Hooray! Best-friend Sarah-Jane is back! There may be no FULL series of Doctor Who this year, but with fifty minutes of Adventures each week this season, I feel like these are like PROPER Doctor Who stories now!
Daddy is saying something about it being "just like in the Peter Davison era"… shut UP, Daddy, what would YOU know about it?
This week: Rhinos are STUPID. Well duh!
Also, don't forget to tune in to the "Spot the Blathereen" game on the website for more proof that POSTIES are EVIL!
Now, I suppose I OUGHT to let Daddy say something…
Another cracking start to a series: funny, exciting, full of ideas. And it's been years since Sarah-Jane was possessed; here Lis Sladen shows how it should be done, turning in a performance that is cheeky, even saucy at times and with a gleam of wicked fun in her eye, and yet also channelling real anger and evil when called up to end the world.
Publicity stills in the RadioTimes of our alien villain-of-the-week led us to dub this one "The Judoon versus the Jem'hadar", but new alien Androvax the Annihilator, a Veil lifeform and the eponymous prisoner, proved to be much more interesting. His method of possession – "stepping into" his victims – was a rather swish effect, and his telltale forked tongue flickering from his victims' lips was just brilliant. And, goodness gracious, a villain with a motivation – so what if it's the old "my world was destroyed so I will take revenge on the entire universe!" shtick; it gave him a little bit of depth, and Lis was able to play with that, that hurt underneath the spite driving the wickedness, to great effect.
It's just a pity that he's (another sci-fi cliché) "last of the Veil" as they'd make cool recurring villains. Obviously he's a genocidal nutter, so it would be wrong to hope that he escapes again…
Opposite Androvax, on the side of Law and Order – or at least the side of stomping about causing chaos – is new Judoon hero, Captain Tybo.
Tybo takes those moments from "Smith and Jones" that show that the Judoon can be funny and really runs with them. He's hilarious, and yet totally in character, and actually smarter than he's given credit for. Even Sarah-Jane pigeon-holes the Judoon as "a bit thick", and yet Tybo wins us over from practically his first appearance, because even while he's being bloody-minded about it and shooting up everything in sight, he's also struggling to get on with his job while barely recovered from being whacked over the head with an iron girder. Bloody-mindedness or dogged determination: his unswerving law-abidingness is actually quite a worthy trait. And for all that he's hidebound to follow any rule he sees, from "No Unauthorised Admission" to "Pay and Display" with equal intransigence, he's actually quite adaptable, and he does "get his man". He's unswervingly polite too, always thanking people when they obey his (okay usually barked, usually delivered at gunpoint) orders; as role-models go, I can think of worse, and I wouldn't object to a few kids playing "Captain Tybo" in the playground. His final line to the kids, commuting their "death penalties" to "being grounded" surely shows that he has a sharp line on what's really going on as well.
Kudos has to go to Paul Casey who has to perform some rather complex mime and to Neil Gorton for making such a brilliant, flexible, mobile prosthetic Judoon head who between them bring Captain Tybo to life and make him feel completely real. And of course Nick Briggs, too, for giving up his larynx to give Tybo his voice.
Nothing quite tops the hilarity of Judoon driving, though. "I am trained in all pursuit vehicles!" Tybo insists before lurching off in a "commandeered" police Landrover. And when Androvax' spacecraft lurches off into the sky at the end, we remarked: there's a Judoon driving that, isn't there.
Slightly less hilarious was the "comedy" subplot involving Rani's parents getting themselves caught up in Judoon shenanigans. Although there were elements of farce in the "ooh, Rani mustn't let Mum and Dad see her with an alien" ducking behind pillars and near misses, the timing was never sharp enough, nor was there any real sense of "disaster" if they actually did collide; this is all far more Secret Seven than Buffy the Vampire Slayer, after all – we're not going to end up with emotional meltdown. Nor was the "lets humour the parents" ending entirely in keeping with the show's overall message of "there are wonders out there if you're willing to look".
And besides, we've seen this done before and done infinitely better on November 23rd 1963, when Susan was the one who understands and accepts the "unearthly" and it was Ian and Barbara who went into "can't cope" mode. And it's done without compromising the dignity of the teachers, which doesn't just help them as characters, but also makes the alien more alien, (and less "panto").
I think they just about got away with the coincidence of Sarah-Jane getting possessed on the very day she has just visited the very nanobot laboratory that villainous Androvax needs to work his dastardly scheme. Swarms of tiny little dots being quite handy for the effects guys, these miniature monsters actually worked rather well as a threat, particularly the 'peril' moment where they eat through some fire doors to get at Clyde and Rani, leaving a delicious bite-hole in the woodwork. It would have been nice at the end though, if when they'd all switched off they'd left some sizable bite-marks removed from the building too.
Oh, and under the microscope molecule-sized robots really don't look like cute beetles with chomping mandibles.
For the regulars, it was a good week to be Clyde, who pretty much took the lead here, coming up with the ideas and generally keeping things moving – even while claiming to be no more than "one-liners guy". Not a bad week for Sarah's adopted son Luke either, who gets to be rather brilliant in talking Mr Smith out of self-destructing and disabling Androvax ship after one glimpse of the blueprints, plus psychoanalysing the villain into surrender: not a bad week's work at all. Which just leaves Rani to be a bit wet.
I don't want to get too into the gender politics of it, but for a series that is normally chock full of positive female roles, this week had Sarah-Jane turned "evil", Rani's Mum doing something dappy, and Rani herself reduced to tailing Clyde and Tybo and hiding whenever her parents appear.
On the other hand, where Captain Tybo was generally portrayed as dim (albeit with undertones), Rani's father Haresh, who is also remember their headteacher Mr Chandra, was reduced to pure comic relief and the only person her Mum could get one over on. Including making him literally wetter than his daughter.
The "fifth" regular is obviously the multi-talented Alexander Armstrong, also returning to BBC1 in the brilliant sketch show he shares with Ben Miller ("face the front!") and probably still to be seen on BBC4 or BBC HD as Clive Sinclair in tragic-comedic Eighties microcomputer biopic "Micro Men" ("there's even a bloody game about me trying to get a bloody knighthood!" "you might want to read this" "ah… apparently, I've been offered a knighthood"). It's only a shame he wasn't guest presenter of "Have I Got News For You" on Friday as well.
Alex remarks: I do hope Sarah-Jane remembers to cancel the self-destruct properly because he was left thinking about it on a three-second countdown. Oops!
Next time: Oooh, looks like spooky goings on! Make a wish! A haunted house and a crazy old lady… that can't be Rani can it? Is she… "The Mad Woman in the Attic"?!