‘Sarah Jane Smith, 13, died after falling from the edge of Westport Pier yesterday in a tragic accident.’ Here’s a thing: a Sarah Jane lite episode, with Maria taking the lead with minimal support from the other regulars. True, Jane Asher is on hand as Sarah Jane’s replacement Andrea Yates (should have called her April Walker), but Andrea is a very different proposition to Sarah Jane, and with even Alan unable to remember a world where Sarah Jane lives at Bannerman Road, Yasmin Paige is front and centre.
‘It’s always the innocents that suffer.’ This feels a bit less toned down than the previous episode, with Sarah Jane darkly hinting at what happens to men like Grantham in prison, and an eleventh-hour twist that reveals the real monster is the military-industrial complex (or something like that). It’s also nice to see the series spread its wings a bit with a trip into Earth’s orbit for the team. The show continues to be engaging and fun kid’s TV.
‘I don’t see aliens behind every bush you know.’ A show like this carries a slight risk (or benefit, depending on your perspective) of becoming The Avengers In Color – the same plot every week with a different theme (cats, comic books, Hollywood), with a rather narrower range of story options available versus Doctor Who. After aliens hiding in a school and a nunnery, this focuses on a plot to use Laser Quest to kidnap children. And despite Sarah Jane’s sniffiness, yes: they’re aliens. But so far, the makers have cleverly navigated any limitations by jumping between settings that would probably be very familiar to most viewers (school, arcades) and less obvious settings for kids shows, like an old folk’s home.
‘No one listens to you when you’re old.’ Between this and Revenge of the Slitheen there’s a clear template for the Sarah Jane Adventures: first episodes are the mystery and investigation, second episodes are the action and climax. Which absolutely makes sense, but it does mean – unless there’s a significant twist – that the back end of the stories largely involve lots of breathless running around. Meanwhile, the parent show is reaching for a more sophisticated way of working its multi-part stories by radically changing the setting and tone between episodes (as in Utopia and The Sound of Drums). Doctor Who is going to push further down that route once Moffat takes over.
‘Sometimes people have thought I’ve been mad, but I’ve seen things too.’ The focus shifts from the school to another institution, this time for the confinement of the senile rather than juveniles. Amusingly, it’s run by Graham Crowden’s daughter. One of the inmates is Bea Nelson-Stanley, now suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease but in her lucid moments able to remember a life spent travelling, battling Sontarans and Gorgons, and secreting powerful talismans.
‘I can’t believe you were going to save those Slitheen. They tried to destroy the entire planet. Billions of people. What was the big dilemma?’ Clyde is a brilliant character. Not for him the hand-wringing angst of so many modern Doctor Who characters. Instead, he’s full of Old Testament piss and vinegar. Literally, in the case of the vinegar – a critical element of the fight back against the Slitheen which he smartly works out from a few hints, justifying his position as the fourth member of Sarah Jane’s extended family.
‘Something mysterious inside a school: that would be ridiculous, wouldn’t it?’ The series proper launches with an episode that’s largely a mash-up of Aliens of London and School Reunion. Which underestimates how fresh it feels coming off the back of Series Three, which, with episodes like Human Nature and The Sound of Drums, was clearly pitched at an audience two years older than in 2005. And as Doctor Who “matures” with its viewers, it creates space for this, a show much closer in tone to Eccleston than latterday Tennant.
‘Dying. Everything dying. The whole of creation was falling apart, and I thought, there’s no point. No point to anything. Not ever.’ This is a much messier proposition than either The Parting of the Ways or Doomsday. Unlike those episodes, it’s not really built around the departure of a regular character – Martha’s exit comes with the reassurance that she’ll be back, and none of the finality of the ninth Doctor’s, ‘I’m not going to see you again’ or Rose’s last farewell at Bad Wolf Bay. The audience already knew Jack would be appearing in Series Two of Torchwood, and even the Master gets an escape clause as a red-fingernailed hand picks up his ring as his chuckle echoes.
‘He has the data chip we need to continue this treasure hunt.’ Initially broadcast as 12 mini episodes as part of Totally Doctor Who, the complete episode (including the concluding 13th instalment) was broadcast ahead of Last of the Time Lords. Sensibly, Alan Barnes structures it as a quest story, with a range of locations and vividly distinct characters like the reptilian gun-runner Meregrass (played by Torchwood’s Paul Clayton). It’s hard to inject much depth given the brevity of the run time (and the target audience), but there’s a neat moral at the end, and no pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. The end result is the closest Doctor Who has yet come to the animated Star Wars spin-off The Clone Wars.
‘It’s as if he’s mesmerized the entire world.’ The challenge for RTD after Series One was to up the ante every year, making each finale even more elaborate and expansive. After you’ve had millions of Daleks and Cybermen battling each other across the world, how do you top it? RTD’s answer is to have the Doctor arrive back in 21st Century Britain at the precise moment when the Master has already won, and then to play out the idea of the Doctor having to defeat a global threat with no support structure. Which sounds like it should be par for the course – but normally wherever the Doctor arrives he’s able to find allies, and particularly in the new series’ present day episodes where he’s got psychic paper, his UNIT pass and friends, like Harriet Jones, in high places.