Wednesday, November 03, 2010

My Review of The Sarah Jane Adventures 4x04: "The Empty Planet"

Written by Gareth Roberts
Directed by Ashley Way

Rani: “I wasn’t panicking.”
Clyde: “You were. So was I.”

Imagine the worst scenario ever – you’re one of two people left in the world. Well, Clyde and Rani really should’ve counted their lucky stars that they were left all alone on Earth with each other. It could’ve been worse. They could’ve been stuck with Chris Moyles and for Clyde that might not have been a favoured option.

Every series of this show has had a story where Sarah Jane herself is given a reduced role and the kids are left to face things by themselves. We’ve had “Whatever Happened To Sarah Jane”, “The Mark Of The Berserker”, “Mona Lisa’s Revenge” and now this interesting little gem as well.

With an energy trace that literally seemed undetectable at the start of the story, there was little wonder that it would then come into effect when everyone else disappeared and Clyde and Rani found themselves all alone. I love how this show continues not to patronise its younger audience by the way Clyde and Rani react to the situation.

They’re both scared with everyone gone, though their thoughts naturally focus on their respective families and Sarah Jane but they’re both also determined to figure out how to save everyone even if they’re both guilty of doubting their own abilities to do anything that could help.

The story might be short on guest characters but it’s certainly not short on keeping things moving. Okay, so the first half of the story does drag a little but given that Clyde and Rani are going through every possible scenario imaginable, it’s one of those few times when the slower pace isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

Both Clyde and Rani address the possibility that everyone might be dead, which is a fair enough assumption but they also focus in on the fact that the technology isn’t there and that aircraft, cars and animals are all reasonably intact. And there’s the arrival of Gavin as well to make things a little bit more interesting.

Now I have to admit that as soon as I saw Gavin, I twigged that he would be both a) an alien of some sort and b) sort of responsible for everyone’s disappearance. The only thing I couldn’t figure out straightaway was whether or not he was friend or foe and his evasive nature when Rani and Clyde caught up with him certainly didn’t help matters.

It might have sounded like Clyde was being unkind about Gavin but I liked the fact that by noticing the lack of material possessions Gavin had at his aunt and uncle’s place meant that Clyde had the rationale to believe that something wasn’t quite right with the lad. I think Rani was slightly dismissive of it when she was trying to sympathise with Gavin’s miserable family life though.

With only two kids and an alien on Earth, the arrival of the red and yellow robots as well was something of a relief. Okay, I suppose it was obvious again that they would turn out not be villainous creatures – despite them holding everyone to ransom so they could get their “son and heir” but this show’s grey area approach to alien and machine life form (especially this season for some reason) is one of its biggest strengths.

It seemed that even with a countdown looming all over everyone that this story sort of wrapped itself up rather nicely. Gavin finally allowed himself to trust Rani and Clyde long enough so that he could learn of his true nature and when he did, Gavin gave them quite the honour before heading back to his own world.

With the whole world back to normal, I have to admit that the last few minutes are actually the highlight of the whole thing. Don’t get me wrong – I loved Clyde and Rani working together and the shipping vibes between them were really rather sweet but there’s something about the last five minutes that really stood.

First of all, Haresh stood out for me. The way he was eager to catch up with Rani before she went to sleep at the start of the story was telling but more so was him trying to coax the truth out of her about her real whereabouts. I think Haresh might get to the point where he actually finds out what Sarah Jane really does for a living and if/when he does, it had better not turn out the same way it did for Gita. Pulling that stunt once is bad, pulling it twice is plain wrong.

And then there’s Sarah Jane as well. Despite her incredibly reduced role in this story, her presence was still a part of it as well. Both Clyde and Rani were happy to tell her how much she’s changed their lives for the better but at the same time, both of them in spite of their own strengths do need her as well. Plus I liked the fact that Rani and Clyde’s friendship if nothing else is a nice way of showing us that they’re avoiding the same fate that befell Sarah Jane after she left the Doctor too.

Also in “The Empty Planet”

Originally the concept behind this story was destined as one of the 2009 specials for Doctor Who and Gavin made Clyde and Rani Lord and Lady alike.

Clyde: “I just made teas.”
Sarah Jane: “Well, good, cos this could be a late one.”

Both Clyde and Rani were supposed to have finished Great Expectations for school exams. Clyde’s description might not do him well in exams but it’s certainly a nice way of explaining the book nonetheless.

Clyde: “I’m so glad you’re here.”
Rani: “Sarah Jane would be more use to you.”

Gavin: “You’re aliens?”
Clyde: “Rani!”
Rani: “No, but we’ve met aliens. Fought aliens.”

Nice nod to the previous story with Clyde doing a comic strip of the Shansheeth. I also liked seeing Carla again, even if it was brief.

Rani: “We’re both just really nosy. That’s how we got into Sarah Jane’s life.”
Clyde: “She warned us off. Gave us the choice to go back and forget it all.”

Clyde: “You know what?”
Rani: “I’m about to find out.”
Clyde: “This whole thing makes even less sense than before there were any robots.”

Speaking of nods, there was another nice nod to Rani and Clyde being grounded by the Judoon from the last year, even if Clyde has already broken that rule.

Clyde: “I don’t like countdowns. There’s never anything good at the end of a countdown, except New Year’s and even that’s rubbish. I’m sorry. I make stupid jokes when I’m scared.”
Rani: “Yeah, I never noticed.”

Clyde: “Oh you want the sun too? You don’t ask for much, do you?”
Red Robot: “Give us son and heir.”

For the first time this series, this story was a Luke free zone. If he’s not in the next one, I’ll bet he’ll be in the finale.

Gavin: “Clyde, Rani, thank you. Earth was never my home, not really. It is your home and you’re lucky to have people that you love here.”

Clyde: “We’re not alone though, are we?”
Rani: “No, we got each other.”

Chronology: None is specified since the events of “Death Of The Doctor”.

“The Empty Planet” wasn’t my favourite this series but it’s certainly a watchable one, especially for the most part with Clyde and Rani moving things along nicely. Those two are definitely who you’d want around if something like this happened for real.

Rating: 7 out of 10.

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