The Sarah Jane Adventures: The Man Who Never WasBookmark and Share

Tuesday, 18 October 2011 - Reviewed by Matt Hills

The Sarah Jane Adventures: Series 5 - The Man Who Never Was
Written by Gareth Roberts
Directed by Joss Agnew
Broadcast on CBBC- 17th - 18th October 2011
This review contains plot spoilers and is based on the UK preview of the episode.

As might be expected, this story makes for an emotional viewing experience: the finale that never was. But with its concluding montage, and its reassuring message that Sarah Jane's adventures will go on “forever”, episode two – never meant as a last hurrah – is transformed into a fitting ending for the series. The Man Who Never Was already has the feeling of an “event” story given that it properly brings together Luke and Sky for the first time, uniting two eras of the SJA family. An appearance from K9 would have been nice too, but the character is at least referred to, as are UNIT. (And K9 does appear in the final montage, along with the tenth Doctor, and Yasmin Paige as Maria). It's also great to see Sarah Jane's status as a leading journalist reinforced, as well as her earning power being mentioned in order to explain exactly how the attic is financed.

Gareth Roberts' script is deliciously witty, whether smuggling in that “full stop” joke, acknowledging “Clani”, or satirically mocking technology launches, with the Serf Board eventually being revealed as “bobbins”. Joseph Serf might be a reference to The Prisoner and one of Patrick McGoohan's pseudonyms (that Serf was another non-existent man), but this charismatic Serf and his Serf Board also put one in mind of Apple product launches, making the story even more strange to watch. Sarah Jane and Joseph Serf; Elisabeth Sladen and Steve Jobs. It's a story permeated and almost overwhelmed by real-world loss, its fiction pixellating and glitching in the mind's eye, as reality threatens to break through the production of TV fantasy.

James Dreyfus as Harrison continues the Sarah Jane Adventures' tradition whereby comic actors play relatively straight roles, and Dreyfus convinces in moments of menace and glib corporate greed. The aliens he has subjugated appear to represent the evils of globalisation, where Asian sweatshops can be exploited for cheap labour by major corporations (and as such, it's surely no accident that the Scullions were recovered from a crash in “central Asia”).

Working to animate Serf, the Scullion workforce and their areas of responsibility – smile, legs, speech – remind one somewhat of the Teselecta and its crew. But The Sarah Jane Adventures' lighter tone shines through; rarely have schemes for global market domination been so thoroughly undermined by a typographical error or two. And Serf's manipulation is played as fairly broad comedy via Mark Aiken's mugging, whereas the Teselecta's humour hailed more from the incongruity and absurdism of the anti-bodies, as well as from Steven Moffat's quickfire dialogue. Each vehicle is ultimately controlled by our protagonists, whether it's Luke and Sky running Serf behind the scenes, or the Teselecta being commandeered. Magical technology is always neutral, it would seem: easily capable of being turned against its villainous paymasters, and rapidly used for good rather than evil. Perhaps it's one of the great myths of our time – that the “little people” can fight back by readily twisting technology to suit themselves. Crush one pen, pull a few levers, and the Harrison chase is over.

Another SJA tradition is also returned to, namely that an older star TV actor will appear and pay tribute to Sarah Jane's charming nature. As Lionel Carson, Peter Bowles gets a little less to do than Nigel Havers did back in series three, but he flirts magnificently with Sladen, and the two convey great warmth and mutual respect. Characters Clyde and Rani also get to play at a relationship, taking on the role of married couple Trevor and Janet Sharp, a situation which Gareth Roberts mines for its comic potential. Like the preceding two stories making up this series, this is another accomplished production. In short, SJA bows out on a level of consistent excellence, and all involved should be proud of their work here.

This final story is as much about family as alien trafficking and capitalist exploitation. Sarah, Luke and Sky enjoy a “family outing” of sorts, and Clani refer to Clyde's picture being “a family thing”. Sarah's son and daughter make up an unconventional family unit – one that's entirely elective, and almost immediately harmonious. The old saying suggests “you can't choose your family”, but that's exactly what SJA says you can do. You can choose who to care for, and who to care about, just as Adriana does in this story (changing her own life in the process). Family in The Sarah Jane Adventures is not always fixed or inevitable. Instead, it is frequently chosen and embraced, rather like another six-letter word beginning with 'f': fandom. Sarah Jane might never have “expected to find a family”, but find one she did, just as Elisabeth Sladen perhaps unexpectedly found generations of fans. Fandom-as-family, and family-as-fandom; that's one lasting lesson of SJA. You – we – can always make the choice to care.

Goodbye, Sarah Jane Smith. Your story will no doubt go on, in fans' writings, memories, and new adventures yet to be imagined...

FILTER: - Sarah Jane Adventures - Television

The Sarah Jane Adventures: The Curse of Clyde LangerBookmark and Share

Tuesday, 11 October 2011 - Reviewed by Matt Hills

The Sarah Jane Adventures: Series 5 - The Curse of Clyde Langer
Written by Phil Ford
Directed by Ashley Way
Broadcast on CBBC- 10th - 11th October 2011
This review contains plot spoilers and is based on the UK preview of the episode.

Given Sky's recent introduction, you might be forgiven for pondering whether Clyde's role in The Sarah Jane Adventures is quite what it once was; he no longer has Luke around as a buddy, and Rani seems more likely to act as a mentor to Sky. Clyde's place in this new incarnation of The Sarah Jane Adventures seems more tenuous than ever before... making it pretty much the perfect time for this sort of story. Because here we get the chance to affirm Clyde Langer's importance to Sarah Jane and Rani, as well as Sky herself cleverly being written as Clyde's main supporter. In essence, these two episodes work extremely well to cement the new team.

We open with Clyde appearing to speak directly to camera, immediately linking us more strongly than usual to the character, and drawing us into identifying with his eventual plight. We begin with a fairly light tone, however, with gags about the fictional character of Suzy June Jones, Alien Slayer, and what must surely be a deliberate homage to The Unearthly Child/Remembrance of the Daleks in the form of Clyde's textbook on the French Revolution. Starting with in-jokes and the poisson sky also provides a counterpoint to later, darker events, giving this story a real sense of light and shade.

But it's Clyde's rapid descent into homelessness that forms the crux of Phil Ford's script. Setting up two puzzles – the totem pole curse and the Night Dragon disappearances – allows these to be effectively contrasted. Whilst one is fantastical, the other is simply a misunderstanding of ordinary life on the streets. Ellie Faber's world may seem like a case for Sarah Jane and the gang, but its mysteries ultimately belong to a different genre: another world where names are taken from posters and pizza boxes, and where identities can shift and change and get worn down without any need for curses or aliens. 

Lily Loveless is excellent as Ellie, although Clyde does seem to build a new life for himself rather rapidly, something which slightly takes the edge off episode two's representations of loss. And of course Ellie suffers the curse of the non-regular character, unable to be integrated into Clyde's usual life of family and friends.

The magical power of naming is referenced by this story's title – poor, unfortunate Clyde Langer – but culture is just as important here as naming. Children's television drama might not often focus directly on questions of culture, but that's what Phil Ford aims for. It's London's "Museum of Culture" which houses the creepily dangerous totem pole (itself a sort of “storybook” according to Sarah Jane), while Clyde's interest in the artefact is explained by his love of art. The fragility of culture is later emphasized when Clyde has to use one of his comic book sketches to get a fire going. And the strength of culture as a connection between people is finally restored by Clyde's portrait of Ellie – a work of art that links him to his memories and feelings. Art even offers a possible way off the streets for 'Ellie' and 'Enrico Box', with Clyde suggesting that he can draw for tourists at Covent Garden. References to art and culture are threaded through both episodes: culture is both threat and comfort, a storehouse of ancient powers and a source of present-day hopes. Homelessness might be the story's obvious central topic, but woven through this are quickfire sketches of culture's importance, and of how art and stories and names and belonging can all make life worth living.

There's another vital ingredient, though: reason. Sky continues to ask questions and pick at Clyde's absence because no-one can give her a good enough reason for their sudden new patterns of behaviour. “Psychophonic programming” means that Sarah Jane, Rani, and Clyde's mother have all started to act irrationally, and so Sky keeps on looking for a reason and a proper explanation, like an inquisitive child who can't ever stop asking “why?”

This is a very strong story, made up of striking images such as the fish storm and the animated totem pole, while Daniel Anthony puts in yet another outstanding, charismatic performance, and insistent incidental music helps build a feeling of exotic danger. The Curse of Clyde Langer suggests that there are real limits to what Sarah Jane's gang can achieve – they can defeat aliens but not London's alien domain of homelessness. But it also reinforces values of culture and reason, showing The Sarah Jane Adventures at its most enlightening. Phil Ford hits a definite high point with this tale, and I hope it won't be long until we see his work again in the many worlds of Doctor Who(assuming his name hasn't mysteriously blazed with a special effects' glow and vanished from all credits). 

FILTER: - Sarah Jane Adventures - Television

The Sarah Jane Adventures: SkyBookmark and Share

Tuesday, 4 October 2011 - Reviewed by Matt Hills

The Sarah Jane Adventures: Series 5 - Sky
Written by Phil Ford
Directed by Ashley Way
Broadcast on CBBC- 3rd October 2011
This review contains plot spoilers and is based on the UK preview of the episode.

Watching this story is an odd experience, because it's a re-launch of sorts that can't help but play out in the shadow of Elisabeth Sladen's untimely passing. As a result, there's a sense that although new story possibilities and new character dynamics are set up, we already know that these won't – in fact can't – really be developed or explored beyond the next few episodes. Sky is concerned with establishing a future for the series, but it is one which will never properly come to pass.

The story begins and closes with a voice-over from Sarah – “we're a part of the universe too, and we really aren't alone... life here can be an adventure too” – bringing to mind the structure and sentiments of Invasion of the Bane. Likewise, the eventual reveal of just who introduced baby Sky to Miss Smith also draws on the programme's history, while successfully leaving a greater mystery hanging in the air. Plus we get the added bonus of a return appearance from Floella Benjamin as Professor Celeste Rivers, suggesting that The Sarah Jane Adventures has fully and definitively grown into its own continuity: a Sarahverse intertwined with the Doctor's own Whoniverse.

Phil Ford makes excellent use of Rani's parents as a comic counterpoint to the more dramatic proceedings, though we never do get the punchline to “how many comedy headmasters does it take to change a lightbulb?” Episode one in particular contains many light-hearted moments; Clyde's turn as a children's entertainer is inspired, with his rustle/Russell joke surely being a sly shout-out to creator Russell T. Davies. And Professor Rivers' “wait for me, I'm in wellingtons!” is also a well-judged twist on what could otherwise have been a generic chase sequence. Despite her own scientific knowledge and professional standing, Celeste isn't above pretending to be a Sarah Jane-style adventurer; the glee of her “zap, zap” play-acting shows how inspiring Sarah's adventures can be. It's a tiny detail of Benjamin's performance, but it captures in microcosm the zest for life's adventures that has always been at the heart of this series.

Leaving Sinead Michael's first appearance as Sky until the episode one cliffhanger gives the story a strong kick into its second half, although the child-as-weapon idea seems very similar to A Good Man Goes To War. The parallel suggests that Sarah Jane and Who production teams may have become less cohesively engaged with one another by this point, but nonetheless Michael turns in a creditable performance. Sky is understandably a little limited in character terms, with much of her dialogue involving not understanding things, but presumably the next few stories will build on what is a promising debut.

One missed opportunity is the fact that there's never any doubt over Miss Myers' villainy thanks to her almost cartoonish costuming and depiction. I would have welcomed slightly more ambivalence; the script could have created greater mystery over whether or not Sky was actually being protected from an alien war by her mother. Instead, Miss Myers is little more than a caricatured maniac; the sort of anti-Sarah that we've seen before in the guise of various lady villains. Episode two illustrates how giving Sarah Jane a daughter in Luke's place has the potential to make the show far more directly and obviously female-focused, with Rani realising that she needs to become a source of fashion tips (“Ranipedia!”), whilst the story's resolution involves Sky having to choose between her different 'mothers'.

Prefigured by Professor Rivers' “zap, zap”, it's game-play which becomes crucial to saving the day when Clyde (a tad implausibly) shuts down a nuclear reactor in a sort of “big arcade game.” Playing Mario becomes a rehearsal for the story's heroics, although Clyde's skill has to be augmented by Rani's knowledge of the light spectrum. So it's ROYGBIV to the rescue, as textbook learning and gaming are equally called upon.

“There's always something more amazing to come”, Sarah Jane Smith tells us as the 'next time...' trailer starts up. That makes a good mission statement for a series opener, but as a viewer it's hard not to reflect on the loss and the pain of endings as well as the hope and pleasure of new beginnings. A recent Radio Times interview with Elisabeth Sladen's daughter Sadie Miller called this a “tribute series”, and it is partly that. But as the first new story screened after Lis's death, Sky also becomes something more than the sum of its parts. It's a tale of optimism coloured by fans' and audiences' real world sadness; a struggle between fiction and fact as much as between fleshkind and metalkind.

Reminding audiences of the value of child's play and playfulness, The Sarah Jane Adventures has been, and continues to be, a testament to the BBC's public service remit as well as to the popularity and charm of Elisabeth Sladen as Sarah. Although Doctor Who is sometimes referred to as “the mothership” or “parent” show, perhaps SJA's focus on stories of maternal care make it the true 'mothership' of the franchise. Welcome back, Sarah Jane; you're as sparky and as wonderful as ever.

FILTER: - Sarah Jane Adventures - Television

Invasion of the BaneBookmark and Share

Wednesday, 21 September 2011 - Reviewed by Nicole-Anne Keyton

n Maria Jackson moves into the empty house on Bannerman Road, everything seems normal. But then, she discovers a neighbour across the road who seems peculiar and different and more or less frosty to others, and a fizzy orange soda that’s a revolutionary drink in town with an odd taste. Oh yeah, and some bizarre aliens trying to take over the world.

The first alien Maria saw seemed nice and relatively harmless. As she heard it pass over her house, she found it hovering in the strange neighbour’s garden. And the supposedly mad woman was outside, too, accepting something from it, like a gift. It seemed beyond strange. But what’s even stranger are the events that take place the next day.

Maria and her dad receive their first visitor: a girl called Kelsey Hooper, who rattles on about the importance of music channels, too many carbohydrates, and this addicting soda called Bubble Shock. What’s more, Kelsey wants to take Maria to the Bubble Shock factory itself. But what seems like an ordinary soda production company turns out to be not so ordinary after all.

Apparently, the use of mobile phones is sensitive to the technology used in the factory, but when Kelsey ignores the no-phones rule and calls up her friend, her phone goes haywire and sets off the factory’s alarms. The people touring in the factory are ordered to evacuate in case of emergency, but Maria suddenly remembers Kelsey running off and leaves the tour group to find her. Instead, she stumbles upon a peculiar boy in what appears to be a hospital gown and, again, the strange lady who lives on Bannerman Road across from Maria. The lady, named Sarah Jane Smith, helps Maria and the boy escape through a window in the women’s toilets, to her car parked outside, and they all leave the factory unscathed.

After finding out from Kelsey (who returns to Maria’s from the factory) that the tour guide from the factory is on Bannerman Road looking for Sarah Jane, Maria heads off to Sarah Jane’s house to warn her about his presence. But it’s too late: an alien in the form of a one-eyed squid-octopus-type-thing is chasing after them. Maria, Kelsey, the boy from the factory, and Sarah Jane all run up the stairs to the top floor of her house, Sarah Jane runs into the attic to fetch something, and orders the others to wait outside, returning with an object that attacks the alien, turning it back into the human form of the tour guide from the factory. He flees, and, curiosity killing the cat, the three kids storm into the attic and come across a setting one wouldn’t see every day.

Alien artefacts lie about all over attic, covering shelves, desks, even walls. Several photos from the past can be seen along one wall, including snaps of a robot dog and a man dressed in a green uniform. What is this place? And who is Sarah Jane Smith?

Sarah Jane has no choice but to tell the three children about what she does. Yes, she’s an investigative journalist, but she also hunts aliens. Well, I wouldn’t say “hunt”; she finds any aliens who get lost and come to Earth (like the one Maria saw the previous night) and sends them back on their way, and she stops the ones who want to invade the planet. In the example of the hostile octopus-squid-like alien, Maria learns that they are in the middle of an alien invasion.

The Bubble Shock factory is run by those octopus-squid-like aliens disguising themselves in human form. They are an alien race known as Bane, and they intend to use their addicting orange soda to convert the human race into Bane. They created an Archetype, that boy in the factory who was found by Maria, and scanned every human mind who entered the factory into the Archetype to improve the drink so everyone would drink it. Once Sarah Jane, Maria, and the Archetype discover the Bane’s attempt to dominate Earth, they set out to stop them.

I’ve seen many children’s shows (thanks, Disney Channel), but I can tell from this pilot episode that The Sarah Jane Adventures is spectacular. Sarah Jane’s methods of hunting down aliens and stopping the ones that want to invade are completely non-violent and very effective. You don’t have to watch Doctor Who to understand what goes on. I mean, sure, the Doctor makes an appearance a couple times, and Sarah Jane talks about him and how he’s influenced her life, but it’s all explained and not inferred. To compare The Sarah Jane Adventures to American children’s TV, it’s kind of like Power Rangers, except there’s no fighting and a lot of running.

Speaking of Sarah Jane’s methods, she’s got the best technology on Earth, rivalling Torchwood and UNIT. She’s got sonic lipstick, a version of the Doctor’s own sonic screwdriver, and it’s so very stylish. She’s got a watch that can detect the presence of an alien, how old you are in minutes, and more. And, the best of them all, she’s got Mr Smith, an alien supercomputer. Mr Smith can hack into any computer, call any number, access any map, document, file, or website, and talk to you while doing so. I must say that Sarah Jane is well-equipped.

Being such a huge fan of Sarah Jane, I was not disappointed in her choice of outfits. In fact, I’ve finally purchased a pair of brown boots and a coat in yellow similar to her purple one so I can go to school dressed like Sarah Jane. Yeah, I do that a lot.

Also, who else is now shiftily drinking orange soda? It’s become my favourite party drink. Yes, I react quite oppositely than intended to realistic aliens and their concoctions. See a statue? Take a photo. Turn out the lights? Hastily turn on a torch. See a gas mask in a World War II film? Mumble, “Are you my mummy?” to myself. Find orange soda in the store? Buy it. Drink it. Get more. But I love how the writers create stories about how this realistic, earthly thing is actually something involving aliens and could be dangerous. Yes, at any moment now, I’m going to become a slave to the Bane and run around the room chanting “Drink it!”

“I saw amazing things out there in space. But there’s strangeness to be found wherever you turn. Life on Earth can be an adventure, just need to know where to look!” I’ve seen The Sarah Jane Adventures in entirety multiple times, and one of the things I love the most about the show is that Sarah Jane almost always has a little monologue of how great the universe is. The show is mostly revolving around chasing the hostile aliens off Earth and leaving humanity in peace, and we oftentimes need a little reminder from Sarah herself that even though there are dangers out there, the universe is also brilliant.

FILTER: - Sarah Jane Adventures - Television

Invasion of the BaneBookmark and Share

Tuesday, 12 June 2007 - Reviewed by Paul Clarke

After the entertaining but ridiculous Torchwood, I was rather dubious about the idea of another Doctor Who spin-off, especially since Sarah Jane's last solo television venture was the abominable K9 and Company, but based on the evidence of pilot episode 'Invasion of the Bane', The Sarah Jane Adventures has enormous potential. A near-perfect children's program, 'Invasion of the Bane' takes many of the ingredients of classic Doctor Who and strips away much of the rot that occasionally addles the new series.

'Invasion of the Bane' has a simple but effective plot that sees the eponymous Bane attempting to take over the world via pernicious fizzy pop "Bubbleshock". This is straightforward fare, but solidly written by Doctor Who novel and audio veteran Gareth Roberts, but what really brings it to life is the characterisation of the presumed regulars. Wisely, Roberts starts the story from the point of view of Maria, a new girl in the neighbourhood intrigued by her mysterious neighbour Sarah Jane Smith, especially after she witnesses her talking to an alien in her back garden. Roberts shows the audience everything they need to know as Maria gets caught up in Sarah's unorthodox life, and along with her friend Kelsey soon finds herself being chased by monsters. Big, green, monsters with tentacles. Which frankly, is what I wanted from Doctor Who when I was a kid. Roberts' writes the kids very well, with Maria proving independent and smart (she refuses to drink Bubbleshock, preferring a nice cup of tea, so she automatically counts as something of an outsider, and she pointedly asks Kelsey "So that makes it alright then, just the magic word 'organic'?"), whilst Kelsey is far more headstrong and concerned with seeming cool (it is Kelsey who makes all of the cultural references here, or generates them when Wormwood reads her mind). Meanwhile the Archetype, whom Sarah ultimately adopts at the end, is the ultimate question generator, since he knows almost nothing, which makes good sense in terms of exposition in future episodes. Oh and Maria also has a hunky single father, although what role he might fill in future episodes I couldn't possibly imagine.

Sarah Jane herself also works very well here, even if her character development is signposted early on, as we learn that she shuns the company of others and she warns Maria to keep away from her because her life is dangerous. Unsurprisingly, she comes to appreciate the importance of having friends, especially when the Archetype saves the day and she remarks, "I would be dead without you!" In fact rather of lot of what happens here is predictable, but this doesn't matter because Roberts handles it with flair: thus, the blatant infodump in Sarah's attic is rendered magical by the wonder written into the script, and the eccentricity of K9 in the cupboard with his arse in a black hole, and the ramshackle-looking but highly advanced Mr. Smith. And, for old fans, the nods to the past such as the photograph of the Brigadier. There's quite a lot of this sort of smooth handling of the unoriginal, with the scene of Sarah meeting the alien in her garden having a fairytale air to it. As in Doctor Who, we of course end up with a lead who has foreknowledge of the threats that the team will undoubtedly be facing, but exposition always seems more natural when children are asking questions about things. My only main concern in terms of 'Invasion of the Bane' as the first episode in an ongoing series is the worrying presence of irritating narrative shortcuts such as the sonic lipstick and the wrist watch that identifies the Bane for Sarah, but hopefully these come from co-writer Davies rather than Roberts, and will be relied on less in the rest of the series than they are in Doctor Who. I also, incidentally, suspect that Davies is responsible for the nauseating line, "There was only ever one man for me, and after him nothing compared", about which the less said the better.

When I was little, it was the monsters and villains in Doctor Who that always engaged my entertainment, and although at first glance the Bane are unremarkable generic green monsters (and the Bane Mother looks a bit like the old illustrations of the Nestenes on the Target novelisation covers for 'Spearhead from Space' and 'Terror of the Autons'), Roberts makes them interesting enough to keep the adults (or at least, this adult) entertained, with Davey unable to conceive of entering the women's toilets because human culture forbids it, Mrs. Wormwood baffled at the nonsense that fills the heads of children, and Davey getting eaten for failing to kill Sarah because "A hunter that loses its prey is unfit to serve the Bane Mother". Robert's trademark wit is in evidence throughout 'Invasion of the Bane' (and there are some tongue-in-cheek moments for older viewers, such as the acknowledgement that Bubbleshock must have sidestepped all manner of health and safety regulations to be mass produced to quickly) and Mrs. Wormwood gets quite a lot of it, especially when she gets lines such as "These miniature versions have parents" and "the thoughts of a child are chaos". And it is Mrs. Wormwood who steals the show here.

The cast of 'Invasion of the Bane' is generally very good, with some impressive performances from the child actors and Elisabeth Sladen stepping back into her old role with ease. The only weak link is Jamie Davis, who is rather stilted as Davey, but it is former Miss Moneypenny Samantha Bond who really grabs the attention, delivering an enormously entertaining arch performance as the catty and malevolent Mrs. Wormwood. She gets away with dialogue like "descend and consume" and "I can't understand a word she says. She's all noise and ignorance" because she takes the role as near to over-the-top as she can, without actually being hammy, which is impressive. She's clearly designed to be enough of a pantomime villain to appeal to the kids, and it works. My favourite Mrs. Wormwood moment, incidentally, is when Sarah sarcastically thanks her for the assassination attempt and she icily replies, "My pleasure. The next one will involve harpoons". Happily, she gets away at the end, furiously announcing, "Until the next time, Miss Smith", so she's presumably all set to become Sarah's new arch-nemesis. Hilda Winters, eat your heart out.

Director Colin Teague brings a real dynamic energy to 'Invasion of the Bane', which I would imagine is very useful for a series aimed at children, who almost certainly have less of an attention span than I do. Children's program or not however, I enjoyed 'Invasion of the Bane' enormously, tapping as it does into the spirit of Doctor Who of old and carrying itself off with confidence and humour. It's much better than Torchwood and even large chunks of the new series of Doctor Who, and I'm thoroughly looking forward to The Sarah Jane Adventures proper.

FILTER: - Sarah Jane Adventures - Television

A Girl's Best FriendBookmark and Share

Saturday, 18 March 2006 - Reviewed by Jim Sangster

Intended (by its producer at least) as a pilot for a potential full series, K-9 and Company brought together two of Doctor Who's most popular companions - Sarah-Jane Smith and the robot dog K-9. Team-ups such as this are always exciting and in this case, on first transmission, it was doubly thrilling as the episode bridged the gap between the Five Faces of Doctor Who repeat season and our first glimpses of Peter Davison in action as the Doctor. Sadly, for fans based in the North-west of England, celebrations were delayed when the Winter Hill transmitter suffered a technical problem just a few hours before K-9 and Company was due to be broadcast. As a result, viewers in Liverpool, Manchester and Lancashire would have to wait until the following year, when the episode was rebroadcast.

The story begins with one of the single most bonkers-mad title sequences ever. The title music is excitable and not at all out of place with such thrilling action series as Magnum, Charlie's Angels and other glossy American shows. That this particular production was clearly filmed up a freezing cold hill in autumn unfortunately undermines the effect somewhat as we see fast-edited shots of K-9 on a wall while Sarah swigs Chardonnay (in a red wine glass, no less) while typing up a story outside her local pub. It's an unintentionally funny sequence that sets us up perfectly for what is to follow.

Though the episode works well in reintroducing the lead characters, 'A Girl's Best Friend' (as the episode was subtitled) had a difficult task in trying not to be too much like a rehash of Doctor Who while simultaneously having to be familiar enough to those people who were only tuning in because of the connection to that particular series. It doesn't have any monsters, aliens or spaceships, but it does have similar views on the occult, dismissing it all as superstitious nonsense. It also shares the unfortunate trait of labelling anyone with a faith as an evil nutter.

The producer, John Nathan-Turner, was always concerned with the tabloids making connections of a sexual nature between the leads in Doctor Who. His oft-quoted phrase 'no hanky-panky in the TARDIS' now comes across as a rather odd thing to be worried about in the light of the successful relationship between the Doctor and his companion in the 2005 series. But that was the edict behind 1980s Doctor Who, which led to the casting of a male juvenile companion for both the Doctor and for Sarah-Jane. There's really no danger of Brendan being mistaken for Sarah-Jane's underage lover as he's quite a sexless being. That goes for the rest of the cast too though: Mr Tracey might have a son, but there's no sign of a Mrs Tracey anywhere; Juno Baker and her hubby possibly sleep in separate rooms, such is the lack of genune connection between them; and both Sarah and her Aunt Lavinia have the independent air of feminism-as-written-by-men where they clearly must not be allowed to indulge in any sexual relationships. Hence Sarah being saddled with her aunt's ward (surely a word that, Batman aside, hasn't been uttered in any other fiction written after 1940?).

'A Girl's Best Friend' turns out to be an entertaining, if slight, piece of drama. One can't help wondering how a whole series might have paned out though, with Juno and Howard Baker continuing to act like a pair of guilty-as-sin swingers just waiting to entrap Sarah while villager after yokel villager is exposed as a devil-worshipping criminal. Just so long as they remembered the rule - 'no hanky panky in Morton Harwood'...

I always got the impression John Nathan-Turner didn't have a particularly well-developed sense of humour, and unfortunately that seems to be borne out by K-9 and Company. All the elements are there to make for a really funny series full of dramatic coincidences and misunderstandings but it all falls a bit flat in the execution. It's perhaps that missed opportunity that led to the episode failing to make it to the hoped-for full series. Still, it gave Doctor Who fans their very own 'Goat Story for Christmas' (groan) to enjoy every December since.

FILTER: - Television - Sarah Jane Adventures