There are some things Doctor Who does wrong. The titles of episodes have never been strong, going with archaic “The This of the That” pattern instead of something clever like a word or phrase that could explain the situation. (For instance Thin Ice was a good title, while, say, Destiny of the Daleks sucks!) Then we get the aliens whose names are what they are: Ice Warriors are pretty on point. Cryons are too on the nose too. Those Draconian Draconians really can’t help themselves. And what of those undersea devils, the Sea Devils? I mean those names are great but how much more convenient when those creatures decide to actually go by those names!?! Well The Sarah Jane Adventures is a product of its parent. In The Eternity Trap, we meet Erasmus Darkening. Yep, no chance of him surprising us at the start of episode 2 with him being a kindly old man who is stuck in a trap. No, he’s an alien who elongates names to make them sound as creepy as possible. The problem is Donald Sumpter lost all credibility to me after he played Rassilon the Whiney in Hell Bent The Series Out Of Shape during Capaldi’s second season. So now, Mr. Darkening comes off as little more than a slow moving dullard as a villain in this story.
What the story does have going for it is atmosphere. Forget the lame villain, the ghost story is perfectly in time for an October posting. And man, when Midnight, the stars and you plays that haunting melody, I’m transported back to the Overlook Hotel, screaming “redrum” as pools of blood barrell down the halls towards me. To add to that Shining motif, there are two ghostly children who come to play with Rani and Clyde. Luckily, they don’t want to play forever, and ever, and ever. Then we jump over to Amityville Horror with a chalkboard GET OUT! Phil Ford shows a love of all these classic horror movies with his little jaunt into hauted houses, and I love it! He also throws in a quick Sherlock Holmes reference as Rani finds a magnifying glass and pipe. Good ol’ Rani!
If there are flaws with the episode, I count three. One, why does Sarah Jane have such a hard time accepting “ghosts”? Just because everything she’s encountered has been explained by science, does not discount a ghostly apparition. But I could accept this with very little prompting, if we take it that she means everything will have a scientific explanation in the end, and ghosts, by their nature, defy that. Two, when Sarah Jane destroys Darkening’s equipment, she leaves it there, as if no one could come along and rebuild it or even work on it? Perhaps she assumes Professor Rivers (of Pharos) will disassemble it, or maybe she intends to call Unit, or Torchwood? Who knows! But what I take the greatest issue with is this… Sarah Jane’s sonic lipstick works on wood!!! I mean, come on! REALLY?!??! I wasn’t even as bothered by the absence of Luke as I was by this travesty of sonic technology!
At best, the episode is a creepfest, which is still welcome but the villain just never lives up. Even the cliffhanger doesn’t work for being that creepy. Typically, shine a flashlight under a face in the dark, and you can scare anyone, but Sumpter’s stepping out of the shadows only scared me in case he whined again about being Erasmus … the redeeeeeemer! And even though this story has no deep moral message, it still feels good as a family is brought back together again in the end. Yet another victory to The Sarah Jane Adventures. (Now if only the villains had better names!) ML