Thursday, October 29, 2009

My Review of The Sarah Jane Adventures 3x02: "The Mad Woman In The Attic"

Written by Joseph Lidster
Directed by Alice Troughton

Rani (to Adam): “Sarah Jane Smith was mysterious and moody and oh, you did not want to get on the wrong side of her but I thought she was wonderful. She saved the world so many times. She changed my life. I never told her how grateful I was.”

This really takes the biscuit when it comes to the trusted, “be careful what you wish for” scenario. Rani’s clearly not paid enough attention to the consequences of a casual slip up in words becoming an irrevocable future. Here was a good lesson for her with this wonderful story.

Last season, one of the strengths of Rani’s introduction was the simple fact that the gang (Sarah Jane especially) didn’t draw too many comparison between her and Maria. That kind of thing annoyed a great deal of viewers on Doctor Who with Rose and Martha. Here though, it’s raised up and it sort of sucks.

It’s nice that because they’re a continent apart, the gang haven’t lost touch with Maria and it’s also nice that Maria is continuing her alien investigations as well. Less nice was the gang somewhat dismissing Rani as she was trying to ignite an investigation. I can see why Rani wouldn’t have been particularly pleased with them.

Of course as viewers, we do know that Sarah Jane, Luke and Clyde do care about Rani so while they were being slightly thoughtless, it’s not like they were intentionally trying to make Rani feel like an outsider. Sarah Jane even admitted to feeling bad about dismissing Rani a few moments after the girl had left.

However while Rani’s first source for a potential alien threat turned out to be false, at least her second one was reliable. It’s nice that this story actually touched base a little on Rani’s life prior to Bannerman Road. Naturally there was the assumption she had a few close friends from Danemouth. Her we got to meet one of them.

Sam in some ways had a lot more reason to feel isolated than Rani could imagine. Her gushing about alien life and the gang was obviously enough to motivate him to seek her out but it was also the thing that had him stay out of touch with her for quite a while. If he’s jealous, there’s reason behind it. The guy doesn’t exactly have the best of back stories.

Losing your parents at a young age and spending most of your time in care is not something I can relate to but it’s certainly something viewers can empathies with. Sarah Jane tried her best to be as sympathetic with Sam as she could. Even Luke had a go at it for all the limited success he got.

Sam’s frustration and anger led Rani to Pleasure Park and it also unsurprisingly enough led her into a trap of sorts. Harry the caretaker might have been more mild mannered than sinister from the off but he definitely knew why the homeless kids were engaging in the amusement rides whenever the words, “playtime” surfaced.

As for Rani, there was a whole matter of dangers she could’ve faced. Harry tried to get her to leave but Rani’s curiosity got the better. It was great to see Rani trying to be Sarah Jane by sounding blasé about aliens and wanting to help but the arrival of Eve was certainly unexpected.

As a living fire red alien, the time sensitive Eve certainly looked the part. The surprising element was seeing her and Rani bonding. Eve clearly tried to state that she wasn’t a malevolent presence and while Rani was trying to get her to stop controlling the homeless kids, a friendship of sorts was struck with these two girls.

Anjli Mohindra must have loved this story. It’s unashamedly the Rani Show (not that one!) and even if you detest the character or don’t connect with her like Maria, there was some absolutely superb writing in this one. Rani felt insecure about her family, exams, her role in Sarah Jane and the gang’s lives. Eve tried to reassure her that she was loved by everyone. The only time Eve stepped out of line was when she tried to control Rani.

Rani basically tried to do a good deed by freeing Eve, except it nearly backfired on her. Not only did Eve try to control Rani when the threat of losing her first genuine friend became present but Eve’s attempts of trying to control everything almost killed her. If it hadn’t been for that telepathic ship and Sarah Jane, Eve wouldn’t have made it out of the story alive.

Getting Eve back to her ship was moments covered in sweetness. She returned to her health and wanted to travel the stars and after some persuading both Sam and Harry also did. If you were expecting an actual villain in this story, you’re out of luck. Eve, Ship, Harry and Sam were occasionally misguided but none were outright evil.

Of course the highlights in this episode just flow wonderfully all over the place. Mr Smith and K9 (the latter is now staying) teamed up to use a black hole to fuse Eve’s ship and seeing them two slightly bicker was fun as was the bits of futures and pasts of Luke, Sarah Jane and Rani that we got to see. So, The Doctor’s coming back, then? Is there anyone who didn’t already know this?

As for Rani, her brief moment of not wanting Sarah Jane around her meant a depressing future as a mad woman in Sarah Jane’s attic. I didn’t believe that embittered older Rani was ever going to pose a physical threat to enquiring Adam but I was definitely relieved when Adam revealed him to be Eve’s son and offered Rani the chance to change her future. If the performance hadn’t been so moving, I would’ve dubbed it cheesy.

After the Rani we then see in the future is the one you want to see. While Torchwood has shown the more devastating effects of being an alien investigator, this show has always gone for the more positive. Plus it would’ve massively cruel to learn that a careless slip of words would’ve been the undoing of Sarah Jane, Luke and Clyde, though stranger things have ended much loved characters.

Also in “The Mad Woman In The Attic”

Clyde’s introduction dialogue about the team is now factoring in both parts of the story. I guess this will be it for the season.

Adam: “It’s okay, I’m not going to hurt you.”
Rani: “No, no, you just wanted to see if the stories were true. You wanted to meet the mad old woman of Bannerman Road. Oh, come closer then. Take a look.”

Because so many people mentioned it online, it is rather strange that neither of Rani’s parents are actually in this story.

Clyde: “Oh no, I seem to have left a really important book at Rani’s house. You’re not gonna ask what book?”
Luke: “There isn’t one. It’s a trick to see if there’s a clue over there.”
Clyde: “Lukey boy, you’re learning.”

Rani: “I’m the mad old woman of Bannerman Road. I could eat children for all you know.”
Adam: “Mr Smith, I think I need you.”
Rani: “He stopped working years ago. He died.”

We’ve now had an Adam in all three series. Adam in Doctor Who (“Dalek”/“The Long Game”), Adam in Torchwood (“Adam”) and obviously Adam in this one.

Sarah Jane: “I knew I should’ve brought Luke. He moans less than you.”
Clyde: “I run faster.”

Eve (to Rani): “There were two races and they had a war. My people weren’t involved but because we could read the timelines, they attacked us. So many of us were exterminated. My parents put me into a ship and sent me out into space.”

I loved that mention of the Time War, though the older Rani had earlier mentioned the Daleks and Cybermen to Adam.

Rani: “What are you doing?”
Eve: “I told you. I’m sensitive to time. I can see your past. Sometimes you feel left out.”

Ship (to Sarah Jane, re The Doctor): “He is returning. He is coming back.”

Sarah Jane’s flashbacks were from “The Time Warrior”, “Planet Of The Spiders”, “The Hand Of Fear”, “The Five Doctors” and “The Stolen Earth”/ “Journey’s End”.

Sam: “Rani said you were clever.”
Luke: “She said a few things about you as well.”

Sarah Jane: “You aren’t scared, are you?”
Clyde: “Me Clyde, me don’t get scared.”
Sarah Jane: “After everything we’ve seen?”
Clyde: “Me get scared sometimes.”

I loved Sarah Jane and Clyde’s banter in this episode. It’s good that he said that him, Maria and Rani chose to be in her life. Did anyone else notice the sign about what the doctor ordered in Harry’s office?

Rani (to Sarah Jane): “But no-one can know the future. We can change it. It’s up to us what we do, isn’t it?”

Sarah Jane (re Rani): “What have you done to her?”
Eve: “She was scared of the future. Scared of growing old. Now she’ll be young and happy forever.”

Brian Miller who played Harry in this story is actually Elisabeth Sladen’s real life husband.

Mr Smith: “It’s good to see you. Will you be staying here now?”
K9: “Affirmative.”
Mr Smith: “Oh good.”

Sarah Jane: “I’m sorry.”
Rani: “What for?”
Sarah Jane: “Maybe you were right to tell Sam. I spent so many years alone, I still find it difficult to trust people, but you know, they’re not all out to get us and sometimes I forget that. Sometimes visitors to this world just need a friend.”

Even though he isn’t actually credited, shouldn’t those brief moments onscreen actually count as David Tennant’s first appearance? After all, it was footage that we’d never seen before.

Two stories in and this season is on a roll. Joseph Lidster can bring the darkness, sheer unexpected and tenderness and “The Mad Woman In The Attic” is just proof that you can raise the stakes and have an alien presence without it being villainous. It made for a change and one of the best stories from the series.

Rating: 9 out of 10.

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