The Last Dance of Sarah Jane Smith, Part 1

Sky's the limit

"Well, none of us can help the way we come into this universe, but — we all have a say in what we become." — Sarah Jane Smith

The Sarah Jane Adventures returned for its truncated fifth and final series last week, a bitter-sweet consolation to those of us still mourning the passing of Elisabeth Sladen. Alas, there will be no regeneration for Sarah Jane Smith.

Given that the program is produced by the man whose keyboard was responsible for last year's worst instalment, The Death of the Doctor (not to mention this summer's Torchwood disaster), I have looked forward to this posthumous trilogy with a nervous anticipation. Would Russell T Davies' worst instincts kick in to "honour" the passing of his star?

So far? So good.

Sky is a superficially simple adventure containing at its centre a difficult moral dilemma in the person of an alien who is also the ultimate child-soldier.

The titular Sky is a biological weapon, created as a doomsday device by a race of humanoids, "Fleshkind", at war with the people of their twin planet, creatures whose biology is based on a metalic element rather than carbon. Sky was built (or grown) to destroy all "Metalkind", but she was abducted and left on Sarah Jane's doorstop by persons unknown.

Typical for this most unpretentious of programs, the chase is on in no time at all. The baby's "mother" takes over a nuclear power station even as a Metalkind soldier is close at her very high heels.

No ordinary teenage boy: Clyde Langer reveals another layer.
Something is happening, but you don't know what it is ...

Besides the idea of the child as a weapon, Sky also mirrors the program's very first episode, in which Sarah Jane adopted Luke, the super-genius constructed by the Bane. Rani explicitly notes that she is now trying to do for the girl the mentoring that Clyde struggled for so long to provide for Luke.

I suspect Sky was meant to become a long-term member of the cast, perhaps to eventually replace the next ageing youngster to leave the show. It's moot now, of course, since the program itself is coming to a close.

As befits a kid's program, Sky's adventure is low-key, in which running away consists of the bulk of the action. The plot is introduced quickly and developed in a linear, workman-like fashion.

The moral subtext is something else though, and inseparable from Sky's very nature. A weapon she may be, but she is also a child, one with an essentially humane consciousness at the base of her inchoate personality.

Exposed briefly to the positive and loving influences of both Sarah Jane and Clyde, the story's thematic climax comes as Sky struggles with her wish to obey Sarah Jane's moral teachings on the one hand, and her concurrent desire to protect Sarah Jane's physical person on the other.

Quite rightly, Sky fails the test and is rescued only when Rani and Clyde's last-minute background heroics which, not at all incidentally also serve to deactivate Sky as a weapon, removing the bomb but leaving the little (alien) girl.

All of which is pretty heady stuff for children's television. Not because it addresses moral questions, but because it offers no easy answers, implicitly acknowledging that Sky's was such that one could plausibly argue there was no "right" choice to be made.

Besides the action and the moral tension, the episodes of offer plenty of the gentle humour and character development at which the program has so often excelled.

While Clyde's first-episode baby-sitting sequence was probably too long as written, Daniel Anthony sold it with aplomb, somehow being really funny even as he portrayed a teenage boy whose adolescent material is, frankly, pretty hokey if one is being generous.

Meanwhile, across the road, Haresh and Gita bicker like the old and loving married couple they are, obliviously grounding the outrageous fantasy of life on Bannerman Road firmly in the here-and-now.

I guess it's no surprise that Phil Ford, from whose keyboard has come fully one third of the series' stories, has provided a representative adventure as the fifth series' opener. While not a classic, Sky is a happy addition to The Sarah Jane Adventures, a solid story that will keep young fans and old entertained for years to come.

Next up: The Curse of Clyde Langer. Sign up below to stay up-to-date with Edifice Rex!


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