Sunday 9 October 2011

The Sarah Jane Adventures: Sky


The Sarah Jane Adventures Season 5 Episodes 1 & 2: Sky
Airdate: October 3rd and 4th 2011. UK. CBBC

Warning: A skyful of spoilers

Back in November of last year I finished off my review of the last two episodes of Series Four of The Sarah Jane Adventures with the following paragraph...

“Looking forward to Series Five next year and hopefully by then we will have seen the new series of the other two shows in this particular family, Doctor Who and the US continuation of Torchwood.

As the number one rated UK children’s TV programme, I thought this great show was just going to run and run until the lead actress decided it was finally time to retire and quit in a blaze of glory. Sadly, this was not to be the case.

Looking at that last paragraph now I realise how much I was in for some bad knocks when it comes to Doctor Who related product in 2011. The main flagship show is still a bit hit and miss in the quality/entertainment stakes since Russell T. Davies quit producing the show and the show Davis did produce this year, the Americanised Torchwood, was really not the success story we were all hoping for (yeah, alright it was dire and a chore to find new things to say about when it came around to writing the reviews of the individual episodes).

Plus we had the death of two major members of U.N.I.T to take in. Nicholas Courtney who played The Brigadier in Doctor Who starting from when he was a Colonel in the Patrick Troughton days (the actor also starred opposite Hartnell but not as “The Brig”) and who had the last proper appearance of the character in The Sarah Jane Adventures, tangling with the Sontarans again, died and left a void in his wake.

More shocking, though, was the news that actress Elizabeth Sladen, who played the popular Doctor Who companion Sarah Jane opposite Jon Pertwee, Tom Baker, Peter Davison (in The Five Doctors) and in her own shows K9 and Company (only the pilot was made) and The Sarah Jane Adventures, passed away unexpectedly of cancer. People were shocked, devastated and the Doctor Who community on-line collectively mourned her passing.

Then came the news that the first half of the fifth series, six episodes comprising three stories, were already in the can and would be shown later in the year. That time has now come and I find it hard as a reviewer to be really critical of something which I know makes up the last performances of a wonderful actresses body of work... especially since I had a lot of time for this series... but found these opening two episodes to be a little less than what I’ve come to expect from the show.

Sky is an introductory show for a new character, called... um... Sky, who starts off as a baby left at Sarah Jane’s front door but grows up to a twelve year old suddenly at the end of the first episode and the whole feel of this character is that she’s very much a repeat of the Luke character in that they needed a non-human character to give the show the missing element now that the Luke character has gone to College (He's in this first episode a little, seen on-screen talking to the extended Sarah-Jane family. This doesn’t give me much hope for seeing K9 again this series as I bet they were holding him back until episodes 11 and 12, which were never filmed). Instead of being super-smart like her predecessor, however, Sky is a living bomb who is defused by Sarah Jane and company but who obviously retains some of her alien powers of “electrickery”.

We have a new supervillainess in the form of Sky’s test-tube “mum” and a metal based alien race who look a bit like stainless-steel versions of Batman. However... nothing feels really new here. In addition to the Sky character who, I’m sure given time, would have been a strong cast member on the show, her “alien mum” just feels like a repeat of every other super-villainess they’ve had on the show and the metal aliens are mostly just there to check all the boxes it seems to me... although the pre-credits sequence with them in the first episode is almost a classic Jon Pertwee opening and certainly helps lend the series the tone of the old Doctor Who which it does have quite a lot of the time throughout the show's entire run.

Don’t get me wrong... there are some really good things going on in this opener... the return of both the mysterious and magical shop-keeper (plus his parrot) and Floella Benjamins character from previous series’ demonstrate that the writers really are trying to push the show into having a very coherent universe of its own with recurring regular characters... which makes the death of the lead actress doubly poignant when you can see how they are trying to progress things.

However, the comedy element of the show, which was always very broad but which worked pretty well, is way over the top and really dumbed down on this one (so broad it falls off the humour scale into something a lot less than funny) and I can’t help but think the comedy element is also being heavily pushed when, really, it was perfect the way it was. Clyde Langer is such a strong character in the show... he doesn’t need to be made any less subtle, thanks very much.

Ultimately, this is a fairly weak couple of episodes but they certainly more than hold their own against some of the weaker episodes of Doctor Who this year... which means this show is still wiping the floor with this year’s Torchwood as far as I’m concerned (and, to be fair, that’s not really hard). Looking forward to the remaining four episodes in this series and keeping my fingers crossed that the show will somehow, cut off mid season, go out with a bang rather than a whimper.

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