Category Archives: Sarah Jane

The Stolen Earth / Journey’s End

Journey’s End is everything that is wrong with modern Doctor Who all rolled into one. I was torn over whether this is worse than Voyage of the Damned, but I think it has to pip it. It… is… terrible! It’s a melting pot of ideas thrown together and stirred until it’s nothing but fanboy pulp; it’s Russell T Davies writing from the point of view of a ten-year-old playing with his Doctor Who action figures and going “and then Jack turns up and then the Daleks fight them and then Torchwood and Sarah Jane help them and then Mickey comes back and then Martha and she teleports and then they explode and then there’s two Doctors and then-…”. There is no restraint shown, it’s just trash. It’s hard to believe this is the same writer coming from Turn Left and Midnight.

It's telling that Davies wanted the Shadow Proclamation scene to be much bigger and include hordes of aliens from the past four years but they ran out of money so it had to be some Judoon and a woman with red contact lenses instead.

It’s telling that Davies wanted the Shadow Proclamation scene to be much bigger and include hordes of aliens from the past four years but they ran out of money so it had to be some Judoon and a woman with red contact lenses instead.

It’s simultaneously overblown and boring. It’s full of rambling exposition and ridiculous technobabble. It even makes fun of its own technobabble, but continues to use it to solve the plot anyway; meanwhile, interesting setups (like the Osterhagen key) go literally nowhere. A bluff amongst other bluffs with no consequence. Devices work and break and work again, people teleport in and out. Despite the two parts and extended length, the cast of characters is still too huge to get enough screen time. Even previously satisfying conclusions, such as Rose’s farewell in season 2, are undone, like prodding at a corpse to make it twitch. Rose now comes back then returns to the parallel world for really poor reasons, with a half-human double of the Doctor to spend her life with, just to thoroughly undermine one of the few good things about Doomsday.

She's back, and she's got a great big gun.

She’s back, and she’s got a great big gun.

As for the Daleks, I think they’ve given up any pretence that they’re an endangered species now. Time War? Void ships? Pah! Despite Rose eliminating “all Daleks” from existence with her godly powers, there’s somehow another army of them, grown from the cells of Davros himself, with enough power to move entire planets and destroy the Universe. No, not just the Universe, that’s not big enough anymore. We have to go bigger. All Universes! All parallel worlds, alternative timelines, past, present and future. All of reality and unreality and everything in between. The Daleks will destroy all of it. Don’t worry, though, the duplicate Doctor presses some buttons and all the Daleks are destroyed.

The 27 missing planets, pulled out of time and space, are used as a power source for the Daleks' Reality Bomb, within the Medusa Cascade. Also something about bees.

The 27 missing planets, pulled out of time and space, are used as a power source for the Daleks’ Reality Bomb, within the Medusa Cascade. Also something about bees.

I hated pretty much everything about this. Every little cliché that all the “big event” episodes have. All those TV news reports from around the world, celebrity cameos, disastrous events having no apparent consequences on everyday life, big fleets of CGI things swarming over the Earth while overbearingly bombastic music plays, the Doctor running about shouting plot things at people, and so on. There’s even a ratings-grabbing tease of a cliffhanger as it seems like the Doctor is going to regenerate (ooh, they kept that a secret!) but actually he comes back as David Tennant again because… yeah. The planet Earth being carried through space by the Tardis is the giant cherry on top of a very cheesy cake, and not in a good way.

The Doctor, the other Doctor, Captain Jack, Sarah Jane Smith, Martha, Rose and Rose's mum, take the controls of the Tardis.

The Doctor, the other Doctor, Captain Jack, Sarah Jane Smith, Martha, Rose and Rose’s mum, take the controls of the Tardis.

It’s not all bad, but it almost is. Admittedly, amongst all the running around, there’s some nice moments between the reunited characters. Wilf is good, as he always is. Doing a crossover with The Sarah Jane Adventures and Torchwood is an interesting idea, and I’ve been keeping up with both shows in parallel, so the events line up properly, but I can’t imagine the average viewer doing the same, given the target demographic for them. The return of Davros is a big moment and he is as bonkers as ever and looks disgusting, as he should. Oh, and German Daleks. It’s almost worth it for German Daleks. “Exterminieren!” Aaaaand… that’s it. That’s basically the extent of anything good in this finale.

Davros' new hand is shocking! Sorry.

Davros’ new hand is shocking! Sorry.

Even Donna has to leave, and to make sure she can never come back, there has to be some memory-enabled killswitch in her head, because in modern Doctor Who, you can’t just part ways like ordinary people. Donna has, frankly, been fantastic, and she deserves a better end than this. She has been the moral compass for the Doctor on more than one occasion, and the best decision they made was in removing any possibility of romance right from the start so that she could have balanced motives and behave in a more human fashion. She will be missed.

Unable to retain the Time Lord knowledge, Donna's memory is wiped. Because the Doctor can do that, apparently.

Unable to retain the Time Lord knowledge, Donna’s memory is wiped. Because the Doctor can do that, apparently.

Season 4 has been really good, so it’s a shame that it had to end on such a duff note. This is the ultimate lesson in why “less is more”.

School Reunion

There’s a reason I’ve been taking note of the arrival and departure conditions of every companion over the course of my marathon. Ever since I first saw School Reunion in 2006, I’ve been fascinated by the history of the Doctor and all of his travelling companions. I had wondered, did he just leave them behind? Did any of them actually die? Did they leave by choice? Were they happy? The return of Sarah Jane Smith, although I was unfamiliar with the character at the time, raised all of these questions. So, before we get into the details of this particular episode, I’m going to remind myself of the situation in which she left.

A proper goodbye this time.

A proper goodbye this time.

Sarah Jane Smith stowed aboard the Third Doctor’s Tardis in The Time Warrior, went on many adventures with him, through a new regeneration into the Fourth Doctor, and finally left at the end of The Hand of Fear. She had to leave because the Doctor needed to return to Gallifrey alone. Since both the Doctor and Sarah were so stubborn, they never really said goodbye in a sincere way. Sarah left in a bit of a huff, pretending she didn’t care one way or the other. It’s only really in the un-picked-up pilot spin-off episode of ‘K-9 and Company’ that her feelings about being left behind are explored, and where K-9 Mk.III is entrusted to her care.

Scrappy-Doo saves the Scooby Gang with his Convenient Laser™.

Scrappy-Doo saves the Scooby Gang with his Convenient Laser™.

So they meet again thirty years later, which is apparently unusual, and we learn a little bit about how the Doctor feels about his mortal human companions. There’s a lovely (although slightly sickly) line where he says that Rose can be with him for the rest of her life, but he can never be with her for the rest of his. He must wander alone, latching on to each new person for just a short time only. Of course, the real reason is that actors come and go and new characters have to replace them, but this attempts to put a reason onto it in those cases where the companion doesn’t leave entirely by choice. It’s worth noting, however, that during the course of the Doctor’s travels, plenty of the companions have left by choice, perfectly willingly and without regret.

A secret stash of Krillitane oil is being put into the food.

A secret stash of Krillitane oil is being put into the food.

Rose, of course, sees her “future” in Sarah Jane, and wonders if she too is just the latest in a line of disposable assistants who will be discarded for a younger model. She and Sarah also argue about who has been on the best adventures before laughing and joking about the Doctor’s habits. It’s a nice moment in an episode filled with nostalgia.

Mickey doesn’t want to be the new Tin Dog.

Mickey doesn’t want to be the new Tin Dog.

And K-9 is back! Slightly rusty and malfunctioning, but it’s the same old K-9 (with the same old voice!) as before, and it’s great fun to see him back again, making obvious comments, firing his little laser and spinning around to save the day. But, why did Sarah have him in the back of her car? She didn’t know she’d run into the Doctor and she says K-9 doesn’t work anymore, so why keep him there as opposed to somewhere more secure? I suppose you could assume she’s living out of her car now, but that’s a bit sad.

Replacement physics teacher Mr. Smith suspects something strange is happening.

Replacement physics teacher Mr. Smith suspects something strange is happening.

The old crew team up to investigate strange happenings at the local school. Tony Head is fantastic, as he always is, but is underused. He just needed some more delicious dialogue to chew on. The Krillitanes are generic-looking CGI bats, and some of the effects are unfortunately a bit ropey. Perhaps this was an intentional throwback to the iffy effects of the 1970s, but I doubt it. The plot with the school kids cracking codes is a perfectly serviceable little mystery, and the Doctor and Rose are immediately settled into their undercover operation without having to waste time on a build-up.

Less screeching and more menace would have been nice.

Less screeching and more menace would have been nice.

The Doctor repeats his “you only get one warning” from The Christmas Invasion to Mr Finch. That’s sort of his “thing” now; friendly and jokey on the surface but he will put a stop to you if you cross the line (ooh, scary!). But really, the school mystery and the aliens are underplayed in favour of exploring the drama of the reunion, which is absolutely the right choice. The scenes with the Doctor, Sarah Jane and Rose are really touching and explore the Doctor’s character in a way that only a long-running programme like this can do, and the Doctor and Sarah finally get the proper goodbye that they should have had thirty years earlier.

The Five Doctors

Following on from the 20th season is this remarkable anniversary special, originally broadcast to celebrate the show’s 20th year on the air. To replicate the original experience, I would have preferred to have seen the originally broadcast version, but circumstances led me unwittingly to the special edition released much later, with some of the visual and audio effects updated, so I can only comment on this version.

The Doctors meet!

The Doctors meet!

Much like The Three Doctors, the story is little more than an excuse to get the previous incarnations of the Doctor together, plucked out of time and placed inside an elaborate ancient war game. It’s a shame that Tom Baker decided to opt out and that William Hartnell was no longer alive, as this special really ought to be called “The three and a Half Doctors (plus friends)”, but that’s not as catchy. Nevertheless, it’s a delight to see Patrick Troughton (does that man not age?!), and Jon Pertwee back again, while Richard Hurndall takes over as the first Doctor, and some previously unseen footage from Shada is used to explain the fourth Doctor’s absence. Clever!

Trapped within a maze of mirrors, the first Doctor and his granddaughter Susan are reunited. How's that non-existent pocket of 22nd century post Dalek-invaded Earth been keeping you, Sue?

Trapped within a maze of mirrors, the first Doctor and his granddaughter Susan are reunited. How’s that non-existent pocket of 22nd century post Dalek-invaded Earth been keeping you, Sue?

Despite the absentees, The Five Doctors is a glorious celebration of the show’s history, using every available cast member, reference and villain it can reasonably squeeze into its 100 minute runtime. I genuinely had no idea that a 20-year older Carole Ann Ford would return to play Susan, nor the cameos by Jamie, Zoe, Liz and Yates. And that’s on top of a bright yellow Bessie, Lethbridge-Stewart, The Master, Yetis, Cybermen and a Dalek all running around the battlefield (there’s even time to reverse the polarity of the neutron flow!). It’s a smorgasbord of nostalgia, a who’s who of Who, and it’s quite amazing that it all works so well.

Turlough doesn't have much to do in this story, but Tegan accompanies the first Doctor into the tower, while Susan remains in the Tardis.

Turlough doesn’t have much to do in this story, but Tegan accompanies the first Doctor into the tower, while Susan remains in the Tardis.

Essentially, the story splits and jumps back and forth to follow each Doctor and a companion as they each take a different route up to the tower of Rassilon. This allows them some breathing space (as well as time to reminisce with old friends), but it does make the story a little scattershot, never settling in one place for very long, until a satisfying culmination towards the end. The lack of arbitrarily dramatic cliffhangers is a blessing; this is just one epic feature without cuts.

Sarah Jane is still Sarah Jane, panicked and often hyperventilating. The third Doctor is still the third Doctor, determined and confident. I swear he cops a feel of her boob at one point.

Sarah Jane is still Sarah Jane, panicked and often hyperventilating. The third Doctor is still the third Doctor, determined and confident. I swear he cops a feel of her boob at one point.

The fifth Doctor is the anchoring point, but he spends much of the story on Gallifrey, outside of the Death Zone, where he uncovers the President’s secret plans for immortality. Yes, sadly, there is corruption on Gallifrey yet again. This is becoming an embarrassing cliché and I can’t blame the Doctor for not wanting to stick around as President. He does get a brief moment to meet his past selves, which is nicely done. You can get a good sense of how the different versions of the Doctor vary. Davison is definitely the least eccentric of the bunch, a normal and level-headed type by comparison. Pertwee and Troughton play their roles much as they ever did, despite the years in between, and Richard Hurndall does a reasonable job of approximating some of Hartnell’s performance, although it would have been more authentic if he’d fluffed his lines a few times and ended all his sentences with “hmm?”.

Lord President Borusa gets more than he bargained for when Rassilon grants him immortality.

Lord President Borusa gets more than he bargained for when Rassilon grants him immortality.

The Five Doctors is hardly a masterpiece of imagination, then, but it’s nevertheless well made and a lovely tribute to the history of the show. The sort of silly-but-fun “why the hell not” exercise I can easily get behind. As it’s a one-off special, the budget would appear to have allowed for better production and visuals. One scene in particular is genuinely great, as a robot ninja busts up a legion of cybermen, teleporting around and lobbing arrows at them, causing them to explode and fall to pieces, arms and heads everywhere. Earlier, a rogue Dalek shoots itself in a hall of mirrors and within its exploded remains is its rarely-sighted grotesque embryo. Marvelous!

Total carnage.  I bet Hideo Kojima was a fan

Total carnage. I bet Hideo Kojima was a fan.

Sometimes logic has to fly out of the window, though. For instance, the second Doctor tricks the illusion of Jamie and Zoe by recalling that they shouldn’t know who he is, since their memories were wiped when they were returned to their time zones. But by the same reasoning, how would the Doctor have remembered that, as it happened almost immediately prior to his regeneration and exile on Earth. He would have had to have been pulled from the past moments before this, but there’s no indication this is the case when he turns up to visit the Brigadier. Similarly, why exactly is K-9 with Sarah Jane? Mk.I was left on Gallifrey with Leela and Mk.II was left with Romana (in a black-and-white photograph). I suppose it doesn’t matter, really; some questions are best left unanswered for the sake of a bit of fun, and this was a lot of fun. Job done.

The Hand of Fear

So, I figured the “Hand of Fear” would be some metaphorical thing, but no, it’s an actual hand, running around, possessing people and causing… well, fear. Neato! Actually, it’s quite a creepy scenario at first and the visual effects are pretty good.

In the reactor, the hand absorbs radiation and slowly regenerates from a fossil into a living creature. Chucking nukes at it probably didn't help, admittedly.

In the reactor, the hand absorbs radiation and slowly regenerates from a fossil into a living creature. Chucking nukes at it probably didn’t help, admittedly.

Set primarily in a nuclear power facility, this serial makes good use of an actual nuclear power station, thereby adding a touch of classy realism. The hand uses the radiation to grow its silicon-crystalline form back into a millennia-old alien ruler from the planet Kastria, called Eldrad. Although Eldrad has unsavoury goals, expectations are subverted when the Doctor and Sarah elect to actually help her. Expectations are subverted again when the her turns out to be a he and Eldrad reveals the truth of his past, his exile and destruction at the hands of his now deceased people, with a minor twist thrown in for good measure.

Eldrad, in female form, attempts to use her mind-reading power.

Eldrad, in female form, attempts to use her mind-reading power.

It’s quite a clever ending, really. It takes a while to get there, mind you, and the set up in the power station is perhaps longer than it needs to be, but on the whole it’s rather good. There are some funny moments too, like when they first arrive in a quarry and the Doctor says he can’t possibly know every single quarry they end up in. It’s disappointing that Sarah Jane gets possessed again as it’s a bit of a lazy trope now, particularly since this appears to be her final appearance. The closing scene aboard the Tardis is touching and natural, a perfect way to… well, part ways. It doesn’t feel forced or contrived; the Doctor simply needs to answer the call of the Time Lords… alone.

Talk to the hand, 'cos the face ain't listening.

Talk to the hand, ‘cos the face ain’t listening.

I’ve enjoyed Sarah Jane Smith as a travelling companion. I don’t think she’s the best (that title still goes to Ian Chesterton!) but, certainly with this incarnation of the Doctor, there is a rapport and a good-natured humour to their scenes. I think she could have been used more effectively, perhaps made better use of her background as a journalist (which is practically forgotten about), however I am sorry to see her go.

In a fitting conclusion, the Doctor attempts to drop Sarah Jane off in South Croydon and fails.

In a fitting conclusion, the Doctor attempts to drop Sarah Jane off in South Croydon and fails.

The Masque of Mandragora

Over the past 10 seasons, the Tardis has generally steered clear of travelling to the past, with very few exceptions. I suppose sci-fi is easier to do when it’s futuristic or present day, and to be fair, most of those early historical episodes were bloody awful. But this is a new era of Doctor Who, under new writers, new talent, in what is allegedly Doctor Who’s “Golden Age”, and so this four-part serial set in 15th century Italy actually turns out to be pretty good after all!

Giuliano and Marco.

Giuliano and Marco.

By now, Tom Baker is really settling into the character of the Doctor. Not just settling in, but actually making the character his own. The way he faces down death with a joke, perfect comic timing, mockery and an undercurrent of threat, is just masterful. There are moments in this story that had me genuinely laughing out loud, in particular when the clan of cultists are about to sacrifice Sarah Jane to their god, and the Doctor casually slides her out of the way of the falling dagger. He regularly looks death in the eye with an insane smile on his face, and he escapes believably because he does what nobody would expect. It’s brilliant.

Sarah is casually saved from being sacrificed. "Yoink!" *grin*

Sarah is casually saved from being sacrificed. “Yoink!” *grin*

This could have been a fairly run-of-the-mill story – certainly, cultists worshipping an alien they think is a god is nothing particularly new – but it’s raised to something far better simply because of how good the Doctor is throughout. It’s also pleasing to see a sympathetic character in Giuliano, someone who embraces scientific reasoning over superstition and actually trusts the Doctor’s judgement – however this is undermined somewhat by the alien being a big ball of magic fire. The Doctor can call it “helix energy” all he wants, it’s basically a fiery ghost thing that possesses people.

It's like a meeting of the Death Eaters, without the wands.

It’s like a meeting of the Death Eaters, without the wands.

There’s a running theme of identity and disguise. The Mandragora alien possesses Hieronymous, blanking his face; the cultists all wear elaborate masks; there’s a masquerade party that the cultists infiltrate; and of course, the Doctor saves the day by dressing up as their leader. In one scene, he even wears a lion head and growls, it’s rather amusing.

The Doctor graciously accepts some salami as a parting gift.

The Doctor graciously accepts some salami as a parting gift.

A noteworthy opening scene shows, for the first time, a tour of the Tardis interior corridors, leading to a second control room. This is the first indication that there even are multiple control rooms, that the Tardis is effectively infinite inside, and the scene is played out with a sense of humour too. It’s nicely done.

The Seeds of Doom

The Seeds of Doom (unrelated to The Seeds of Death, incidentally) starts in the Antarctic, when an excavation uncovers an alien plant pod. As the pod opens, infects one of the humans and turns him into a plant-like creature, I expected a run-of-the-mill monster story all set within the base. An isolated location, cut-off from the outside, with danger of death all around.

The frozen plant pod is dug up from under the ice.

The frozen plant pod is dug up from under the ice.

But the story actually only spends two episodes there. The base is blown up and a second pod is taken back to England, whereupon the stakes are significantly raised. Another infected human becomes an enormous monstrosity (a Krynoid) that threatens to turn all plant life on Earth against humans, and replicate itself into more man-eating monsters and take over the planet. To be honest, I preferred it when the stakes were lower, but I must admit, this one is well done.

The giant Krynoid attacks the mansion!

The giant Krynoid attacks the mansion!

It is a monster story in the truest sense. There’s no attempt to reach an understanding with the creature, despite it showing its intelligence. We’re left to the Doctor’s word that it is an unstoppable evil that must be destroyed, and who are we to question him? But the human face to this evil is Harrison Chase, a millionnaire plant-lover, who I was sure would turn out to be an alien himself (he’s so oddly calm and strange), but he is simply a madman who succumbs to the power of the plants.

Chase tries to infect Sarah Jane with the plant - all in the name of scientific curiosity.

Chase tries to infect Sarah Jane with the plant – all in the name of scientific curiosity.

Nevertheless, most of the characters are more memorable than usual, and even Chase’s thug-for-hire (Scorby) has a personality that almost makes you feel sorry for him, probably because he’s played by John “Boycie” Challis and gets more than two lines of dialogue. Meanwhile, the Doctor does his thoroughly enjoyable routine of calm mockery and occasional shouting, and this time does a surprising amount of physical fighting too.

The Doctor narrowly escapes a messy end, then nonchalantly claims that would have been a waste.

The Doctor narrowly escapes a messy end, then nonchalantly claims that would have been a waste.

It doesn’t shy away from a bit of violence, either real or implied. Chase’s sticky end in the vegetable grinder is more ‘clean’ than one might realistically expect, but it was probably a hard job to get away with what they did! Elsewhere, you have vines strangling people, giant tentacles smashing through windows and another explosive finish as UNIT calls in an airstrike to kill the creature in the nick of time. On this whole, it’s fairly good, and hasn’t aged as badly as you might expect.

The Brain of Morbius

The last couple of seasons have seen an increase in frightening imagery, grotesque monsters and grisly horror, and this comes to a head (ho-ho!) in The Brain of Morbius, which is basically a classic horror story in sci-fi clothing.

"Yesh mashter."

“Yesh mashter.”

In an obvious adaptation of Frankenstein, a crazy scientist (Doctor Solon) and his hunchbacked assistant (Condo) are building a creature out of spare body parts in a spooky castle on a misty night. I assume they’re in the Cliché District of Parody City, but it doesn’t specify (actually, it’s planet Karn). An evil Time Lord called Morbius, long thought to be dead, is sitting in a jar in Solon’s lab, a floating brain waiting for a new body to be completed.

The brain of Morbius, in a jar. For some reason, it glows when it talks.

The brain of Morbius, in a jar. For some reason, it glows when it talks.

This must have been one of the scariest Doctor Who stories at the time. Unfortunately, as an adult, it looks too corny and fake to me, but any kids in 1976 would have been given nightmares at the sight of a headless monster sitting up, not to mention people getting killed, beheaded, shot and burned alive. Even for me, it’s decidedly creepy; the moment when Solon is measuring up the Doctor’s head makes me wince just a little.

Sarah regains her sight moments before the Morbius monster attacks.

Sarah regains her sight moments before the Morbius monster attacks.

This story also introduces some more Time Lord lore in the Sisterhood who guard an elixir that they use for eternal life, and that the Time Lords have used to prevent failed regenerations. During the final battle of minds, I also enjoyed seeing the many past faces of the Doctor (and, presumably, Morbius?) being displayed on the screen. Having recently seen ‘Nightmare in Silver’, where a similar scenario occurs, I see a definite homage here!

A battle of the minds, the Doctor versus Morbius.

A battle of the minds, the Doctor versus Morbius.

As for the Sisterhood itself, this small group of cultish space witches did not make for good viewing, particularly with all the irritating chanting they do. The Doctor makes a good point about the futility of life without death, but the words ring hollow when spoken by a 749 year old Time Lord, and the Sisters go on using the elixir at the end anyway.

"Sacred fire, sacred flame..." Shut up!

“Sacred fire, sacred flame…” Shut up!

Overall, as a corny horror story, this was fine. I would have liked to see Morbius fleshed out more, as he comes off as little more than a ravaging monster. Sarah Jane gets to act blind for a while, which she does well, but I am getting tired of the way her hysterical lines are delivered as though she’s hyperventilating. I can’t stop noticing it now! The Doctor is remarkably watchable and gets some great lines. I love how matter-of-fact and calm he is in ridiculous situations.