THIS STORY TAKES
PLACE BETWEEN THE
TV STORIES "THE DEATH
OF THE DOCTOR" AND
"LOST IN TIME."
'THE COMPLETE FOURTH
SERIES' DVD BOX SET
TO BE RELEASED IN
Clyde and Rani FIND
that they are the
only survivors of
the human race!
1ST NOVEMBER 2010 - 2ND NOVEMBER 2010
On New Yearís Day 2007, The Sarah Jane Adventures began with Invasion of the Bane, an hour-long special episode. The show featured the Doctorís most popular former companion, along with her adoptive son Luke, their young friends Maria and Kelsey, super-computer Mr Smith, and even K-9, who promised to make the occasional future cameo. How things change. Kelsey didnít even make it to the series proper; Maria left at the beginning of the second year; and now Luke has left, taking K-9 with him. Now that the line-up of the show has been altered, going from the trials of school-aged teens to the adventures of two college students who werenít even in the original premise of the show, what else could be taken out of the equation? Sarah Jane herself?
Cleverly, this is exactly what The Empty Planet does. The episode hinges almost entirely
on the actions of Clyde and Rani. Sarah makes only the briefest of appearances here, and even the protagonistsí parents vanish for the majority of the screen time. Now that the series revolves primarily around the adventures of two ordinary humans, with no special powers or TARDIS-travelling credentials, itís the perfect time to explore just how much they bring to the show - so it gets rid of everybody else on the Earth (well, very nearly everybody).
The concept of one or two people waking up in a deserted world isnít exactly original; Iím sure there was an old episode of The Twilight Zone or The Outer Limits that did this very thing, and the idea no doubt goes back much further than that. In fact, what it really puts me
in mind of is an episode of the classic 1990s kidsí show Eerie, Indiana, in which the very same thing happens when Omri Katzís character puts his watch back an hour on the wrong day. Only there, heís pursued by sinister binmen, not snazzy looking robots.
This is a better show, however. Clyde and Rani have both been the ones to save the day before, but always with the help of Sarah Janeís experience, Lukeís hyper-intelligence, Mr Smithís databanks or K-9ís, um, nose laser. For once, these two ordinary kids (well, adult actors pretending to be kids - Daniel Anthony is twenty-three now!) have to save the entire human race all by themselves. The result is something rather brilliant. The first episode sees some wonderful direction by Ashley Way, as he creates a desolate section of London for the two leads to explore. Itís reminds me of similar scenes in 28 Days Later, or its own ancestor, The Dalek Invasion of Earth, yet itís actually a lotmore effective. Rather than huge vistas or photo-friendly landmarks, we see the two leads wandering around a perfectly ordinary street, past abandoned stalls and shops with recognisable fascias, using an empty cafť as their base. It is its very normality makes it work so well. Itís also logically thought out; there are no mobile signals or television, with nobody to operate the systems to provide them; when they realise that no cars have crashed or planes dropped from the sky, Clyde and Rani deduce that whatever removed humanity must have removed these things also, and are therefore keeping people safe.
Both Daniel Anthony and Anjli Mohindra are excellent here. Anthony in particular impresses as it is clear how much he has developed as an actor over the last few years. The two share a great chemistry, and the slow development of their charactersí romance is still there, now brought more into view. Nothing blatant; just a held-hand here, a joke about Adam and Eve there, and a little kiss on the cheek at the right moment. The characters worry that they arenít up to the task of solving the mystery and saving the world; that they canít cope without Sarah Jane or Mr Smith. This story proves that both the characters and the actors are capable of carrying the show on their own.
While the pair of them slowly begin to piece together whatís happened to the world, itís clear that they canít remain alone for long. Three more characters are brought in to up the pace. First is the only other survivor of humanityís great disappearing act, Gavin, played with some conviction by young actor Joe Mason. While itís part of the showís appeal that it has grown up with its audience (I mean its intended audience, not us ageing geeks), it needs to remain entertaining for new, younger viewers if it is to survive amongst all the rest of the nonsense on CBBC. Including a thirteen year-old character is therefore a wise move, especially one
as sympathetic as Gavin. Iím sure that most of us, at some point in our childhood, wished that we were someone elseís son or daughter, that we were really a royal heir from a far-off land, just waiting to be taken back to a life of riches. Luckily for Gavin, he is, and he is soon to escape from the perfectly safe, yet seemingly loveless life he has.
The two robots sent to find the half-human Son and Heir are tremendous fun. Iíll allow myself a little hypocrisy, after complaining about the garish new toy-style Daleks, and praise these two brightly-coloured mechanicals. They bring a striking flash of colour to the empty world
as they stride through the abandoned streets. Theyíre singularly useless at their job, though; unable to find the young prince, due to his being hidden by a bio-damper, they remove every other person on Earth. Only they canít actually see him while his bio-damper is active. Itís a good thing for them that Clyde and Rani were grounded by the Judoon (in a very nice bit of continuity linking back to the Series 3 opener, Prisoner of the Judoon). If they hadnít been left on the Earth to help out, those two robots would never have found Gavin!
Still, this a fine script by the ever-dependable Gareth Roberts, full of his usual high-standard of dialogue of peculiar imagery. However, itís Daniel Anthony and Anjli Mohindra who own these episodes. Theyíre at the centre of this story, and rightly so; theyíve become the core
of this series.
Copyright © Daniel Tessier 2010
Daniel Tessier has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988 to be identified as the author of this work.
With the seriesí budget being cut, this yearís money-saving serial had to be even thriftier than ever, and so youíve really got to admire the cleverness of The Empty Planet. With performers, sets and special effects all impinging upon an already tight budget, this two-parter eases the strain by telling a story carried almost entirely by the performances of its trio of teen characters. The Empty Planet is what in the USA theyíd call a bottle show;
the only difference is that, for The Sarah Jane Adventures, the bottle is the entire planet.
Narratively speaking, Gareth Robertsí script is homage to all those post-neutron bomb / last man alive type of science fiction stories that have been done many times over the years, with varying degrees of success. The premise is straightforward: Clyde and Rani find themselves in an empty London. Along with a thirteen year-old boy named Gavin, they appear to be the only human beings left on the planet. Pursued by two colourful robots Ė one tomato ketchup, one mustard Ė our two heroes must solve the mystery of Gavin, the robots, and the abducted human race before time runs out.
The piece has more of a Disney whiff about it than it does something grittier like 28 Days Later, particularly in the second episode, as the truth about Gavin could have been torn out
of any teen prince fairytale. Even as an adult viewer though, this didnít bother me too much as the plot is just a vehicle to explore Clyde and Raniís characters; their mutual CBeebies crush; and even their deep-rooted insecurities. Both Daniel Anthony and Anjli Mohindra give tremendous performances as their characters are forced to take a cold, hard look at what they each contribute to the team, and ask whether their combined strengths will be enough
to save the world when Sarah Janeís not around.
The story is slow to move forward, however, even in Part 2 when aided by a false deadline. Nevertheless, The Empty Planet is a rite of passage that I expect will prove a hit amongst the target demographic. Itís colourful, comic and even a little bit naughty (you wouldnít Adam and Eve some of the innuendo), and best of all it has an illicit Home Alone feel that is sure
to thrill younger viewers.
Copyright © E.G. Wolverson 2010
E.G. Wolverson 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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