THIS STORY TAKES
PLACE BETWEEN THE
TV STORIES "THE
AND "DEATH OF
'THE COMPLETE FOURTH
SERIES' DVD BOX SET
TO BE RELEASED IN
An old enemy returns
to Earth - but can the
Veil be trusted?
18TH OCTOBER 2010 - 19TH OCTOBER 2010
One good thing about my current work schedule is that, most days, I’m able to
take my rather belated lunch break at just the right time to dash home to watch The Sarah Jane Adventures on CBBC. It provides a pleasant just-home-from-school feeling during the broadcast. Of course, I then have to go back to work, which rather spoils it, but never mind.
What’s noticeable is that, even with the main characters growing up and gradually moving on, this series still stays very true to its children’s television roots. While that can mean some very unsubtle bits of explanatory dialogue, and the occasional awful bit of kids’ telly any-old-rubbish level acting, it also means that the programme never forgets that, first and foremost, it’s purpose is to provide youngsters with a series of fun, colourful adventures in half-hour chunks. That the writers and producers manage to provide this and still raise some more serious questions is pretty impressive. In this week’s story, for instance, we have the return of the marvellously-designed lizard-man Androvax the Annihilator, leading to both plenty of larking about by the regulars whilst pretending to be possessed, plus some much deeper stuff about whether it’s ever right to sacrifice one group of people to save another.
Androvax, the last of the Veil, was, in his previous appearance (last year’s opener Prisoner of the Judoon) characterised as an out-and-out villain; a callous destroyer of worlds. Even then though, he was given a sympathetic back story, as it was the death of his own people that drove him to such madness. Nonetheless, he was a baddie through and through. Here, however, he’s dying from a venomous snake bite received on a prison planet and motivated entirely by the desire to return his species to existence, and so as a result the viewer actually starts to feel sorry for the yellow-skinned reptile.
A good deal of this is down to Mark Goldthorp’s fine performance, here getting far more time in the role than he had in his debut, in which the character was mostly inhabiting the body of Sarah Jane. Nonetheless, there’s still plenty of possession going on - more than ever, in fact. Starting off with a teenaged girl breaking into the eponymous Vault of Secrets, we’re teased into thinking that maybe this is Luke’s replacement; a new young character. However, she’s soon revealed to be a victim of Androvax, and is discarded like a holey sock. Later, regulars Elisabeth Sladen, Anjli Mohindra, Daniel Anthony and Mina Anwar all get the opportunity to camp it up, roll their eyes and lick their lips, as one by one their bodies are pinched. Anwar, as Rani’s mum Gita, gets the bulk of the run time, as much of the story is seen from her point of view. Indeed, as a direct sequel to Prisoner of the Judoon, Gita and Haresh’s accidental exposure to alien life is a big focus of the plot.
Admittedly, this does mean large stretches of the story get bogged down with unfunny stuff about BURPSS, Gita’s UFO investigation and support group. It’s a one-joke idea, although the constant burp puns are probably great fun for the youngest viewers. Plus, it gives Ace Bhatti, as Huresh, an opportunity to show that he’s the funniest thing in this series, giving his wonderfully deadpan reactions to everything. Nonetheless, it all has a part to play in moving the plot forward, as the group’s founder, Ocean Waters, has links back to the mysterious Men in Black.
Just as Prisoner had links to the animated Doctor Who story Dreamland through its use
of the Roswell spacecraft, so its sequel links in with the return of Mr Dread and his robotic MIBs. The androids are more impressive in the flesh, as it were, than as animated sprites, providing a deadly (and inexpensive!) alien enemy. Angus Wright is excellent as Mr Dread, deadpan and cool throughout, mixing up the MIB of Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones with hints of The Terminator. He even gets to break his programming, at least to an extent, as
he ignores the instructions of his long-gone masters, the Alliance of Shades, and saves the Earth from the escaping Veil spacecraft. Although Dread is apparently deactivated at the end of this story, I’ll be surprised if we don’t see him again. The same goes for Androvax,
still at large, and now with a restored race of Veil at his side…
With all this going on, it’s amazing the writer managed to find time to develop, just a little, the growing relationship between Clyde and Rani. Although confined to a chaste, CBBC-friendly romance, the baby-steps of their gradually blossoming attraction are charming to watch. On the other hand, giving Anjli Mohindra lines like “Take me Androvax, I’m younger and fitter,” is only asking for older, less savoury viewers like myself to start making smutty comments and thoroughly spoiling the wholesome atmosphere.
One thing that does add to the appeal of this story, for me, is the sense of an interconnected universe that it provides. Not only do we have return appearances by characters from both SJA and Doctor Who, but we also have a fleeting cameo from the recently departed Luke, alongside sly references to Osiran pyramids and ancient Martian civilisations. It all gives the impression of a single, huge Whoniverse - all the more so when you consider the characters set to return next week…
Copyright © Daniel Tessier 2010
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