Before we get Scary Jane Smith (yes, I know that's how I started last week) Daddy Richard would like me to big up the most recent-est release from the BIG FISH audio people: "A Death in the Family", which, says Daddy, is Big Fish's "Curse of Fenric".
That's HIGH PRAISE indeed, 'cos "The Curse of Fenric" is Daddy's favourite story: a story that ties together threads that have been developing for ages, turns the timey-wimey up to eleven, features shocking revelations about his companion's mum, and in which the Doctor takes down a GOD. Yes, it's just like that.
Recommended that you listen to, (at a bare minimum): "Project: Twilight", "Project: Lazarus", "Arrangements for War", "The Harvest", "45", "The Angel of Scutari", and "Project: Destiny", first!
Fortunately you don't need nearly such a huge back catalogue to understand this week's Scary Jane adventure. Just "Prisoner of the Judoon" and "Dreamland". Simples!
You might think that this is the throwaway story, between the emotionally heavy "The Nightmare Man" and the season big-hitter "Death of the Doctor", but there's something quietly profound going on underneath the surface of this story: a sense of sadness and nostalgia about lives wasted and the serious question of a genocidal manic seeking redemption posed for a tea-time audience.Don't forget to tune in to CBBC later for the next adventure!
Ocean Waters (Cheryll Campbell) personifies the spirot of nostalgia. Superficially she's a comic creation; her organisation is called "B.U.R.P.S.S." for goodness sakes; even her name is a pun on "River Song" and "Amy Pond". And yet there are a couple of moments, just a couple and I wonder if it's
LizLis* Sladen adding them herself, where Sarah Jane steps back and notices Ocean's real situation. In part one, where they find Mr Dread's press clippings and discover that Ocean is a genuine abductee, Sarah Jane wonders to herself, "if only she'd thought of a better name [for B.U.R.P.S.S] perhaps someone would have taken her seriously". In part two, they all pretend to have had the same attack of the mind-rubbers that Gita has, but just watch Sarah as she sees how hurt Ocean is that they've all forgotten. She winces to herself, knowing that – however necessary to protect Rani's mum – this is cruel and hurtful for Ocean.
And think also of the genuine terror that she experiences when her personal "nightmare man", Mr Dread, comes literally bursting back into her life.
Ocean's life, tragically wasted since her abduction in
19741972*, curiously mirrors that of the android Mr Dread too, whose life was literally put on hold in that same year by his masters in the Alliance of Shades (and an alliance of "shades" would be a Spectrum; one wonders if they include a "Scarlet").
The Men in Black androids from "Dreamland" are evolved into much better characters here. They are closer to the Agents from the Matrix, of course, than Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones: I particularly loved that their reaction to the sonic lipstick was to all do the "Agent Smith neck-crick" thing. The ridiculously oversized guns are jolly funny as are the detachable hands, and also a nice Auton pastiche, although a bit more Addams Family "Thing", than scary Auton arm from Rose.
Mr Dread in particular is a rather lovely creation, even if his "prepare to be incinerated" catchphrase is a bit rubbish. Played by Angus Wright, he's got a very dry sense of humour and a slightly world-weary attitude, like he knows that his job is now rather pointless and that anyway Sarah Jane has much more right to defend the Earth, and is just plain better at it. He is, essentially, (as referenced several times by Clyde) a Terminator, but one that knows just how ridiculous he is.
It's a real shame that he's used up all his battery juice. (Oh, but he has – he says he has a five-hundred-year battery, and uses up four-hundred and fifty years in activating the transmat, so fifty years left… but he's been operating on Earth since the Nineteen-Fifties… fifty years ago.) It would have been rather nice to employ him as a kind of recurring guest robot, as K-9 was in the first couple of series.
And was anyone else expecting Sarah to open up his freezer with the line: "Mr Dread… I need you!"
Of course, he's wrong about one thing: he tells us that, without the second activator disc, the vault is sealed forever and his purpose is now over. To which both Alex and I replied: transmat! In just the last few minutes, Mr Dread himself has used the transmit equipment to get Androvax's Veil ship out of the vault (and, incidentally, one presumes the second disc too); what's to stop anyone else doing the same?
Anyway, also returning this week: Adrovax, Destroyer of Worlds, Last of the Viel.
How many times has Doctor Who done a "last of the… [insert species here] in desperate gamble to save their people" story? Particularly when the "last of the…" in question turns out to be a bit of a baddie?
Well about twice, actually: there's Eldrad, last of the Kastrians, ("The Hand of Fear") and obviously Scaroth, last of the Jaggeroth ("City of Death"). At a pinch you might count Broton of the Zygons, but he's not "last" of his race. Not least because he's expecting a terraforming (Zygo-forming?) ship to arrive with survivors. Possibly Monarch of the Urbankans (whose plan to resurrect his dead race in digital format is the very same plan that killed them all in the first place). Oh, and Rassilon's whole get-out-of-Time-War free gambit.
What is a twist is that Androvax, the not-actually-any-more-last of the Veil, manages to get away with it. You're far, far more likely to have this plot fail and the Doctor moralise on about "everything having it's time and everything dying" (and if it's Davy Ten, get that faraway look in his eye). And yet here, as Ocean tells us, hanging a light on it, we get a definite "win" for the aliens.
Now, arguably that's a "win" for the Universe and Sarah Jane too: a victory over entropy from just one more species spared from extinction. And it's worth remembering that – aside from the almost casual attitude towards exploding Slitheen – almost no one ever dies in the Sarah Jane adventures; even Androvax himself is still struggling manfully on despite the lethal swamp-viper venom allegedly about to kill him at any moment.
But even so, this is still, quite unusually, a rare example of the "score draw" in the Doctor Who universe.
And actually that's a better moral than the traditional: "if you're evil, you can never achieve anything good and your race are all better off dead".
Interestingly we never do really address the question of whether Androvax is "good" for saving his people or "evil" for all the other worlds he has destroyed. Obviously, destroying twelve planets is evil, and he's played throughout as duplicitous and self-interested. And yet he is without doubt expending his life to save his people. So as I say, interesting as it's left to the viewer to think about.
In a way there's almost too much plot. All the body swapping is certainly larks for the regular cast, all of whom get a go at the snarling lizard-in-a-human's-body shtick (though
LizLis* Sladen remains far and away the best and most sinister at doing it: like "aged Sarah" in Clyde's nightmare last week, she's really good as a wacked out alt-Sarah; after all these years, people are starting to notice she can do this kind of thing). And the jokes come thick and fast, if pitched at a somewhat juvenile level.
But all the light-hearted froth seems to, ironically, pin down the more serious meanings underneath. And the incidental music will insist on tossing in comic stings, particularly over Ocean's disappointments, where something a little more downbeat would have underlined the genuine sadness of her situation, rather than mocked it.
And there's Mina Anwar's acting as Gita which swings wildly between hilarious and "hilarious"! It is a real shame that they mind-rubbered her at the end. There's a much richer vein of comedy to be found in having mum "in the know" (and trying to keep dad Haresh the headmaster in the dark) than in just returning to the mum and dad mustn't find out status quo. It would have been a nice flip of the season two arc where Maria's dad knows but mum Chrissis is, as far as we know, clueless. Plus, for a while there it genuinely strengthened Gita's character as she coped pretty admirably under the circumstances. A shame to undermine it again with more silliness.
But I loved the Pyramid of Mars.
Next time: Warm up the ol' android duplicate and get ready to infiltrate and kill 'cos it's "The Death of Doctor Who"… oh, no sorry, that's "The Chase"; this time it's muppet vultures and someone's painted the Graske blue for "The Death of the Doctor"
*corrections per Mr Tat, thanks