‘What if astrology is true?’ This is almost entirely built around Russ Abbot’s performance as Martin Trueman, a fraudulent fortune teller given genuine powers by the Ancient Lights. It’s a stock Doctor Who villain role – Heironymous and Lucius Petrus Dextrus are other astrologers gifted with true abilities by powerful aliens – and in many respects this is the first Sarah Jane Adventure I could see working as an episode of the parent show with only minor tweaks (Cheryl would have to be a friend of the companion’s mother, I suppose). But the parent show probably would have got a bigger name than Abbot to play the villain, and there it would have missed a trick.
Because Abbot really goes for it. At times, it’s hammy, but this plays to me like Trueman revelling in his new powers and treating it like a game – having been down on his luck, embittered but not without sympathy at the start, he’s suddenly been given the chance to make it big, and he’s milking it for all its worth. What we end up with is a baddie that could have been in ChuckleVision – and he knows it. A smaller performance would have made the episode bland – this one doesn’t have creepy clowns or Sontarans, and a thoughtless performance would have made Trueman look ridiculous, not a powerless man suddenly given a dangerous amount of power. On top of this, for those of us of a certain age who remember Abbot as a huge TV star of the 1980s who seemed to disappear overnight, there’s an added frisson to a man given a second chance at success.
Next Time: Secrets of the Stars – Part Two