The final episode of season 4 is extremely hard to watch. That’s not because it’s a bad episode, but rather because I know the next season of the show is the last due to the sad and horribly untimely death of the magnificent Lis Sladen. So when we see Sarah Jane’s mental and physical health deteriorating, I can’t help but think of Lis herself as she was dealing with her own (secretly) failing health. Was that actually going on while they filmed this episode? And when Mr. Smith scans her and says there’s nothing he can do for her, I wonder if Lis was acting through her own real life troubles? To consider her personal pain while watching this episode… that’s tough to stomach… (ironically, no pun intended!)
But it’s only fair to evaluate the episode on its own merits. I was reminded of the television version of The Incredible Hulk while watching this story. There was one episode where the audience is introduced to a second Hulk. If we knew that next season was only going to be half a season, we may have bought into the idea that someone was going to replace Sarah Jane, and if that were the plan all along, this could have been an interesting way to introduce Sarah Jane’s replacement. As that was not the plan at the time, we can see through Ruby White with ease. She is the bad Hulk. A bad Hulk with a blob in the cellar that is actually her stomach.
There’s an interesting mirror image to Mr. Smith with the stomach in the basement. Smith is a machine in the top part of a house while the stomach is an organic entity living in the bottom of another. Similarly, Ruby is a new and slightly more hip version of Sarah Jane, complete with an upgraded car and a smaller form factor for her AI. Both represent one another in different ways and that’s interesting to observe.
Sarah Jane may be absent for the bulk of this story, trapped in a basement, but her limited time on screen is still a powerhouse performance. Her shaky hands and fading memory rip our hearts out. Finding out that she was 23 when she started traveling with The Doctor may have been the first time we find out her age when it all started. Watching her give Clyde a gun, however, is shocking and a clear indication of how badly she’s being affected by the events she’s experiencing.
Clyde and Rani prove to be smarter than many of the Doctor’s companions. This story does something that is sadly lacking in Doctor Who and especially the early Big Finish stories. Namely, Rani makes a comment to Clyde that they have to go “pick up the stuff”. Clyde doesn’t blurt out like all of the Doctor’s companions, “What stuff? We don’t have any stuff. OH!” He nods. He actually gets it! So some people actually understand what it means to bluff. Also, when Rani breaks down crying over her lost friends, her mom reminds us that parents don’t give up on their children. Meanwhile Clyde is trapped in space in a seriously scary position, rapidly running out of air. His testimony that he is leaving to Rani makes me wonder just what he was going to say. Even K-9 and Mr. Smith have a fun moment, where their rivalry is back on display, but ends with them realizing that the do like one another. And I have to say, it was good having Luke back, even with all his intense eyebrow stares. Definitely the weakest character… but still part of the family.
After Clyde gets gooped in typical Nickelodeon fashion (though thankfully less than most Slitheen episodes), we do have to wonder what happened to Ruby. She threatens the earth as if she were to become a repeat villain, which seems unlikely even if the series continued, but it’s the direction of her prison that concerns me. She appears to be heading right for the sun. I’d say that’s a dark ending for a baddie, but nothing could be further from the truth. Sorry… to soon? You get my meaning though, right?
With Sarah Jane restored, she says one of the most heartbreaking lines of the episode: “I think I can go on forever”. Yeah, forever was not going to be nearly long enough. In just three more stories, we will lose our best companion, forever. For now, we end the season with another brief monologue before it closes on another happy ending. But knowing what’s to come, I fear my joy is overshadowed by a looming darkness. What is it they say? All good things… ML