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Follow the exploits of school friends Luke, Clyde and Rani as they team up yet again with alien investigator Sarah Jane Smith and her trusty super-computer Mr Smith to examine strange and mysterious events. This time, Sarah Jane meets another of the Doctor’s former companions, Jo Grant, and they’re joined by the Eleventh Doctor himself in an adventure featuring vulture-like creatures and a trip to an alien world. The series also includes enemies old and new, including the terrors of the Nightmare Man, the return of Androvax the Veil and the Men in Black, a strangely deserted planet Earth, a dangerous journey into history, and a rival to Sarah Jane...
As usual, this series of The Sarah Jane Adventures has taken a year to make it on to DVD. In fact, the fifth and final series, truncated as a result of the tragic loss of its star Elisabeth Sladen, had already aired by the time of this product’s release. As a result, while the fifth series acted as a television tribute to Sladen, the fourth series (comprising six two-part serials) stands as her tribute on disc.
Luke faces life-changing events, and Bannerman Road will never be the same again. When Sarah Jane’s son has his first nightmare, he’s haunted by a dark figure from his dreams. A strange entity is reaching out to our world through Luke, with terrible consequences for the whole human race...
Actor Julian Bleach completes a villainous hat trick in The Nightmare Man, having previously provided chilling performances as the Ghostmaker in the Torchwood episode From Out of the Rain and Davros in the Doctor Who story The Stolen Earth / Journey’s End. Here he plays the eponymous Nightmare Man, who is almost as frightening - this is a children’s programme after all. Even so, his make-up (with white face and running eyeliner) owes a lot to Heath Ledger’s Joker in The Dark Knight, and he’s a heck of a lot scarier than Bradley Walsh’s Odd Bob in the second series episode The Day of the Clown.
Things get a little lighter in the second episode, during which we experience the dreams of Clyde (Daniel Anthony) and Rani (Anjli Mohindra). Clyde thinks he’s working in a burger bar, and encounters an amusing older version of Sarah Jane.
This serial marks the departure of Luke Smith (Tommy Knight) as a series regular, though he puts in several cameo appearances on computer screens throughout the rest of this run. K-9 (John Leeson) departs with him (possibly because of the debut of the Bob Baker / Paul Tams K-9 television show), which is more of a loss in my view. Luke’s anxiety about leaving for university is what seems to prompt his nightmares and is very believable. The supportive role played by Rani is also beautifully written by Joseph Lidster and deftly portrayed by Mohindra.
All in all, The Nightmare Man is a surprisingly grown-up start to the fourth series, a fact that I won’t lose any sleep over.
When an old enemy, Androvax the Veil, returns to Earth asking for help, Sarah Jane’s gang face a dilemma. Should they trust him - or does the legendary Vault hold an even greater terror? A second threat arises when android guardians threaten to destroy anyone who uncovers their secrets...
Nods to the past are generally thinner on the ground in the fourth series than during previous years, though the next couple of episodes contain no shortage of returning foes and friends. The Vault of Secrets features the return of not only the body-hopping Androvax the Veil (Mark Goldthorp) from Prisoner of the Judoon, but also the Alliance of Shades, the Men in Black seen in the animated Doctor Who episode Dreamland. The events of the previous Androvax adventure are directly referenced as Rani’s mother Gita (Mina Anwar) joins a paranormal studies group to share her alien experience. The story opens with a scene that alludes to Pyramids of Mars, a serial that is presented in full as a special feature on the second disc of this collection in tribute to Sladen.
As he demonstrated during Prisoner of the Judoon, writer Phil Ford is evidently a big fan of the Terminator films. After defeating two of the Men in Black, Clyde dons a pair of discarded sunglasses and quips, “hasta la vista.” Later he remarks that they were “Clydinated”. Towards the end of the story, the exhausted Mr Dread (Angus Wright) echoes Arnie in Terminator 2 when he says “I need a holiday.” The previous Mr Dread (Peter Guinness) was apparently destroyed in Dreamland, so presumably the android seen here is a repaired version or a replacement.
Ford goes overboard with the humour when he names his team of amateur Ufologists BURPSS (British UFO Research and Paranormal Studies Society), but otherwise this is a thoroughly entertaining two-parter.
When the Doctor is declared dead, his former companions Sarah Jane Smith and Jo Grant meet for the very first time, and join forces to discover the truth. As an interstellar conspiracy gathers around UNIT HQ, Clyde finds that he holds the fate of the Time Lord in his hands - quite literally...
Death of the Doctor marks the second and final appearance of the Time Lord in The Sarah Jane Adventures. The last time it was the Tenth Doctor, in The Wedding of Sarah Jane Smith. This time it’s the Eleventh, played by Matt Smith (probably between The Big Bang and A Christmas Carol from the Doctor’s point of view). Once again, the Time Lord doesn’t enter until close to the end of the first episode (which is hardly surprising, given that he’s supposed to be dead), but this time we have the added thrill of seeing Jo Jones, née Grant (Katy Manning), on screen for the first time since The Green Death. The adventure also involves UNIT (complete with Murray Gold’s familiar UNIT theme), and loads of clips from and references to previous episodes, including Doctor Who old and new.
There are some interesting new aliens, the vulture-like Shansheeth, which make a nice change from the Trickster (who, following three annual appearances, does not return). However, we also get the Graske in all but name in the blue form of the Groske (played by Jimmy Vee and voiced by Philip Hurd-Wood). After the Slitheen / Blathereen and the Zocci / Vinvocci, these “paint job” aliens and their customary irritation at being mistaken for each other have become rather repetitive by this point.
Jo thinks the Shansheeth are gorgeous, but then she thinks everyone is gorgeous. Manning is wonderful as Jo, bringing more of her own eccentricity to the role than she was allowed to during the 1970s, calling people “darling” and so forth. Matt Smith matches her eccentricity as the Doctor, adapting his “Came along Pond” catch phrase for Ms Smith and telling Jo that she looks as though she’s been baked. Both have their quieter moments too, as Jo feels slighted because the Time Lord returned to Sarah Jane several times but never to her, and she unintentionally reminds the Doctor of the loss of his own people.
A story so laden with continuity references can cause problems, though, especially when it comes to licensed fiction. Jo’s happily married status and the fact that she believes she hasn’t met the Doctor since The Green Death is hard to reconcile with the novel Genocide, in which she is estranged from her husband and encounters the Eighth Doctor. Since that book dealt with an alternate Earth called Paratractis, perhaps Jo’s revised history is a happy side effect of Earth’s timeline being restored. Colonel Tia Karim’s (Laila Rouass) comment about Liz Shaw being stranded on a UNIT moonbase ties in with the scientist’s location during the novel Eternity Weeps, but not with her demise in that book (set in 2003). Perhaps Liz’s death is classified, and the official line is that she is still working on the moon, or Karim is simply lying. Despite the hastiness of the funeral arrangements, which are also said to prevent the Brigadier from attending (the final on-screen reference to the character prior to actor Nicholas Courtney’s death), it’s a bit lame that Martha Jones couldn’t make it, or even K-9 and Luke (the teenager must have a very important essay to write).
Controversially, the Doctor tells Clyde that he can regenerate 507 times, rather than the previously established 12. This is not an error as such, but rather seems to be a joke by writer Russell T Davies. Add together 5, 0 and 7, and you get 12. It is possible that the Doctor is just winding Clyde up. Alternatively, some fans have speculated that the regeneration limits of all Time Lords were extended during the Time War.
The subject of mortality is a painful reminder of the passing of both Sladen and Courtney in such a short space of time. However, this fun story’s uplifting conclusion reminds us of the Doctor’s other friends, hinting that many of them may be experiencing their own adventures right now. Death of the Doctor is in fact full of life.
Clyde and Rani awake to find that they are the only human beings left on Earth. When they realise that even Sarah Jane has vanished, they must trust each other like never before. But the deserted London holds terrors of its own. Strange forces lurk in the shadows, as mysterious visitors approach...
From the heavily populated Death of the Doctor we go to The Empty Planet, a high-concept adventure written by Gareth Roberts.
A “Sarah-lite” story, this is in fact light on characters generally, focusing squarely on Clyde and Rani as they face the appalling prospect of an Earth devoid of all human life, including their own families and friends. Roberts builds upon previous hints of romance between the two teenagers, and the actors rise to the challenge of carrying the bulk of the serial between them. The only support is provided by a couple of robots (voiced by Jon Glover) and Joe Mason as an unsympathetic kid called Gavin.
Gavin accepts his ultimate fate rather too readily and conveniently for my liking, but that aside The Empty Planet is a refreshing change of pace.
A seemingly harmless investigation turns into an epic quest across time and space. Sarah Jane and the gang are separated by the enigmatic Shopkeeper and his mysterious parrot called Captain. They find themselves in three different time zones, doing battle against Tudors, Nazis and ghosts...
Lost in Time - not to be confused with the Doctor Who box set of the same name - is a story that provides the viewer with plenty of variety. Not only does writer Rupert Laight introduce us to the mysterious Shopkeeper (Cyril Nri) - about whom we might have learned more had The Sarah Jane Adventures continued - but he dispatches each member of Sarah Jane’s team to a different point in history.
Clyde ends up fighting Nazi invaders on the British coast during 1941, with all the wartime bravado you would expect.
Rani finds herself in 1553 and befriends Lady Jane Grey (Amber Beattie), the ill-fated “Nine Days’ Queen”. Rani is surprisingly cheerful when she learns Jane’s identity (it is clear that she knows the fate of the historical figure), but the outcome is undeniably touching. This serial does not contradict the Doctor Who short story “The Nine-Day Queen”, which for Jane takes place after the events shown here.
Sarah Jane’s adventure gives us two time zones for the price of one, as she arrives in 1889 but then encounters “ghosts” from a period closer to the present day. Gwyneth Keyworth is appealing as ghost hunter Emily Morris - this rising young actress (who I have since seen in The Great Outdoors and Misfits) is one to watch.
Lots of interesting bits of different eras... hmmm... Maybe this story is like the Doctor Who box set of the same name after all.
Sarah Jane faces her saddest day, as she realises that no one can defend the Earth forever. When newcomer Ruby White arrives on the scene, it seems it is time to hand over the task to safer hands. Clyde and Rani are distraught, and the forces of darkness gather as the inevitable day approaches...
Goodbye, Sarah Jane Smith was the final serial to air before Sladen’s untimely death, a fact that lends tragic poignancy to the title. It is a great story, though.
Julie Graham is perfectly cast as Ruby White, a rival adventurer who initially isn’t at all friendly when she crosses paths with Sarah Jane and her gang. She soon becomes more hospitable, at which point she seems eminently suitable as a replacement when Sarah Jane starts to show symptoms of dementia. In fact, Clayton Hickman and Gareth Roberts’s story could have maintained the illusion for a while longer, certainly into Part Two.
Rani’s mother Gita, who is usually depicted as a figure of fun in this programme, shows a more intuitive and caring side when she comforts her daughter following the apparent departure of Sarah Jane.
Luke and K-9 put in a dramatic reappearance in Part Two, which makes for a satisfying concluding episode to the story and to the fourth series as a whole.
Pyramids of Mars is the only special feature in this collection, which is a pity as I’ve already got that serial. Why couldn’t the six episodes of Sarah Jane’s Alien Files (profiles on various extra-terrestrials she has encountered) have been included? Perhaps the BBC is reserving those to accompany the six episodes of Series 5 when they are eventually released on disc.
For now, though, let me just say: goodbye, Sarah Jane Smith. I’ll miss you.