THIS STORY TAKES
PLACE AFTER THE TV
BANG," AND PRIOR
TO THE TV EPISODE
"A CHRISTMAS CAROL."
RUSSELL T DAVIES
'THE SARAH JANE
SERIES' DVD BOX
SET TO BE RELEASED
IN NOVEMBER 2011.
When the Doctor is
declared dead, Sarah
Jane and Jo unite to
find out the truth.
25TH OCTOBER 2010 - 26TH OCTOBER 2010
As barmy as it sounds, I was much more excited about The Death of the Doctor than I was about many of this year’s Doctor Who episodes. The promise of an appearance by incumbent Time Lord Matt Smith would have been enough to pique my – and, I dare say, most fans’ – interest, but when he’s thrown into a melting pot along with the incomparable Katy Manning and the legendary Russell T Davies, ‘piqued’ doesn’t quite cover it. Happily I wasn’t to be disappointed. Whilst Smith’s role is, predictably, largely limited to the story’s second episode, Manning’s isn’t, and the whole script is resonant with the fan-pleasing finesse of a man who’s clearly jubilant to be writing for characters that he loves so dearly once again.
Right from its earliest moments, this adventure has the verve of an event. UNIT’s arrival on Bannerman Road, duly backed by Murray Gold’s reverberating UNIT signature score, is one of the most exciting openings that The Sarah Jane Adventures has ever seen, and whereas even the youngest of viewers will have sussed that the tidings brought by the soldiers weren’t to be believed, the hows and whys were enough to keep the audience rapt, particularly when faced with images as imposing as UNIT Base 5, nestled into the base of Snowdon like a UK SGC. And once we were inside the base, Davies was able to convene the companions and finally make good on all the hype.
I love how Davies depicts the long-awaited meeting of Jo and Sarah. Even in such funereal surroundings, Jo is still as dippy and as loveable as ever she was, Davies skilfully distilling her essence into a few well-chosen words and fumbles, enabling those new to the character to take to her in an instant. Sarah is similarly well-served, Davies portraying her as dogged and empathetic, embracing her predecessor rather than quarrelling with her, and using her conviction to firm up her own belief that the Doctor lives – which, of course, he does.
Utilising the artron energy that Clyde was infused with when he first met the Doctor last year, at the end of Part 1 the Doctor executes an inter-galactic body swap, materialising in the UNIT base and sending Clyde to a beautifully-realised crimson world light years from Earth, where we learn he’s been stranded. The Doctor’s reunion with Jo is handled with the loving lack of delicacy that such an occurrence warrants – she tells him that he looks like a baby, and he retorts that she looks like someone’s baked her! The inevitable melancholy is tackled with equally apt jollity, as Jo asks the Doctor why he never looked in on her (as he demonstrably has on other former assistants of his...), and he tells her that he could never bloody find her! Since the events of The Green Death, Jo has wandered all over the Earth with her ‘nuthutch’ husband and their ever-burgeoning brood of children and grandchildren. Not only does this neatly skirt a straightforward re-hash of School Reunion, but it provides Jo with what I feel is a delightfully fitting fate.
The plot is perfectly attuned to the spirit of the story as it is grounded in the pain of memory and the vulture-like Shansheeth’s quest to halt change, conquer death and stop “the endless, endless weeping.” The Shansheeth are a captivating race, even by Davies’ lofty standards, and though the puppets don’t quite stand up on close shots, they’re still an efficiently chilling bunch. They reminded me of something out of the old David Bowie movie Labyrinth, only more troubling thanks to their funerary profession and bleak catchphrase: “I’m so sorry for your loss.” I also liked Laila Rouass’ tasty and treacherous UNIT colonel, Karim, even if her motives weren’t explored. Casting a glamorous actress tends to gloss over little things like that. Mind you, I had her pegged as a baddie from the moment she starting swanning about with her hair down. You’d never have caught Corporal Bell doing that.
My only real criticism of The Death of the Doctor concerns Jo’s grandson, Santiago, who is afforded a respectable chunk of screen time only to be passed over at the story’s end. Had he joined Sarah Jane’s entourage, as seemed to be on the cards, then I could understand Davies affording the trite teen’s familial anxieties so much development, but as he just gets into the car with Jo and drives off into the sunset, one is left wondering what the point of him was - besides giving the oft-mentioned Jones clan a little substance, that is.
Overall though, it’s hard to pick fault with what is undoubtedly one of the finest Sarah Jane Adventures to date. The performances of Matt Smith, Elisabeth Sladen and Katy Manning are enchanting, the antagonists are marvellous, and the script is so very heart-warming and indulgent that I could write a thesis on it. Davies mocks the cheapness of the show with his sprayed-blue Graske (the Groske), the unremitting questioning of fandom (yes, there is a limit on how many times the Doctor can regenerate – “507!”) and even the main characters, but in doing so he only reminds us all how much we cherish such silly things. And to cap it all, Davies concludes the celebrations with a wistful wallow in the legacies of companions past, overwriting some of the spin-off media’s continuity, but doing so in such an uplifting fashion that the even the most unyielding of bookworms would be loath to complain.
When Russell T Davies said that he wouldn’t write for Doctor Who again after The End of Time, I hoped that he’d find a way to resile from his rash statement, and The Death of the Doctor is the perfect compromise. Above all else, this two-part tale has made me realise that I’m already feeling nostalgia for the Davies era, despite its end being barely ten months in the past. God help me in forty years’ time.
Copyright © E.G. Wolverson 2010
E.G. Wolverson has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988 to be identified as the author of this work.
I tried to think of a better way to start this review than just raving about how great it was to see Jo Grant again. Something eye-catching, witty or incisive. I failed. All I can say is - wasn’t it great to see Jo Grant again?
There are a few characters who could have returned to meet the Doctor and Sarah-Jane, and still have fit the story’s parameters. Both the Brigadier and Liz Shaw got a mention; while it would have been good to see either of them again, the Brig had already made a comeback (largely wasted in Enemy of the Bane), and it’s hard to see many people being so enthused to see Liz, since she had only a very short time on screen and failed to make the same lasting impression as her successors. In an ideal world, I’d loved to have seen Harry, but sadly that can never be due to Ian Marter’s sad, and far too early, passing. No - for this episode, with UNIT apparently calling the shots, only one former companion was up to the job, and that was Jo.
It’s wonderful to see that Katy Manning slips effortlessly back into the role. We’ve already heard, in Big Finish’s Companion Chronicles range, that she could match it verbally, but Jo isn’t fully realised without her clumsy physical presence. Entering into a funeral, dropping things and making an almighty racket - absolutely true to the character, and wonderful nod back to her original entrance, way back in 1971’s Terror of the Autons. Yet, although this is still recognisably the Jo that we all remember, she isn’t a middle-aged woman trying to play a youngster - see Susan’s appearance in The Five Doctors to see how that approach can go - but a matured, interesting character who has lived a full life away from the camera. I could totally believe in this portrayal, so kudos to both Manning and writer Russell T Davies.
Elisabeth Sladen is also at her best here, whether playing obstinate disbelief at the Doctor’s death or adventuring around the place with his new self. In fact, the presence of Jo brings out a youthfulness in Sarah Jane, galvanising her character. There’s also a subtly played undercurrent of envy between the two. Jo is pained to learn that Sarah met the Doctor again, and she was left behind, inverting the situation in School Reunion where it was Sarah who felt abandoned. Equally, however, Sarah is envious of Jo’s life of romance and family. Of the two, Jo seems to be the more well-rounded individual; although she misses the Doctor, she hasn’t pined for him as Sarah once did, and has lived a richer life than Sarah ever dared. This is a plausible extrapolation, however - whereas Jo chose to leave the Doctor’s company, Sarah would no doubt have travelled with him forever if she hadn’t been unceremoniously left behind.
Enough of the character analysis. What makes these episode work so well, as with The Sarah Jane Adventures, is the sheer fun of it. Amongst all the emotional reflection, there are plenty of daring escapes, explosions, monsters and laughs. While the grown-ups get misty-eyed at the return of an old friend, all the young ’uns can enjoy their batty new auntie having a madcap escapade. There are all the hallmarks of an RTD story, love ‘em or hate ‘em - animal-headed aliens, rubbish little comedy aliens, a massive overuse of flashbacks and long emotional scenes calculated to put a lump in the throat. The Shansheeth are a fine idea; vultures becoming the undertakers of the Galaxy makes sense, although it’s a shame that the puppetry is no way near what we’ve come to expect with characters like the Judoon. This is more 1980s Labyrinth level technology; in fact, it’s probably below that - a bunch of blokes sporting glove puppets on their heads. Yet they’re still memorable monsters with a plausible MO, hoping to end death throughout time (although this would, presumably, put them all out of a job). The villainous Colonel Karim is a bit of a throwaway character, though, and while the beautiful Laila Rouass is a fine actor, she seems to have automatically settled on over-the-top kids’ telly mode here.
Clyde and Rani manage to get a fair bit of screen time, pretty impressively considering that they have to share it with Jo’s grandson Santiago. He’s a bit of a dull character, sadly, who strangely seems to think that life in Ealing is something worth pining for. Most people in the suburbs don’t actually fight aliens, you know - get back to your rallies! Clyde, naturally gets the best lines - “They should have called you Andy,” - and he’s used cleverly to facilitate the plot. Linking back to his artron energy zap in The Wedding of Sarah Jane Smith is a rather ingenious way of bringing the Doctor in to the plot without a rather tired nick-of-time TARDIS materialisation.
Of course, we must mention the Doctor, and that line. A week or so before the episodes were aired, frantic people were posting on the internet that the Doctor was now immortal; online news sites were jumping of the ‘headline’; and all sorts of folk were getting worryingly excited. Frankly, it’s hard to see what the fuss is about - the “507!” line is clearly not meant to be taken seriously, and even if it was, so what? People still attach so much importance to a limit that was set back in 1976 purely to make sense of the Master’s plight in The Deadly Assassin. Yet the idea of messing with it fills some fans with shock and dread. Strangely, nobody seems to have noticed that, in a more serious tone, the Doctor confirmed that he could change his skin colour, something that was buzzing around the internet with renewed vigour only a year or so ago.
Naturally, Matt Smith is on top form here. It seems that he always is. His ‘old man in a young man’s body’TM style lends weight to his reminiscences with Sarah and Jo. Contrastingly, he appears even more comfortable with the younger cast members than his predecessor did - perhaps not surprising considering his fabulous rapport with the young Amelia Pond, Caitlin Blackwood. Smith just seems able to connect with actors of any age with ease. Perhaps this best sums up this story, one that has appeal to both the newest, youngest viewers and the oldest dyed-in-the-wool fans, right up to its rolll call of erstwhile companions in the closing moments. Something to bring a grin to an old fan’s heart, and to simultaneously intrigue a new fan eager to learn about the huge world of Doctor Who. It’s bound to annoy some New Adventures purists though, since nothing here seems to fit what with we’ve learned in the expanded universe of novels and such. Still, continuity copping is no fun at all if there aren’t contradictions to debate - we do have “continuity corners” to fill, you know.
One small request for the production team, though. Sarah Jane got to meet Davros again - next time there’s a big, over-the-top, season-ending companion party, can we please have Jo meet the Master? Just for old time’s sake. “In a reminiscent mood are you Doctor? Poor Miss Grant, you have my deepest sympathies.”
Copyright © Daniel Tessier 2010
Daniel Tessier has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988 to be identified as the author of this work.
For the Doctor, this adventure takes place shortly after the television episode The Big Bang, whilst “Mr and Mrs Pond” are enjoying their honeymoon on a planet designed for that very purpose.
When we meet Jo Jones in this story, she is still married to Clifford, with whom she has seven children and innumerable grandchildren. She doesn’t recall having encountered the Doctor since they said goodbye, but it is not clear whether she is referring to the events of the television serial The Green Death or the Big Finish audio book Find and Replace (this will depend on whether The Sarah Jane Adventures are set in our present, or are still a year ahead as Doctor Who was under Russell T Davies’ stewardship).
Similarly, save for his looking her up just prior to his tenth regeneration (as to which, see below) the Doctor does not recall having encountered Jo since The Green Death. However, the novel Genocide saw the eighth Doctor encounter Jo and (what was assumed was) her only son following a divorce from Clifford. One could surmise that these events have yet to happen for Jo, in which case the Doctor would have to keep schtum about them here, but thanks to Faction Paradox the eighth Doctor’s biodata is riddled with inconsistencies that could no doubt account for an anomalous adventure or two in print (and we’d certainly prefer to think that Jo lives happily ever after with a husband and family rather than suffer the lonely fate that Genocide depicts). Indeed, this latter option seems more likely given that Genocide appears to be set in the late 1990s.
Liz Shaw’s fate as revealed here is also difficult to reconcile with Doctor Who literature. This tale suggests that Liz is alive here and still working for UNIT on their secret moonbase, yet the novel Eternity Weeps told of her gruesome death on board that very same moonbase in 2003, at least seven years prior to The Death of the Doctor. Those wishing to reconcile the two will probably find it easiest to assume that Liz survived the events of Eternity Weeps in some far-fetched, Master-like fashion, or in the alternative that Eternity Weeps actually takes place later than this story, and is simply riddled with date-related typos.
Also of note, here the Doctor reveals that just prior to his regeneration, in addition to his televised visits to past companions, he also looked in on Jo Grant, as well as every other travelling companion that he’s ever had. What’s more, when he’s interrogated by Clyde, he quips that he can regenerate 507 times, albeit rather mordantly. So much for concerns about the Beeb “using up” its thirteen Doctors too quickly - even once Matt Smith departs the series, they’ve still got 497 more incarnations to cast!
The second episode’s final moments see Sarah Jane share the fruits of her companion googling with her two young protégés. It seems that Ben and Polly ended up running an orphanage together in India (aah!); Tegan Jovanka is busy campaigning for Aboriginal rights (and presumably keeping her brain tumour at bay); a lady named Dorothy is zealously raising money for an organisation called ‘A Charitable Earth’, the acronymic ACE having apparently hung up her time-travelling motorcycle boots; and Ian Chesterton and Barbara Wright are both Cambridge professors, the rumours of Barbara’s death no doubt having been greatly exaggerated, unlike those that tell of the couple’s perpetual youth.
Mind you, you shouldn’t believe everything that you read online.
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