Friday, August 28, 2009

My Review of The Sarah Jane Adventures 1x01: "Invasion Of The Bane"

Written by Russell T. Davies And Gareth Roberts
Directed by Colin Teague

Sarah Jane: “Life on Earth can be an adventure too. You just need to know where to look.”

Unless you’re Star Trek, you’re lucky to have at least one successful spin-off but for Doctor Who, it seemed that Torchwood wasn’t going to be the only successful sister show this time around.

With Doctor covering everyone and Torchwood aimed for adults primarily, it was up to The Sarah Jane Adventures to sate this children and given that I can be a bit of a child myself at times, reviewing this show wasn’t going to be difficult for me.

Having a pilot episode air several months before the filming of the first season can often be a mixed tack. If it’s a failure, you can either makes changes or not bother having to continue with a show but if it’s a success, you’re under pressure to get a series out before viewers forget about it.

This opening episode does kick things off quite solidly in my book. Last time we saw Sarah Jane was in “School Union” and it appeared that she had been continuing The Doctor’s mission in her own way. In this story, she’s alone, almost too at ease with the situation and it’s scrutinised within the story.

She’s instantly distant with her new neighbours the Jackson, casually ignoring Maria’s simple attempts to say hello and even Alan is given the cold shoulder when he tries to take an interest in her profession. Fortunately though, the cold façade is understandable.

While The Doctor has always been someone who hasn’t hidden the existence of other life forms, Sarah Jane is less keen to share her knowledge of things from outer space. Maria even caught her communicating with an alien and when trouble put them in each other’s orbit, Sarah Jane was more keen to tell Maria to go home than explain everything to her.

I remember reading a review where someone said that it was radical to give a series to a 60 something actress, especially when the show in question is primarily supposed to be aimed at children. One of this show’s biggest strengths that unlike anything that might air on the Disney Channel or Nickelodeon, this isn’t a series that talks down to it’s audience.

Sarah Jane drives a lot of the story. In “School Reunion” we saw that there was a part of her that couldn’t get over The Doctor and the life she used to experience. It’s sort of relatable if you were in a situation like that and then found yourself back in the humdrum of things. You can’t begrudge Sarah Jane for the way she feels.

I loved that Maria sort of earned her stripes that Sarah Jane was able to open up about her experiences with The Doctor. One of the things that was so apparent in the first season of Torchwood is that Jack never explicitly referenced the Time Lord, except maybe for “End Of Days” but this show is more than happy to.

The main plot of the episode however certainly cemented the fact that this is a series aimed for children. What else could be scary than having a pop drink like Bubble Shock being made out of Bane? Kelsey’s reaction in particular certainly made for a priceless moment.

Casting Samantha Bond as the villainous Mrs Wormwood was a masterstroke. She more than holds her own against Elisabeth Sladen throughout the entire and after all, every good hero needs an equally good villain. I was delighted that she actually survived this episode and like many villains, she made more than a few perceptive comments on the human race.

Yes, we like to eat a lot. I’m definitely one of those people who has a very healthy appetite but even if I had been a teenager, I’d like to think that I would’ve fallen into the Maria contingent and not have consumed any of that Bubble Shock rubbish. It certainly would’ve meant not being possessed at one point in the story.

In terms of other villains, Davey was little more than eye candy when he wasn’t in Bane form and fairly defeated when he was. I guess when you’re stupid enough to refer to Sarah Jane as an old woman; it’s a good indication that you’re not going to win. Also getting eaten by your own mother? Yuck!

The Bane mother itself isn’t the best looking creature the producers could’ve come up with but it was certainly better than some of the Doctor Who monsters we’ve seen (Abzorbaloff I’m looking at you) and it made for a good opening episode foil as well. Plus I loved that Luke was able to use an alien communicator in order to defeat it.

Luke is another masterstroke for the series. Giving Sarah Jane someone to look after (aside from the fact that she’s clearly going to be a mentor to Maria) works brilliantly in the show’s favour and it also gives Maria another person to emote. Luke might have been grown for purposes to advance the Bubble Shock plot but there’s a lot of story possibilities with him as well.

With all of this, what about the other characters? Kelsey is somewhat annoying and didn’t get past this story but as a teenager, she’s very believable (I should know, I have a lot of nieces) and Alan seems like a decent father to Maria and on a shallow note, Joseph Millson is pretty nice to look at, isn’t he?

The only character who doesn’t work for me is Maria’s mother, Chrissie. She’s a bit Jackie-esque but somewhat dislikeable and feckless and also incredibly rude to Sarah Jane as well. The actress however who plays her is a lot of fun in the role and it’s fairly obvious that the more Chrissie appears in the series, the more she’ll get developed as well. Though she does have a habit of getting Sarah Jane’s name wrong (Sarah Lou?) in the series.

Also in “Invasion Of The Bane”

This episode was a full hour and aired several hours before the Season 1 finale of Torchwood back in January 2007.

Maria: “How would you know if you were going mad?”
Alan: “Ask your mother, she’s the expert.”
Maria: “I’m gonna tell her you said that.”

Within the first season, all the episodes are 30 minutes long and broken into five two parters, so instead of 10 episode reviews, expect five.

Maria (to Kelsey): “What’s a mobile phone going to do – make the bubbles go flat?”
Davey: “That’s enough lip at the back. Just do it. Thank you.”

Mrs Wormwood: “What are you trying to suggest, Miss Smith, that Bane originates from outer space?”
Sarah Jane: “Of course not. That’d be ridiculous.”

We briefly met Sarah Jane’s supercomputer Mr Smith in this episode and discovered that K9 was sealing a dangerous black hole as well.

Sarah Jane: “Oh and by the way, what planet are you from?”
Mrs Wormwood: “Nice try.”

Davey: “Mrs Wormwood, we have the situation under control.”
Mrs Wormwood: “Oh I don’t think so. The archetype is gone. Find him and for the Bane mother’s sake, turn off the alarms.”

The alien that Sarah Jane helped was the same species as Mary from Torchwood’s “Greeks Bearing Gifts”. It’s nice to know that not all of them are psychos.

Mrs Wormwood: “I’m gonna turn off my image translator. Try not to scream.”
Kelsey: “I never scream.”

Davey: “First the children and then you, old woman.”
Sarah Jane: “Hey, less with the old.”

Maria: “How did you get started?”
Sarah Jane: “I met this man. This really special man called The Doctor and years ago, we travelled together.”
Maria: “In space?”
Sarah Jane: “Space and time and then it came to an end. Suddenly I was back to a normal life. Electric bills, burst pipes, bus tickets and rain.”

When Sarah Jane and Maria were going through names for Luke, there was a mention of Harry and Alistair, which I thought was lovely. Those were two other very special men in her life.

Kelsey: “Your best friend is a metal dog stuck in a black hole?”
Sarah Jane: “I know.”

K9 (re Kelsey): “The female is hostile.”
Maria: “Ignore her.”

Unlike Doctor Who and Torchwood, this episode had two writers for it and director Colin Teague has helmed for all three series as well.

Sarah Jane: “Mrs Wormwood, the universe is huge … and the Earth is so small. You don’t need to do this. I’m asking you, from one species to another, just … leave this world. Leave us in peace, please.”
Mrs Wormwood: “And if I don’t?”
Sarah Jane: “Then I’ll have to do something!”
Mrs Wormwood: “Very well. In the language of your young ones, bring it on.”

Sarah Jane: “I warned you to leave this planet.”
Mrs Wormwood: “Have you met my mother?”

This episode was released on DVD on it’s own back in November 2007 and then as part of the Season 1 DVD in November 2008.

Sarah Jane: “Told you to stay away.”
Maria: “Oh well. Still glad I didn’t.”

Maria: “I like Luke.”
Sarah Jane: “I like Luke.”
Luke: “If you like Luke, I like Luke.”

Chronology: K9 mentioned something about a year and a half – is that since we saw him in “School Reunion”?

“Invasion Of The Bane” is a solid opening episode. In fact, apart from a younger cast, the quality and content of writing on this show isn’t that dissimilar to Doctor Who itself. I think unlike Torchwood, it had an easier time with finding its feet and Sarah Jane Smith proved that she doesn’t need The Doctor in her orbit to make for required viewing. And yes, this is much better than K9 And Company.

Rating: 8 out of 10.

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