The Sarah Jane Adventures Season 4
Episodes 1 & 2: The Nightmare Man
Airdate: October 11th and 12th 2010. UK. BBC1
Okay. So the successful Doctor Who spin-off featuring one of his most popular companions, Sarah Jane-Smith, who has been in shows with quite a few of the Doctors now but was primarily a companion to the third and fourth incarnations, returned to our screens this week with the first of a series of two-part episodes.
Now I have to say that I always liked Elisabeth Sladen’s character. I was always a Katy Manning guy and would have happily spent an eternity watching her Jo Grant character but Sarah Jane was no let down in the hard transition period between companions and then between Doctors back in the 70s. I even liked the failed pilot film for the proposed K9 and Company show teaming K9 and Sarah Jane which was shown in 1981 and would have gladly watched more of them if they’d made them (although I suspect it must look pretty creaky nowadays... will have to investigate the DVD). I suspect that one of the reasons The Sarah Jane Adventures has garnered the huge viewing figures it currently has for a children’s programme is because there are also a lot of people my age who grew up with the character in the 70s watching it too... probably watching it with kids of their own but I’ve unfortunately not been blessed with that opportunity.
Another reason why I think the show works really well is because the episodic nature of some of the stories coupled with some genuinely frightening stories give it a much closer feel to the old Doctor Who shows of the 60s, 70s and 80s than the new Doctor Who shows have (and I’m not knocking those because I really like them for the most part... the last season could have done with a little more oomph perhaps). It’s certainly a lot more terrifying at times than the new Doctor Who.
The first story of Season 4 is quite a dark one as it mostly takes place in the nightmares of the alien born Luke (Sarah Jane’s adopted alien son) and so the spook element is fairly present but perhaps just a little dulled down on this one. For a while now the writers have been using the stories as a backdrop to play out teenage social issues and this story is no exception as Sarah Jane, Clive and Rani have to come to terms with the fact that the extra clever Luke is leaving school early and going to Oxford University instead. And since he’s given K9 to take away with him, the writers have managed to get rid of both their “crutch” characters in one hit by stories end. They’ve obviously decided that having a robot dog that can do pretty much anything and a smarter than average teenager who is also alien and therefore not susceptible to the same diabolical plot devices as his human companions is too much fro them to write around and have presumably gotten rid of these characters in an effort to be more creative in the way they get their characters out of jams. This has been an age old problem for characters like DC comics Superman... as his powers grew in number and strength over the years he’s become something of a weak character to write for because, well... how do you place him in jeopardy?
The writers of Doctor Who tried to do a similar thing in the Peter Davison era by destroying the Doctor’s sonic screwdriver but I can’t say the stories at the time got any better as a result. Luke I could probably live without (and I say that with no disrespect to the young actor who plays him as the cast in this show are all actually really good) but I think getting rid of K9 is a bit of a stupid idea since he’s such an iconic character. I think it would have been better if the writers had just gotten better at coming up with cleverer problems for “our heroes” to solve rather than take away the characters who are more likely to solve them quicker... but we’ll have to see how it plays out.
This episode starts with the recurring Slitheen exploding and covering the cast with its internal organs joke which seems to have been going on for a while now. I was already sick of the Slitheen since their first appearance on The Sarah Jane Adventures so I really hope we won’t be seeing them again for a while now.
The lead villain in this one is the surprisingly dark Nightmare Man and his make up and general over-the-top behaviour make him seem like a not too dumbed down version of Heath Ledger’s excellent take on The Joker in the last Batman movie... I guess kids these days are less scared by stuff like that than they used to be.
Not the greatest story we’ve had in the show so far but not exactly one of the best either. Am looking forward to the much promoted Death of the Doctor story in a few weeks time with Matt Smith as the Doctor and the long awaited return of Katy Manning as Jo Grant. The next story looks like it could be a good one too... with some Men In Black looking robots of death in it.
Will let you know how that one works out.