Steve Goble

Choose life. (Deuteronomy 30:19)

The Sarah Jane Adventures opens its fourth series by making life easy for itself - our heroes get trapped in their own nightmares.

Most dreams don't tend to make much sense, which is great news for SJA's regular staple of plot-holes, however here they help the narrative out in another way.

They slow everything down.

With so many pauses for weird fantasy-sequences in the tale, there's little time left for much actual story to develop, giving less opportunity for all the usual contradictions to emerge. The result is one of the most watchable SJAs yet, as we get a chance to delve a bit deeper into the main players' individual psyches. All this is augmented by the real banter that some of the actors now have with each other.

The focal point for all this is a nice subplot about Luke leaving home to go to college, and how the three people closest to him are dealing with this. Which is fair enough, given that none of his other friends from earlier episodes even come to his leaving party. As such, this is unfortunately where I have to segue into the story's shortcomings, and I'm afraid they're nothing new.

There is still far, far, far too much music.

Take that really peaceful moment when Sarah has given Luke her old car, and they're just sitting inside it in the garage, just talking. While someone bangs away on a piano throughout. Surely everyone knows that incidental music is supposed to bring us closer to the characters, not come between us?

There is the occasional moment of blissful silence in this, but it's when a character wakes up, to emphasise realism as opposed to fantasy. This would be a good piece of storytelling shorthand, if only the everyday situations in this show actually were this quiet.

The Dream Lord sorry I mean Nightmare Man of the title, looks possibly inspired by Heath Ledger's Joker and is played excellently by Julian Bleach. He's also defeated very very easily indeed, by the characters simply deciding that they can defeat him. I get the metaphor that you can overcome your fears by standing up to them, but that really is all that they do here.

What was that ending? The Nightmare Man gets trapped in Clyde's dream? What on Earth sustains that? I'll skip the awkward inclusion of Sarah's nightmare self in someone else's imagination!

Eventually, after the defeat of the Nightmare Man, Luke and K-9 do undertake the enormous journey from Ealing to Oxford, even though it will separate them from the others right up until Christmas.

Unfortunately, according to the AA, Oxford is only a mere 79 minutes away from Ealing by road. Even less by train. What's the big deal, especially considering the huge amount of charging around the country that they routinely do by car in this show? I guess that sort of thing happens when you produce a London-set series in Cardiff, where maybe they are sadly still waiting for connection to the internet.

All the same, I enjoyed this, if only for seeing Doon Mackichan seeming to reprise her role as Collaterlie Sisters from The Day Today.

Now she is the stuff of nightmares…

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