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October 15, 2010

Making all his nightmare plans for everybody.

Stuart Ian Burns meets The Nightmare Man.

Bye then Luke.

Nm As you discovered, heading off to university is a scary business, especially since you’re barely old enough to know that checked hipster scarves are problematical at best.  It’s all about change, though I’m the last person to give you any advice other than if a heavenly looking French girl invites you into her room on the second night, you go no matter what K9 says, you go.  Honestly.  You do not say, “Well I’m feeling very tired” or “That’s not something we do…” or whatever else might emanate from your lips bypassing your alien brain.  Otherwise you’ll spend the next three years imagining what would have happened.  Not that such a thing ever happened to me.  Obviously.

To break out of the metafilter, largely because I can’t work out how to sustain it for the next however many paragraphs (I'll try to be brief), it’s quite brave of The Sarah Jane Adventures to introduce the concept of university to its young audience.  True, many of them will have older siblings who’ve already driven the yellow beetle down the driveway and it’s treated like an extension of school (we’re not even told what he’ll be studying in “Oxford” though if it’s maths he should have gone to Manchester) but nevertheless it’s a reminder that our heroes aren’t getting any younger and that they’re now of teen drama age.  What happens with Clyde and Rani finish their A-Levels? 

if it’s maths he should have gone to Manchester

Writing out Luke was one of the The Nightmare Man’s three main functions.  I don’t know the ins and outs of Tommy Knight’s departure, though the in-camera appearance for Maria's photo might hint that like Yasmin Paige it’s for educational reasons.  But the loss of the character and K9 does have something of the destruction of the sonic in The Visitation about it; even taking into account that this is a kids show, the convenience of having a Doctor-lite super-genius on hand to “solve” the central mystery in each story as earlier identified by JNT does mean that too often the dramatic tension ebbs away.

The second function was of course to scare us witless.  As our avatar in the dreamscape, Tommy very effectively communicated his fear, not just of nightmares, but of having nightmares for the first time, lacking the emotional props that most of us have to deal with them.  The sight of him, lost in the void, his head shifting backwards and forwards was a horrible image, piercing our child-like anxieties about being totally alone, and if we’re young enough, without our parent’s care, home sick.  Sorry, bare with me, I’m having another fresher’s flashback.  Oh, that phone call.

That probably would have done the job even without Julian Bleech’s stunning turn as the villain; if Toby Jones’s similarly hewn Dream Lord was all about psychological terror, TNM’s power was in his elastic body, the Milliband-like boggling panda eyes and the voice, which like his previous emergences as Davros and in the even earlier The Ghostmaker, had the capacity to nip into your soul and poke about a bit.  Even if budgetry concerns seemed to halt his passage into the other residences on Bannerman Road, Bleach demonstrated (just as the late Heath Ledger and countless other Jokers did before him), the scariest villains can be easily achieved with some face paint and utter unselfconsciousness.

Heath Ledger and countless other Jokers did before him

The final function was to reconfirm what makes the show work.  Despite the various mentions of the timelord here to foreshadow his appearance in the next couple of weeks, with the main show now in other hands, and Torchwood in production stateside, SJA could be viewed as something of an orphan, a continuation of the Russell T Davies years.  But really what we find are the same elements: the willingness to experiment with storytelling structure, the sense of fun not least the rather wonderful exchange between Mr Smith and K9, the budding screwball chemistry between Clyde and Rani and Liz Sladen still bursting with energy even after all these years (the older dream-like version of her also demonstrating the actress's often untapped comic range).

Now we await the return of Jo and the appearance of the Doctor and the first full script by RTD in ten months (Can you believe The End of Time was only in January?  Doesn’t it feel like ten years ago?) and it’s mark of this story’s quality that didn’t simply feel like treading water.  What we had here was an above average script from Joseph Lidster with some genuinely funny moments, clever direction from Joss Agnew and if the climax seemed to drag a bit, the methodology for final demolition of The Nightmare Man not quite clear, its philosophy, that friends who stick together can do anything, are brilliant, is generally a good thing.  Until the second week when you realise that not everyone in the student hall is your friend. 

Sorry, there it is again.

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