THIS STORY TAKES
PLACE BETWEEN THE
TV STORIES "THE MAD
WOMAN IN THE ATTIC"
AND "THE ETERNITY
'THE COMPLETE THIRD
SERIES' DVD BOX SET
IN NOVEMBER 2010.
The Doctor returns on
the happiest day of
Sarah Jane's life, but
a deadly trap
29TH OCTOBER 2009 - 30TH OCTOBER 2009
Over the last two years Gareth Roberts’ “Trickster” stories have been the emot-ional underpinning of their respective Sarah Jane Adventures seasons. Dark and angst-fuelled tales with a maturity well beyond that of the series’ target audience, both Whatever Happened to Sarah Jane? and The Temptation of Sarah Jane Smith have been lauded
to the hilt by children and adults alike.
Roberts’ third instalment in the trilogy, The Wedding of Sarah Jane Smith, is in many ways a natural extension of the first two stories. Temptation is once again the theme, although this time it is temptation of an altogether different type. One might even say seduction…
“The one time I fell in love. The one time everything goes right…”
Ever since she returned to our screens in the Doctor Who episode School Reunion, it has been made plain that Sarah Jane is a spinster, and a lonely one at that. Since the events of that episode, she has of course acquired a foster son and even an extended family of sorts, but for all their worth they could never fill the Doctor-shaped hole that was left in her life when the Time Lord first ejected her from his company all those years ago. And seizing upon this aching chasm, here the Trickster sets in motion a sequence of events that would see Sarah Jane meet her dream man; fall hopelessly in love with him; and then wed him, thereafter to fade quietly into domesticity and leave her planet just that little bit more vulnerable to alien aggressors.
However, despite the heavy subject matter, I found the first episode to be a surprisingly light and jovial affair. Uncomfortably mushy in a few, fleeting moments, the preponderance of the episode dwells on Luke, Clyde and Rani’s almost farcical attempts to snoop on the overtly circumspect Sarah Jane as she sneaks off to covert trysts. There is even a bizarre CG skit which sees a multi-eyed slug-like creature that Sarah Jane bought on eBay (!) escape whilst she tries to entertain her suitor. Delightful stuff.
K-9 also contributes significantly to the episode’s humour, the robotic dog’s ongoing game of one-upmanship with Xylok super-computer Mr Smith really helping to keep the tone bright and breezy in the earlygoing. And though I may not be his biggest fan, it has to be said that K-9 is the perfect addition to the ensemble here; a fact that I feel is best exemplified by his offering counsel from underneath a table at the wedding reception in Part 2. CBBC gold.
The above notwithstanding, the first episode does successfully create a lot of suspense which increases exponentially as the episode progresses and the wedding draws closer. For one thing, Sarah Jane’s would-be husband – Peter Dalton - is a truly inscrutable fellow. Nigel Havers (Doctor Who: No More Lies) pitches his performance perfectly, tantalisingly walking that thin line between too-good-to-be-true dream catch and con-man slash alien operative. But for many viewers, the sound of the ailing TARDIS engines will have been enough to have had them on the edges of their seats, poised for that inexorable material-isation….
“Stop this wedding now!”
The first episode could not have culminated in any other way. Had David Tennant’s Doctor not burst into the chapel during the “if any persons here present know of any unlawful reason why these two people should not be wed speak now or forever hold your peace” bit, then something really would have been wrong with the universe.
“A man of ice and fire, who has walked amongst Gods
and once held the Key to Time in his hands.”
The Doctor is used fabulously by Roberts’ script. I was a little worried that in having him appear here, the character might be demystified in the eyes of Luke, Clyde and Rani (and thus vicariously in the eyes of the series’ regular audience), but if anything the opposite is true. Roberts’ script treats the ratchet-wielding tenth Doctor with tremendous reverence;
the dialogue is positively littered with inspiring summations, as well as ominous hints at
what is to come for him.
“I can fight him.”
For me though, the real beauty of how the Doctor is used here is that he doesn’t actually
do much himself – instead, he inspires the stars of the show to do so. It is Clyde, his body still tingling with the TARDIS’ Artron energy, that boldly squares off against the Trickster;
and ultimately it is Sarah Jane, her heart virtually broken in two, that has to make the most agonising decision of her life to date - all the Doctor does is set out the salient facts for her.
Nevertheless, Tennant is inescapably the dominant presence throughout Part 2, and I got
a particular thrill from finally seeing him face to face with the Trickster and his Pantheon of Discord, whose time beetle almost brought his story to an abrupt end in one of my favourite Doctor Who episodes to date, Turn Left.
“Your love brought me back to life. How can that be wrong?”
Havers does give Tennant a run for his money though with his final, touching scene, as he realises that for things to be set right, he will have to reject the Trickster’s gift of continued life. Given the cloud of distrust that hung over Peter earlier the story, it was both unexpected and affecting to see the character reveal his true colours, his defining moment coming when, resigned to death, his thoughts were not for himself but for Sarah Jane, who would have to live on without him.
“The gate is waiting for you.”
In the end though, The Wedding of Sarah Jane Smith will forever be remembered as ‘the one with the Doctor in’, and I would imagine that as a result of its billing will end up being watched by far more viewers than is usually the case. It is fortunate, then, that this two-parter showcases The Sarah Jane Adventures at its very best; the heart, the humour and the high-octane action that the show is built upon all present here in spates. My only grumble would be that the kids were never treated to a ride in the TARDIS, but I suppose that the Doctor has other pressing engagements. After all, the Gate is waiting for him…
Copyright © E.G. Wolverson 2009
E.G. Wolverson has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988 to be identified as the author of this work.
This innocent-seeming little story has been the focus of a lot of attention from fandom, and most of that attention has been aimed, unsurprisingly, at the Doctor, making
his first ever television appearance on a spin-off show (unless we’re counting things like Tonight’s the Night and Search Out Science). I have to give the production team their dues for not giving in to temptation and bringing him in earlier, particularly considering how The Sarah Jane Adventures has struggled with ratings in the past. As it is, the appearance of the Doctor props up the whole third season, and has succeeded in bringing plenty of new viewers to the show, although it remains to be seen if they’ll stay. I wonder. This was a fine instalment of The Sarah Jane Adventures, but it was pretty poor for an episode of Doctor Who, which I fear a fair few viewers may have been expecting.
So I’m going to look at this as a story from a Sarah Jane Adventures’ viewer’s point of view, reminding myself that it’s aimed at children, not the full family audience that its parent series has cultivated.
Looked at it this way, I have to say it succeeds excellently. Although the Doctor’s presence
is felt throughout the first episode, thanks to the sounds of the TARDIS desperately trying to materialise, his appearance is kept back for the closing moments. Instead, what we actually get is something of a farce, with Sarah Jane at first hiding her new relationship with Peter from her young friends, and then recruiting them to help hide her own unusual secrets from him. It’s unusual to have such a long stretch of the show played so much for laughs, but it works, even down to the cartoony slug-in-the-post moment (although, knowing of the Trick-ster’s involvement, I did wonder if a rascally Graske would pop out of the package). We know that tragedy is on the way, and making the first episode so light-hearted softens this. It’s also very unusual for a children’s show to make the focus of its plot the romantic life of two people in their late fifties. It’s quite a brave move, and, although a good deal of this is explored through the effects on Luke, Clyde and Rani, there are plenty of straighter moments in which Sarah describes her feelings herself. Having said that, her three companions have plenty of scope for development, and a good chance to show off their acting skills. For me, Daniel Anthony as Clyde is the one to watch. He’s developed from a mere comedy sidekick into an important part of the show, underpinning the whole team. I love the more protective attitude he has towards Sarah, shown throughout this season but pushed to the fore here, and also his developing relationship with Rani (just kiss, you fools!)
Things move very quickly in the opening episode, serving to illustrate just how rapidly the relationship between Sarah Jane and Peter has developed. Sometimes the whole thing feels too rushed though - I do feel that maybe seeding hints of their romance through earlier episodes would have helped make it seem a little more real; on the other hand, it’s quite possible that this would have lost the younger viewers’ interest quite quickly. As it is, we’re well into the plot by the end of Part 1, with an effective cliffhanger that reveals both the Time Lord and the nefarious Trickster.
Once we’re into the second episode, it’s the Trickster who links the two sets of protagonists – Sarah Jane and Peter, and the Doctor and the kids – both groups separated into consec-utive seconds, unable to escape. The Trickster is at his oily best here, creepier than ever in white, looking entirely, shudderingly wrong, to the extent that you feel Peter must be some kind of villain or alien just to tolerate him, let alone work with him. Nigel Havers plays Peter beautifully though, convincing us that this is a good man who has taken the only option that will allow him a chance of happiness.
While Peter and Sarah are at the heart of events, the Doctor is actually pretty peripheral. I
do feel that the plot could have got along quite happily without him shifting things along, but
it is a pleasure to have him there. It’s in his interactions with the other characters that the set-up works. He’s excellent with a team of enthusiastic young companions, and there’s a real pleasure to watching his growing appreciation of their abilities. There is also a really tender moment when he sits Luke down to talk to him, when you see how the Doctor is almost a father figure for the boy, in spite of the fact that this is their first actual meeting. The Doctor also has a wonderful scene with the Trickster, in which the villainous creature is almost squeeing at the chance to meet such an adversary. We learn a little more about the Trick-ster and his Pantheon of Discord, but most of it doesn’t really mean much - it just sounds intriguing. There are also nebulous hints about the Doctor’s future too, and we’ll just have to wait to see if these will come to anything....
The eventual resolution of the plot is beautifully played, with not only a wonderfully heroic moment from Clyde, but a tear-jerking final scene between Sarah and Peter, where he gives up his life for the sake of her continuing her unique lifestyle. The whole reason for the Trick-ster’s plot – that a world without Sarah Jane defending it would be vulnerable to the point of certain destruction – actually makes her story all the sadder. She’s trapped herself in this life of adventure, and even the Doctor almost orders her to continue fighting. On the other hand, there is the feeling that her true family – Luke, Clyde, Rani – will be more important to her than ever.
All that, and I haven’t even mentioned more classic moments from the Chandras, the wonderful bitchiness between Mr Smith and K-9, the generally fine effects work (slug notwithstanding)… all in all, an excellent instalment of The Sarah Jane Adventures.
Copyright © Daniel Tessier 2009
Daniel Tessier has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988 to be identified as the author of this work.
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