Q. What do you get when an alien race takes a baby girl, turns her into weapon to kill her owners' enemies, she grows up very quickly, gets given a new ethereal name, uses her free will to change and become good, and has one of the Doctor's companions for her mother?
A. River Song. No, wait, this just in… or Sky Smith.
It's probably just a coincidence, but airing this a mere month or so after Doctor Who: A Good Man Goes To War / Let's Kill Hitler, was always going to invite comparisons. Heck, it even features a return appearance from the now self-consciously named Professor Rivers. Okay, they really have to stop giving so many characters such environmental names now. There are only so many earth-nouns to go around.
Aside from that accident, as Sarah Jane Adventures go, this one definitely hits above average, and is maybe the best one so far to represent what the series is about. Note: not necessarily the best story (although it's a good one), but one which sums the series up well.
The zombies, the nosey neighbours, Floella Benjamin, Luke, Clyde, Rani… the only classic ingredient really missing here is K9, more so because he's not even in the pre-creds montage of clips from upcoming episodes. Ooh, I do hope he's back too. Mind you, that they've kept the Doctor's appearances absent from these montages in the last two seasons means that this year we can't rule anything out.
My main criticism is of Sky's disarmament, which was as convenient as most of SJA's conclusions. In this series, any old cause can bring about any old effect, if only empowered to do so by the right sentence.
Even the mysterious Captain and Shopkeeper from Lost In Time put in an appearance towards the end. Well, I hated everything about that story, and yet here I was so pleased to welcome them both back again.
Are they going to appear again this series? They seem to somehow belong in that attic, and the mysterious Shopkeeper seems like a good character for the kids to throng around, he might even work well as a replacement… for…
... oh dear.
I mean that's the truly appalling paralell with this year's series of Doctor Who isn't it? We knew all the way through that the Doctor was going to die at the end, but then we also knew that, somehow, he wouldn't really.
Similarly, we'll also know all the way through this series of The Sarah Jane Adventures, that it all finishes with the appalling real-life death of lead actress Elisabeth Sladen. It's an unpleasantly heavy context for the episodes to be viewed in, and not the one that they are supposed to have.
Throughout I found that I was approaching this story in a way that I hadn't any earlier one. I found it hard not to deconstruct everything. Like listening intently to the audio and wondering whether they had intended to ADR some of it, but in the end not had the chance. Really, that attitude doesn't help anybody.
Mostly though I took a deep breath, determined to be as critical as usual, and genuinely enjoyed watching it. Yes, I liked this. Without any sentimentality, it actually was a good entry into the SJA canon.
Sarah: "I don't want to risk the gates again. Old investigative reporter superstition - never break in the same way twice."
Welcome back Sarah Jane. I'm looking forward to the rest of this series.