke and Sky becoming suspicious after they see Joseph Serf "glitch" during the rehearsal of his SerfBoard unveiling presentation).  Elisabeth Sladen is having a ball, trying to catch out Joseph Serf as some sort of hologram (much like Rimmer from Red Dwarf, or the character somewhat confusingly (in this context) referred to as "the Doctor" on Star Trek: Voyager), while Mr. Harrison (ostensibly Serf Systems' PR representative) keeps thwarting her efforts.  It's great fun watching the two of them spar, while Serf himself occasionally goes wrong (the "sexy smile" that he accidentally gives Sarah Jane being a particular highlight).

Sarah Jane, Adriana, and Plark spot the approaching Skullion
spaceship. (The Man Who Never Was Part Two) ©BBC
I also like how the evil scheme to take over the world with these fancy new SerfBoard computers turns out to be nothing but a plan to sell a lot of crummy computers ("It's more than a bit rubbish," Clyde comments about the SerfBoard.  "Bog standard.  What's so special about this?") by hypnotizing people into buying them.  However, Harrison proves himself to be villainous by having a bunch of alien slaves called Skullions in the basement, controlling Serf and doing what he says under pain of "punishment", which is being shocked at various intensities by collars around their necks.  The Skullions themselves are a great cyclopean design, and the way they're revealed to be oppressed, rather than oppressors, is a good move that exemplifies The Sarah Jane Adventures' approach to aliens -- they're not all bad, and frequently people are much worse.

All this and some great moments along the way -- Luke and Sky's operation of Joseph Serf at his big reveal is a lot of fun ("Remember, he's American!" Luke hisses at Sky.  "Yeeeeeeeeeeee-haw!" Sky has Serf say as a result.  "As I woke up, put my grits on the griddle, I thought, gee, what a cotton-pickin' day to launch a new computer."  "You've been watching Toy Story again!" Luke says accusingly), but the best moment might be the naughtiest joke in all of The Sarah Jane Adventures, as Mr. Smith decodes Luke's Morse code message: "Clani [Luke's name for Clyde and Rani], grab Harrison's... P... E... N...  Full stop," Mr. Smith states.  "Never been so glad to see a full stop," Clyde replies.

The end result for The Man Who Never Was is a fun, happy episode, with a positive resolution and some outstanding moments along the way.  Everyone is clearly having a good time and on top of their game, and this shines through the finished product.  If they had to go out, at least they did so on a high note.

The most impressive thing, not just about this final series but about the show as a whole, is just how consistently good it was.  Some exceptional casting for the regulars, anchored by the fabulously talented Lis Sladen, was matched with high quality stories and production values.  In some ways this show was more like Doctor Who than Doctor Who itself was at times, as The Sarah Jane Adventures frequently emphasized understanding and sympathy and compassion over fear and xenophobia -- aliens are often trapped here or misunderstood, and even the ones shown to be more or less villainous are painted with shades of grey, to give them more depth and nuance.  The Sarah Jane Adventures was an optimistic, high quality show, and it's genuinely sad to see it end.  But as the end of The Man Who Never Was reminds us,
And the story goes on...  ...forever.


237 My guess is that he's meant to be a sort of opposite of the Trickster (who's basically the Black Guardian anyway, so that makes the Shopkeeper essentially the White Guardian -- although the original version of the story actually had the Doctor drop Sky off, but Matt Smith was too busy with "A Christmas Carol").  He was supposedly going to reappear in the sixth story of series 5, The Battle of Bannerman Road, which would have also seen the return of the Trickster.  So I'm willing to bet I'm not far off.