After a very kid-friendly pilot, The Sarah Jane Adventures (SJA, for short) has to prove it can hold up as a series of its own. Thankfully, they got rid of Kelsey so there was an automatic improvement from the outset. Again, Maria is our gateway into the series as she introduces us to what is going on in the neighborhood of Bannerman Road. We were briefly introduced to her self-centered, airheaded mom, Chrissy, in the pilot and she’s back adding a mix of comedy and annoyance for the viewer. (I confess her inability to remember Sally Ann… I mean Suzy Q… I mean Sarah Jane’s name did make me laugh!) We get to know Luke a little better, who is uncomfortable in school. “I made a really bad social mistake; I told them how to destroy the world!” And we meet Clyde (Kelsey’s replacement). This unlikely foursome will save the world, week after week!
During the pilot, I was reminded of An Unearthly Child with how standoffish Sarah Jane was, not unlike the Doctor in his debut story. This episode amplifies the analogy because the pattern that worked in 1963 gets successfully repeated here with another unlikely quartet. Luke is literally an unearthly child having been created mere days ago. Sarah Jane, still the gateway to the adventures, is the Doctor with her attic standing in for the TARDIS. Clyde and Maria are the Ian and Barbara of the modern age. It’s just different enough that it worked amazingly well for this cast, and even the silly farting aliens could not stop what was coming: another great Doctor Who series.
Remembering its foundations, there are a lot of little Easter eggs for the viewers. Sarah Jane’s comment “Something mysterious inside a school? That would be ridiculous, wouldn’t it?” is a clear reminder of 2006’s School Reunion. References to the Judoon and an image of a Jagaroth spaceship are delightful surprises (though how Sarah Jane knows what a Jagaroth is may never be explained!) I’m pretty certain that’s a Cyberman silhouette next to the Jagaroth ship! And I do love that Mr. Smith, our sentient wannabe TARDIS, begins going through a list of aliens it knows while trying to identify this latest threat. The first, unnamed in the pilot, is the creature we saw Sarah Jane help get back home, while the second is the Bane, followed by what looks like a demon. Is this list in alphabetical order? And AMNN news is still employing the same news anchor from Doctor Who. The world of Doctor Who is a coherent one during the Russell T. Davies era!
The first half ends with a classic style cliffhanger too: a triple threat leaves us wondering what will happen to Sarah Jane, Maria, Clyde and Luke as they each face off against an adversary of Slitheen fartiness. Hey, if the companion/Doctor combo can be repeated, why not make the cliffhanger format work just as well? As they say, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
Barring the occasional brilliant line and a clear indication that the show knows where it came from, there are a few issues I had with this story. Firstly, I don’t really believe the sun would go out and not destroy life as we know it even if it’s only out for a few minutes. That said, let’s not let fact interfere with a good story. Worse, when Maria and Clyde detonate a Slitheen, they laugh. I didn’t think that was the right message for the audience! Social responsibility should still be important and there’s something heartless about laughing when you kill an enemy, even if it’s out to get you. I guess one might attribute that to nervous energy, but I would prefer stronger writing. (In fairness, we do get some of that by the end of the story, so I can’t fault Russell too much, but it did jar a little bit!) On top of that, when Maria gets back to her mom at the end of the story, all the gooey bits are gone and her white shirt is still pristine again. Does Sarah Jane’s sonic lipstick also double as a Tide Stick? But there was one thing that towered above every silly blunder of the episode. One, monstrous horror for which I’d let all the other mistakes go: those moronic, idiotic, stupid, dipstick ties should be burned at the stake! This is a school that should be shut down just because it allows the students to go out in public looking like imbeciles! OH MY GOD… those ties are hideous!! If kids in England actually wear ties like this, I have lost all hope for my peers across the pond.
To wrap this story story, Sarah Jane tells Clyde about the Doctor. It’s a great way to remind the audience and introduce Clyde as a member of the team. It’s got some work to do, but it’s starting off as a really solid series that is keen to keep its fan base while bringing in a whole new audience. It’s a shame the current series of Doctor Who isn’t learning from this kids program. (Although I don’t see Jodie wearing a tie like these kids do…) ML