I tend to be the kind of person who fixates on unusual details. I saw Kevin Smith’s new film Zack and Miri Make A Porno Monday lunchtime and I was disappointed, despite being a big fan of the director's other films. And comics. And one man shows. For professional reasons I spent hours afterwards agonising as to what went wrong not really coming up with an answer but late in evening I began to wonder if it had to one of his casting choices in about the third scene, when we’re introduced to the coffee shop were Zack works and his boss, an angry so-and-so, with rude tongue. He’s played by Gerry Bednob who offers some of the most bizarre line readings this side of Matthew Waterhouse, and his verbal gesticulation stayed with me through some of the next few minutes of the film and kept returning now and for the other hour and a half. I was distracted.
Much the same thing happened in The Mark of the Berserker, but for different reasons. We can argue the character logic of Clyde taking his errant father up to the attic all we want but after Paul compared this alien tech to the Daleks, I stopped listening as suddenly this direct link to Journey’s End crashed in and more than that a proper, specific acknowledgement that mankind does indeed know of the existence of aliens on-mass. I know we’ve seen conversations about the Christmas goings on and whatnot in the main series, but this is the first time I think it’s been done so casually, as though it's accepted that yeah, there are aliens, fact of life, but y’know the government and army deal with it in general so I’ll just get on with my life as it stands, until the Earth drops out of its orbit again. Or whatever. I was distracted for the next hour, thinking about the fictional implications of that, but thankfully on this occasion not enough to ruin what might be the best story of this season so far.
Having been generally annoyed with the two-part format this season, I decided as an experiment to watch Joseph Lister’s story all in one go. Of course, I would pick the Sarah Jane lite story which contrary to rumour I think probably has more to do with a bit of double banking rather than simply giving Liz a week off. As a single fifty minutes it certainly held up and writer Joseph Lister paced the story well across both episodes, with its early spooky school based scenes, holding some of his story over to the second episode, compared to most first episodes this season where most of the revelations are already plotted out leaving everything to unspool in the second. Here the simplistic structure seemed deliberately chosen to allow room for a more character based tale, unlike most stories where it tends to be an excuse for more running around. It's a credit to director Joss Agnew that this shift into emotions over exploits didn't jar.
Even with Sarah Jane on sabbatical, Berserker was a PTA meeting full of parental guidance.
Even with Sarah Jane on sabbatical, Berserker was a PTA meeting full of parental guidance. Firstly, we’ve Clyde’s parents, yet another dysfunctional couple in the Whoniverse, and as ever it’s difficult to see how these two got together, let alone long enough to get married and have a child, specially since Carla seems like such an intelligent woman. Cleverly written as though she’s always naturally been in the mix, the key to Carla’s success as a character was Jocelyn Jee Esien whose subtlely strong portrayal of a wronged wife might well be another candidate for this series’s Bernard Cribbins, the comedy actor breaking our heart. I can’t believe this is the same woman who’s irritated me so in her comedy series and if Cardiff have any sense they’ll make her a regular next series.
Auf Wiedersehen Pet extra Paul is precisely the kind of washed up figure who usually turns up in fantasy shows when the writer needs someone to blunder into a situation, the kind of deadbeat who can’t do right for wrong, can’t understand why he can’t just waltz in and out of their child’s life, and hopes that they can change things just by being there. Gary Beadle painted him broad strokes initially, but was much better towards the end as he lost control finding himself unable to stop changing Clyde to the point of making him lose all of those things which made him different on really coming into his own when the Berserker finally took hold, offering some old school menace.
Maria’s Dad Tom made a welcome return and reminded us what an empty suit in writing terms (the) Rani’s father Haresh is. Perhaps I’m mentally retconning my memory of what Maria’s parents were like in the first series, but I do remember them being more compelling than this man whose whole contribution to the story was deciding on what to have for tea before barking like a dog and doing push-ups for half an hour, which you really can’t compare with someone clever enough to hack into UNIT files undetected. Obviously the production team wanted to contrast the two so as to make this new family distinctly different, and it’s no slight against actor Ace Bhatti who is doing his best, and I know that kids probably loved seeing Rani have that kind of control over her Dad, but it just seemed a bit – undignified (see what listening to Radio’s 3 & 4 all the time can do to you?).
As ever the kids were reliably good, especially Daniel Anthony who excelled when given more than wise cracks to work with, the first time this series where Clyde is a proper character rather than a walking punchline. It must not be easy when shooting a piece like to keep track of what you’re supposed to know when and how to react when a slice of your memory has been nullified, Daniel pitched it brilliantly, especially the moment when everything but his father had drifted away and when he had to look his friends and mother in the eye without a glimmer of recognition. Then, in the middle of it all we there’s the inevitable meeting between Rani and Maria and like the moment in Journey’s End were Rose and Martha finally looked each other in the eye, albeit over a video link, there was no bitchiness, flying in the face of perceived wisdom in kids dramas these days that all teenage girls want to do is scrape each other’s eyes out.
This was ultimately a very small story about parents and children in which, like the best early episodes of Buffy, the fantasy intrusion highlighted the thematic element of the story – that from a certain point parents can no longer control their kids and that similarly your mum and dad will end up disappointing you. Oh, and that an alien pendent isn’t really going to help the situation. It’s precisely the kind of tale I’d expected SJA to tell from the off, before like the parent series, every threat became global, and though there’s a suggestion of that in the Beserker’s commotion at the climax, this was ultimately the story of parental kidnapping, which is pleasingly dark stuff considering the timeslot.
Next Week (or the week after I’m not sure yet): The tempter, or the tempted, who sins most, huh?