Title: The Sarah Jane Adventures: The Complete Fourth Series
Directors: Joss Agnew (The Nightmare Man, The Vault of Secrets, Lost in Time, Goodbye, Sarah Jane Smith) and Ashley Way (Death of the Doctor, The Empty Planet,)
Starring: Elisabeth Sladen, Daniel Anthony, Anjli Mohindra, Tommy Knight,
Released: Out Now
RRP: £20.42 (DVD) £25.52 (Blu-ray)
Number 13 Bannerman Road is where Sarah Jane Smith lives. In this fourth series of attic-based alien adventures the former Doctor’s companion along with Luke, Clyde and Rani face such dangers as the Nightmare Man, Androvax and the Shansheeth. Why are Clyde and Rani the last people left on Earth? Who is Ruby White and can a parrot really send people back in time? Ian Chesterton doesn’t know what he’s missing.
It seems to be a rule that characters in a children’s show must get covered in gloop at least once a year. And I thought all that died with Noel’s House Party. Year four of The Sarah Jane Adventures begins must the same as the previous one ended – with the gang covered in exploded Raxacoricofallapatorians. For my money, it’s one of the better series and it shows a new maturity as the kids begin to explore a life beyond school and Bannerman Road. It’s hard to watch the late Elisabeth Sladen now without being reminded that she is no longer with us but she does get some wonderful stuff to play here.
First up is the cracking The Nightmare Man which sees Luke start college at Oxford. The first episode is a splendid build up as it’s slowly revealed that Luke is being given nightmares by the titular entity, which stem from his doubt about leaving his adopted mother and friends behind. The second half, as sci-fi episodes about dreams often do, gives us a window into the other characters as they begin to doubt themselves. Rani is forced to take on the role of a journalist and expose Sarah Jane’s activities and Clyde is working in a burger bar. He is visited by a batty older version of Sarah Jane (Sladen looks like she’s having so much fun with this) who can’t stop singing Luke’s praises. Needless to say the gang comes together to defeat the baddie and end up stronger than ever before Luke departs. Julian Bleach is terrific as the Nightmare Man who he plays as a cross between Freddy Krueger and the Joker. A spooky and very mature series opener and how could you not love something which features a lump of sentient concrete from the Chiswick flyover?
The Vault of Secrets is a lighter episode and more of a romp than the series opener. It’s also a sequel to last year’s Prisoner of the Judoon and has links to the animated Doctor Who special Dreamland. Androvax the Veil is back and seeking the gang’s help to save his race which means crossing swords with the Alliance of Shades, lead by the humourless Mr Dread, who guard the titular vault. It’s quite a brave move to make Androvax a sympathetic character and it works for a while. A more comic subplot sees Rani’s parents, after their experiences in the earlier story, join the UFO spotting society BURPSS. I doubt even the Jon Pertwee era would have tried that acronym.
Next up is Death of the Doctor (AKA The One with the Eleventh Doctor and Jo Grant) written by Russell T Davies, which sees Sarah, Clyde and Rani invited to a top secret UNIT HQ to attend the Doctor’s funeral. Sladen plays Sarah’s reaction brilliantly as the news sends the usually unflappable lady slightly crazy. As usual the Time Lord is mostly kept out of the picture until the second episode but Matt Smith is as brilliant as usual and manages to make the connection between him and the former companions believable. It’s great to see Sarah and the dotty Jo reminisce about old times and we even get a few vintage clips. The vulture-like Shansheeth are the villains and although the costumes are well made they seem like they belong in a different time. Their plan is pure gumblejack though as they plot to use Sarah and Jo’s memories to create a new TARDIS key but somehow, for this most nostalgic of stories, it seems to work. One of the best stories of the series and one that improves upon the previous year’s Doctor cameo in The Wedding of Sarah Jane Smith. After that, The Empty Planet is the Sarah Jane and, er, everyone else bar Rani and Clyde, -lite story. It uses that well worn trope of someone waking up to find everyone missing and has a great reason for it within the show’s continuity, plus it has two of the coolest robots ever to be constructed. Throughout the series Rani and Clyde begin to grow closer together and this is a really sweet story for them which has shades of Buffy’s The Zeppo.
Lost in Time is a lovely idea, sending the three leads back into the past to retrieve the silver maguffin of doom. Sarah Jane gets a time twister with future ghosts back in 1889 with Emily, a girl who has obviously stolen William Hartnell’s waistcoat. Clyde treads the well worn path of World War II and a low level Nazi invasion while Rani meets Lady Jane Grey, the nine day Queen. I have to admit that’s one gap in my own historical knowledge and I applaud the show for not using more familiar periods. Sadly the overall story is a bit rubbish. The shopkeeper is a man invented to be quirky and mysterious, and sadly we will never find out his purpose now. Within the first three minutes he whisks them back in time through a portal which looks like a Primeval anomaly and the ending is pinched from Back to the Future II in order to just wring that last bit of tension out of it. I also have to wonder what the Doctor would say about Rani’s zip up jacket and Clyde’s broken phone being left in the past. Sladen breaks your heart again in Goodbye, Sarah Jane Smith as our heroine starts to develop dementia. By coincidence, another alien fighter, Ruby White, arrives on the scene and thankfully guest star Julie Graham doesn’t go as OTT as other actors have done and you could almost believe that she’s another regeneration of River Song for a while. Sadly, the good work of the first episode is kind of undone as we see the giant stomach that is damaging Sarah Jane. It’s one of the show’s better finales and sees all the gang pulling together again and at least only Clyde gets an end of series gunging.
Early on in The Vault of Secrets we have one of the best references to classic Who in the entire series. Mr Smith interrupts a Mars Rover just as the live feed shows us the peak of a pyramid on the red planet. Sarah Jane simply informs us that there are some things mankind should not discover. Now the younglings buying this boxset will get to see what she means because here, as a tribute to Elisabeth Sladen, we have the best extra ever in the classic Fourth Doctor story Pyramids of Mars from 1975. This four-part story sees Sarah and the Doctor arrive at an old priory (which will make a wonderful headquarters for some kind of paramilitary group one day) in 1911 and find that its owner Marcus Scarman has a fondness for Egyptian artifacts and has been behaving rather oddly. He’s being controlled by the evil Sutekh and it’s up to the Doctor to stop him escaping his triangular tomb. This is one of my favourite classic serials and one that is perfect viewing for a lazy Sunday afternoon. It’s straight from the 1970s golden age of the show with Holmes and Hinchcliffe at the helm indulging their gothic tastes. I wonder what the young Sarah Jane Adventures fans will make of it all, especially seeing their heroine as the Amy Pond or Rose Tyler of her day. An essential boxset for fans and a fine introduction to the weird world of Sarah Jane Smith.
Extras: Pyramids of Mars
Trivia: Julian Bleach has now done the Whoniverse triple (and not in the Misfits way). Here he stars as the titular villain in The Nightmare Man and he had previously played Ghostmaker in the Torchwood episode From Out of the Rain. However he is best known as the newest incarnation of Dalek creator Davros in Doctor Who’s The Stolen Earth and Journey’s End.