Much as I adore Elisabeth Sladen and love her as the iconic Sarah Jane Smith I have to say that the second season of The Sarah Jane Adventures is sadly not as good as the first. While Torchwood has gone from strength to strength over the years, culminating in the exceptional Children of Earth, the more family friendly Doctor Who spin-off has become stuck in something of a rut.
Watching these six two-part adventures there’s a constant nagging sense that the series is simple going through the motions. The writers have found a way of doing things, a way that worked well last series, and they’ve decided to rigidly stick to it. This has left series two feeling safe, predictable and stagnant. They could do better, we know they can do better, but they don’t seem to want to try.
On the bright side at least there are no Slitheen around to ruin things this time around so we should all be thankful for small favours. Instead this series sees Sarah Jane and the kids face off against such galactic terrors as a vengeful Sontaran, Miss Moneypenny, Bradley Walsh trying (and failing) to do a Pennywise, that meddlesome Trickster again and Russ Abbot. Yes, Russ bleedin’ Abbot!
Now that’s positively terrifying.
In the opening story ‘The Last Sontaran’, a semi-sequel to the Doctor Who two-parter 'The Sontaran Stratagem/The Poison Sky', Sarah Jane’s faithful sidekick Maria Jackson departs for America with her dad. She's swiftly replaced in the next adventure by new girl Rani Chandra. Granted I use the word ‘new’ lightly. Rani and Maria, plus their respective parents, are so similar that part of me suspects they simply went through all the scripts and just changed all the names.
Once Rani has settled in and the new dynamic is established it’s back to business as usually. ‘Day of the Clown’ plays like a school play version of ‘It’ but the only thing scary here is Bradley Walsh’s American accent. Not to be outdone Russ Abbot hams it into the stratosphere in ‘Secret of the Stars’. Our semi-famous four battle the twin evils of has been light entertainment comedians and astrology. The Sarah Jane-lite 'Mark of the Berserker' is actually very good and the best story of the series. The same can't be said for ‘The Temptation of Sarah Jane’ which tries to recapture the highs of last series finest tale ‘Whatever Happened to Sarah Jane?’ but manages to fall short.
The final story ‘Enemy of the Bane’ see Brigadier Sir Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart makes a long overdue comeback but disappointingly he has little to do, no doubt due to Nicholas Country’s age forcing him to spend the majority of his screen time sitting down. Nevertheless, it’s still great to see him again after all these years.
One thing that this series does have over its predecessor is the quality of the acting. Sladen is as wonderful ever but it’s the younger cast members that impress the most. Both Daniel Anthony (Clyde) and Tommy Knight (Luke) have grown into their roles immensely this year. And despite her character initially being nothing more than a Maria clone Anjli Mohindra is fantastic as Rani.
Rating: * * *
- Series 1 synopsis recap
- Character, Tools & Alien profiles
- Blue Peter interview with cast
- Audio clip from the Time Capsule
- Me & my movie with Tommy Knight
- Photo Galleries