Day of the Clown (Part Two)

TV What a godawful final minute. One of the great themes in The Sarah Jane Adventures is the underscoring of what a great, fabulous exciting Whoniverse it is, with characters seemingly weekly looking up at the sky enraptured by the possibilities. Much of the time we viewers wonder too, even though like Sarah Jane we’ve spent all these years seeing what it looks like and trying to pretend that most of it doesn’t look like Studio B. The last minute of The Day of the Clown was another example of this, but somewhere in the midst of the script, the performances, the direction and the music, I don’t think there’s been a falser moment on British tv this year with the exception of some of Mohinder’s more meandery meanders in the voiceover reality of Heroes. Some of the scene seemed have been ADRed (Additional Dialogue Recording) which can’t have helped the chemistry, but the poetry just tanked, as did the jokes, and I don’t think I’ve hated Clyde more than in that final shot when he looked backwards and said a line not even David Tennant could get away with.

Which is a shame, because up until that point the episode had passed the high quality control standards set by last week. In the first half, Bradley Walsh was largely kept mute until the cliffhanger, but in the second he was let out into the circus ring and basically stole the show. It’s interesting that in times gone by a figure like Walsh being cast at any level of Who would have caused sniggers, but having spent time on Coronation Street he’s become a credible enough actor that his appearance as a villain raised few eyebrows and his turn as the sinister Spellman might well be one of the creepiest performances the franchise has seen. Some of this had to with the accents, Elijah’s German and Odd Bob’s part-Lector part Michael Keaton’s Dogberry in Much Ado About Nothing. But it was his presence too, the dead eyes, the false geniality, the menace. His advance on Sarah Jane at the Pharos Institute was properly scary, simply because you weren’t sure what he was capable of.

This was an episode designed to creep out parents as well as children; as the little-uns clutched their mummy’s breast at the sight of the scary man with the fluffy red sideburns, the idea was presumably that the mummy would clutch their child tighter as the primal parental fear of losing them was enunciated (assuming they’re not out in the kitchen trying to make the tea). Child catchers aren’t new to children’s fiction ("You have to know where to look; like cockroaches, they get under the floors, in the cracks in the walls, in the woodwork!"), and Ford’s script was careful to demonstrate that it was the act of kidnapping the school kids in order to create fear which was Odd Bobs aim, but it’s still quite brave to tell this kind of story at 4:35 during Children’s BBC, with the kind of hysteria which surrounds just this kind of crime (though obviously in a more grimly mundane Linda LaPlante style). It’s that thing which was missing from Sunday's Eighth Doctor adventure, Dead London; you can tell an exciting, slightly horrific, actiony romp, but it feels more relevant if there’s something underneath, however well buried below talk of meteors and aliens and ninety-nine red balloons going by (or however many there were).

If the first half had Lamorisse and Lang getting lost between the hobos and tramps looking for a way out, this week Ford and vetran tv director Michael Kerrigan (remember Knights of God?) must have been dosing on Orson Welles and Bruce Lee; with that fascinatingly abstract scene in the hall of mirrors which must have been a homage to The Lady from Shanghai or The Way of the Dragon. This was one of those episodes filled with memorable images. The shot of the empty school yard with the three teachers almost colliding with each other at the centre; the phalanx of kids with their balloons marching through the streets, those floating balloons contrasted against a sky so blue it looked like it had been pasted in from the Derek Jarman film. It’s an example of the show, despite its budget and otherwise quite conventional staging aspiring for something more cinematic. They’re not scared of a bit of (what I understand to be) Soviet montage either, with the rapid cutting of shots of clowns with Sarah Jane’s face, underscoring Liz Sladen’s superb performance and helping us to understand this personal phobia which seems to be driving her to levels of apoplexy not seen since a Dalek fleet drifted into the sky above London.

A good introductory story for Rani then, what with her predictably finding a way to stop Spellman, apparently having seen a Tim Vine dvd the night before. I like the way she stands; in that four shot in the attic, everyone else has their pull on hero pose, whereas Ajili’s chose the stork position. Actually the actress seemed less certain this time around, but again I think that might have been as a result of the weirdly unnatural ADR which was more prevalent than usual. She can certainly make her eyes sparkle with the best of them, and there’s already a great rapport with the rest of the cast. Rani’s parents had less to do this week, which is certain to be a phrase I’ll be repeating in the coming weeks as the likes of Clyde’s family come online. Some nice nods to the classics too, with the clown from The Celestial Toymaker putting in an appearance and lip service to Sarah’s Aunt Lavinia (if only Mary Wimbush was still with us). Has the early mortality of her parent’s already been established anywhere or is this something new? Whatever, if you hated the clowns, weren’t too put out by that last minute, and weren’t enamoured by new technology repelling old ‘magic’ at least there was the return of Floella Benjamin’s mesmeric line readings; Liz deserves a Stanislavski award for having to act against that…

Next Week: What An Atmosphere, I predict a party with a happy atmosphere …

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