The premise is fairly unusual: we’ve had “sequels” to previous encounters before (The Celestial Toymaker; Frontier in Space), returning monsters and villains, and even revisited a couple of locations years after an earlier adventure (The Ark; The Evil of the Daleks) but this is the first time the Doctor has consciously gone back somewhere to check up on how things are going. It’s pretty much the first time he’s been able to: in the 1960s he couldn’t steer the TARDIS and even last season he needed the Time Lords’ help to reliably get to the right place and time to defeat the Daleks. But Season 11 has seen him apparently gain a lot more control: reaching the right spot in the Middle Ages, getting Sarah Jane back home (give or take), and now this.
The idea of the Doctor taking Sarah Jane to the places he took Jo is funny in the same way Martha will complain about in Gridlock, even though Sarah is much harder to please (she complains about the Doctor’s slightly wonky steering, teases him for name-dropping, and snarks about being treated as his companion). The Doctor calls her Sarah Jane when he’s annoyed. When Eckersley admires his knack of talking himself out of trouble, Sarah cynically reflects he’s probably talked himself into a whole lot more (she’s obviously right). This verges on the endless griping of 1980s companions, and makes me wonder whether all Tegan and Peri’s moaning was meant to be a charming call-back to Sarah Jane. What saves it is the sense that she’s playful rather than shrewish.
However, there’s a slightly sour feel to some of this, as though the script is putting Sarah in her place. Alpha Centauri’s doubtful ‘female?’ when meeting Sarah is clearly meant to be a joke reflecting it’s hermaphrodite nature, and difficulty with human biology, but taken alongside Linx’s comments about Sarah’s ‘thorax’ and the swimming costume in the last serial, she’s sexualised much more than Jo, as if they have to make an extra effort “for the dads” to make up for Sarah’s feminism.
The rest of this is all OK, without being in any way gripping. Queen Thalira is young and naïve like her father. Ortron is slippery, like Hepesh. Blor is mute, like Grun. The Pels are hot-headed and superstitious of Aggedor. Peladon is still quasi-medieval (so much for 50 years of Federation membership). There are exotic Federation representatives, although less so than previously. It’s all very much a restatement of The Curse of Peladon, with nothing new that so far suggests a sequel is a worthwhile prospect.
Next episode: The Monster of Peladon – Part Two