Wednesday, August 2, 2017

The Sarah Jane Adventures: Invasion of the Bane

So, the last time we saw Sarah Jane Smith have her own spin-off was K9 & Company. That was back in 1981. Yet here we are in 2007 and Sarah Jane is back. This time with only a small appearance from K9. It says something about the character and Lis Sladen herself that a character who first appeared back in 1973 was able to kick off a series of her own decades later. How many TV characters can you say that about?

And Invasion of the Bane shows Torchwood how to spin-off properly. Perhaps because Torchwood got sucked into this 'adult theme' nonsense it struggled to find itself a tone that worked but The Sarah Jane Adventures hit the ground running.

This feels like Doctor Who, perhaps because it is aimed at children.* But there is more actual tension in this episode than in either Torchwood episode I've watched so far. Plus Samantha Bond's Mrs Wormwood is far more memorable and fun as a villain. Bond manages to avoid crossing the line into ham acting whilst still being a little larger than life. She's part of why the story works so damn well. And I love the confrontation between her and Sarah Jane as they do some polite but icey verbal fencing.

Also, The Sarah Jane Adventures feels 'real' in a way that Torchwood (so far) hasn't felt. It also feels very Russell T Davies. The first character we met is Maria Jackson (Yasmin Paige) a young girl moving into a new house after her parents split up. It's through her that we get to see Sarah Jane for the first time and get introduced to her life.

The whole story feels very Third Doctor. The Bane Mother isn't a million miles away from the Target book illustration of the Nestene in Doctor Who and the Auton Invasion. Aliens are trying to take over the world through a fizzy drink. What's more Doctor Who than that?

Indeed, what The Sarah Jane Adventures shows is that it is possible to have a female Doctor without scaring the pigeons.** Sarah's very Doctor-ish throughout this story. She's got her Sonic Lipstick, she warns the Bane that if they don't leave Earth she'll stop them and she thinks there should be another way. A way that doesn't involve going in 'all guns blazing'. The children - Maria, Kelsey (Porsha Lawrence Mavour) and Luke (Tommy Knight) - get to be the companions to Sarah Jane's Doctor.

Perhaps that's why it works? It is both new and comfortably familiar. And by Jove it is fun. Something that - so far - Torchwood hasn't been.

It isn't perfect. For example, Maria's mother, played by Juliet Cowan, is just a little too conveniently rude and thoughtless which just feels a bit wrong to me. But any criticism is just minor quibbling really.

There's a great set of scenes when after Luke, Kelsey and Maria have found Sarah Jane's ridiculously sized upstairs room we get a potted history of how Sarah Jane's come to be where she is and it is done both by the actors and by the camera scanning over pictures and drawings. We see a Dalek, the Brigadier and Harry. Sarah Jane's wistfulness about her time with the Doctor has an emotional heft that really hits home. It's brilliant work by Lis Sladen and the director Colin Teague.

But this is how to do a 'pilot' if that's what it was. It shakes Sarah Jane out of her 'I work alone' mentality, introduces us to the main characters and rolls along at a delightful pace.

I could waffle on for longer but this is a genuine joy.

*That's one for Professor Parry.
**I'm not sure that's the phrase but it's my blog and I'm sticking to it.

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