Sarah Sarah Jane Adventures Guide


12 Jun 2007Invasion of the Bane, by Paul Clarke
21 Sep 2011Invasion of the Bane, by Nicole-Anne Keyton

After the entertaining but ridiculous Torchwood, I was rather dubious about the idea of another Doctor Who spin-off, especially since Sarah Jane's last solo television venture was the abominable K9 and Company, but based on the evidence of pilot episode 'Invasion of the Bane', The Sarah Jane Adventures has enormous potential. A near-perfect children's program, 'Invasion of the Bane' takes many of the ingredients of classic Doctor Who and strips away much of the rot that occasionally addles the new series.

'Invasion of the Bane' has a simple but effective plot that sees the eponymous Bane attempting to take over the world via pernicious fizzy pop "Bubbleshock". This is straightforward fare, but solidly written by Doctor Who novel and audio veteran Gareth Roberts, but what really brings it to life is the characterisation of the presumed regulars. Wisely, Roberts starts the story from the point of view of Maria, a new girl in the neighbourhood intrigued by her mysterious neighbour Sarah Jane Smith, especially after she witnesses her talking to an alien in her back garden. Roberts shows the audience everything they need to know as Maria gets caught up in Sarah's unorthodox life, and along with her friend Kelsey soon finds herself being chased by monsters. Big, green, monsters with tentacles. Which frankly, is what I wanted from Doctor Who when I was a kid. Roberts' writes the kids very well, with Maria proving independent and smart (she refuses to drink Bubbleshock, preferring a nice cup of tea, so she automatically counts as something of an outsider, and she pointedly asks Kelsey "So that makes it alright then, just the magic word 'organic'?"), whilst Kelsey is far more headstrong and concerned with seeming cool (it is Kelsey who makes all of the cultural references here, or generates them when Wormwood reads her mind). Meanwhile the Archetype, whom Sarah ultimately adopts at the end, is the ultimate question generator, since he knows almost nothing, which makes good sense in terms of exposition in future episodes. Oh and Maria also has a hunky single father, although what role he might fill in future episodes I couldn't possibly imagine.

Sarah Jane herself also works very well here, even if her character development is signposted early on, as we learn that she shuns the company of others and she warns Maria to keep away from her because her life is dangerous. Unsurprisingly, she comes to appreciate the importance of having friends, especially when the Archetype saves the day and she remarks, "I would be dead without you!" In fact rather of lot of what happens here is predictable, but this doesn't matter because Roberts handles it with flair: thus, the blatant infodump in Sarah's attic is rendered magical by the wonder written into the script, and the eccentricity of K9 in the cupboard with his arse in a black hole, and the ramshackle-looking but highly advanced Mr. Smith. And, for old fans, the nods to the past such as the photograph of the Brigadier. There's quite a lot of this sort of smooth handling of the unoriginal, with the scene of Sarah meeting the alien in her garden having a fairytale air to it. As in Doctor Who, we of course end up with a lead who has foreknowledge of the threats that the team will undoubtedly be facing, but exposition always seems more natural when children are asking questions about things. My only main concern in terms of 'Invasion of the Bane' as the first episode in an ongoing series is the worrying presence of irritating narrative shortcuts such as the sonic lipstick and the wrist watch that identifies the Bane for Sarah, but hopefully these come from co-writer Davies rather than Roberts, and will be relied on less in the rest of the series than they are in Doctor Who. I also, incidentally, suspect that Davies is responsible for the nauseating line, "There was only ever one man for me, and after him nothing compared", about which the less said the better.

When I was little, it was the monsters and villains in Doctor Who that always engaged my entertainment, and although at first glance the Bane are unremarkable generic green monsters (and the Bane Mother looks a bit like the old illustrations of the Nestenes on the Target novelisation covers for 'Spearhead from Space' and 'Terror of the Autons'), Roberts makes them interesting enough to keep the adults (or at least, this adult) entertained, with Davey unable to conceive of entering the women's toilets because human culture forbids it, Mrs. Wormwood baffled at the nonsense that fills the heads of children, and Davey getting eaten for failing to kill Sarah because "A hunter that loses its prey is unfit to serve the Bane Mother". Robert's trademark wit is in evidence throughout 'Invasion of the Bane' (and there are some tongue-in-cheek moments for older viewers, such as the acknowledgement that Bubbleshock must have sidestepped all manner of health and safety regulations to be mass produced to quickly) and Mrs. Wormwood gets quite a lot of it, especially when she gets lines such as "These miniature versions have parents" and "the thoughts of a child are chaos". And it is Mrs. Wormwood who steals the show here.

The cast of 'Invasion of the Bane' is generally very good, with some impressive performances from the child actors and Elisabeth Sladen stepping back into her old role with ease. The only weak link is Jamie Davis, who is rather stilted as Davey, but it is former Miss Moneypenny Samantha Bond who really grabs the attention, delivering an enormously entertaining arch performance as the catty and malevolent Mrs. Wormwood. She gets away with dialogue like "descend and consume" and "I can't understand a word she says. She's all noise and ignorance" because she takes the role as near to over-the-top as she can, without actually being hammy, which is impressive. She's clearly designed to be enough of a pantomime villain to appeal to the kids, and it works. My favourite Mrs. Wormwood moment, incidentally, is when Sarah sarcastically thanks her for the assassination attempt and she icily replies, "My pleasure. The next one will involve harpoons". Happily, she gets away at the end, furiously announcing, "Until the next time, Miss Smith", so she's presumably all set to become Sarah's new arch-nemesis. Hilda Winters, eat your heart out.

Director Colin Teague brings a real dynamic energy to 'Invasion of the Bane', which I would imagine is very useful for a series aimed at children, who almost certainly have less of an attention span than I do. Children's program or not however, I enjoyed 'Invasion of the Bane' enormously, tapping as it does into the spirit of Doctor Who of old and carrying itself off with confidence and humour. It's much better than Torchwood and even large chunks of the new series of Doctor Who, and I'm thoroughly looking forward to The Sarah Jane Adventures proper.

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n Maria Jackson moves into the empty house on Bannerman Road, everything seems normal. But then, she discovers a neighbour across the road who seems peculiar and different and more or less frosty to others, and a fizzy orange soda that’s a revolutionary drink in town with an odd taste. Oh yeah, and some bizarre aliens trying to take over the world.

The first alien Maria saw seemed nice and relatively harmless. As she heard it pass over her house, she found it hovering in the strange neighbour’s garden. And the supposedly mad woman was outside, too, accepting something from it, like a gift. It seemed beyond strange. But what’s even stranger are the events that take place the next day.

Maria and her dad receive their first visitor: a girl called Kelsey Hooper, who rattles on about the importance of music channels, too many carbohydrates, and this addicting soda called Bubble Shock. What’s more, Kelsey wants to take Maria to the Bubble Shock factory itself. But what seems like an ordinary soda production company turns out to be not so ordinary after all.

Apparently, the use of mobile phones is sensitive to the technology used in the factory, but when Kelsey ignores the no-phones rule and calls up her friend, her phone goes haywire and sets off the factory’s alarms. The people touring in the factory are ordered to evacuate in case of emergency, but Maria suddenly remembers Kelsey running off and leaves the tour group to find her. Instead, she stumbles upon a peculiar boy in what appears to be a hospital gown and, again, the strange lady who lives on Bannerman Road across from Maria. The lady, named Sarah Jane Smith, helps Maria and the boy escape through a window in the women’s toilets, to her car parked outside, and they all leave the factory unscathed.

After finding out from Kelsey (who returns to Maria’s from the factory) that the tour guide from the factory is on Bannerman Road looking for Sarah Jane, Maria heads off to Sarah Jane’s house to warn her about his presence. But it’s too late: an alien in the form of a one-eyed squid-octopus-type-thing is chasing after them. Maria, Kelsey, the boy from the factory, and Sarah Jane all run up the stairs to the top floor of her house, Sarah Jane runs into the attic to fetch something, and orders the others to wait outside, returning with an object that attacks the alien, turning it back into the human form of the tour guide from the factory. He flees, and, curiosity killing the cat, the three kids storm into the attic and come across a setting one wouldn’t see every day.

Alien artefacts lie about all over attic, covering shelves, desks, even walls. Several photos from the past can be seen along one wall, including snaps of a robot dog and a man dressed in a green uniform. What is this place? And who is Sarah Jane Smith?

Sarah Jane has no choice but to tell the three children about what she does. Yes, she’s an investigative journalist, but she also hunts aliens. Well, I wouldn’t say “hunt”; she finds any aliens who get lost and come to Earth (like the one Maria saw the previous night) and sends them back on their way, and she stops the ones who want to invade the planet. In the example of the hostile octopus-squid-like alien, Maria learns that they are in the middle of an alien invasion.

The Bubble Shock factory is run by those octopus-squid-like aliens disguising themselves in human form. They are an alien race known as Bane, and they intend to use their addicting orange soda to convert the human race into Bane. They created an Archetype, that boy in the factory who was found by Maria, and scanned every human mind who entered the factory into the Archetype to improve the drink so everyone would drink it. Once Sarah Jane, Maria, and the Archetype discover the Bane’s attempt to dominate Earth, they set out to stop them.

I’ve seen many children’s shows (thanks, Disney Channel), but I can tell from this pilot episode that The Sarah Jane Adventures is spectacular. Sarah Jane’s methods of hunting down aliens and stopping the ones that want to invade are completely non-violent and very effective. You don’t have to watch Doctor Who to understand what goes on. I mean, sure, the Doctor makes an appearance a couple times, and Sarah Jane talks about him and how he’s influenced her life, but it’s all explained and not inferred. To compare The Sarah Jane Adventures to American children’s TV, it’s kind of like Power Rangers, except there’s no fighting and a lot of running.

Speaking of Sarah Jane’s methods, she’s got the best technology on Earth, rivalling Torchwood and UNIT. She’s got sonic lipstick, a version of the Doctor’s own sonic screwdriver, and it’s so very stylish. She’s got a watch that can detect the presence of an alien, how old you are in minutes, and more. And, the best of them all, she’s got Mr Smith, an alien supercomputer. Mr Smith can hack into any computer, call any number, access any map, document, file, or website, and talk to you while doing so. I must say that Sarah Jane is well-equipped.

Being such a huge fan of Sarah Jane, I was not disappointed in her choice of outfits. In fact, I’ve finally purchased a pair of brown boots and a coat in yellow similar to her purple one so I can go to school dressed like Sarah Jane. Yeah, I do that a lot.

Also, who else is now shiftily drinking orange soda? It’s become my favourite party drink. Yes, I react quite oppositely than intended to realistic aliens and their concoctions. See a statue? Take a photo. Turn out the lights? Hastily turn on a torch. See a gas mask in a World War II film? Mumble, “Are you my mummy?” to myself. Find orange soda in the store? Buy it. Drink it. Get more. But I love how the writers create stories about how this realistic, earthly thing is actually something involving aliens and could be dangerous. Yes, at any moment now, I’m going to become a slave to the Bane and run around the room chanting “Drink it!”

“I saw amazing things out there in space. But there’s strangeness to be found wherever you turn. Life on Earth can be an adventure, just need to know where to look!” I’ve seen The Sarah Jane Adventures in entirety multiple times, and one of the things I love the most about the show is that Sarah Jane almost always has a little monologue of how great the universe is. The show is mostly revolving around chasing the hostile aliens off Earth and leaving humanity in peace, and we oftentimes need a little reminder from Sarah herself that even though there are dangers out there, the universe is also brilliant.

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