Last week in ‘Death Of The Doctor’, a former companion of The Doctor – Jo Grant – came along for the ride, and much fluffy nostalgia was enjoyed by all. The Doctor that both Jo and Sarah Jane shared was the third one (Jon Pertwee) and it was this Doctor that Sarah travelled with. In one of her very first adventures, she wandered around a deserted London trying to avoid an unseen menace, the mystery of which had been spoiled somewhat by spoilers in the press the week before, meaning that the first episode had the unmistakable and unavoidable stench of filler.
Nearly forty years on, and we’re feeling nostalgic, but not exactly for great reasons. In this mid-series story, Gaerth Roberts’ ‘The Empty Planet’ (good title, by the way), Rani and Clyde awake to discover that most of the regular cast are absent, including the titular Sarah Jane herself. Presumably because the camera accidentally catches sight of a couple of rogue pigeons, there’s a couple of lines about only humans – or certain humans – being carried off by a rogue element, which unintentionally leads to a possible future storyline examining the true nature of Mr Smith, Sarah Jane’s super-computer that she keeps locked in the attic, voiced by Alexander Armstrong. (It’s a fair bet that he’s not – as he appears to be – an immediate relative of the mildly racist Sat Nav from The Armstrong And Miller Show.)
Whether it’s intentional or not, it’s nice that Clyde notices the BBC standard house and home look, remarking that a certain teenager’s room is a lot tidier than it should be, and therefore the boy in question must be an alien. Overall, however, this is a series kicking its heels for a couple of episodes, and not always in the most original and exciting of ways, although there are some nice conversations about how much the kids lives have changed since meeting Sarah Jane, and a nicely underplayed suggestion of a possible romance that the characters themselves aren’t really aware of.
In may ways, The Sarah Jane Adventures is review proof – it can’t really be criticised as a full extension of the Doctor Who series aimed at thirty year olds (because it’s not), but it mostly aims to be a bit more challenging than the average kids’ sci-fi aimed at seven year olds (which it is).
As is often the case with stories that spend their entire opening episode holding back from the plot while they pootle along to a cliffhanger, ‘The Empty Earth’ crams all its explaining, understanding, reacting and decision-making into a little over two minutes (but helpfully, there’s a countdown timer just to underline the point). For the intended audience, it’s decent entertainment as ever, with (just as an aside) very decent role models. For all the older Who fans that will be inevitably also watching, it all feels a little, well, empty.
Airs at 5.15pm on Monday 1st November 2010 and Tuesday 2nd November 2010 on CBBC.