The Lost Boy (Part Two)

TV “Daisy, daisy, give me your answer do…”

I found myself watching It’s A Boy Girl Thing last night. For the uninitiated, it’s one of those body swap comedies, this time in which a slightly nerdy girl and a jock change places just as she’s about to undergo an interview to get into Yale University and he’s about to play the most important American Football game of his life. By no stretch of the imagination is it a great film, but the central relationship is rather sweet, helped by some decent performances in which neither actor commits the Roy Scheider in The Hot Chick crime of assuming a woman in a man’s body would be camp and gay. Both in fact do a very good job of mimicking each other and the actress Samaire Armstrong coming across as a young Ellen Barkin.

The point is you could tell whilst it was on what was wrong. It features Saxon-supporter Sharon Osbourne of all people as the jock’s mother, randomly British in the midst of suburban America and giving a performance even worse than the one which she essayed in the Asda commercials, nervously bringing the film to a halt whenever she’s on screen. On top of that, her daughter Kelly sings live at the eventual Prom and the concluding get together at said party occurs to a soundtrack song supplied by Ozzy. Instead of playing to its strengths, the script and direction are all over the shop, sometimes wanting to be like an 80s teen film whilst at other time trying to channel American Pie, concentrating too much on its secondary characters at the expense of the electric central couple.

The problem with …

The Sarah Jane Adventures: The Lost Boy: Episode or Part (or whatever they’re calling them) Two

… is that it didn’t seem to be as brilliant as previous episodes, even though it featured most of the same elements and had many wonderful moments. The opening scene in which Sarah Jane broke into the Pharos project to steal the headset, Bond-style, was probably the most exciting of the series, Liz finally able to have some hero beats without the kids around to steal her limelight. The flashback, in which she appeared slightly dowdier than recently underlines her blossoming during this recent round of adventures. Alan Jackson probably has his episode of the series, as in one line about friends in high places, gains a few levels of character depth. Clyde too fulfills his potential with a cunning bit of ghosting within the machine. Plus K9! But throughout something niggled and only in hindsight and after thinking about it too much can you tell why.

For one thing, after last story’s meteor bounce, the threat of the moon hitting the Earth was all too derivative and despite the best efforts of a wind machine, digital shot judder and a Welshman in a mock-News 24 studio seemed to come too quickly to be really effective. Sure, there’s a certain old school brilliance to the movement of said waking satellite being portrayed through a window but it just lacked urgency and isn’t this weekly whole world jeopardy thing getting a bit tiresome? This being the final episode, despite the logical divide and conquer, why couldn't the whole gang participate in fighting the threat at the last minute. And, yes, K9!, we love you John Leeson, but isn’t it a shame that the sudden appearance of the hitherto nothing to do with this story tin dog provided the edge that was needed to kill Mr. Smith? Isn’t that the reason that JNT wanted nothing to do with him?

Plus – a power mad computer. Well why not? The show’s never really been about ignoring sci-fi clichés and it was a surprising twist that Mr. Smith would be the villain especially since he had been taken into Sarah Jane and our confidence via his cute jingle and chunky design. Except Alexander Armstrong didn't quite conclude how to play the sinister version of him, possibly because he didn’t have very many interesting things to say. Power mad computer are at their best when they’re being either witty and ironic (Zen in Blake’s 7) or cold and logical (Hal from 2001: A Space Odyssey). In addition, his vanquishing was too convenient, taking a cue from Independence Day as a computer virus from a completely different system had the desired effect. Oh and if she’s lived with that machine for so long, how come Sarah Jane didn’t know where to unplug him – and think of the electricity bill!

Also, the reason that something like Whatever Happened To Sarah Jane? worked is that the character arcs and themes from the opening episode continued, despite the change in focus. Having made Luke the focus of the opening episode, here he was largely reduced wobbling about in a headset, certainly the focus of the drama but not an active participant. It just seems very wrong that one of the classic double acts from the early part of the series – Clyde and Luke -- should be separated for the final episode – wouldn’t it have been more interesting for Clyde to try and interface with Luke somehow rather some random laptop in a neighbour’s house? At least Clyde got that heroic moment, albeit isolated from the rest of the cast.

Previous concluding episodes have on the whole managed to strike a decent balance between characterisation and plot, but in putting together this script, writer Phil Ford took the new high speed rail link to Exposition City with Sarah Jane as the driver. True, all too often in Doctor Who, the timelord would say something like ‘Of course, I should have remembered, the planet Quantick was rendered uninhabitable when the perfume factories exploded – that’s why the Perrywinkles want to steal our nitrogen!’ but here it seemed as though Ford had written himself into a corner and was trying to justify the unjustifiable with smoke and mirrors and it was too much. It's interesting that the two least satisfying stories of the series have been by this writer (the other being Eye of the Gorgon, no matter what SFX Magazine say) and both suffered from this kind of problem.
It didn’t help that after reintroducing the Slitheen, give or take a chase, they largely became bystanders, the predictable bluff being that they’d been duped as well. Bringing back the child was a good idea but seemed wasted here, the idea of his revenge being enough for a whole story. A leaner adventure would have jettisoned these green fools and their baggage in favour of simply focusing on the threat of Mr. Smith. At least they didn’t spend the episode farting and giggling and some of the mixing of body suit and CGI appeared more seamless than ever.

But the main problem is that because the previous nine episodes were proper family drama and you’re bound to view the climax on those terms, whereas at this final hurdle it seemed to so relentlessly play to kids, making all of the above criticisms entirely unfair. It did everything that modern children drama does – it was colourful and loud and pacy and had a bit with a dog. It managed to still to be funny in places, particularly the sight of Alan trying to menace a Slitheen with a vinegar bottle, and the action was well choreographed by director Charles Marton. Yet too often it lacked substance, largely preferring spectacle in favour of the warm character interaction and clean storytelling of much of the rest of the series, horribly rushed in place and with only the final quiet moments as the cast gathered to see the cosmos, and Sarah Jane’s closing Batty in Blade Runner bothering monologue recapturing the wonder of earlier weeks.

“I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe….”

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