After two fairly silly stories, I was wondering how The Sarah Jane Adventures would play out. Farting aliens is just a little too junior for my tastes. Then we get a nun story. Nuns can be a bit scary; they are austere and often a bit mysterious. So when a group of nuns take a page out of some Scottish monks’ playbook (Tooth and Claw) and hide a Gorgon in their church, it gives us a chance to get away from the sophomoric and bring on some scarier villains. Maybe the scariest of those villains is the one that doesn’t get defeated: Alzheimer’s Disease. And, as if that’s not big enough, Maria also confronts divorce head-on, claiming that a “bit of paper” is what keeps her mom and dad apart and no one ever thought to ask her how she felt about it. It’s powerful, and kudos to Yasmin Paige as Maria for pulling it off so believably. We are moving into deeper waters with this story and I’m going along for the ride.
I wasn’t expecting such heavy ideas but before we get to all of that, SJA, like Doctor Who, is written by people who understand that even with big scary things, you need to add a sense of humor and there are some “laugh out loud” moments here. Finding out that someones “waterworks” keeps one of the residents up at night seems to genuinely shock Clyde and Luke. Chrissy, Maria’s mom, finds a petrified Alan and thinks Sarah Jane has a crush on him, and Clyde’s nickname for “Sister Sinister” are all great moments. Chrissy also mistakes Sarah Jane’s name again, this time as both Sally Jane and Mary Jane. But the ultimate for me was Clyde’s “Why can’t they get garden gnomes just like everyone else” upon seeing a yard filled with petrified people.
Another huge success for the episode is the cliffhanger. Roger did a superb job of looking at episode cliffhangers from Doctor Who and this series hits us with a big one. Let’s be honest: we know nothing will happen to Sarah Jane and we can be reasonably sure the kids will survive each story, but when Alan is turned to stone, we really don’t know if they might write him out. Divorce was the subject at the start of the episode and maybe this was going to be a way to get Chrissy back with Maria. The fact is, they create a wonderful cliffhanger. (They lose points for a mid-episode two moment when the nuns come out chanting “serve the Gorgon” over and over. What, did they think they were going to “Dalek” Sarah Jane into submission?) They recover a second batch of points though when Chrissy talks to the statue of Alan about her regrets, making her a real person instead of just an air-head. Alan’s tear is heartfelt. A further victory for the episode is creating the Gorgon herself; a withered, creepy looking nun whose fingers send shivers down my spine!
One failure of the story is that Bea Nelson-Stanley is a woman who has encountered Sontaran’s and knows about Yeti but she never seems to be connected with the wider world of Doctor Who. Imagine how much better this would have been if she ended up being married to, let’s say, Professor Rubeish (The Time Warrior). It would have been a link to Sarah Jane’s first ever episode and explained how she knew about the Sontaran’s, while creating that wider world that I believe in so much. Instead, she’s a woman who somehow survived them. There was a chance at greatness that slipped through their fingers…
At one point, Clyde mentions Star Trek and there’s something magical about that because the two most hopeful science fiction shows I can think of are Doctor Who and Star Trek. Hope makes up the backbone of both series. When Maria returns the locket to Bea, she’s hoping Bea’s memory will come back and when that fails, she’s sad: Alzheimer’s wins. But Sarah Jane reminds her, “it gave her peace.” There’s something deeply wonderful and hopeful in that. While some monsters cannot be beaten, maybe we can find peace to live with them. At least for now.
The series is still very new at this point, but the writers are definitely taking us in the right direction. I can’t wait to watch more… ML