Eye of the Gorgon (Part One)

TV Well there I was feeling rather ashamed for not contributing to this season of Stripping Down, when this week’s The Sarah Jane Adventures does the job for me. Who would have thought that there would be a massive reference to the Sontarans in the spin-off in the same week that a giant shot of Stinx, Binx or Minx whatever his name is illustrates the front page and somewhat confirming the possibility that the potato heads are going to be reappearing next year?

I’m sure it’s a coincidence. Not for one minute do I imagine that Russell had to call up Emma Thompson’s mum and say ‘Phyllida love we need you back in for a reshoot. We just found out that Damon Querry’s selected The Time Warrior for the new Stripping Down session on the Behind The Sofa blog and I want to frighten the shit out of the them all for what they said about Torchwood. Plus I’ve decided we’re hold back on the revenge of the Krynoids until the fifth series so we‘ll have to change that bit of dialogue. Yes, right oh. Marvellous. Hoorah!’

The Sarah Jane Adventures: Eye of the Gorgon: Episode One

Less showier than the last fortnight’s sort of series opener but nonetheless enjoyable, Gorgon showed the first signs of growing pains. These generally located around the scenes related to Maria and her parents which in some senses were of the kind you’d expect to find in CBBC dramas and had little to do with the main plot. Character building is important and similar scenes occurred throughout the first few seasons of Buffy The Vampire Slayer and as eventually happened here, the parent did become embroiled in the story, mostly by being effected by whatever supernatural entity is being fought that week - see Bad Eggs as a rather unfortunate example.

In this case, perhaps writer Phil Ford, a veteran of the likes of The Bill, Bad Girls and Waterloo Road (not to mention Captain Scarlett) slipped into the kind of voice used in those shows, and felt that in order for that rather special cliffhanger to have any resonance Alan’s character needed to be built up, for us to be sympathetic to him. The problem is in order to do that, he skipped over a potential rule of showing Maria’s parents outside of her point of view and in a rather long scene about the reasons and consequences of their divorce that mostly seemed to be taking up screen time better served by building the central mystery and the more genre related material. Perhaps the episode ran short and these were the two actors who were available to fill the time, but I do think the show has to decide who the most important characters really are.

I think that cliffhanger would have worked perfectly well if all we knew about the bloke is that he’s Maria’s father -- that’s why it’s shocking. But it is very difficult as an adult to gauge what’s important in children’s drama and it is perhaps a bit unfair to be having a go at the show for something which might just be a fundamental need in something which is being made now for a far younger demographic. Perhaps everything needs to look like Tracey Beaker these days. I don’t know. But I will say that for all that they were very well played, with Yasmin Paige’s moody meltdown a particular highlight reminding me of similar outbursts of aaaaaaaaaah! when I was her age.

The rest of the episode enjoyed a far slower pace than the opening two stories, slowly developing its story rather than simply using some sledgehammer exposition. It’s the first story which hasn’t immediately been about the kids (despite Clyde being the one to suggest they investigate); in another reality it could have Sarah Jane and the tin dog visiting the old people’s home at the start and being given the talisman. In fact, the kids fulfilled a far clearer ‘companion’ role, getting into scrapes, being kidnapped, not doing what they were told leading to everyone falling into a trap.

Yet again, this show is following the OldWho model. Which goes too for the idea of the Gorgon being an alien, influencing the myths of ancient Earth then appearing in the present looking to create havok if it didn’t succeed in gaining the mcguffin of the week? I did wonder though why the Nuns didn’t at least try to gain access to Sarah’s house whilst everyone was out in case the gang had left it behind. But then the sight of three nuns trying to break into a suburban home, even one with turrets, might well have attracted a bit of attention. That said, the scenes in which Sarah Jane described the Greek myths were rather lovely (and Reithian) and I remember my Dad doing exactly the same thing when I was young.

Then there was the aforementioned Sontaran reference which I’m sure only really had resonance to us old timers, and the kids with parents buying the dvds. I suppose you could argue that in this scene, we’re Sarah Jane and the target audience are Maria being told what she needed to know. Plus we've another slightly ambiguous Torchwood reference in the shape of Ghost Machine's concept for the area recording things happening within which can be played back later (see also Kneale's The Stone Tape). That said, at least it’s not the Torchwood reference I imagined initially, that Captain Jack had been married to Phyllida Law’s character Bea all of those years ago and this was another Small World.

Speaking of whom. it’s always surprising and lovely to see and actress of the calibre of Law appearing in this kind of show -- it elevates things somehow and made her character’s condition all the more real. Was I the only one reminded of Billy Hartnell though as she walked through the gardens with Luke in tow? Liz Sladen was given slightly more to do within the story this time and again didn’t disappoint, she really is a marvel and a commanding presence when required. Even taking into the account the audios and video, doesn’t it feel as though she’s been doing this week in and out since the grandmother series was originally on? Daniel Anthony’s Clyde has mellowed too and there’s a lovely little double act on the go with Tommy Knight's Luke -- I suppose that makes him Geordi to the star boy’s Data.

All that’s left to say as we wait for next week’s cliffhanger resolution is that it still remains a very good looking series. Those statues from the same alien artist behind the Blink angels. The totally unrelated Alice Troughton continues to the give the piece a scale which wouldn’t disappoint the mother series -- notice the hand held work as the kids slipped through the convent. As for that convent -- in case you don’t know it’s Cardiff Castle. I know that because I visited in 2005 -- that area where Sarah Jane confronted the Sisters is the library. It’s not authentic at all, a bit of a folly all told but absolutely beautiful and I hope we get to see more of it next week. The children’s play room which has fairy stories and ancient myths painted on the walls would be an opportunity missed.

Next Week: Stone the people.

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