Steve Goble

Choose life. (Deuteronomy 30:19)

+++ contains spoliers +++

I feel so vindicated.

After all my concerns about the general low standard of scripts in the new Doctor Who series, along comes this show and proves all my higher expectations justified.

In this show, people remember what happened in all the previous episodes, characters don't suddenly come out with information that they couldn't possibly have known, and Doctor Who's rich mythology is embraced without the misplaced fear of ostracising new viewers.

Whatever Happened To Sarah Jane? is about a nameless being who changes Sarah's childhood so that she died, and another girl – Andrea - lived instead. 12-year-old Maria is the only person in the world who is protected from this new history. Of course, no-one is going to believe her claims that history has been changed.

As a result, we get a great juxtaposition between her perspective on events, and that of the people around her. Her long-winded arguments with her dad brilliantly bring out her helplessness to convince him that she's anything other than a child who's bizarrely playing-up. Inevitably she fails, and ultimately has to pretend to have made the whole thing up, simply because it doesn't fit-into her dad's preconceptions of the world.

The writer's understanding of the different character's perspectives of events is best summed-up by the resurrected Andrea's request to the nameless history-changing alien: "Please can you return that girl [Maria] to the way she was yesterday?" She remembers a version of Maria that we have never seen. A version of Maria for whom Andrea had always been alive. A version of Maria who, from her perspective, has suddenly been replaced by this apparently new one who remembers Sarah.

But just as you thought it couldn't get any more confusing, the alien then wipes Maria out from history too. This time it's only her dad – Alan - who remembers her. The same dad who's spent most of the day listening to her prattle on about an apparently non-existent woman called Sarah Jane. Now he's the one who finds himself trying to convince his own ex-wife that they've had a daughter for the past 12 years.

As he finally takes on-board that his now non-existent daughter hadn't been making the whole tale up, he has only the memory of her brief words about this "Sarah Jane" stranger to go on.

Who, of course, has still been dead for decades.

So then, just as it couldn't get any more head-spinning, the alien decides to wipe him out from history too...

Such a calculating tale comes as a massive contrast to the dumbed-down Revenge Of The Slitheen episode that opened this season. That had been such a mixed-up plot, spelt-out with spoken internal monologues, stone-age science and pantomime overacting just in case the viewers were too slow to understand who the villains were.

On the other hand, this well-thought-out story presumes that its viewers are as intelligent as the programme makers are.

Both stories are credited as written by the same guy - Gareth Roberts – but they both demonstrate such different attitudes towards the audience, that that actually seems unlikely. In my opinion, these two plots probably came from two different minds. An uncredited co-writer perhaps?

And here, Roberts isn't writing exclusively for kids either. He knows that, like the original Doctor Who series, this is actually family viewing. As such thirty-somethings like me get catered for too, as he sneakily makes the whole thing a prequel to Doctor Who's 1979 Key To Time season.

What? You missed that? Maybe you were too busy working out how it tied into Attack Of The Graske – the interactive special from 2005 that featured the Doctor talking to camera with two alternate endings a few Christmases back?

Basically, this is a tale that appeals to everyone. Kids who are following Maria's adventures each week. Their mums and dads who can watch it with them and see it all from Sarah's point-of-view. And big kids like me, who can unravel the unspoken implications that this alien is the Black Guardian from the Tom Baker / Peter Davison days. There's no clunky exposition of old episodes for new viewers, but the clues are all there to be found for those of us who care about the show's mythology.

That said, I have to admit that when Sarah's life-history was restored at the end, I was hoping for a quick flashback-sequence of Sarah's life to show us just what the battle had all been for, as there aren't that many TV characters with the requisite 30-years of footage available to do that with...

Sarah in her teens
Sarah in her twenties
Sarah in her thirties
Sarah today
But hey – you can't have everything.

The story gets completely mixed-up at the end with regards to who remembers what, (particularly what Andrea's party-guests are doing at Sarah's house, not to mention why on Earth Andrea lives there in the first place) but there are so many great things in this one that I'm actually okay with that.

It's clever, silly, fun, and thought-provoking with it.

Only question now is, who's writing next week's episode? A lot hangs on that, and I rather suspect it will all boil down to whether or not Alan even knows who Sarah is.

And I also hope they make it clear whether or not any of the previous episodes have now taken place...

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