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A return to 13 Bannerman Road finds Sarah Jane Smith, her son Luke, and teenagers Rani and Clyde with more earth-visiting aliens to investigate. These exciting new adventures include the return of their most fearsome enemy yet, the Judoon; a lonely telepathic alien whose powers grow out of control; unexplained phenomena in a haunted house; a painting that comes to life; and a pair of Raxacoricofallapatorians attempting to overrun Earth with a weed. And, as Sarah Jane enjoys the happiest day of her life, she is joined by two old companions: her favourite robot dog and a certain time-traveller of great renown...
When this series of the CBBC Doctor Who spin-off was first broadcast in autumn 2009, it provided welcome relief from the Who drought between Series 4 and 5. The six two-part stories in this box set include the return of the Judoon, the Slitheen and that painting from City of Death, afford a greater role to K-9 (voiced by John Leeson), and guest-star David Tennant as the Tenth Doctor himself.
The rhino-like Judoon return, as their prisoner crashes on Earth. A Veil is on the loose...
There are shades of Terminator 2 to Prisoner of the Judoon, as a futuristic leather-clad thug arrives in town and forms an uneasy alliance with our heroes. There are numerous amusing scenes as the Judoon Captain Tybo (played by Paul Kasey and voiced by Nicholas Briggs) adheres strictly to the letter of local law, sticking to the speed limit while pursuing his escaped prisoner and showing reluctance to pass a “no entry” sign.
Elisabeth Sladen also has fun as an evil version of Sarah Jane, as she is taken over by a new alien character, Androvax the Veil (Mark Goldthorp).
Writer Phil Ford glosses over the fact that the Judoon have no jurisdiction on Earth (as established in Smith and Jones) until a flimsy excuse is belatedly provided in Part 2. However, I’m prepared to overlook that - otherwise we would have been deprived of some light-hearted fun.
In the year 2059, an elderly Rani Chandra remembers the day her whole life went wrong...
The Mad Woman in the Attic takes a more serious turn. Beginning with an intriguing frame sequence in which an aged Rani (a thoroughly convincing Souad Faress) remembers the friends she used to know so many years ago, Joseph Lidster’s story subsequently features creepy, red-eyed, mind-controlled humans - whose ranks are ultimately joined by the young Rani (Anjli Mohindra).
Fans of Doctor Who (both the old series and the new) will delight in the inclusion of clips from that programme (marking the first time that classic-series clips with sound have been used in the new-series family of shows) and the fact that K-9 is permanently released from his black-hole guard duty.
You’d be mad not to enjoy this adventure!
The Doctor returns on the happiest day of Sarah Jane’s life, but a deadly trap awaits...
The Wedding of Sarah Jane Smith is, I dare say, the story that many viewers buying this box set will be looking forward to most of all, owing to the crowd-pleasing prospects of Sarah Jane marrying Nigel Havers, the return of the Trickster (Paul Marc Davis) and a guest appearance by the Tenth Doctor. The build-up to the cliffhanger ending of Part 1 is truly thrilling, as writer Gareth Roberts and the rest of the production team tease us with the sound of the TARDIS, which repeatedly fails to materialise.
This instalment also boasts some amusingly bitchy barbs exchanged by the rival computers K-9 and Mr Smith (voiced by Alexander Armstrong).
Part 2 flags a bit, because, apart from the Doctor’s presence, the episode doesn’t really do much that hasn’t been done before in this show. Once again, the Trickster’s plan is to put Sarah Jane out of action so that Earth will lack one of its key defenders and chaos can ensue.
At least Roberts acknowledges the fact that the Doctor often used to call Sarah Jane “Sarah”, despite her annoyance at other people doing that, and overall there’s no denying the appeal of this tale.
A haunted house, with mysterious whispers and secrets in the shadows, requires Sarah Jane...
It’s a step back into K-9 and Company territory with The Eternity Trap, which deals with apparently supernatural goings-on. Floella Benjamin returns as Professor Celeste Rivers of the Pharos Institute, who is investigating the alleged haunting of a country house. It’s reasonably scary stuff for a kids’ programme. Pretty much all the boxes are ticked in terms of the typical elements of a haunted-house story: sudden and unexplained noises, cobweb-strewn secret passages, books moving of their own accord, and children’s toys activating by themselves.
This adventure does not feature Luke (because actor Thomas Knight was busy taking his GCSEs at the time), so there’s a greater focus on the characters of Clyde (Daniel Anthony) and Rani.
This may not be the most memorable story in this series, but it’s a solid enough plot.
When the Mona Lisa comes to life, Clyde discovers that fine art can be dangerous...
Following an absence of two episodes, Luke is back with a vengeance in Mona Lisa’s Revenge, having a row with his mum and striving to assert his independence as he, Clyde and Rani investigate an apparent art theft.
Sarah Jane takes a back seat, especially during Part 2, from which she is mostly absent. When she does appear, though, she is sporting a rather snazzy version of the Third Doctor’s outfit, complete with frilly blouse.
This is the silliest story of the third series, with Suranne Jones seemingly channelling Catherine Tate as the mischievous Mona Lisa, who refers to museum curator Lionel Harding (Jeff Rawle) as “Harders” and for some reason has a Mancunian accent. Jones is almost unrecognisable beneath her make-up, but still her appearance is not a good match for the famous painting. The effect of her hands coming to life is more successful though.
Writer Phil Ford is inconsistent in his depiction of art works coming to life. The living Mona Lisa has legs, even though the painting does not show them, yet the highwayman (Paul Kasey) cannot speak, because his mouth was never painted. Maybe it’s to do with each artist’s knowledge and intentions: Leonardo da Vinci saw his model’s legs, and so Mona Lisa has them when she comes to life; on the other hand, the painter of the highwayman might not have known or cared what his model’s mouth looked like, and so the mouth is absent from the living painting.
Ford’s script doesn’t acknowledge the events of City of Death, but it doesn’t necessarily rule them out either. Indeed, it could have been because of those extra copies demanded by Captain Tancredi that Leonardo needed to scrounge paint from his neighbour.
Mona Lisa’s Revenge is the weak point of the series, but still worth a look.
When the Slitheen’s latest scheme is halted, the Blathereen arrive - but can they be trusted...?
Like the gift of Axonite in The Claws of Axos, the donation of Rakweed by the Blathereen seems too good to be true, and it does indeed prove to be so. However, the plot of The Gift pans out quite differently, with the plant spreading rapidly across London, threatening to engulf the entire surface of the planet, and incapacitating anyone unlucky enough to inhale its spores - including Luke.
The Blathereen (who previously featured in the Who novel The Monsters Inside) are really just differently coloured Slitheen, but the delightful voice work of Simon Callow and Miriam Margolyes brings the characters to life.
With Luke unwell, the spotlight falls once again on the team of Clyde and Rani - with just a hint of the possibility of romance developing between the two.
There is only one special feature in this box set, and even that is not very special: an excerpt from the Sarah Jane Adventures audio book The White Wolf. Couldn’t some interviews from magazine programmes such as Blue Peter have been included?
Despite the lack of extras, this is a very enjoyable box set.