With the third story, SJA goes back to something a bit more kid-friendly, after last week’s disturbing nun story. But like classic Star Trek, this does seem to have an allegory about the negative side to video and war games. The episode features abducted children who all have one thing in common (that the local police can’t figure out): they have all gone to play laser tag at a local gaming facility. Obviously, Sarah Jane will put two and two together and bring back some of the missing children with a healthy, if subtle, commentary on why war games are a bad thing. (I don’t really agree with that, but the point is a fair one!)
For the format, it’s only natural that Sarah Jane will succeed where the police have failed and that’s alright; it’s meant to be a fun kids show in the Doctor Who universe so I can accept the suspension of disbelief. What we end up with is a fun action romp with a bug eyed alien and his empress who sounds suspiciously like Kate Mulgrew from Star Trek: Voyager. There are a number of fun references for the all-around Science fiction fans including Star Trek, Star Wars, and Planet of the Apes, but with the Empress’s nasally voice, I was pretty convinced Mulgrew was behind the abductions! Damn that Janeway!
There are a handful of oddities about this story. First, the main human bad guy, Grantham, works with these aliens for no apparent reason. They never try to give him motive beyond saying he’s a low life. Also, when Sarah Jane and Maria knock Grantham out with a bit of electricity, they high five one another but neither think to remove his weapon. Mr. Smith, the wannabe TARDIS, has a mix-and-match face scanner to identify species and he stays in touch with passing aliens like he has intergalactic pen pals. Finally, Kudlak himself is a bug eyed monster whose eyes seem to move independently of one another! No wonder he has a perspective that’s out of focus! Potential negatives aside, there are a number of things that really stand out. Luke’s “social miscalculations” illustrate the dangers of trying to be funny at the cost of people’s feelings. Bullying is a big part of the episode, as is slang; the latter of which offers some laughs, but ultimately it draws attention to how weird some colloquialisms actually are! “It’s the nuts”, you might say!
There’s also a stand out moment where each of the characters have a chance to look out the window of the ship they are on to see the Earth from on high and it’s an inspired scene. Sarah Jane’s comment that she never thought she’d see the Earth from that perspective again is a simple but wonderful reminder of her past with the Doctor.
The cliffhanger doesn’t bear mention (which I will now mention), as Kudlak announces that he has sent Luke and Clyde “into darkness!” Ooooohh! Darkness. And when they rescue Jen, I couldn’t help thinking that, as much as I didn’t like Kelsey from Invasion of the Bane, having her make a return would have neatly explained her absence after the pilot. While I would not want her back, it would have tied up that loose end nicely. But continuity isn’t a big thing for Doctor Who. It’s still got some life at this stage, with RTD at the helm, but it never had a strong grip in this universe!
The story ends with yet another Trek-like event: Sarah Jane talks the alien empress into self-destructing. Talk about a Kirk Maneuver! (Clyde mentions Kirk by name, so there’s no surprise if the Captain of the Enterprise had an influence on this episode!) And you’ve got to love when the remaining alien ends up being noble and offering to help right the wrongs he has committed. I love a good alien!
We’re still in kid territory, but as a spin-off series goes, they are doing a great job building something special. This story may have fallen slightly from the previous week’s creep-fest, but it still holds up well. Nothing ground breaking by the 3rd story, but we’re on the right track! ML