TV Deep breath. The final three stories, final six episodes of The Sarah Jane Adventures were always going to be a difficult watch simply because it’s impossible to quite believe that the vital, vibrant star running about on screen, still saving a fictional universe, can’t any more. A perfect tribute, they’re gifted to us through a quirk of budget and scheduling and should have been part of a typical length season and would have done if Lis hadn’t been taken from the real universe so soon.
Phil Ford’s Sky is doubly melancholic because it's pinioned around the introduction of its titular tweenager to the gang, a sign of the production team realising that with the show entering its sixth year and its young cast ageing, the bottom end of its target audience is starting to lack a character to identify with. To that end, Sky is well thought through, an alien child who, like Luke way back when, and like the clever children watching, only has a superficial understanding of the world and a questioning nature.
Parents will no doubt smile at just how many questions Sky asks. Everything is new to her, even pizza, which also makes her the cunning new addition to Sarah Jane’s gang who’re now somewhat versed in the kinds of excitement that can fall to Earth. She’s excellent companion material because her entire existence built on the five Ws, an exposition sponge who genuinely doesn’t know anything rather than seeming so for the benefit of the audience (even though that’s exactly what she’s for).
Sinead Michael is very good as Sky, catching the wild-eyed innocence of someone who's burst up to the age of twelve within the space of a couple of hours. She's very reminiscent of similar figures in all the kids dramas I grew up with in the 80s, even with a hint of the Why Don't Yous during the Davies era of that show. Some have already signalled their annoyance which seems a bit heartless given her limited screen time. Her rawness is part of her charm, surely?
It would have been nice to see how Sky might developed over the longer term with the Ranipedia as her big sister. When Trojan companion Katarina was fatefully brought in as a successor to Vicki and Susan on 60s Who as a change from those two futuristic girls it rapidly became apparent that because she was so lacking in understanding of the basic essentials of modern life that she was impossible to realistically write for. Everything had to be explained to her. Hopefully Sky will be a faster learner.
Sky's introductory story was a superior example of SJA, with pantomime villains, massive wars occurring elsewhere in the galaxy and the Chandras representing Earth’s bewildered if very human reaction. In my experience of having worked in a local authority call centre, there do seem two types of people. Those who’ll phone at the first hint of trouble and those who simply put everything down to being just one of those things, or that someone else has phoned already or just assume the council won’t do anything anyway. Or is that four types?
Aptly, given Sarah Jane’s address, Sky was like a free jazz cover version of Delta and the Bannermen, but with a baby bio whose nature was to die and destroy a civilisation rather than save her own people simply by living. There’s also an inadvertent similarity with Melody Pond who was equally bred to kill and also aged through a comparable burst of energy which also saved poor Sinead from being covered in green splatter or some such.
Of the two episodes, the first was perhaps the more enjoyable simply because of the reactions of the regulars to the baby. For all the spin-off fiction written about Sarah Jane, only a single short story (Lily in this anthology) even hints that she might have a grandchild and so otherwise this is the first time we’ve seen Ms. Smith with a baby and quite rightly she’s not sure how to handle it. As I think has already been said, before Luke came along she’d not thought of having a family; now she’s fostering another one.
Ford’s writing of Clyde and Daniel Anthony neatly observed the difficulty of keep a baby happy, especially a baby you’ve suddenly been given the mission of keeping occupied and who you don’t really know. We always resort to humour though in my case it never works, so intimidating are my unfortunate features. Fortunately his mime routine was hilarious, even if jokes went over the poor little thing’s head. We all thought it was funny though. Russell. Ha!
Incidental pleasures also included Floella Benjamin giving her best performance as the familialy named Professor Rivers, now mildly channelling Lee Evans in Ford's co-written Planet of the Dead and Peter-Hugo Daly as the fan of The Archers turning what could have been a one note character into a tour-de-force, a Pigbin Josh for a new generation. That’s something I will miss about The Sarah Jane Adventures, the layering it often gives to characters that other kids series might otherwise bland out or stereotype.
Then we have the sub-Rani (the other one) majesty of Miss Myers, another in SJA’s list of arch-milfers along with Mrs. Wormwood and Ruby White. As is usually the case with these villainesses, Christine Stephen-Daly gave it some real shoulder pad and was entirely in the spirit of the piece even if hers was not the kind of character for whom its entirely possible to communicate emotional depth, just one moment of vulnerability hinted at a motherly connection.
Researching that paragraph, I was astonished to learn that before appearing in most of the UK’s sort of soap operas like The Bill, Holby, Cutting It and Casualty, Stephen-Daly was in one of my favourite films, indeed the film about film school students which was one of the reasons I studied my post-grad in film, Love and Other Catastophes along with Radha Mitchell. That information’s by-the-by but it does give me a reason to watch that again, if only so I can try and spot her.
The climax was pure Classic Who, companions shutting down nuclear reactors without any technical knowledge whatsoever (I’d be worried if colour coded fuel rods really how it works especially given the lack of interest from other government authorities) and a stand off between the Sarah Jane and the villain. Notice that Sky has the choice as to whether she should fulfil her utility made for her. Before that moment hadn’t she decided to become a suicide bomber?
Whatever weighty themes that might suggest are probably unintentional but with The Sarah Jane Adventures we can never be sure. What we can be sure of is that the final scene offered another example of the show looking to the future with a reappearance of The Shopkeeper, hinting perhaps at an arc plot that's now another loose end that may never be resolved. In my imagination he's a renegade from The Trickster's lot in the same way the Doctor ran away from the Time Lords. But now we'll never know. Sniff.
This was a strong opening for this short series and a great introduction to a new character. Writer Phil Ford's work on the series has gone from strength to strength and his script for next week's episode looks like another belter on the Bannerman too (sorry) (I’ve been trying to work that since the start of writing this). Just one more story after that and it's gone. But we'll always be fond memories, which Sky has now added to.