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Rani Takes on the World: Beyond Bannerman Road audio review

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Rani and Clyde, two of the young leads from The Sarah Jane Adventures (SJA), return to continue their mentor’s good work in Beyond Bannerman Road

It’s been more than a decade since The Sarah Jane Adventures concluded. The Doctor Who spin-off, aimed at younger end of the show’s demographic, was built around Elisabeth Sladen who played the incredibly popular companion to two Doctors in the 1970s. Then, in 2006, a guest spot opposite David Tennant left everyone wanting more.

So, with a band of teenage accomplices, Sarah Jane Smith returned to protect the Earth from an attic in Ealing. With an alien supercomputer, a sonic lipstick and a bunch of engaging stories, she proved on a weekly basis that “Life on Earth can be an adventure too.” Sadly, Elisabeth Sladen’s untimely passing curtailed those adventures its fifth season, leaving an irreplaceable hole in the hearts of her fans, young and old.

Now the threads of the SJA continue in a new audio drama series. Fashioned around Sarah Jane’s protégé Rani Chandra (Anjli Mohindra), it brings her up to date; Rani is now a successful investigative journalist. She’s not the only returnee either — Daniel Anthony reprises the likeable Clyde Langer, while Mina Anwar pops up as Rani’s irrepressible mother Gita.

Rani Takes on the World: Beyond Bannerman Road cover art

Here Today

Writer Joseph Lidster, who wrote for the SJA on screen, reintroduces us to Rani’s world. She’s launched an investigative podcast, but struggles with the domestic – sleeping on the sofa of her bar owning friend and editor Samira (Raghad Chaar). Although the pair have drifted apart a little, Rani is still in contact with Clyde. He’s now a successful comic artist and arrives with pregnant girlfriend Phoenix (Tiegan Byrne) in tow. As Phoenix and Samira bond over what they’ve heard about Bannerman Road, Rani and Clyde grapple with the puzzling threat of a flying saucer.

As the drama plays out, it’s clear the pair both have unresolved issues. Rani is trepidatious about returning to Ealing and the house that Sarah Jane left her, concerned she won’t live up to Sarah’s high standards. Clyde, on the other hand, worries that he’ll repeat the mistakes of his own absent father.

High energy and character focussed, this is charming reintroduction to the world of Rani and Clyde. The alien threat, while relatively straightforward, is heartfelt with a great guest performance from Yvonne D’Alpra as Patricia Miller.

Destination: Wedding

Flexing the series’ comedy chops, writer James Goss pairs Rani with Gita for a trip to private island. The occasion is the wedding of an old school friend, Tiffany, who’s apparently marrying a Hollywood star.

Mixing with the A-listers, there’s plenty of opportunity for Mina Anwar to shine. The namechecks come thick and fast, from the Backstreet Boys to Oprah Winfrey to George Clooney – all conveniently off to the side, of course. However, it’s not just the glitterati – as Tiffany appears to have invited a whole host of minor acquaintances. People she doesn’t even seem to like, or who know her particularly well. And then there’s the funny tasting prawns and the mouldy sandwiches…

This is a fun tale, with the device of Rani recording voice notes to Clyde to narrate some of the action. James Goss is no stranger to companion’s mothers either – he’s written brilliantly for Jackie Tyler – and he does Gita proud here.

The Witching Tree

Finally, writer Lizzie Hopley brings horror vibes as Rani finds an investigation she can’t walk away from. Literally. The tale surrounds a supposedly haunted restaurant which has an unusual tree growing through its centre.

After her initial visit, Rani discovers she’s lost days and is intoning seemingly nonsensical numbers too. Again, it’s a story with a simple idea it its core, but cleverly told with wider implications as it shifts into boxset finale mode.

Although the organisation remains unnamed, the story brings in audio Torchwood’s Tyler Steel (Jonny Green). It’s a nice touch which helps to tie us into the wider Doctor Who universe further. There’s also a link to the Blue Box Files podcast of Doctor Who: Redacted in which Rani made an appearance too.

In Summary

Carving out a unique identity for a new spin-off is no mean feat, but Rani Takes on the World has an even tougher challenge spinning out of a spin-off. In this case, the two returning characters have grown up, but the tone remains faithful to their teenage exploits. The chemistry between Anjli Mohindra and Daniel Anthony survives the transition intact too, and we’re keen to hear more from the pair.

This boxset feels like a series mission statement, demonstrating its potential: the first story offers a traditional SJA tale, then there’s a comic adventure followed by a creepy podcast investigation gone awry. Throughout, Rani is backed by some entertaining supporting characters – we particularly enjoyed Raghad Chaar’s Samira. With her refugee backstory, there’s clearly plenty more to learn about her.

Rani Takes on the World feels youthful and full of energy, with an engaging supporting cast. Hats off to producer Emily Cook, director Helen Goldwyn and their team for bring us something fresh; it both brims with possibilities and remains a worthy successor to the show it grew from.

Four Stars

Rani Takes on the World: Beyond Bannerman Road is out now on Collector’s Edition CD (+ download) and digital download from Big Finish.

Rani Takes on the World: The Revenge of Wormwood

Volume 2 of the series follows in December 2023.

As well as seeing Samantha Bond reprise her villainous role, it also promises the return of Tommy Knight as Luke Smith too.