Roger and I have been tossing the idea about for a long time, and last night, I had the revelation: having finished looking at The Twilight Zone, it was high time to go back and look at the other Doctor Who spin-offs. Since I’ve been listening to the Big Finish audios again, I opted to start with The Sarah Jane Adventures. I’ll come to Torchwood and Class down the line… for now, I wanted to go back to the companion that I met when I was 8.
Invasion of the Bane is the first episode of The Sarah Jane Adventures, SJA for short, and it was a bit of a yawner at first. The acting was silly and it felt like Doctor Who Jr. Opening up by introducing us to neighborhood newcomer, Maria, and her dad, Allen, works well for a kids show, but this isn’t Doctor Who. But then we meet Sarah Jane and … wait, this isn’t the Sarah Jane I knew and loved as a kid. She’s cold, distant… she’s rude and doesn’t want to be disturbed. I’m reminded of a word… yes! Anti-hero. (Roger’s well-time article on the antihero is perfect). And then it hit me: this was how the Doctor was first introduced all those years ago. Cold, rude, even a bit kidnap-y! On top of that Ian and Barbara had the feeling they were investigating something best left alone; the same thing Maria realizes. All of a sudden it hit me, there was something deeper to this pilot.
To increase my admiration for this episode, there are a lot of callbacks to the original series. Mrs. Wormwood scans Sarah Jane and detects artron energy. Those who don’t recall, this is related to the TARDIS and travel through the vortex. Then, throughout her attic, we see images of a Dalek, as well as pictures of Harry Sullivan and the Brigadier. There’s a picture of Sarah Jane with K-9 (who is currently living in a box that looks into a black hole… what? I’ll come back to that!) There’s an image of the TARDIS too. Sarah Jane even tells her new friends about the Doctor (“there was only ever one man for me…”) and that there are “secret organizations” out there who help investigate aliens. Yes, we are playing in our own back yard after all.
Then, sucker that I am, having a creature that looks like one of Lovecraft’s spawn does help the story for me. Shub-Niggurath, if I’m not mistaken! Gussy it up however you want, that was not the “Bane Mother”, that was Shub, 100%! (Good ol’ Shub… we go back! And yes, I’m certain he doesn’t mine me calling him that.) Having auditioned for the part of the Mighty Jagrafess of the Holy Hadrojassic Maxarodenfoe in The Long Game and been turned down, Shub went on to this series and looked great! I also respect the shout-out to Blue Peter; a show that often gave those same shout-outs to Doctor Who.
That’s not to say those positives overshadow some of the ridiculous things that go on. K-9’s existence makes no sense. Mr. Smith is a giant 1/2-TARDIS-console-shaped computer that comes out of the wall with a fanfare that’s just over the top. Mrs Wormwood is a villain who just fails to be anything more than a caricature villain and her son is even worse. Kelsey (Porsha Lawrence Mavour) is not a strong character and is clearly trying too hard. And, worst of all, when the Bane seem to get the upper hand, their big threat is walking around like zombies with a bottle of soda extended as they call out: “Drink it!” As threats go, forcing us to drink orange soda was only going to give everyone diabetes. (I say “only” by comparison to world destroying megalomaniacs!)
Lastly, the title gave too much away. By calling the story Invasion of the Bane, it was depressingly clear that the villain was called the Bane, so having the drink contain “bane” was a give-away. Ok so we were all ingesting the enemy… Wait… that’s gross!! But then let’s not forget the target audience. For the kids watching, this would have been a lot of fun. It’s colorful, energetic, and exciting. And it keeps to Doctor Who lore. We are in the universe we all love! And hey, what little girl wouldn’t want her own Sonic Lipstick? Ok, this may be a little junior, but it’s starting out on the right foot. Where will it lead us from here? I guess we’ll find out. Stay tuned. ML
Sonic lipstick can seem like a bland variation, much like what I decided on with Susan 2’s tachyon tool, and so it was clear from the start that SJA, as opposed to Torchwood, Class and The Soldier Stories, would as a spinoff feel the closest in obvious ways to the main Dr. Who. This was similar enough to how Downtime felt more Whoniversally familiar for its time as opposed to P.R.O.B.E.
I can be biased as most fans of Liz Sladen who, even in her less accessible take on Sarah Jane for this spinoff pilot, is still just as favourable here as she was in K9 & Company. And as for how K9’s role was circumstantially limited, it at least beat the inevitable failures of the K-9 spinoff.
Thank you, ML, for your review. And to quote for the first villainy for SJA:
“UNTIL THE NEXT TIME…MISS SMITH!!!”
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