...a blog by Richard Flowers

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Day 2471: THE SARAH JANE ADVENTURES: The Eye of the Gordon


The hideous monster was FABLED for its legendary glower, supposedly capable of PETRIFYING its enemies with a single glance of its BLOODSHOT eyes. It stepped forwards with a hideous gurgling death rattle to cry:

"I did NOT… uhh… bottle out of an… uhh… election!"

Still, enough of Mr Frown – we didn't watch his Press Conference anyway, we were too busy watching Sarah Jane Smith!

Here is Daddy Richard's review of the second two-parter. As usual, no concessions to those who have not watched next week's concluding episode via time-machine and/or CBBC.
The episode opens on Sarah's car. Sarah Jane drives a rather wonderful car these days: its odd, slightly anachronistic colour and shape lend it the air of coming from another place. Alice Troughton, the director of these episodes, likes to linger on it, catching it with some terrifically tilted camera angles. The way that that car whizzes into shot manages to suggest both the TARDIS and the Nineteen-Sixties of "The Avengers" like a junior Emma Peel's E Type…

There were two rather startling moments in this pair of episodes, both of them in part one, actually. The first is the casual reference to the Sontarans – and almost coincidentally in the week that the BBC's Doctor Who website broke the news that they would be returning to the parent series (Grandfather Series, perhaps?) in 2008. I have to confess, I'd thought that introducing the Judoon meant that the Sontarans had had it for a return – the same silhouette, the same militaristic stylings, the same helmet gag… I've been wrong before, though, and am delighted to be so again here. (And incidentally, can I hope that the New Series has the budget and the CGI finally to show the Sontaran Army in all its millions-at-a-hatching might.)

The surprise is that the series is confident enough to drop in such a huge continuity reference – and get the detail right: they are nasty blighters for all that they look like potatoes – without self-consciousness or unnecessary back-story explanation. It's not like the little "kisses to the past" all over Sarah's attic hideaway – I noticed this week that Mr Smith is concealed behind a wall on which is pinned a page from "Metropolitan" magazine (next to an outline of the TARDIS) – this was full on, in your face and a vital part of the plot. Sarah recognises the name "Sontaran" and that is what tells her that dotty old Bea Stanley-Nelson is not so dotty as everyone else thinks.

Of course, the Sontarans were Sarah's first monster, back in "The Time Warrior" and in a way that makes them special for her. So it is a little appropriate that they get to be an important SJA continuity reference to the "Classic" series.

The writer of these episodes, Phil Ford, had a big hand in the CG remake of Gerry Anderson's Captain Scarlet – 23 of 27 episodes, actually – often adding emotional shading to the characters of Scarlet, Destiny Angel and even Captain Black. He does the same here.

The other moment was the sudden intrusion of some social comment. The emotional explosion of teenage Maria over her parents' divorce was an unexpected but very welcome realisation that she comes from a real world place that can often be as frightening as the adventures she has with Sarah. And it was about time someone thought of adding some depth to her parents: comedy mum and too-good-to-be-true dad. Building on that, the second episode scene between mum Chrissie and what she believes to be a statue of her ex-husband that Sarah has had made showed that perhaps mum has a (small) sense of her own ridiculousness. Almost she manages to convince that – like the sixth Doctor – the blustering, annoying front is an act to cover up that she cares too much about the mess she's made.

Alan being turned into that statue was, of course, the cliffhanger in the middle, and although it blindsided me – yes, obviously he's been wandering into Sarah's house all episode to make up with Maria so it is well set up and yet still totally unexpected – it does also scream of being "undoable". The bafflegab in part two – it's not stone as such, he's still changing so there is time to save him – almost had me convinced, but even so, killing off Maria's dad at this stage would have been just too too much. Even "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" – and that was aimed at an older audience by several years – didn't bump off mom until year five!

Of course, this intrusion of real reality into what would once have been a cosy fantasy world is very much the inheritance of the "Buffy" generation. And it's very Russell T Davies, too – you do have to wonder if he didn't just wander down the corridor at Upper Boat to stick his head round the door and say "It's all lovely – now she should have a row with her parents!"

Although they don't have much to do but get captured and escape via tunnels and passages, the boys manage to have an engaging time. Clyde gets some good moments early on, reacting to being lumbered with chores for his gran's friend in just the way anyone would. Luke then gets some enjoyable scenes with Mrs Stanley-Neville, with neither of them quite in the real world. But really it's a girls' story, this one, and Maria is pretty good throughout: the fight with her parents may not be quite completely natural but she's very good in the sensitive scenes with Bea.

Sarah too gets some solid emotional moments. Just watch her as Maria comes storming into the attic – Lis Sladen gives a very subtle little glance that tells you she's read what's up with Maria in an instant and so obviously she follows it up by taking her young friend out for a bit of girl time. And, of course, she gets her own "Rose Tyler" moment – if "School Reunion" was about Rose seeing a future version of herself in Sarah, then "Eye of the Gorgon" gives Sarah a glimpse of her own fate as Bea. She bears up very well, actually.

And it was good that the magical pendant didn't cure Bea of Alzheimer's – magical cures are appropriate for magical maladies like being turned to stone, but dementia of a loved one is something that many people will have to face, and it would be trivialising it to wave it away with a wand.

All in all, rather more grown up than the average episode of "Torchwood".

None of that is to say that the actual "Adventure" part of the story wasn't also rather good. In fact it was terrific. The wicked Nuns, gliding about in their hearse, were a treat: oh what a shame they were just hypnotised, as they – like Samantha Bond's Mrs Wormwood – were well and truly worthy of a rematch. Doesn't this series do good female villains! And the Gorgon herself was a worthy addition to the rogues' gallery. A parasitic villain with glowing eyes, hmmm; a touch of Stargate in the mix as well, perhaps? But she was very well realised with some appropriately ghastly prosthetics and the Mill adding a nice snaky CG effect for her petrifying gaze. I rather liked the way she scooted around in her wheelchair – threatening and disturbing in equal measure. Nice garden, too.

I'm not quite sure about the story's geography, though. The opening drive in country lanes appears to say that Lavender Lawns is out of town – but then Clyde and Luke set out to walk there. Nor does St Agnes' Abbey look like it's located in Ealing, not unless the Central Line has been extended to Wales by those Slitheen contractors last time.

But that's (almost literally) neither here nor there. This was a good, solid, old-fashioned and yet up-to-the-minute Doctor Who story. Terrific timing in a week when British Children's television has been criticised for being unoriginal and/or American in origin. We could do with more like this!

Next time… Laser Tag gets lethal for the Warriors of the Kudlax.

1 comment:

No said...

I just watched that episode myself and wanted to salute your article about it, because you said everything I felt and more while watching The Eye of the Gorgon, and well, it deserved to be said. Excellent job.

France (which can explain why I'm so late at watching DW and SJA.. heh)