THIS STORY TAKES
PLACE BETWEEN THE
TV STORIES "THE GIFT"
AND "THE VAULT OF
'THE COMPLETE FOURTH
SERIES' DVD BOX SET
TO BE RELEASED IN
When Luke has his
first nightmare, he's
haunted by a dark
figure from his
11TH OCTOBER 2010 - 12TH OCTOBER 2010
Teenage angst has paid off well for The Sarah Jane Adventures. With its up and coming troupe of actors starting to fall into the ‘Harry Potter’ trap of aging faster than would have been ideal for the franchise, the show’s fourth season opens with a two-part tale that tackles their growing up head on. Whilst The Nightmare Man never threatens to tread on
the toes of Skins or The Inbetweeners, Joseph Lidster’s story still effectively portrays the sort of “life-changing events” that can turn a teen life upside down, and then supplements them with the weight of the entire world. And the beauty of it is, it’s not clear which is the heavier burden.
Part 1’s cheeky opening is fun and frivolous. Having being fast-tracked through his A-Levels by Rani’s Headmaster Father, Luke breaks the news to Sarah Jane that he is going to be going to university a year early… while they’re both prisoners of a Raxacoricofallapatorian! It’s tempting to be critical of the callous disregard for alien life displayed here by Sarah and her little group, but the tone is so fanciful that the viewer barely blinks – the butchering of the murderous creature is almost slapstick. Besides, viewers aren’t looking at the goo-stained Rani; they’re looking at Sarah Jane’s face as she realises that things are never going to be the same again.
Much of the first episode focuses on the reactions of the regulars to Luke’s decision to skip ahead and leave. Although Rani is typically kind and supportive, Clyde is initially wounded; ignoring texts as he mopes around his Luke-less school, before eventually being talked into throwing his friend the leaving party that he deserves. Sarah Jane, similarly, is initially a little surly, but before long she’s lovingly furnishing her son with a car that can’t decide whether it belongs in a 1980s Transformers comic book or a Big Finish audio drama, and bearing her soul to him to boot. All is well again – or so it may seem. However, scratching around inside Luke’s head is the Nightmare Man – a being from the dimension that our minds go to when they sleep; an adversary who is “so much more than an alien”, and who has seized upon the Bane Archetype as its conduit into our world…
With his customary elegance,
Lidster weaves his tormented
human drama into his fantasy
world. The titular Nightmare
Man causes Luke to suffer
dreams of the cruellest kind, playing upon his many insecurities and inflicting a psychological terror on him that surpasses any cheap scares borne of monster or alien. I love that Luke can’t even utter the Man’s name.
The second episode of the story feels much slower than the first. It’s a quiet character piece punctuated with few bangs and flashes as the narrative wallows in Luke, Clyde and Rani’s respective nightmares. The latter two are particularly illuminating as Rani wrestles with the loose morality often associated with her preferred profession, and Mr Langer finds himself flipping burgers for a living; his artwork and his adventures now nought more than half-real memories. The Nightmare Man might have made a much more dynamic forty-five minute episode than it does two half-hours, but Joss Agnew shoots the nightmarish provinces of its titular creature with such eerie assurance that they could probably have spun it out for longer, had they been minded to.
For his part, Julian Bleach’s Joker-like Nightmare Man is far more Ghostmaker than Davros. His portrayal is ornate, yet understated; sinister, yet subtle all the same. It’s a terrific turn, and one that makes Bleach the first actor to have appeared in Doctor Who and both its biggest televised spin-offs. He is easily outshone, however, by all four members of the regular cast, and especially by Elisabeth Sladen and Tommy Knight, who put as much feeling into their performances as you can get away with on a children’s channel.
Having managed to avoid spoilers for the series, the departures of Luke and K-9 came as something of a surprise to me, though on reflection both are quite logical. As Lidster’s script cleverly illustrates, both K-9 and Mr Smith fulfil exactly the same function (hence their mutual antagonism and, I dare say, attraction), and young Luke has now competed his journey from genetically-engineered alien to reasonably well-adjusted human being. There’s little more to say about him without breaking outside the CBBC remit. Rani and Clyde, however, have a budding CBBC romance to address, and Sarah Jane is about to find herself in the loneliest place that she’s been since the series began.
In the end, The Nightmare Man is an adventure that’s more about friendship than it is about monsters. A melancholy piece that still managers to deliver where it counts, this two-part tale has The Sarah Jane Adventures off to its strongest start yet.
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.
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