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Jan 02, 2007

'Is This Good?'

‘Watching Doctor Who spin-offs can be an adventure too. You just need to know where to look…’

Well, this Christmas try BBC3, BBC1 and CBBC for starters.

This is getting to feel a little like deja-vu of three months ago, but here goes. Welcome, all, to the new Doctor Who spin-off, featuring a group of intrepid investigators who collect alien technology and fight evil extra-terrestrial plans whilst using such coarse vernacular as ‘Gosh’, ‘Drat’ and ‘Wicked’. They’re led by an enigmatic, mysterious figure who seems to neither wither nor die and who has wistful memories of travelling with someone called ‘THE DOCTOR’. There are social problems - loneliness, divorce, high-sugar content drinks - and many alien menaces to combat. Welcome to Torch…

Um well, no. Obviously.

Still, the comparison is not without merit. ‘Cept of course this time we’re strictly aiming for the kiddy-winkles demographic rather than the mother-f**kers. The pilot for The Sarah-Jane Adventures was very loud, very confusing and very, very much a product of its target audience. Not unlike Torchwood. And like that show I’m not sure that I should be reviewing it, seeing as I don’t really think it was for me. Well, I am nearly thirty-five years old now; and the days of watching children’s television are of course long past.

Ahem.

I won’t waste much time discussing the plot - pilots tend not to waste much time devising them anyway, so who am I to argue - so instead I’ll try and look beyond the basics that this first hour of the latest Doctor-less universe provided and assess what potential the subsequent series proper may have.

1. The set-up.

Okay, it’s made for the CBBC crowd. That means lots of street-wise urchins talking in impenetrable tongues and making references to the tackier end of pop culture every five seconds. Adults in these shows are there for two reasons: 1) to be a bit lame, embarrassing and preferably fair game for the show’s adult totty; 2) to be sensible, boring and provide the juvenile leads with something to rescue week-in, week-out. In the case of the SJA pilot, we have Alan Jackson - father of Maria, our touchstone heroine - who comes across as the bastard offspring of a children’s TV presenter and the bland bloke who lives next door in a coffee commercial. Here is a man so lame as to not only let his tarted-up trollop of an ex-wife treat him like a walking branch of the Alimony bank, but also so inept at chatting up women that he lets his teenage daughter do it for him. This man has ‘victim’ stencilled through his boxer shorts like a parallel version of Calvin Klein.

Maria's Dad can’t be with Wanadoo, cos they take a bloody age to switch users when you change address

So anyway, he and his daughter Maria have just moved in across the road from a former time-traveller who likes nothing more than driving eccentric cars and wearing velvet coats (we’ll call her ‘Sarah-Jane’, for argument’s sake). And Maria is soon ensconced in the mad world of the intrepid journalist, encountering fearsome ceiling-hanging monsters, genetically-bred humans and arguably the most disgustingly sweet soft drink this side of Cherry Coke. Along for the ride is her comic relief neighbour Kelcie (think Mickey with ringlets), who only befriends her because her Dad happens to have broadband (can’t be with Wanadoo, cos they take a bloody age to switch users when you change address) and who’s been drinking more Bubble-Shock than an entire laboratory full of test-monkeys on saline drips. Apparently, there’s gonna be a future episode where you discover that Kelcie used to be white before she started her one-girl campaign for Michael Jackson-style dermatological enhancement with the aid of carbonated soft drinks.

2. Sarah-Jane Smith

Ah yes, the reason we’re watching this show through the mists of New Years Eve-induced fogginess in the first place. Well, time’s moved on for our investigative journalist - eighteen months or so from ‘School Reunion’, it seems - but Sarah’s still pining for the life of distant planets and ancient civilizations that the Doctor used to impress his companions with (sigh). Any road, Sarah’s now very firmly taken to acting like the Doctor in the absence of having the real thing - doing the grandiose speeches, acting all eccentric like a lesbian maiden-aunt and waving around her sonic lipstick like it’s about the only thing she keeps in her handbag that vibrates. Oh, and she’s lonely. So lonely in fact that her only friends are an alien extra from that episode of Torchwood when Tosh goes lezzer; a computer who acts like a static Jeeves - and goes by the name of ‘Mr Smith’, just to rub in the fact of Sarah’s thoroughly sexless existence - and a certain robot dog called K-9. Problem is, thanks to his absence as a result of solving some black-hole problem which might one day engulf the Earth (as you do), even K-9’s got better things to do; his brief - and rather sweet - cameo restricted to a couple of minutes of John Leeson talking in a safe. It’s a good thing that Bob Baker’s not still trying to get any ill-conceived animated spin-off off the ground, else we’d detect something distinctly fishy…

3. The villain.

Where do you go to after James Bond? Well, for namesake Samantha - Moneypenny to Brosnan’s recently-retired secret agent - the destination appears to be panto-hag; as she gives the sort of performance as Sarah-Jane’s would-be recurring nemesis (think Hilda Winters with a better tailor) that reluctant parents would have been dragged to by their offspring these past few festive weeks. Her Miss Wormwood is just - just - the right side of arch; but when your entire motivation comes from taking over the world with some sort of genetically-modified version of Sunny Delight, subtlety’s hardly gonna be your strong point. Nor is your master, as the real ‘Mother’ behind this farrago is revealed to be an early concept design for the Mighty Jagrafess, crossed with Audrey from Little Shop of Horrors.

4. The moral.

No woman is an island. Like the ninth Doctor on his televisual return, Sarah starts out as a dried-up old misanthrope; only to become part of a pseudo-family of suburban stereotypes in the space of fifty minutes. Then there’s the adopted son. Hmm. I wonder if this missing link in the Conrad twins legacy of ‘The Twin Dilemma’ will be quite as irritating in the subsequent series as he is here; seeing as he a) repeats every bleeding word another character says to him and b) is so socially dense as to think that being called Maria is a good move for a teenaged boy.

...like a lesbian maiden-aunt, waving around her sonic lipstick like it’s about the only thing she keeps in her handbag that vibrates

Oh, and not forgetting some rather obvious satire about consumer culture and the way multi-corporate entities just love to control our taste buds. Yes, this is aimed at kids but are we really talking down to them these days because we’re afraid of confusing the poor little souls with our multi-layered storytelling, or simply because it might put off the X-box generation which apparently constitutes 99% of all viewers anyway?

But just before you right this review off as the one-eyed ramblings of a deluded thirty-something who has just seen his childhood memories metaphorically raped again, I will say this for the SJA: Lis Sladen is still my sweetheart. If ‘School Reunion’ proved that there was life in the old girl yet, then ‘Invasion of the Bane’ merely confirms how this one-time crush of a million seventies’ adolescents can still hold her own when given centre stage. She’s about the only reason that I’ll watch the resultant series when it airs later this year; especially seeing as they’ve forgotten to get the rights to that sweet dog.

And I just bet she gets it on with Maria’s Dad, too.

(The Bumper Book of Made-Up Sarah-Jane Adventures Facts (gotta think of a snappier title than that) has this to say about Invasion of the Bane: the studio set for Sarah’s secret study - which showcased various homages to the journalist’s time on 'Doctor Who' - was based on Ian Levine’s living room)

Comments

You see what I'm hoping for is a big Earth shattering story that which will be dealt with in different ways in all three series -- kind of like the Secret Wars or House of M or Civil War arc across Marvel Comics. The whole time rift opening thing at the end of Torchwood would have been perfect for that. Shame.

For that thought it would need either a one off multi special or for all the shows to be airing in close proximity. Otherwise it would be difficult to spread a story across an autumn show, a winter show, and a summer show.

I hope they don't do anything of the sort! Three different shows, three differene audiences - who's going to be able to follow it all?

Besides, Secret Wars was BLOODY TERRIBLE!

Kelcie (think Mickey with ringlets)

Am I alone in thinkng she was a black Vicky Pollard then?

It was quite amusing to catch a former user of mine at my last place of work get caught on on a problem she had logged & then go "yeah but yeah but yeah but no", when I pointed out the obvious solution.

The icing on the cake was that she was Indian & totally failed to see the parallels with what she had just said with VP. This was a person that logged a call complaining she couldn't dial in for her e-mails because the phone was engaged.

Anyway back on topic, the picture on the DW website does seem to support that image.

Will: NO.

Thoughts on SJA:

Sarah herself was marvelous. Excellent delivery of sparkling dialogue.

Maria and (country music legend) Alan Jackson I have yet to make my mind up on.

That stuff is repackaged Irn Bru, as I believe someone said in an earlier review, and I completely back up. All natural and organic like scottish bridge run-off.

Those aliens were a bit cockroach meets octopus, eh?

How cool is it to have a black hole in your attic? How cool is to have an attic that looks like a Torchwood storeroom? How cool is it that she's friends with a NICE version of a Torchwood baddie(space poet!)?

I liked it. I really did. Also, that git from Hex got his arse handed to him by Sarah. Yay!

Dave: No, Im not alone, or No she isnt (I presume the former.

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