THESE STORIES TAKE PLACE BETWEEN SARAH JANE SMITH SERIES 2
AND THE DOCTOR WHO
TV EPISODE "SCHOOL
BIG FINISH 'SARAH JANE SMITH' CDS# VI - IX (ISBNS
2-1 & 1-84435-203-X) RELEASED BETWEEN JANUARY 2006 AND APRIL 2006.
JANUARY 2006 - APRIL 2006
(4 60-MINUTE EPISODES)
1. BURIED SECRETS 2. SNOW BLIND
3. FATAL CONSEQUENCES 4. DREAMLAND
Sarah Jane Smith’s second series is a very different animal to its first. Rather
than fashion a season out of a hatful of submissions, Big Finish turned to Mr David Bishop, author of the first season’s gripping Test of Nerve, to script an epic four-part story, complete with ‘previouslys’, ‘next times’ and even torturous cliffhangers. The resultant upturn in quality is immediately staggering - penned by just one writer, this season’s stories feel refined and focused; their tone distinct and their drama absorbing.
Besides telling one intricate adventure as opposed to five loosely-linked ones, Series 2 also departs from the first series’ fundamental setup. Sadie Miller’s Nat Redfern only appears in the season’s bookending episodes, and even there her role is more limited than it was in the previous run. Josh Townsend, meanwhile, has to compete for his place at Sarah’s right hand when Harry Sullivan’s brother, Will, crawls out of the woodwork, proffering friendship whilst all the while attempting to further his own, inscrutable ends.
The season’s first instalment, Buried Secrets, feels like a complete reboot of the series – at least at first. A few years had passed between the release of Series 1 and 2, and Bishop’s story takes full account of them, starting from a point where the first season’s baddies have all long-since been put paid to. But Bishop is careful not to wipe the slate clean – he’s much cleverer than that. Rather than persuade listeners to forget about the first run of stories and entice them into his own, instead he slowly persuades them to look at the first series anew: as a precursor to the cataclysm that is to come, a test of Sarah’s nerve in the literal sense.
The whole season reeks of Dan Brown’s work. The first episode’s European setting, quorum of academics and – as the title suggests – secret buried deep inside a Florence catacomb all engender a distinct Da Vinci Code feel, which is only heightened as the labyrinthine plot begins to unfurl. The narrative revolves around Sarah’s discovery that certain members of a discredited doomsday cult, the “Orphans of the Future”, hail her as the Herald of the End of the World, for it is written in the Exemplar Crass, their “Book of Tomorrows”. To bring about the End of Days - which is, for some reason that eludes me, desirable - the members of the cult’s Crimson Chapter believe that Sarah must die. It’s fortunate, then, that Will steps out of the shadows, offering her counsel and protection.
Cast as Will is the gravelly Tom Chadbon, whom Doctor Who fans will remember fondly as the bumbling Duggan in City of Death. Chadbon is ideal in the role, constantly keeping the listener guessing as to his motives and allegiances, yet presenting a sympathetic face in his dealings with Sarah. The antagonism between Will and Josh that runs through the first three episodes is beautifully executed, especially when it forces us to look at Josh more closely, and question what we really know about him.
The season’s second episode sees the action shift to Nikita Base in Antarctica, where Will’s research team is studying global warming and, of course, a killer is on the loose. Snow Blind has the most distinctive feel of all the series’ episodes, and would even be capable of being enjoyed in isolation, were it not for its fastening reveals, last-minute twist and particularly the symbolic significance of Sarah’s snow blindness.
From the third episode onwards, the season steps up a gear. Fatal Consequences has all the pace and weight of a series finale, despite only being the penultimate episode, as the Crimson Chapter’s genocidal plan nears fruition; Will’s true colours are finally exposed; and Sarah finally realises why she occupies such a pivotal position in the Orphans’ centuries-old prophecies. This play is worth the purchase price just to her Lis Sladen’s Sarah sparring with the elegantly evil Keeper (played by Blake’s 7 star Jacqueline Pearce) as the whole world threatens to collapse around them both.
After the harrowing events of the
third episode, I wondered how
the fourth could possibly up the
ante. The answer is by blasting
Sarah Jane into orbit aboard the
Dauntless - Earth’s first space
tourism flight, on board which the
Orphans’ opposing chapters will
fight their final battle, and their ‘Herald of the End of Days’ will
meet her destiny.
Though its pace is measured, Dreamland has a real sense of enormity to it. The Dauntless news bulletins littered throughout the first three episodes successfully build up the listener’s expectation, and Bishop makes good on that promise with a script that proves to be every bit as poignant as it is explosive. Lis Sladen, Jeremy James and particularly Stephen Greif each give bravura performances, particularly in the final act - the relationship between Sarah, Josh and his father makes for absolutely agonising listening as the play rockets towards its cliffhanging crescendo.
It’s a great shame, in many ways, that Sarah’s post-School Reunion television renaissance put paid to any further audio adventures in this range, because the Whoniverse is certainly big enough to accommodate both these brooding interim exploits and the colourful Sarah Jane Adventures. Yet, left as it is, Sarah Jane Smith’s ending is a thing of true, unspoiled beauty. I have no idea whether Big Finish truly intended to kill off Sarah (others had tried and failed before them), or whether her implied fate would have been resolved in a mooted third season, but as it stands Dreamland serves as an incredibly stirring conclusion to this cruel chapter of Sarah’s life. Whichever way you look at it, this story’s end finally frees Sarah from the torments of her wilderness years, and, if you give any credence to the beliefs of the White Chapter, also heralds the dawn of a much more alien era.
Copyright © E.G. Wolverson 2011
E.G. Wolverson has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988 to be identified as the author of this work.
Dialogue confirms that these stories take place “years” after Mirror, Signal, Manoeuvre, but well in advance
of 2008 (when the first space tourism flight was originally planned for). We therefore suspect that they were intended to take place on or around their release dates (i.e. early 2006). This accords with School Reunion’s January 2007 setting.
It is unclear whether Harry Sullivan is still alive by this time – dialogue in the first episode suggests that he has been killed on one of his “hush-hush” missions, while dialogue in the third episodes seems to suggest that he is not only alive but in contact with his step-brother.
The Orphans of the Future were founded by Duke Juliano following his meeting with the Doctor and Sarah in The Masque of Mandragora.
Dreamland concludes with SJ adrift in the Dauntless with little air left. The Sarah Jane Adventures prove that she survived, leading some to speculate that she is unwittingly rescued from the Dauntless by the Doctor, as depicted in Chris McKeon’s fan fiction piece Not Forgotten, available in our Fan Fiction section.
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