THE SARAH JANE ADVENTURES:
THE PANTHEON OF DISCORD
You're weird, in tears, too near and too far away,
He said, saw red, went home stayed in bed all day,
Your t'shirt, dish dirt,
Always love the one you hurt
You sleep, too deep, one week is another world
Big mouth, big mouth, drop out, drop out
You get what you deserve
You're stange, insane, one thing you can never change
It's a crack, I'm back yeah standing
On the rooftops shouting out,
Baby I'm ready to go
I'm back and ready to go
Normally, I wouldn't review The Sarah Jane Adventures for a number of reasons (lack of reader interest, the fact there's little to say about them, the way it hasn't improved simply because it was never crap to start with... though a few moments in the second series pushed the envelope) but this time it's special. This is the third and presumably final part of the Trickster Trilogy, where Doctor Who and Sarah Jane have metaphorically caught each other's eye over a crowded room (the Trickster makes the Doctor the next on his hit list after Sarah), began flirting outrageously (Sarah spots a police box and tries to get the owner to defeat the Trickster, only to find it was a genuine police man inside), some awkward groping (the Doctor idly tells Donna the giant stag beetle was one of the Trickster's groupies) before the hardcore sex of televisual crossover (arguably the least memorable bits of the Season 4 finale).
In a way, I wish this story had kept its original title of The Wedding of Sarah Jane to continue the theme of Whatever Happened to Sarah Jane? and The Temptation of Sarah Jane. Oh, and that's another thing. She's now psychotic about being called "Sarah Jane" instead of "Sarah", it pisses her off like calling a certain other Smith "Ricky". It seems only the Doctor is allowed to be so informal nowadays. Watching the SJAs you're surprised she let Harry Sullivan live when he not only referred to her as "old thing" but "Sarah" as well...
So, a quick guide to the SJA verse...
After the events of School Reunion, SJ and K9 moved to a Gabriel Chase style mansion at 13 Bannerman Rd (named after those most vicious of alien monsters). Alas, their domestic bliss was to be shortlived. The Large Hadron Collider created a rather large black hole and K9 used his funky new teleportation powers to whiz around the black hole really fast and... er... long story short, he and the black hole were trapped inside a dimensionally transcendental safe in SJ's attic.
Retreating further from society in a way that makes giving her Ninth Doctor dialogue all the easier, SJ soon discovered a funky alien crystal that immediately dry-humped her laptop. Thus, Mr. Smith was born - a fireplace-shaped Peter Tuddenham tribute machine that plays a fanfare to bask in its own magnificence. No wierd Orac buzz here, Mr. Smith makes Murray Gold his bitch. And it's genuine music, too, the type that all the fictional characters have to listen to. Is occasionally evil, but SJ really should have expected that after she caught him idly building bazookoids into his mainframe.
SJ soon discovered the alien Bane, the lame-sounding cute pink octopus race, were intending to conquer the world with a new soft drink called Bubbleshock (no, not a bit like that addictive milkshake called Bubbleshake from the same author, what made you think that?) which they used to take over human brains by... doing unspeakable things into every bottle. Their lab rate was a GELF boy who even his harshest critics have dubbed "Adric done right", a young lad who's innocence and honesty make him socially awkward, hilariously amusing and almost Blackaddery cool as he cuts through civilized society with some unwittingly witty barbs. After 50 minutes of the Bane dissing her for never having children, SJ shows them all wrong by adopting this genetic experiment and naming him Luke.
Luke, along with his bestest ever friend and hetero life partner Clyde Langer, help Sarah Jane in her adventures that, to be honest, make Torchwood look like total shit nine times out of ten. They are also accompanied by Rani Chandra, whose most interesting characteristic is that she's named after an evil Time Lady but isn't half as entertaining. She's only there to fill a whacking great Maria-shaped gap, as are her no-fist parents (her mother, ex-Constable Habib from The Thin Blue Line, is a gormless 70s-style eccentric mum who really should be in The Good Life where she can do no harm.)
Recent developments include K9 finally getting his arse out of the Black Hole (seemingly at the cost of his voice - he sounds very different, more different than his own spin off... did Leeson have a sore throat), and Clyde performing a rapidly-irritating monologue at the start of each episode where he basically tells you everything I've just written with the odd ommission of "Who the hell is this black kid, how many energy drinks is he on, and why is he flirting with the cameraman?"
Anyway, this episode starts quite like that Goodies episodes about the Scouts. SJ herself is off on a mysterious weeknight excursion and her posse of kids and computers begin a chase sequence as they try to find out what the hell she's up to. While K9 and Mr. Smith have some computer bitching you'd never see anywhere outside of Blake's 7, SJ nearly blows her own head off when she mixes up her lipstick with a sonic version (she's got a sonic screwdriver disguised as lipstick, did I mention? She's also got a funky alien detecting wristwatch which... er... speeds up stories). Meanwhile, Hewy Dewy and Louwy discover SJ is meeting up with Nigel Havers over dinner for some public displays of affection. And tonsil-hockey. No doubt if this was Torchwood our young padwans would be stuck in a hotel closet listening as their mentor and her new boyfriends screwed on the bed next to them. Which is a mental image I apologize for and wonder why the hell I inflicted it on you, but the cast react with similar disgust. Was it Buffy herself who summed it up best: "Don't do it, you're OLD!"?
What's wierd is that as the couple snog there is the distinctive sound of a yale key being dragged up and down piano wire to create a familiar wheezing groaning sound. In fact, I might have imagined that entirely as no one comments at all about it in the middle of a busy high street.
Returning to base to muse over SJ's sex life, the troika decide to keep schtum about them stalking her. Alas, Mr. Smith has had a gutful of K9 being patronizing and spills the beans. Cause he can. Mr. Smith, for that you recieve Man of Fist. K9 immediately tries to rival this with his side-splitting Urak impression ("MisTRESS raNI!!!") but he's the weak, spineless dog this time round. Alas, after whatever she's been doing tonight, SJ's on cloud ten and thus does not kill everyone in the room. She takes Luke aside for a chat, which manages to NOT trigger vomiting since they're both so freaking awkward about grown up emotions they can't pull out too many cliches and there's just enough self pity to drown the rising smarm.
Alas, so lost are they in their angst they miss that wheezing groaning noise. Again.
Anyway, Nigel Havers is coming round to meet the family and the only person not interested in checking him out of the entire cast is K9, who makes it clear he doesn't give a shit and wishes everyone else would grow up. The disturbingly girly Nigel arrives with a bunch of roses stolen from Alex Drake as SJ passes off a crate obviously containing an alien for Clyde and Rani to deal with. Alas, Rani's mum immediately shoulder-charges the couple and tries to simultaneously seduce Nigel, drum up business for her shitty florest and simultaneously suggest the pair get married. Luke kung-fu-kicks her out of the scene, thankfully. But, alas, that crate has exploded to reveal a very cheap CGI bug-eyed monster out of Calvin and Hobbes, so K9 has to sigh and break cover to deal with the little bastard via his funky "stair-negotiation" hover mode (pausing to check out the boyfriend as he does so, though). "Do not look at me!" he screams at Nigel as he hurtles out into the street. "Everything is normal!"
SJ and Luke drag Nigel to a posh Italian restaurant, leaving Clyde, Rani and K9 to engage in a Benny Hill chase for this halfassed CGI slug. In a true twist, Nigel shows no sign of being completely evil, insane, alien, robot or trying to get Luke addicted to ecstasy-laced cookies (as you'd find in a corresponding Buffy ep) and easily bonds with Luke. Clyde thus decides that Nigel must be some gold-digging bastard trying to seduce SJ's family fortune out of her - an idea not undermined by the fact his "house" is a derelict shack and he's proposed to SJ after about five minutes. Or that the wedding ring is a perfect fit (slightly unlikely) and glows red (downright worrying)...
Yes, SJ is completely bewitched by that evil glowing ring. Guess Nigel's evil after all (then again, "Nigel" is an anagram of "Evil G", could he really be a Gaske). SJ immediately order Mr. Smith to switch himself off forever when he tries to point out about SJ's satanic bling, and throws away her funky alien detector watch. Her claims are that she's abandoning her whole alien-hunting life to settle down in everyday land. It comes as no surprise the moment she's locked up the attic that the Trickster can be heard laughing like the Black Guardian on cocaine.
2 weeks later, and on the day of the wedding we discover Maria's taken a rain check. God DAMN! No Maria, no Brigadier, no Little Miss Jocelyn (aka Clyde's mum), no Doctor... yes, where is our spiky-haired Scot? You know, the reason I'm reviewing this in the first place? Even Rani's parents consider the turnout poor, a bunch of extras who are apparently SJ's hairdresser, editors and accountants. Wow, not even Brendon the geek bothered to show up. Is he partying in Peru with everyone from the UNIT era as well, is he? SJ finally arrives (and, just to say, her neck is really the only evidence she is in her sixties, from the chin up she's aged as much as Dawn French has...). And as Melanie Peppinheim does her Bridal Bad Wolf Waltz, Luke begins to wonder where David Tennant has got to, cuing a completely gratuitous Metabelis III reference and more wheezing and groaning.
With the registrar having to raise her voice over all this whirring and chuffing, the wedding reaches the "any just cause or impediment" bit, the Doctor finally turns up to do a new and interesting variation fo his "Stop it! Stoooooop ittt!" catchphrase as everyone double takes and K9 bursts out from under a table. A wind whips up and the Trickster arrives (dressed in white... kinky) and group hugs SJ and Nigel out of existence. The Doctor is left shouting and gurning. Yes. Quite. Presumably this is the best use of his talents in his last-ever-performance as the Doctor so we don't get too upset when Smiffy takes over... even the next time trailer seems to show his teeth doing all the acting...
...give me strength.
And onto part two. Continuing the blatant Father's Day rip off/Sapphire & Steel homage the wedding isn't just knackered by paradox-lusting time bastards but our heroes are cast out of time and space and left in infinity. Except not in a cafe, in a church. But in exactly the same second-long time loop as shown in the clocks and media. The Doctor's a lot better this week, calmer, friendlier and having finally mastered the art of dealing with hysterical humans (oh, if only he'd pulled that stunt back in Midnight...). It goes to show Tennant's accessibility as the Doctor, since it's fair to say no child would have trusted Eccleston's Doctor to save either them or the universe, but it's a nice twist that although K9, Luke, Clyde and Rani know all about the Doctor... they were expecting something a tad more impressive (remember, this K9's only met the Doctor very briefly), and his mighty time machine a shoddy blue box that can't even land in this limbo with them pushes hopes down further. Yes, they were expecting Mad Larry's hated God In Pinstripe to arrive and solve the entire business with a snap of his fingers and then they end up with a nutter who strongly gives the impression he's making all this up.
And... is it me... or has Tennant gone a bit grey? Maybe it's just the pestilential apocalyptic light of limbo on that wierd quiff of his, but he sure looks a lot older than normal. Kind of like Tom Baker in Season 18 (remember, less than a year separated Shada from Logopolis).
With all the, frankly rather predictable, introductions over, the plot can continue as Clyde calls on the Doctor to keep his promise of "explaining later". A black guy saying "Please explain" in a bitchy voice is probably not MEANT to make me shriek with laughter... but it does.
The Doctor reveals that the Trickster is some freaky being from beyond time (so... not the Black Guardian then? Bummer) who spends most of these post Time War days trying to break into our reality through his facebook pals, the Pantheon of Discord (as all note, it'd be a great name for a band) and also breaks the fourth wall explaining that he, of all the beings in the cosmos, get to call the title character "Sarah". So that's me told. Meanwhile, Nigel's funky ring of evil mojo's SJ into forgetting about the Doctor and the chaos, but Nigel's so pushy SJ finally twigs to the evil ring and rips it off, realizing she is also S&S'd out of history, but one second later than everyone else.
The Doctor twigs this via the sonic screwdriver, K9 and the blindingly obvious and then - ditching the robot dog on guard duty - runs off with the kids.
I thought that merited a paragraph on its own as that scene was the absolute last one David Tennant ever performed as the Tenth Doctor. I might mention other Doctor's finale scenes but I can only think of Eccleston's running away from the Dalek Emperor and Tom Baker in the streets of Logopolis. I'll just note that the last scene in Blake's 7 was the curly-hair-at-ten-paces confrontation between Blake and Tarrant in Scorpio's wreckage and move on. But it was IMPORTANT man! Pity the dialogue hardly reflected it... "You two, come with me, split splot" I ask you.
Nigel runs after SJ begging for her hand in marriage, explaining he really WAS just an ordinary joe minding his own business when he fell down his stairs and, as he lay dying, the Trickster arrived and pulled the usual Davy Jones MO (I will save your live if you become my slave forever). Since the Trickster was in his gay-looking white outfit with finger bling, Nigel mistook the fanged freak for an angel. Of course. And since he didn't bewitch SJ until they got engaged, TECHNICALLY it counts as true love. So. There. Then the Trickster turns up and says that all he wants is for her to be happy - which is pretty much a hundred times scarier than his "I SHALL CONSUME THIS REALITY!! MWAHAHAHAHAHAA!" Apocalypse Chaser chattiness.
The Trickster decides to return his black look to bushwhack the Doctor (I swear, he's got a Peladon-style white streak in his hair) and decides to chat, god to god. There's the usual sort of stuff - "Hey, you're the Last of the Time Lords, the threefold man, the guy who juggled the Key to Time and now you're stuck in a church with some child actors you weak, spineless dog!" "Oh, what about you, you lonely old wanker running around the cosmos stalking a septugenarian journalist in Cardiff, big, big awesome shit there, right enough!" "Bwahahah! I have read the spoilers! The Gate is Open! You are completely screwed!" "...fuck off then." "Fine. Bitch." - in which it turns out that, in a moment designed to make one blogger use his flintlock on a copy of Looking for Sarah Jane Smith, Sladen's character is so cosmically important she makes Donna Noble look like Ben Chatham. OK, I like this show and even I think that's overkill.
After some waffle about "the power of words" (which made me wonder if some Shakespeare Code Carrionite bollocks was about to occur) it seems the gist is this: if SJ says "I do", the Trickster will transform her into a housewife with no interest or desire in protecting the Earth from alien chaos (alien chaos being a big turn on for the Trickster). So, basically... he's just after the exact same thing as in Whatever Happened to Sarah Jane Smith?. At least in Temptation he was trying to shatter the history of the universe! Talk about scaling down his aims!
Seemingly as disillusioned with the scale of all this as I am, the Doctor immediately takes a running jump into the TARDIS and buggers off, leaving the troika in limbo. Clyde thinks he's abandoned them, Rani thinks he simply won't be able to return and Luke decides to rely on him because logic says they are buggered fifteen separate ways till Sunday otherwise. K9 wisely doesn't comment.
But what's this? It turns out that article about the TARDIS in DWM (which was written by Gareth Roberts... hang on a sec!) was absolutely right! It turns out that the TARDIS is soaked in artron energy, the background radiation of time vortex, and this mojo seriously stuffs up Great Old Ones like the Animus on Vortis by simply being alpha to their omega, an Archie comic to the evil guy's Philipino porn mags! And Clyde's accidental copping a feel off the police box has, Peter Parker style, granted him freaky new powers that seemingly have absolutely no value WHATSOEVER!!! (Seriously, you can spit cobwebs out of your wrists - doesn't automatically scream super hero, does it?)
But Clyde, being of the average intelligence of a Robin Hood character (ie, another plane of consciousness above Torchwood) immediately offers to join the Pantheon of Discord and the Trickster. Hmm, could he be about to offer to "shake on it?" Why, yes, he is! Meanwhile, the Doctor drops by SJ to note that, yes, this IS the nastiest decision she will ever have to face and frankly, she's welcome to it because he isn't going to lift a finger to help: either she achieves the happiness she wants and dooms the world, or a moral victory while frozen in time. The Doctor then buggers off once more. Jeez, dude, I'm starting to want this Godlike Matt Smith to turn up. I know balancing crossovers are pretty hard, but the Doctor's done sod all that K9 couldn't do this week? (Indeed, I begin to suspect DT was written in simply to keep his mug on TV this year, since he was far better to be used in Temptation last year when the entire freaking universe nearly got got destroyed...)
But wait, it seems the Doctor's lethagy is simply because he doesn't HAVE to save the day and they can defeat the Trickster the EXACT SAME WAY they did it the LAST TWO TIMES! Yes, another loved one of SJ chooses to die instead of remain alive, totally stuffing up the Trickster's plans. Man, imagine if it was the Stag Beetle behind all this, it'd be MUCH harder to write. Roberts? No more Trickster tales from now on, you've run out of Father's Day to plagiarize.
Ah, but what's this? Nigel ISN'T automatically a selfless self-sacrifice, sugar-flavored snot holier-than-thou chap? Plus, he's got a shitload of dialogue from that Eighth Doctor and Lucie audio about refusing to let a little thing like preordained mortality put the dampener on his sex life! SJ tells him point black to suck it up, embrace the pain and die like a man - thankfully without all the weeping from the last two stories (mind you, once you've watched your parents kill themselves for the greater good, a guy you've known for fifteen minutes who is clearly either delusional, stupid or a complete wanker probably is easier to swallow... especially as you've been voodooed into marrying him in the first place).
The Trickster is deeply pissed off - he specifically chose Nigel Havers BECAUSE he was a complete tool without a spine! But Nigel starts going on about how SJ gave him the strength and I think we all share the Trickster's pain: yes, you beat him, no need to wank all over the moment with this shitty lovey-dovey dialogue about how love conquers all. NO - ONE - CARES.
Time resets (after the entire cast have a group hug and TELL US this blatantly obvious fact and the Doctor informs SJ the trap is broken - um... yes... that IS coming across, Doc) and to all intents and purposes Nigel Havers blinked out of existence while SJ was at the altar. Wow, haven't seen that stunt since The Runaway Bride. Gareth, baby, is everything all right at home? Could we get SOME new material at SOME point?
With history rebooted, SJ returns home, changes into Harriet Jones' hand me downs so she looks like a haggard spinster more than ever and tries not to let it show that being dumped twice on the same day by David Tennant and Nigel Havers hasn't put a dint into her self confidence. The revived Mr. Smith and K9 compete to detect a certain wheezing groaning sound as the TARDIS arrives, as prophecized in the previous story, in SJ's attic. In one last moment to remind anyone why we might miss DT, he responds to Rani's request to look inside the police box with furious disgust ("MY... TARDIS?!?" each syllable rhyming with "how fucking dare you?!"). Yes, obviously he's going to instantly shrug and tell them to go ahead but, just for a split second, I wasn't sure. And, maybe that's the best way to sum up the Tenth Doctor - when it comes to the crunch, when the cards are on the table, we're never 100% if he's going to jump the way we expect. He mostly does, but it's never as certain as it could be.
And so, one last lingering look around the Coral desktop theme before the entire set gets chainsawed apart by Welshmen like the Liberator in Dawn of the Gods and sold individually on eBay. Annnnnnnnnnnnnd....... well, while seeing the troika run around the room in the exact way all the adults don't, exploring areas off the metal grating, maybe unusual, it just goes to prove that the design isn't exactly imaginative. Symmetrical, simple, a bit too gloomy and uncomfortable, and once you've seen it, you've seen it all. (We also see for the first time that... there is no internal doorway. It's just a big round room with the police box exit. Bummer.) Even the Doctor prefers SJ's attic which looks friendlier, wierder and with more convincing looking alien technology.
Maybe this is deliberate, what this being the last story before the regeneration saga that gets rid of the inside and outside of the TARDIS and ditches the Doctor as well? If so, it seems - like Planet of the Dead, Roberts' last attempt to work with the Doctor and RTD simultaneously - they've gone for the "aren't you sick to death of him yet?" approach rather than try to go for anything deeper. Any bittersweetness to emerge from this, DT's last story as the Doctor, is entirely unintentional. You're not even meant to KNOW it was the last story he did. He is just the latest Doctor, no more, no less.
The Doctor's gatecrashing of the spin off show... lacks subtlety. If anyone out there thinks that Jared's appraisal of RTD's opinion of Torchwood was out of line, this confirms it. Almost word for word. In Children of Men, Gwen concludes the Doctor is ashamed of them all. In The Wedding of Sarah Jane Smith, the Doctor goes out of his way to visit and informs the whole cast that their adventures are so brain-shatteringly awesome, he's a fan and what's more, he's got the whole DVD collection and thus knows the spoilers. "Oh, the things you're gonna do!" he breathes in a way that annoys me simply by reminding me of River Song. The subtlety leaves altogether when SJ points out all the various plot reasons why they all have to stay behind in 13 Bannerman Rd rather than travel in time and space to the future of mankind, the age of the dinosaurs, or another planet. Hmm. If Doctor Who was still doing that instead of nailing its feet to Cardiff every year, it might carry some weight. Still, with the Moff... oh, wait, seems every single sodding story of his is set on Earth as well. We just can't win, can we?
But while there's another few seconds of footage, there's more recycling Roberts can do as he tears out the last page of comic strip he wrote for Eccleston and forces it down DT's throat as our hero gets to muse on his own mortality for no other reason than it's the last time he's in the medium. "Don't forget me," he whispers. It's so much more impressive on paper. Or when Tom Baker did it. The increasingly anxious look on DT's face as he turns to head off to face his destiny is thin too.
Now, originally the Brigadier was going to be in this story. I wonder if he was going to somehow be the one that needed to be sacrificed, or better yet the one the Trickster was actually after. In which case, it seems Nick Courtney's declining health not only lead to the creation of Mike Asshole Yates for Hornet's Nest (and Nick was the one reason Tom signed up for it) but required a last minute replacement in the form of the Tenth Doctor. This story has "last second replacement" stamped all over it, with all the money seemingly spent on Nigel Havers - everything else is recycled, from the props and costumes to the script and ideas. I think this conclusively proves that while last minute panic can create genius in some writers, Gareth Roberts definitely is NOT one of them.
So, it's not really an epic failure, since as long as you've not watched the previous Trickster stories or felt like you need a Tennant fix after the last eight months of absolutely bugger all, it's mildly diverting entertainment. But the Tenth Doctor is only really part of the plot for the final scene, which is all about him, the rest of the time, he's like the narrator in Tom Jones, wandering in and out of the story, offering some unhelpful commentary and then buggering off.
All in all?