Whatever Happened to Sarah Jane? (Part Two)

TV Perhaps the most illuminating discovery to be made watching the deleted scenes section of the new dvd release of the third series of nu-Who, other than the fact that the opening speech from Torchwood does indeed mean sod all just as we suspected, is how much everything in this untreated footage looks rather cheap and indeed like an old fan video before the final grading of the footage, the music and the ADR are added. It’s a sobering lesson in how the programme making process doesn’t end when the initial shoot is over and it isn’t simply a case, as some misguided fans I’m sure believe, of The Mill dropping in a few effects and Murray drowning everything in his music.

It’s also interesting to note though how much is lost – I don’t think the Daleks have quite as much presence in the final version of Evolution of the Daleks as they do in the theatre scene featured from there, the sound of Nick Briggs’s ring modulator ominously filling the space. To a certain extent too there’s a different the immediacy of the performances; Miranda Raison’s accent seems far less strained here and her best scene as Tallulah, trying to get across that field in her shoes was lost on the cutting room floor. David Tennant too still commands the camera even when it looks like something shot by Bill Baggs in the early 90s.

Goodness knows then what …

The Sarah Jane Adventures: Whatever Happened to Sarah Jane?: Episode Two

… looked like before grading and whatnot, especially as it cut between the past, the alternate present and the void, all different and requiring their own special shooting conditions. Was the void shot against a green screen or in a studio not unlike the one in which the opening episode of The Mind Robber played out? Since the backing to the blog this fortnight seems have been shot on location in there, did Maria bump into Romana while she was waiting for Sarah to return? Was the sepia look of the scenes in the past achieved through a camera filter or in the computer? Just how did Sarah-Jane only appear in the mirror, Quantum Leap-style during the central show down with Andrea and The Trickster in her old attic?

But to be honest I’ve only thought of these questions after the fact – I was too rapt up in the episode to care, which is quite a compliment. This was a far talkier wrap up than in previous stories, dodging the typical run around in favour of big dialogue scenes covering weighty topics such as what a life is worth and whether the existence of one human being can be justified as being more important than another. Certainly this shares thematic similarities with The Family of Blood, but whereas John Smith was a fictional construct, Andrea Yates was a real person who’d simply not wanted to die at the age of thirteen.

Despite causing the abduction of Maria and nearly her father, Andrea somehow came across as a much more sympathetic character than last time, not genuinely evil just misguided and this had a lot to do with Jane Asher’s performance, as layered a characterisation as this series has seen, from her hostess duties at what had the potential to tip into Abigail not Andrea’s party to her sexually charged flirting with Maria’s Dad (which certainly turned this viewer’s head in more ways that one) to perfectly presenting a rapidly broken woman coming to terms with memories of a childhood decision and the implications of it.

This, then, was the first time in the series that the adults, including Sarah Jane, were at their most prominent. Joseph Millson was finally given something to and took advantage of the chance to shift Alan from being rather a one-note Dad figure into someone able to cope with the new alien discoveries as much as his daughter. It’s a shame that the secret from across the road has been revealed to Alan so early although it’s to the good that the potential paradox machine, sorry, reset switch that could have simply put everyone back to where they were with the same level of knowledge before the adventure began wasn’t flicked, the events of the story still having consequences.

Liz Sladen wasn’t a slouch either, dependably facing down the trickster whilst fretting about Luke whom she’s by now bonded with as though he were her real son. I’ve read a criticism somewhere in the past week that this iteration of the character has little to do with the figure who travelled with the Doctor which isn’t true at all, and indeed she’s a more logical progression that the rather strict woman who strode through K9 & Company. People change when they’re provided with differing perspective and responsibilities and like Captain Jack before her, she’s essentially carrying on the Doctor’s work the slow way. As Sarah admitted herself in the first part of the story, she has become a bit mumsy, but there are still the flashes of humour tempered with a new found authority when required.

My consternation last week of the result of Sarah Jane being taken from the time-mix were sort of addressed in the void, at least from a spin-off perspective as Ms. Smith listed her conquests and the Trickster said that he’d deflected them from Earth. It’s a pity the script didn’t go further though, talking about how the effect of pulling the character from history would have touched other eras of history. It would have odd though not to have mentioned the Doctor but then that led to my fan genes trying to work out exactly when he’d be pulled from time and how different the universe would be without him. Perhaps we’ve already seen that during the second series of new Doctor Who, the alternative world that gained a Rose still being devoid of her time lord friend.

Frankly, I could go one for many more thousands of words about how much I enjoyed this episode but at some point you do fear that you could head off into a territory of layering in superlatives that the actual programme can’t withstand. It can’t be that good can it? That meteor wasn’t the best we’ve ever seen, for example. Why did it seem to be targeted directly at Sarah Jane's house conveniently in the path of her laser beam? The alternative Clyde seemed a bit inconsistent – would cake really be enough of a reason to stick around at a birthday party with those people having not yet been softened by his association with Luke? I’m still not sure about Chrissie Jackson, who was given some pretty funny lines in here but seems to be a mismatch with the other Jacksons – you can’t plausibly see them as ever having been a family unit in the past and she hardly seems like Alan’s type.

The Graske, though a wonderful creation, could never sustain a full adventure (I'm hankering after a 3D Beep The Meep), but it would be a waste if this was the last we see of his master the Trickster, who was still bone chillingly scary. The quality of the ‘flashback’ was brilliantly realised considering the budget (great mini-Sarah), even if the accident at the pier might be another blow to the economy of seaside towns. Graham Harper’s direction, particular in those scenes, was superb and it seems bizarre that he’s not working on feature films, so able is he to cover action and actors, selecting the angles at which to shoot the pier hanger for maximum effect. The music was probably the best of the series, even if the Mr. Smith fanfare is becoming a bit repetitive. As with the rest of the series, at no point did it seem as though Gareth Robert’s script was oversimplifying everything for the kids, granting them with some intelligence, expecting them and us to keep up with the rapid scene and story changes, presenting a global apocalypse from a localized perspective.

This might well have been the best story of the series (so far).

Next week: The mystery of UNIT dating is finally solved. Possibly.

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