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October 16, 2009

My Adopted Mother Is An Alien

One of my many, many projects, missions, j-words, is to visit all of the museums and art galleries in the North West or at least all of the museums and art galleries in the North West that are listed in a particular guide book. Much of the time this consists of pitching up in somewhere like Lancaster City Museum and spending an hour scrutinising whatever section of the permanent collection has been put on display in the stairwell of the gallery, dodging school groups and pensioners. Usually there’s at least one or two gems which make the trip worthwhile, but quite a lot of the paintings on display just sort of exist. Painted perfectly well, these items just simply aren’t inspirational, though you know that to an extent it’s because you’re not the right audience.

That’s how I felt watching ...

The Sarah Jane Adventures: Prisoner of the Judoon (pts 1 AND 2)

… which was a formulaic runaround that like the average functional landscape painting probably got the job done, especially in terms of composition and technique (or production design and direction), but wasn’t overly exciting. To an extent, at least from an adult fan’s perspective, it’s because it’s emerging on the back of Torchwood’s Children of Earth one of the best five hours of television this year and if I’m in the right mood, this decade. An unfair comparison, of course, except that in part they share the same production team which makes it all the more disappointing that this new story reruns many of the same familiar tropes we’ve endured in previous franchise stories – humans possessed by aliens, crashlanded alien threatening to destroy the planet whilst simultaneously repairing their spaceship and a sinister science lab. It’s almost as though Hollywood’s Russell T Davies’s replacement avatar in the tone room is a teletubby who’s been schooled on child psychology: “Again! Again!”

Apologies if this review has many of the same issues.

Jed1 Of course none of that probably matters because the most anyone will really remember are the scenes of the Judoon in a police car and Sarah Jane acting like a mad woman. I’ve always rather liked the Judoon; unlike the classic series’s Cybermen, who failed because their premise (human/cyborg conflagrations) was more interesting than their execution, the Judoon succeed simply because they don’t have any pretensions to anything else. They’re intergalactic policemen, they’re shaped like Rhinos and their adherence to the rules would be awarded with a That’s Life jobs worth award if Doc Cox could get close enough without them shooting the bow tie off of his neck. And that’s it.

Cue comedy and indeed the best moment in the story was the Rhino sat behind the wheel pulling the handbrake off. The mask might ultimately have all the mobility of the Garm, but just as that furry beast was able to give us a victorious smile in his final scene, there was nothing more enjoyable than seeing the baleful look Mr. J threw at these kids whose company he was being forced to endure. Watching the three of them in that corridor trying to keep him out of sight was equally comic and made me wish that the production team had decided to make him a permanent fixture for a remake of Bigfoot and the Hendersons with less fur.

Jed3 I’ve heard someone say, and it might even have been someone here, that they aptly (given the title) had their first sexual experience watching Liz Sladen strolling the countryside hands outstretched mumbling “Eldrad must live” during the Hand of Fear. If so, they were well served here too, as Sladen reprised her alien possession act, lightly seasoned with a touch of the Linda Blairs. The transformation was pretty terrifying, her shoulders hunched over her head, her feminine stride reduced to a masculine waddle. Liz was clearly enjoying herself, though again it’s deeply disappointing to see this kind of threat being used as a budget saving device.

There hasn’t been any secret about the budget cut this series and as all of pre-broadcast press notices pointed out you can see it in the deserted streets around Bannerman Road and everywhere else. Plenty of traffic on the roads mind, but only in Logopolis does everyone stay in on a Sunday (unless I suppose there's a good match on the internet). One welcome addition early in the first episode was the introduction of an awareness of where SJS and her brood fit within the global terror pecking order; if it’s not a localised problem, UNIT will take care of it, the professionals. That neatly sidesteps the question of what the group did about the 456. Bugger all.

Except that doesn’t really work and I still think that it’s a missed opportunity that we’re not going to see those five days from a kid friendly perspective. Surely Haresh should be affected just a little bit by the sight of a portion Park Vale High’s student body chanting in unison? Did the attic kids just sit around on their hands when all of the kids in the neighbourhood were being picked up on mass by the government? Such are the ongoing issues of setting these three series in the same universe and expecting them not to impact on one another. True, kids won’t be aware of what went on in Torchwood, but for us adults it's an extra barrier to suspending out disbelief. That small child and her mother in the opening episode have had a rubbish year all told.

Jed2 The other barrier is Rani’s parents who by now have broken through the satire barrier and are coming out the other side. Like characters who’ve wandered in from a 70s sitcom, probably on this occasion The Good Life, they’re entirely at odds with the action elements of the rest of the episode, generally undercutting the threat by being implausible jeopardy magnets and if kids find it amusing to see someone’s parents acting like fools, each of their appearances on screen was greeted by an audible sigh from my corner of the room. When Gita said "It's a plant eat plant world" I think I died a little bit inside. Is this really acceptable in kids tv these days? In his opening story, Haresh had the potential to be an interesting character, but between his weird mind-controlled athleticism last series and his mind-boggling ineptitude here it’s enough to hope that they’re somehow transported away with Alan and Chrissie moving back into Bannerman Road, adopting Rani in the process.

At least the kids are all still on form, with the chemistry between them firmly established and able to cope with the reams of bullshit exposition randomly put into their mouths at various points. When the sound mix (or setting on my tv or whatever the excuse is this series) wasn’t drowning them out, there were some good one liners dropped in from everyone though it’s worth considering how many of the middle-schoolers will know who Jack Baeur is (probably a good thing consider his torture proclivities with household objects). About the only strangeness is Clyde’s weird glower to the camera at close of the inescapably long bumper which looks like it’ll be appearing on every episode. Is he thinking “Why didn’t I get a character introduction? I am narrating the bloody thing…”

Next week’s episode looks more interesting (if a bit of rerun of season one’s Whatever Happened to Sarah Jane?) but this whole series is largely overshadowed by the appearance of the Doctor in two weeks. Well that and the curiously titled Mona Lisa's Revenge. A late sequel to City of Death? Will they run it under an x-ray and find “This is a fake” printed on it in marker pen? Will be see a return of the rubbish acrylic facsimile that appeared in the 70s or has the budget stretched to properly licensing the copyright to thing from The Louvre? Will we spend most of the episode not able to see the smile because tourists are lining up to have their picture taken next to?

Next Week: Time and the Rani

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