The Sarah Jane Adventures: Whatever Happened To Sarah Jane?
First point: Wow! What a script! How can we not have something like this more often? Gareth Roberts really is a fabulous writer, showing more of that potential his previous Graske production and The Shakespeare Code to create a story that has topped the previous instalments. This show really is just going from strength to strength, getting better and better.
Second point: I didn't like the direction. And before anyone suggests that I was set against it from seeing Graeme Harper being the director, you're wrong. Hear that? You're wrong! Ha! I didn't actually find out his name until half way through the direction, when, after disliking the direction for the first part I looked on wikipedia to see who directed this with wonky camera angles, silly close ups and shaky movements, and lo and behold, the director who everyone else seems to adore but whose work I have disliked over the last few years was responsible. I expect quite a few of you will berate me for this, but there we have it. I officially don't like Graeme Harper's direction beyond The Caves of Androzani (and even that direction was just par: go ahead, send your goons to blow off my kneecaps). I shall return to this matter later when you've all put down your guns.
Third point: The cast are just wonderful. Jane Asher cannot pull off that accent, where's the nice pointed RP from Crossroads? Even her in 1964 has a better accent, why doesn't she now? But that aside, she does a good job. Lis Sladen is, without a doubt, the finest actress on television today. How can anyone not love her? Maria does quite well, as does her dad. The tall villain is also quite good, but the Graske...
Fourth point: The Graske is very detracting from the story. His presence is quite humourous, but it works against the story at times. The scenes when he is capturing Maria don't work particularly well, because you think "Well, why doesn't she pick him up and throw him across the room". The fact that she's following him when all he's got attached to her is a taser dart doesn't really work, as it seems she could easily fight her way away from him. However, the larger villain is very intimidating and the make up is very eerie, and hopefully we'll get a return from his kind.
The plot is fairly basic, but in a 50 minute story it can be, and the dialogue and the character development is expert enough to make up for that. Sarah Jane can stop meteor, Sarah Jane removed, earth in peril. I was wondering how it would be explained that the earth had been saved where Sarah Jane had not existed, and fortunately that was covered well by the wish for chaos over all else. Some excellent lines are used for this: "Chaos is my blood, my air and my food". It also included the subject of the Doctor, an option which could have easily been left out but which is important to know that it isn't just the safety of the earth, but of beings across the universe that are at the hands of this monster. This gives a much better sense of grandeur than a lot of the Who and Torchwood episodes, where it's exactly the Earth which could be destroyed in every episode, no more, no less, and which gets very repetitive. The inclusion of the Doctor is clever, and the episode benefits from it without losing anything to new viewers: everyone knows who the Doctor is, and there aren't any complicated references to specific events which are vital to understanding the episode. Gareth Roberts gets it spot on.
Oh, I may have forgotten to mention this earlier, but Lis Sladen is, without a doubt, the finest actress on television today.
Back to the direction (Better get into the witness protection programme, I don't trust some of the fans here... disliking Graeme Harper still carries a death penalty on some forums). The zooming close ups (accompanied by whoosh music) are unnecessary, and give a patronising feel, similar to the over-the-top chords in Eye of the Gorgon 4 weeks ago. Omission of these wouldn't harm the story, a slower, more subtle close up with more subdued music would have done enough for the kids. They aren't as stupid as the directors seem to think. The writers clearly don't think so, they are coming up with intelligent stories with clever plots, not playing down to an immature level. The writers are blending the lines of good and bad, with the Kudlak the enemy but merely misguided, with the baby slitheen who you feel sorry for at the end, and now with Jane Asher who is the enemy but who is tormented and torn between doing the right thing and what's best for her. You also have the interesting moral point of whether Sarah Jane had more right to live than Andrea. The writers are creating clever, mature ideas with subtlety. Why then can't the directors do the same? And the "Maria's disappearing from time" LSD trip that her dad experiences is utterly stupid. Subtlety, people.
Final point: Lis Sladen is, without a doubt, the finest actress on television today. Did I mention that?
NEXT TIME: Well, after a week off, Luke gets what looks to be his key story for the season, and it looks bloomin' good! How sad it should be so near to finishing.
The Little Book of Disappearing and Reappearing People Whose Lack of Existence Could Cause Chaos In This World And Across The Entire Universe In Both The Past And The Future has this to say about Whatever Happened To Sarah Jane: At the key moment when Maria's character is finally defined, Graeme Harper had [This portion of the extract regarding the direction of the episode has been removed for the safety and protection of the writer] but no penguins were available.