...a blog by Richard Flowers

Friday, October 10, 2008

Day 2836: THE SARAH JANE ADVENTURES: The Last Sontaran (give or take a few billion off planet)


"Grand Moff" Steven has made it quite clear that in his world Doctor Who is a CHILDREN'S PROGRAMME.

This is a GREAT RELIEF! It means it's going to be much like the VERY EXCELLENT scary horror-drama "Sarah Jane Wood" and not slushy soap-with-swear-words "The Captain Jack Adventures".

Yes, Sarah Jane is BACK. And for those of you at the back not paying attention, this means effectively an extra SIX Doctor Who adventures! Hooray!

As the sixth televised* Sontaran adventure, this is quite definitely the best, taking aspects from all of its Doctor Who predecessors and finally getting them right.

(*The straight-to-video "Shakedown" is also a highly superior story, actually making the Sontaran attack look powerful and dangerous, and – by deploying a small squad but as part of an armada that is stopping every ship in the sector – just for once makes for a Sontaran force that appears to live up to their cloned-by-the-million propaganda.)

The lone crashed Sontaran is of course straight from "The Time Warrior", along with the lights in the sky and the kidnapped scientist; threatening to conduct experiments to learn more of humankind's weaknesses is, well, d'uh, "The Sontaran Experiment"; genocide as revenge is a theme from "The Invasion of Time"; while the invisible spaceship is from "The Two Doctors".

"The Sontaran Stratagem" contributes the 2008 look for the warrior clones, though here they go even further making Commander Aargh!, sorry Kaagh a combination of the eponymous "Predator" and one of Stargate's Jaffa, with his rippling invisibility and his CG unhelmeting.

Yes, we've seen this sort of spot-the-references kind of writing before (stand up "Mad Larry" Miles), but here it's used to blend a new and better Sontaran out of the mythology. Kaagh is powerful, aggressive, resourceful, sadistic and actually quite clever, particularly in part one where he allows Sarah and friends to run because they are most likely to run to where he wants them to go anyway. Also, his "destroy the Earth by smashing it with the humans' technology" plan is actually rather better than General Staal's car-based chaos.

The only moment that rings false is Kaagh's survival at the end, tragically not Jimmi Choo'd to death after all. Wouldn't a Sontaran warrior surely rather self-destruct his ship,pyrrhically killing his vanquishers? Or at least crash it into them?

It is also the last episode for Maria and Dad Alan, necessitated by Yasmin Paige's O-Levels. It was good of her to return for a "regeneration" story, and allowed for some snuffly emoting from the kids, and a couple of stand-out moments from the grown-ups.

The first, when Sarah Jane learns that Maria is off to America and freezes on her, is a very well chosen piece of acting. It's neither what you would expect, nor the comfortable choice, but it is very true to Sarah's history, her ongoing pain at being abandoned by the Doctor.

Equally, the sly reveal from Maria's mum, Chrissie, at the end "I remember it all, you know…" is a lovely overturning of our (lowered) expectations of the character. In fact it's a shame that it's taken it being her last episode finally to put some 3D shading on Chrissie, who's been entirely the comic relief in a mum-mustn't-find-out face kind of a way. And she turns out to be much stronger than her family gave her credit for.

Incidentally, while I mention the acting, Mr Smith is clearly being allowed to act more like (and sound more obviously like) Alexander Armstrong. The sheer ridiculousness of the super-computer is now being used for comic effect, and Armstrong wittily plays along, even if it means that the machine now sounds more than a little like the "frighteningly right-wing Sat Nav box" from the Armstrong and Miller show. Funny, that.

The visual look of Mr Smith, his pink screen-saver, is somewhat softened now that he's no longer an evil crystal intent on destroying the world, but he's not the only effect to have been upgraded, with some immensely impressive work on the camouflaged Sontaran and his ship. Excellent use of "borrowed" CG from the climax of Doctor Who's "The Poison Sky" seamlessly extended into a longer sequence as Kaargh comes crashing to Earth demonstrating perfectly that blowing the ship up was the place to start the story, not to finish it.

Next time: discover the meaning of coulrophobia, learn the secret of the pied piper, and meet the new residents on Bannerman Road on "The Day of the Clown"

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