Season 3 of The Sarah Jane Adventures opens with Prisoner of the Judoon, capitalizing on the popularity of a Doctor Who monster and adding some extras to it along the way. It’s actually a really surprising episode: while there’s no explicit morality message, we get a mix of comedy and action with the whole cast getting some screen time.
The story starts off with a visual treat as Sarah Jane offers another of her monologues about the wonders of the universe and the merits of keeping your eyes and mind open; two traits I really respect, I might add! Then the story settles on the gang as an alien ship is crashing to earth. UNIT take over finding the ship itself, but Sarah Jane and company are looking for the life pod and the crew that it carried. In other words, police Captain Tybo, the Judoon, and his prisoner, Androvax the Annihilator. Androvax is a Veil lifeform and can hide inside the body of another… by stepping into them. Now, like a Babylon 5 episode, this story seems to have a B plot too. Gita and Haresh (Rani’s parents) are going to market Gita’s flower business by giving some plants to the local Nanotech factory. This leads to a comical adventure for them, in the same building as her daughter merging the two plots quite enjoyably.
Ok, so that’s the idea behind it. Does writer Phil Ford surprise us again? Absolutely. But are the issues? A few. First, Androvax is inhabiting Sarah Jane’s body while in her attic. Mr. Smith, the alien computer, knows Sarah Jane is possessed. Does he do anything about it, like put her in a confinement beam like we saw in last seasons finale? Not a bit of it! I call that an oversight. Like old Batman episodes, it’s poor form to introduce an ability that you promptly ignore for all subsequent episodes. And I can’t help but wonder what happens after the episode when Mr. York goes to the police to explain how Sarah Jane Smith did so much damage to his labs. (There would be record of her coming in, so it would be hard to dispute!) On the other hand, the victories are marvelous. Sarah Jane, pre-Androvax, is speaking to what she believes is a scared little girl who saw a “monster”. Sarah Jane explains, “aliens are people just like us… not monsters”. Bravo! Let’s help overcome xenophobia, I say! And when Clyde helps Captain Tybo up after he collapses, Clyde notices how bad his breath is. I point this out because Ford could have ignored that, but instead he builds a larger world by adding what most people wouldn’t even think to comment on.
There’s also some really great comedy too, although some of it is subtle. Rani is on the phone with Sarah Jane and tells her that the Judoon is “going to be alright.” Clearly, she’s no medic; the Judoon is stumbling around in the background looking distinctly not alright! I am torn on the police scene; I did laugh but I felt it was poorly done for the comedy, but I forget, the police of the UK don’t carry guns. That same scene could not have happened here. And there’s a brief moment where Clyde gets a glare from the Judoon which is very subtle, and very funny. And at the end of part two, when the Judoon are walking their prisoner out, they pass Gita and Haresh but stop to tell them, “nothing to see!”
But there was a lot to see. Let’s not forget the nanoform-built spaceship. Doctor Who had an animated story starring David Tennant called Dreamland. (Again, Chris Chibnall really needs lessons in storytelling from the writers of this series!) Here, we see that same alien ship, complete with the same power supply from the animated episode along with some beautiful chromework. The interior of the ship was stunning. I could have done without Lis Sladen’s silly alien-possessed voice or the tongue lashing, but overall the episode made for a great season opener. Screen time for the whole cast, Judoon, and Androvax… although, like most SJA villains, he is one of the polite ones. After the Judoon have captured him, they needn’t even handcuff him; he just comes along quietly. So polite! If this is any indication of what’s to come, I think we’re in for another fantastic season! ML