[30 January 2011]
PopMatters Associate Music Editor
This third series The Sarah Jane Adventures, the Doctor Who spin-off aimed at younger kids takes viewers back to13 Bannerman Road for more mysteries involving extraterrestrial action and interstellar sleuthing.
This time, Sarah Jane Smith (Elisabeth Sladen), her genetically engineered teenage son, Luke (Tommy Knight), and their neighbor Clyde (Daniel Anthony) are joined full-time by newest cast member, Rani (Anjli Mohindra). Rani’s a bit more interesting as a character than her predecessor, Maria (Yasmin Paige, who left the series during the second season). Rani’s also the one that ends up causing a lot of the trouble this season. Much of this is due to the fact that she wants to be a journalist, “like Sarah Jane”. The only problem with that is that someone forgot to explain the difference between “journalist” and “sneaky, dishonest trespasser” or “bumbling snoop”. I can’t tell you how many times I worried I was watching a Nancy Drew mystery re-written to feature sonic lipstick or an episode of Scooby Doo with K-9. That’s my only real problem with these stories—that Sarah Jane, as a investigative journalist, never writes anything.
As fantasy adventures, however, these stories are quite good, if a bit too simple sometimes. Kids will probably love them. Many adults will too, if they are willing to look past the tendency for the explanations to be a bit dumbed-down in comparison to Doctor Who, which—lest we forget—began as a children’s show, too. The first two episodes of season three (all stories are two-parters), “Prisoner of the Judoon”, feature everyone’s favorite rhino-faced officers of galactic law, as well as a shape-shifting, body-stealing, reptilian villain. “The Madwoman in the Attic” envisions a future where Rani has inadvertently lost the others and has grown old alone because she took her friends for granted. It’s a bit heavy-handed with the lesson, which is unusual in the Sarah Jane universe, but it does feature some excellent alien makeup.
The next story is the excellent “The Wedding of Sarah Jane Smith”. These are the episodes that feature the final scenes David Tennant was to film as the tenth Doctor. Sarah Jane has fallen in love and is to be married when her wedding is disrupted by the malevolent Trickster, who traps the bride and groom in time while trapping the Doctor, Luke, Clyde and Rani in another moment in time. It’s fun to see the Doctor in this environment, because although I’m sure the temptation was there, not once does this story become the Doctor’s. It’s even shot in a way that makes it clear, as does Tennant’s performance, that this is about these kids and Sarah Jane, and he’s only there to help. He’s the companion in this scenario. And he’s a brilliant one.
After that, the episodes lose a little punch, but they are still fun. “The Eternity Trap” finds the team investigating a haunted house. Mona Lisa’s Revenge sees the masterpiece come to life during a school trip and wreak havoc in a hilariously chav accent. The last story, “The Gift” brings back a favorite, the Slitheen, for a dinner party with Sarah Jane, no less.
The Sarah Jane Adventures: The Complete Third Season includes all 12 episodes on two discs. There is also a short excerpt from the audio book The Sarah Jane Adventures: The White Wolf, read by Elisabeth Sladen, but it’s a bit of a disappointment because the menu doesn’t make clear that it’s only an excerpt (though the packaging does call it a “clip”). It’s essentially just an advertisement for the audiobook poorly disguised as a bonus feature. Otherwise, there aren’t any extras on this set, which seems strange given the variety of features found on the previous two seasons’ DVDs and on the Doctor Who sets.
Despite some shortcomings, if you’re the show’s target demographic, or the parent of young children, The Sarah Jane Adventures: The Complete Third Season is good fun. If you’re not, it’s still perfectly pleasant, light, sci-fi fun, and you get Tennant’s final filmed scenes as The Doctor.