Did we like it?
An oddly beguiling children’s drama enhanced by strong performances and a rich seam of ideas; although it is a seam that has been mined quite vigorously before by many British science-fiction dramas.
What was good about it?
• Russell T Davies’s trademarks were stamped gloriously over the skeletons of the dramatic set-up. Maria is a disaffected teenager living with her dad who is unhappy at her parents’ estrangement and that she has been moved away from all her old friends to get her into a better school.
• Feeling a little lonely she is curious about the strange woman who lives opposite – Sarah Jane Smith – and is further entranced when she sees Sarah talking to an alien in her garden at night.
• Yasmin Paige as Maria easily managed to pirouette through the swirling emotions of an unhappy teenage girl. From the unexpected joy of meeting a new friend in the rather rude Kelsey to the capricious sense of frustration when Sarah Jane rejects her offers of help, provoking her to trudge to her bedroom lie down and cuddle a toy.
• But it’s also noticeable that she fits the mould Sarah Jane had as the Doctor’s sidekick as she sparkily ignores all of Sarah Jane’s pleas to run to safety instead preferring to face the threat head on.
• Enough clues and mysteries were laid down to keep us on tenterhooks – what was the real purpose of the Bubble Shock drink that was gulped down by 98% of all teenagers? Mrs Wormwood was obviously an alien, but what was her true form? And who or what was that calling Sarah Jane from upstairs?
• Samantha Bond was icily unpleasant as the figurehead of the alien invasion, ordering her minions to kill and maim with a delicious amoral authority. And we also loved the obligatory scary bit when she transformed into her true alien form, a slimy green alien with a face full of tentacles, and devoured her underling Davey after he failed to assassinate Sarah Jane.
• Mrs Wormwood also delivered the best line of the episode when she was confronted by the babbling defiance of the captured Kelsey. “I can’t understand her,” she seethed. “She’s all noise and ignorance.”
• The very impressive special effects that admittedly centred on the Bane aliens and very little else; yet they moved with a sinister slither and would have sent many a child to the sanctuary of behind the sofa.
• Sarah Jane has sonic lipstick instead of a sonic screwdriver, and unlike the Doctor Who Christmas special it was a gimmick that wasn’t overused.
• K9 was out of action as he was busy keeping a black hole created in Switzerland from expanding and swallowing the Earth.
• Bubble Shock contained the essence of the Bane so that when the Bane mother willed it, she took control of the 98% of people who were addicted to the fizzy drink. This precipitated a scene delightfully pilfered from zombie movies in which the roads are teeming with shambling humans capable of only basic thoughts; holding their bottles of Bubble Shock in front of them demanding that anyone who was not an automaton to “drink it” instead of tearing their flesh from their ribs as in a George A Romero gorefest.
What was bad about it?
• While it’s been a few years since we’ve spoken to teenage girls, we can’t imagine they use such phrases as “over-buff”; and if they do then the moment when they were all turned into zombies by the bane mother would have in fact hauled them one step up the evolutionary ladder.
• Although the plot was fairly thrilling and ran along at a brisk pace, it was pretty much a re-write of School Reunion, the recent episode of Doctor Who that featured Sarah Jane. Only this time rather than children being enslaved by the oil on their fatty chips, kids were guzzling Bubble Shock that would turn them all into mindless zombies who were at the beck and call of a nefarious corporate entity that wasn’t called McDonalds.
• And the Bane mother hiding in the ceiling of the factory was similar to the Jagofress in the first series of Doctor Who as it commanded Simon Pegg’s Editor to sap the will of humanity. While the all-seeing, all-doing computer in Sarah Jane’s attic, Mr Smith, resembled Orac and Zen from Blake’s 7, and the ‘image translators’ the Bane employed to keep a human form were akin to those the Slitheen used.
• The only really clunky line of dialogue came when everything was happy and joyful after the Bane had been vanquished. Luke – who had been ‘grown’ by the Bane to store the personalities of the 10,000 visitors to their factory, and who therefore had little experience of being alive – was provoked by the smiles of Sarah Jane and Maria to say, “This is happiness, yes?” as though an emotionally-ignorant alien taught the benevolent ways of mankind by Captain Kirk.