Sarah Jane Adventures: Secrets Of The Stars Part 2
Now, I don't mind a bit of sympathetic magic in stories like this. Gareth Roberts' idea of using the signs of the zodiac and the alignment of stars as symbols to directly affect environment and people is a tried and tested fantasy device. Look at the blood control idea in The Christmas Invasion. Go even further back and you'll see a similar set up in that classic children's drama Children Of The Stones. They are all essentially about the same thing - that one can influence something based on its relationship to another thing without any apparent causal link between the two. So the stone circles and black holes in Children Of The Stones are like the zodiac symbols and stellar alignment in this.
All this story can do is position itself within the new religions of celebrity pop culture and 24 hour rolling news.
The star signs and zodiac stuff is all about 'participation mystique' - they are today's version of ritualistic cave paintings. Roberts, however, feels the need to explain why sympathetic magic 'works' in this universe because otherwise it is still the mumbo-jumbo that we associate with pre-rationalist, primitive modes of thinking. He doesn't quite achieve that and perhaps shouldn't have attempted to rationalise it. The notion that a star-sign can be used to hypnotise the populace of Ealing and Acton doesn't quite work because Roberts put in all that alternate universe, pre-Big Bang alien energy/science explanation. It's charming but it's about as effective as trying to rationalise karma, good luck or doing a rain dance. The Masque Of Mandragora has a much better handle on the scientific rationale versus primitive magic discussion because it positioned its debate within the flux of the Renaissance. All this story can do is position itself within the new religions of celebrity pop culture and 24 hour rolling news. It's a nice touch that Trinity Wells of the ubiquitous AMNN service gets possessed. Mind you, it's a wonder the poor love hasn't checked herself into a hospital by now.
I like the ideas but the trouble with Part Two is that there are interminably, lengthy scenes of threat and counter threat between Sarah Jane and Martin Trueman that, quite frankly, commit the cardinal sin of being boring. Abbot's twitchy and arch performance and Sladen's trembly, throat wobbling of the week spends nearly ten minutes of the running time taking place via a television screen in her attic. It is resolved in that quite effective confrontation between Sarah and Clyde but it's static and confined to one set. The pace seriously flags. It only starts to pick up again when the story actually moves to the theatre and the lead characters all split up within the narrative. The scene where Clyde convinces the circle of hypnotised chosen ones to allow him into the theatre again promotes the idea that all the zodiac and stars stuff is bunkum (the chocolate bar jokes see to that) and yet then continues to suggest a power beyond the rational, delivered by astrology.
The threat from Trueman is framed like the false-jeopardy of a run down quiz show. Something slightly tricky, slightly tatty that you'd find on Challenge TV, complete with revolving game board, rather than it actually being about the fate of the universe. It's as underwhelming as the low-rent performance from Russ Abbot. The ending, Trueman and Clyde facing off to Sarah, with Rani and Luke rushing to turn off the power supply, should work. But it just ends up as a bunch of people talking to each other in a theatre. The dialogue between Sarah and Trueman, where he basically explains the whole plot and she puts across a counter argument lasts for nearly two minutes. It's two minutes of director Kerrigan cutting between Abbot and Sladen, desperately trying to make it interesting, and no matter how charismatic you may think they both are this is dull, dull, dull. It's about as threatening and exciting as a lettuce.
Despite a fairly awful performance from Russ Abbot, when it comes to the crunch, it is still very sad when Martin realises that he's been defeated by virgin birth Luke.
It finally gets going again when the astral energy arrives on earth and plunges into the theatre, Rani and Luke literally pull the plug and surprise, surprise (the unexpected doesn't hit you between the eyes) Luke realises that he's special because he doesn't have a star sign. And because he wasn't born in the house of Virgo with Uranus rising it means he can defeat the, by now, totally irritating Martin Trueman. However, something strange happens with Trueman too. Despite a fairly awful performance from Russ Abbot, when it comes to the crunch, it is still very sad when Martin realises that he's been defeated by virgin birth Luke. It still elicits some sympathy which I find miraculous after Abbot's mangled performance.
There is that sweet coda where Luke does get a birthday date and with once again Sladen and Knight showing just how natural and effective they are, given the opportunity. But in the end, I didn't particularly like this. Definitely the weakest of the stories so far, it's symptomatic of a series plunging into formula, despite the vivaciousness of the lead actors, and this is full to the brim of recycled, standard issue tropes borrowed from the parent series and no scope for adding more dimension to the characters. It'll leave you as glassy-eyed as Martin's hypnotised victims.