Steve Goble

Choose life. (Deuteronomy 30:19)

I must confess, at the start of this I honestly felt the same way as I used to when watching Doctor Who when I was 12. What a thrill!

"Soon I will do battle once more with Sarah Jane Smith. She will return here – the one time and place that she cannot resist, and this time the triumph shall be mine!"


Yes, it's the penultimate story this season, so the Trickster is back, reprising his appearance from the penultimate story last season, but this time he's actually referring to himself as "the Trickster", and has an evil laugh.

In fact, given how this story requires the viewer to quietly forget so much of his previous appearance last season, it's something of an irony that our heroes' only defence against his timeline-manipulating ways is something called a "memory-box".

For example, last season he rather implied that he had no name, answering Sarah's question "Who are you?" with

"Nobody. I am nothing."


"As you can see, I have no self. I exist only to bring disorder. That is my purpose."

This season he's calling himself by the name that Alan had made-up for him last time. I'd like to generously suppose that, as we hear all his dialogue in English, and as "the Trickster" is the only name that he's ever been given in English, then that must by default be the English translation of whatever his real name actually is.


Last season he also gave us several implications that he was to later become the Black Guardian. (his refusal to directly interfere, his insistence upon getting his agent's agreement to a deal, the box / crystal, his dialogue "Waking or sleeping, I will always be with you Turlough / Andrea", and his description of his role in the universe above)

This season, he's just the plain old 'Trickster'. Well, we never acknowledge classic episodes post-Tom Baker these days anyway. A shame, since as I said above, that era is exactly how this two-parter felt to me at its outset.

For all that, this is a good story. No, I'm kidding, it's not. It's the standard history-has-been-changed-so-guess-how-this-will-all-get-resolved-at-the-end plot.

However the real problem I have with this tale is that, as in Secrets Of The Stars, the script of episode one is just not building-up to the same set of events that then take place in episode two.

Almost until the final line, episode one is all about the Trickster luring Sarah Jane back in time to save her parents' lives, and in so doing change her own history so that present-day Earth is in ruins. (presumably because she never now grew-up to save Earth over and over again)

Episode two is all about the Trickster having lured Sarah Jane back in time because he needs her to set him free.

Alas, without a part one to foreshadow this scheme, the Trickster's sudden captivity in part two feels like a separate story. It's almost as if the Trickster himself had gone back in time and rewritten part one, but without realising that we had all already watched it.

Right from the opening lines, part two is quick to write-off part one's set-up, replacing it with a new plot via much brand new information...

Old Trickster addresses Sarah and Luke in the devastated alternate-Earth of 2008.

Trickster: "You gave me what I wanted all those years ago, in 1951."

Sarah: "No. You're lying. How can me saving my mum and dad do all of this? They're just two ordinary people."

Trickster: "This place is on a weak point on the web of time. In the grand scheme of things, yes, you saving your parents was a tiny thing, but the village is on a fault-line, and you smashed right through it."

Luke: "Time was... broken open?"

Trickster: "I existed only in the limbo dimensions. I could only walk in the shadows, appear only in your reality for fleeting moments. But you gave me a path into this world. I exist here in the flesh forever!"

Did you get all that? No? Cast your eyes upwards and read it again. Understand it now? Good for you, I didn't.

Basically, the potentially enormous consequences of Sarah changing her own history actually made almost no difference at all. Instead, the childhood of a woman who grew-up to regularly save the planet, and sometimes the universe, is a "tiny thing". However this "tiny" change, by the simple fact of its occurrence, broke open time and released the Trickster to freely walk the Earth, causing death and destruction wherever he went.

Hang on – wasn't he already free? Specifically in Whatever Happened To Sarah Jane?, Turn Left and part one? Not any more. All the other occasions when we've seen him walking the Earth are now revealed to have been just "fleeting" appearances in our world. Quite how he was able to be free for such brief moments whilst still captive is never reconciled either. Even the place of his captivity is variously referred to above as "time", "the limbo dimensions" and "the shadows". Just where was he, and how does changing history damage a fault-line and set him free?

Anyway, they continue:

Sarah: "I defeated you before – I can do it again! We're going back – to 1951!"

Trickster: "Do you not understand? The battle is over. You already lost. Ha ha ha ha..."

Luke: "Mum! Come on!"

Trickster: "... ha ha! Ah-ha ha ha..." (etc.)

And with that the Trickster just lets Sarah and Luke go back in time to stop his younger self, leaving us to only wonder what his memory of their next actions in 1951 could possibly be.

As a result, it appears that this new "weak point on the web of time" just happens to have been in the same place as Sarah's home town by sheer coincidence.

Okay, dramatic licence, I get it. It's a fluke, something that much drama sadly relies upon.

However in this show, said fluke takes place just a week after all that talk in part one about how the time-fissure's exiting into Sarah's childhood home was just too unlikely to accept...

Sarah: "And think about it. It's all too convenient. It could be a trap."

Luke: "Or a coincidence."

Sarah: "No – it must be a trap, which is another reason for not going. Somebody's been very clever, but not clever enough. They've put the idea in my head, put the bait on the hook. But this one's not biting – I'm strong enough to say no."

And later...

Clyde: "Whoa – obvious trap!"

When, in part one, even the characters recognise that the fissure's location is way too improbable to be coincidence, then you can hardly repeat the same coincidence in part two, simply replacing the words "time-fissure" with "weak point on the web of time". They might be two different phenomena, but it's the same "too convenient" fluke.

Another common gaff (I reckon) in time-travel stories is when a character tries to change history, only to then cause it. By the end of this tale, we learn that Sarah's parents have always abandoned her as a kid, because her older self had travelled back in time and caused them to. So old Sarah has always been a part of events. So when she disables her parents' car early on, she doesn't change her history, because her presence is consistent with, and actually essential to, it. So the alternate future should really be the exact same future.

(granted, we could argue about this...)

In other news, Rani and Clyde remain irrelevant to the plot throughout. It could have been fun to see them explore their alternate-present a bit, but Rani's clichéd reaction to her alternate mum is plodding and ill-befits her brainy character. Further, her and Clyde's material neither drives the plot, nor learns any new information for either Sarah or the viewer. There is just nothing for them to do here.

When Rani eventually heads back to 1941 to tell Sarah that the Trickster will emerge through the Abbot's Gateway, even this makes no difference to events because Sarah is already at the gateway to see the Trickster becoming visible. Maybe Clyde and Rani should have been wiped-out from history too? Then the flashing of the memory-box wouldn't need to happen in this either, which also never got explained.

Rani does accidentally provide some additional clues for Sarah's parents to pick-up on, but still not enough to justify the enormous suicidal conclusions that they draw. Mr and Mrs Smith pick-up on the words of a few weird strangers who they've only met in the past hour, and decide to not only drive-off to their deaths, but to also abandon their 3-month-old baby. I like the idea that they had something of Sarah's guts in their characters, but that's nowhere near enough to make this decision possible to swallow.

As isn't their then deliberately driving themselves straight into a tractor. What would it take to make you do that?

Once more though, as happens often in SJA, there are lines of dialogue that seem aware of some of the finished plot's failings, and are keen to still try to bail it out somehow.

For example, I did like the way in which Clyde didn't just rescue the silly coincidence of Rani meeting her alternate mum, but also added positively to Doctor Who's time-travel mythos...

"Luke told me once that when time goes wrong it tries to compensate – keep people on the same track."

As a result, it's now possible to apply this compensatory tendency of time to reviewings of, for example, Andrea's otherwise-unexplained occupation of Sarah's house in Whatever Happened To Sarah Jane? It also rescues some of the confusion of Turn Left too. And Father's Day. And Quantum Leap...

In contrast to the plot, many of the other lines here are carefully worked-out too:

Sarah: "Luke, I have saved the lives of so many people – people I didn't even know. I don't know - Miners on Peladon, all the people drinking Bubbleshock - without a second thought, but this is my mum and dad."

Sarah: "She was always so busy, never in one place long enough to lick a stamp."

Rani: "Yes, hello, ethnic person in the '50s – hi!"

Conversely, at one point early on, Sarah's computer reports "There are no signs of alien activity." Ooh, I bet it later turns out that several aliens were active on Earth at this point in the show's history.

When writing a show about time-travel, I really think it pays to look at the bigger picture. Which I think, generally speaking, part one of this did. Part two on the other hand didn't seem to have even looked at part one much.

BTW, since you ask, this kid: a zombie!


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