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Sarah Jane Smith is a truly remarkable woman - a daring investigative journalist who, since returning to Earth after travelling with a certain Time Lord known as the Doctor, has dedicated her life to tracking extraterrestrial activity on Earth. She inhabits a world of mystery, danger and wonder. A world where aliens are commonplace and the planet is constantly under threat. A world that teenager Maria Jackson can only dream of until she moves in across the road from Sarah Jane...
This box set contains the complete first series of the CBBC Doctor Who spin-off The Sarah Jane Adventures, including the hour-long New Year’s Day special, Invasion of the Bane...
A new drink is taking the world by storm. When Maria is dragged along to a factory tour by her new friend Kelsey, she’s plunged into the sinister world of “Bubble Shock!” and the mysterious Mrs Wormwood. There’s something terrible behind the hype - something Sarah Jane is interested in too...
Like Rose, Everything Changes and Smith and Jones before it, Invasion of the Bane introduces the audience to the hero (or rather heroine) of the show via a new character, in this case Maria Jackson (played to perfection by Yasmin Paige). Though most viewers will surely be familiar with Sarah Jane Smith (Elisabeth Sladen) by now, from School Reunion or earlier Who episodes, we are reintroduced to her through the eyes of Maria, who, like Rose and Martha with the Doctor and Gwen Cooper with Captain Jack, is intrigued, not to mention frightened, by the mystery surrounding this enigmatic character. Sarah Jane functions well as the show’s main protagonist, as she has done before in the earlier TV spin-off K-9 and Company and Big Finish’s Sarah Jane Smith audio series.
In addition to Sarah Jane, Who connections include a cameo appearance by K-9 (voiced by John Leeson), references to Harry Sullivan and the Brigadier, and a creature of the same species as “Mary” from the Torchwood episode Greeks Bearing Gifts.
However, the series doesn’t just rely on old ideas from Doctor Who. On the contrary, it has also fed ideas back into its parent show. The too-good-to-be-true consumer product seen here and the ice queen behind it (an enjoyable turn by Samantha Bond) inspired plot elements in the Who episode Partners in Crime, while the central premise of Whatever Happened to Sarah Jane? later on in the series was ultimately reused in Turn Left.
Entertaining support is provided by Porsha Lawrence Mavour as the motor-mouth Kelsey Harper, though sadly this is the character’s only appearance in the series to date.
As much fun as many an episode of Who, and with more of a Who flavour than a lot of Torchwood episodes I could mention, Invasion of the Bane gets the series off to a bubbly, fizzing start.
On Maria and Luke’s first day of school, something is wrong. The food is off, the place smells strange, and some of the teachers are behaving very oddly. With the help of Sarah Jane and their new friend Clyde, they uncover an unearthly plot involving the school’s new technology block...
Kicking off the series proper, Revenge of the Slitheen introduces Daniel Anthony as Clyde Langer. The character is as full of himself as Kelsey was, but fortunately the actor succeeds in making Clyde more than just a male version of Kelsey. No mention is made of the latter, or any explanation given for her absence. Perhaps she moved away due to the trauma of her recent experiences - or because of “Bubble Shock!” withdrawal symptoms!
As is obvious from its title, this story also reintroduces the Slitheen. Thanks to new costumes that don’t weigh as heavily upon the actors as they did in Series 1 of Doctor Who, the Slitheen have more mobility and look better than ever, and Gareth Roberts has fun writing dialogue for them.
While the Slitheen are a good hook to attract audiences to the show, the plot is familiar in less satisfying ways. Just like in School Reunion, Sarah Jane investigates a secondary school where aliens disguised as teachers attempt to harness the brain power of children.
Other points of continuity include references to the Judoon from Smith and Jones and to the Blathereen, another Raxacorricofallapatorian family, from the Who novel The Monsters Inside.
Sarah Jane is well and truly back with a vengeance.
Following a tip-off from Clyde’s grandmother, Sarah Jane and her companions investigate Lavender Lawns, the local nursing home. Stories of visitations by a phantom-like nun are rife and soon they find themselves being pursued by a spooky order of Sisters who are hiding an age-old secret...
Eye of the Gorgon is enlivened by a powerful guest performance by Phyllida Law as rest-home resident Bea Nelson-Stanley. Her recollections of her younger days, of adventures with her husband Edgar involving Sontarans and Yeti offer the exciting potential for prequel appearances by the younger Bea and Edgar in Doctor Who some day.
Writer Phil Ford crafts a particularly fine cliffhanger for the end of Part One - though this is diluted by the teaser trailer that immediately follows for Part Two.
Eye of the Gorgon certainly won’t leave you stony-faced.
When Combat 3000, a new laser-tag centre, arrives near Sarah Jane, a teenager called Lance Metcalf visits it and mysteriously disappears. Sarah Jane and Maria investigate the premises, unaware that Luke and Clyde are already playing the game. Soon the game is taken to a whole new level...
If this series has a weak point, it’s Warriors of Kudlak. The notion of children being tested, trained and recruited to fight in an alien war via a game has been used before in the movie The Last Starfighter and in the Doctor Who novels Toy Soldiers and Winner Takes All.
In the story’s favour, though, the animatronic alien prosthetics, with their wiggling bug eyes, are good, while Chook Sibtain is suitably slippery as the villainous Mr Grantham.
Maria Jackson wakes up one morning to find that Sarah Jane, Luke and Mr Smith have all disappeared, and she alone remembers them. She discovers that a woman called Andrea Yates has taken Sarah Jane’s place. Now who will stop the meteorite that is on a collision course with Earth...?
By contrast, Whatever Happened to Sarah Jane? is the highlight of the series. A sophisticated idea by writer Roberts, which poses the question of what would happen if Sarah Jane were removed from existence, is well executed by director Graeme Harper. The Trickster (Paul Marc Davis) threatens to do the same thing to the Doctor - and ultimately carries out his threat in Turn Left, when a creature from his “brigade” coerces Donna Noble into altering her own timeline.
Yasmin Paige carries the show as the heroine during Sarah Jane’s absence with apparent ease, while Jane Asher (who, appropriately enough, previously played Susan in the 1994 Radio 4 Who spoof Whatever Happened to Susan Foreman?) is great as Andrea Yates.
This story also features a Graske (Jimmy Vee), a species that previously appeared in the Attack of the Graske interactive Who episode, which was also penned by Roberts. The writer adds some context and validity to Attack by having Sarah state that: “There was some Graske activity on Earth a couple of years back.”
The events of Whatever Happened to Sarah Jane? impact upon the characters in dramatic ways that spill over into subsequent episodes...
It appears that Luke is the genetic double of a missing boy called Ashley, who was kidnapped rather than grown by the Bane. Sarah Jane is forced to relinquish him, but while she investigates an institute that is harnessing psychic abilities, Luke realises that his “parents” are aliens in disguise...
Only slightly less powerful than Whatever Happened to Sarah Jane?, the series finale The Lost Boy similarly deals with major upheavals for the main characters. Alan Jackson (Joseph Millson) threatens to move house again having discovered in the previous episode what Sarah Jane and Maria get up to in their adventures together; Sarah Jane faces the prospect of losing Luke (Tommy Knight) forever; and, as part of a villainous double whammy, one of the regulars turns bad.
All of which brings the first series to a suitably stirring conclusion - but what’s with all the heavenly threats this season? The sun went out in Revenge of the Slitheen, a meteor nearly crashed into the Earth in Whatever Happened to Sarah Jane?, and now the moon is dragged into a collision course with our planet. What next, a near miss with Mars?
Nevertheless, you can’t help getting dragged into this series finale.
With only one or two stories per disc and relatively few special features, I don’t think it was really necessary to spread this series over four discs - three or even two would have done it. Still, at the asking price (and usually even less than that on online stories) I shouldn’t really grumble.
What extras there are include character and equipment profiles, a series trailer, out-takes, and segments from BBC Breakfast and Blue Peter, the latter of which contains a scene with Konnie Huq and Samantha Bond (in character as Mrs Wormwood) that could almost be a prelude to Invasion of the Bane!
Well worth investigating.
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