Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Sarah Jane Adventures series 3

I have to apologize for not taking better notes, and it’s so long since I’ve seen many of these episodes that I don’t remember them very clearly. I’ll do my best, though. I enjoyed series 3 a lot, and parts of it were better, I thought, than series 1. Certainly I liked it better than series 2.


As series 2 started off with a visit from old baddies the Sontarans (or rather, a Sontaran), series 3 started off with a visit from the Judoon (or rather, at first, a Judoon). “Prisoner of the Judoon” by Phil Ford was a decent way to start off a season, but rather ho-hum compared to the rest of the series. I personally like the Judoon (“Smith and Jones” is one of my favorite stories), and Ford managed to milk some comedy from them. I was pleased when SJS advised Rani, Clyde, and Luke to “leave it to the professionals—UNIT.” We find out soon, though, that the Judoon policeman who has crashed on Earth has lost his prisoner, Androvax, who has apparently stolen Sharaz Jek’s costume.

Everyone makes much of SJS and her possessed acting in stories like “Masque of the Mandragora” and “Hand of Fear,” and you can tell Elisabeth Sladen is having the time of her life getting back into the groove as Androvax possesses her and she goes all evil. To be fair, there isn’t much scarier to youngsters than having adults of authority whom they can trust become frightening and irrational. Episode 1 ends with the charming device of Gita, Rani’s mother, doing some “guerilla planting.” By the way, Rani has become so engrained in the series that, while I miss Maria, she is rapidly becoming one of my favorite characters. I still like Clyde the best, though, because he makes me laugh.

The second episode does a funny thing where it drums up sympathy for Androvax, as he’s a Destroyer of Worlds whose world was destroyed. But this has the ring of not-quite-truth, much like the Joker’s multiple stories of how he got his scars in The Dark Knight. In the end, SJS wisely doesn’t try to psychologically profile Androvax and he is handed over to the proper authorities, the Judoon. In a typical Ford scene, the Judoon are hampered by not being able to go after Androvax because the door through which he vanished was marked “Authorized Entry Only.” (Staggering Stories had a field day with this.) Also a gem was the Judoon commandeering a car and offering its driver compensation. “Someone will destroy you!” “Sounds like you need a cuppa tea.”

The Mad Woman in the Attic” by Joseph Lidster was a very odd one. There were parts of it that seemed incongruous and stuck out, but the overall concept, and especially the way Eve and her Ship were realized, was very creative and unusual. The Mad Old Rani in 2059 (something to do with the Australian K9 series? Or “Waters of Mars”?) remembers in a fit of pre-teen pique she wished her friends would just leave her alone, that she bristled at the fact SJS didn’t seem to take her entirely seriously for a moment caused her great distress later on (“I never told her how grateful I was”). The story is structured intriguingly, I will give it that, but Rani’s motivation is just a bit clunky. Maybe I’m being too critical. Great joy was felt when “Zodin” was mentioned by SJS, and creepy abandoned seaside fun fair had Lidster written all over it. I believe this was also the story where we saw clips of SJS with Doctors Three and Four, which for all the fan girls and boys out there, was infinitely pleasing.

I had a major problem with the “homeless people” who had been disappearing from the closed fun fair. I’ve never seen such coiffed and groomed homeless people in my life, and despite the actors’ best efforts to look creepy and extraterrestially wigged out, it just came off laughable. The concept of Eve’s “playtime” was a good one, however, and Eve herself, both in the writing and acting/makeup/costume, played the fine line between potentially dangerous and appealing very well. Like Rani, we weren’t immediately sure whether to trust her, but in the end she was absolutely impossible to dislike. There was much of the Gothic in the presentation of her Ship, and it’s unusual that, instead of villain runaround, the cause of the problems was that a) Eve couldn’t find her Ship; b) Eve was a mere child and didn’t understand how her powers were causing distress; c) Eve’s “father” had kept her locked up for her own protection, not realizing this was doing more damage; d) the Ship misinterpreted Rani’s wishes, with disastrous consequences. Complex, eh? The ending was a bit too “get-out-of-jail-free,” but obviously I was pleased that future Rani ended up okay.

The Wedding of Sarah Jane Smith” by Gareth Roberts got huge viewing figures because of David Tennant’s guest appearance as the Doctor, and while that must have boosted the show’s profile, it saddens me that people who wouldn’t tune in on SJA’s merits alone are lured only by the promise of David-ness. As for the story itself, it felt rather schizoid to me. I absolutely loved the first episode and will admit it made me cry.

The first episode managed to both be sweet, very mature in terms of emotions, and appealing for a young audience (I thought). I sympathize with SJS in terms of emotional attachments to the Doctor/s (see “Once Is Never Enough”) and the fact that, as “School Reunion” revealed, SJS being dropped off at “Hand of Fear” has emotionally stunted her in terms of making long-term relationships, not the least of which romantic ones (“I cut myself off from other people for so many years”). She reacted exactly as I would expect a real person when they’re of a certain age, falling in love, and Clyde, Luke, and Rani reacted just as I thought they should for people of their ages, wanting to be protective of SJS but also wanting to be happy for her.

Like most viewers I love the bitch-fest between Mr Smith and K9. When SJS finds out that the kids were spying on her as she went on a date, Mr Smith chides the kids for their lies: “Veracity level 12%.” “Do not exceed your function, Mr Smith,” says K9. On the whole I find the K9 in this series to be slightly more emotional than the character really should be, but in general I quite enjoy the cattiness between supercomputers.

I have to say I didn’t find this Nigel guy attractive in the least, but the music at the moment where he proposed to SJS made me squee and want to cry. Emotionally I felt this episode was perfectly crafted, and the “awww” factor was very high, but not to the point of cheese. Clyde’s difficulty in trusting Peter and the whole romance seemed apt, and as usual there was his sarcastic sense of humor to take the edge off things; investigating Peter’s boarded-up flat, “lair of the living dead!” I think we all began to wonder whether SJS might be possessed again when she uttered quite chirpily, “At my age, why wait [to get married]?” For dramatic purposes and also to emphasize SJS’ emotional vulnerability her wedding was moved up. The Brigadier couldn’t be there, “still in Peru.” May I say I loved SJS’ dress? Rani was in a brighter shade of pink, and my gut feeling that Clyde was starting to fancy her was knocked off kilter by the fact Luke went all “whooaaaa” when he saw her in the dress.

The fact the Doctor stepped in to stop the wedding made this squee-ful romantic smile, but from then on the story drooped. The “dimensional shift” with the Doctor, Rani, Clyde, and Luke stuck in a different second than SJS, Peter, and the Trickster didn’t make a lot of sense to me. Yes, the Trickster was back. I don’t find him that effective of a villain, I thought once was enough in the first season. Frustratingly the Doctor was rather annoying in the second episode and weirdly out of his depth in the tone. There was a lot of useless running around, and the emotional intensity of the climax was rather watered down, I felt, by the Doctor’s presence, not enhanced by it. The Trickster had resurrected Peter in order to make him fall in love with SJS and she with him so she would be distracted and then the Trickster would gain access to the Doctor (no, not like that you pervs). I think? Anyway, in order for everything to work out right Peter had to give up his chance at life and SJS had to give up someone she really loved. And say goodbye to the Doctor again. I did love that he said, “Don’t forget me, Sarah Jane.”

I’m probably the only person in the world who found “The Eternity Trap” by Phil Ford to be possibly the most entertaining story of SJA ever, but I’ll stand by it. I also took copious notes which shows my devotion to it. How could I not love a ghost story set partially in 1665?! The totally evil Erasmus Darkling stole the children of Lord Marchwood, so the legend said, and left “one of the most haunted locations in the UK.” I’m a sucker for this stuff, even if the story goes AT GREAT LENGTHS to remind us over and over again that ghosts don’t exist.

The location for the house is the same one that doubled as Versailles in “Girl in the Fireplace.” Professor Rivers (River Song??) is conducting experiments at the house and has invited SJS and the gang to come along. Ford seems to be taking the mick out of ghost hunters in general, but there are some great atmospheric touches in this story and watching it around Halloween helped. The music is absolutely fantastic, very Pirates of the Caribbean. The story’s tone in general reminded me quite heavily of “Ghost Light.” How on Earth Clyde knew that Roman roads were lower is beyond me.

At its best I find this story echoing some of the scary devices of “The Empty Child” and “Blink.” It also has fencing, which I find irresistible (the actor playing Lord Marchmount also caught my eye, I must admit). Some of Clyde’s funniest moments EVER were in this story, and though Professor Dave from Flashing Blade podcast found Clyde’s cowardice over ghosts disappointing, I thought it was yet another enjoyable aspect to his character. “Harry Potter gets a close shave off Sweeney Todd!” The sets for Darkling’s lair were extremely spooky. “Super spook smackdown!”

The episode ending was a bit of a cop out, but they often are. Again, I see tones of “Silence in the Library” when SJS realizes that “no one died here”—all the “ghosts” are being saved as the people were on CAL’s hardrive. Which is a heartening and totally appropriate thought for a kids’ show. Of course the steampunk in me approved of Darkling’s machine “a portal to another galaxy.” “Living people trapped between dimensions” doesn’t sound all that different from current “theories” as to what ghosts might be. The only low point of the story was Colin who, as Prof. Dave rightly points out, doesn’t develop as a character at all.

I don’t seem to have taken any notes for “Mona Lisa’s Revenge,” again by Phil Ford, but obviously after the story before it, it was bound to be a disappointment. I found it quite weird, though with some very interesting ideas. Clyde’s propensity for art was fortunately noted in earlier stories, but point after point became more and more unbelievable and the whole house of cards came tumbling down at the end. For example, I can’t ever imagine the Mona Lisa leaving the Louvre—can you? The Temple of Peace in Cardiff, even dressed up as some generic London Gallery, is hardly going to be the place to receive it, and Clyde winning the competition to see the Mona Lisa with that piece of artwork was highly unlikely as well. Anyone hoping to see “This is a fake” would have been disappointed as well.

There were, however, some interesting points in the story. Drawings coming to life is an attractive concept I’ve long enjoyed, and I’m sure many people would love to talk to the Mona Lisa should she ever become flesh. Like the Professor here, no doubt there would be a bit of an element of hero worship. Lisa’s brother the Abomination being painted by meteoric minerals from outer space was a truly strange idea that ultimately went nowhere. I don’t particularly like Suranne Jones or the way she characterized Lisa, but to each her own. SJS had very little to do. The Highwayman is an armed thug who I thought was going to become of great importance to the story since she was clearly a woman dressed up as a highwayman! However, he was played by a man and never spoke. What a missed opportunity. I suppose that could be said for that story as a whole.

The Gift” was written by newcomer Rupert Laight and lacked the urgency of the previous seasons’ series enders, so much so that I didn’t realize it was the last story! However, there were some very endearing touches to this one. Yes, it featured the Slitheen/Blathereen again, but in a mostly novel way. Again I was struck by how cute baby Slitheen are.

The Blathereen pair of Leaf and Tree are voiced by a pair of accomplished actors whose voices were so familiar I spent much of the first episode trying to figure out who they were, and much of the second fixated on them after I had read the credits! Like Rani I very much wanted to believe that the Blathereen’s offers were genuine, though SJS was as usual correct to be over-cautious. Clyde taking K9 to school with him to help pass his exams was a harebrained, Clyde-thing to do and fortunately allowed the story to move along when it seemed our heroes might be defeated!

Luke was out for most of the story having been infected by rackweed and near death (apparently). I began to wonder if he is being written out of the series as he seemed to be sidelined from the action a lot this series. SJS also seemed mostly ineffective until the second part. “Profit is our progeny!” the Blathereen cackle. I found it very significant that the crux of Torchwood: Children of Earth was horrible aliens using human children as drugs, while in a much milder form, the Blathereen are planning to use Earth to fuel their own addiction to rackweed. Fortunately before this can happen Rani, Clyde, and K9 are “saved by the bell.” From here, things wrap up mostly neat and tidy, but the best bits are yet to come.

When Mr Smith amplifies the frequency of the school bell to kill the rackweed, Rani considerately covers K9’s ears! When people’s mobile phones emit this noise it thoughtfully says “Mr Smith calling” on the screen. J The rather graphic but very well-written course of action SJS takes against the Blathereen is bookended by an extremely funny, “There should have been another way!”

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