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'Sarah Jane' Season Two: The Verdict

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'Sarah Jane' Season Two: The Verdict
The second year of The Sarah Jane Adventures had a huge burden of expectation on its shoulders when it launched back in September. The show's debut season, after a woeful Slitheen two-parter, transcended the notion of being mere 'children's television' and delivered a remarkably consistent run of thrilling, funny and thought-provoking episodes. Sadly, Sarah Jane couldn't match such invention this season and it was very telling that the best moments stemmed from the return of past elements.

Just how many alien or artefact possession plots can the series trot out? 'The Last Sontaran' prominently featured two scientists under control of the spud-faced creature, 'The Day Of The Clown' saw a school march to the tune of Bradley Walsh's Pied Piper, 'Secrets Of The Stars' centred around an astral entity pulling the strings of Russ Abbot's fraud star gazer and, finally, 'The Mark Of The Berserker's premise was set upon a mysterious pendant which both took over the person in possession and gave them the ability to control other people's actions in turn. Can anyone else smell the faint whiff of lazy plotting?

This sequence was at least broken by the return of the mighty Trickster in 'The Temptation Of Sarah Jane Smith' - a villain with such outstanding scope and visual presence that he is worthy of a prominent shot on Doctor Who. The episode featured some breathtaking CGI work (especially when compared to the dreadfully rendered Bane), some nice character development and backstory for the Graske and an emotive premise that allowed Elisabeth Sladen to shine.

Yet once again, a sense of deja-vu gripped proceedings when the story limped towards its resolution after a superb first part. Parent of lead character + fatal road traffic accident = world saved. Erm, Doctor Who 'Father's Day' anyone?

The parental theme, present throughout the year, also dominated the season finale. More past elements were brought back in the shape of Miss Wormwood, Kaagh the Sontaran, the Bane and The Brigadier - but a gripping story was lacking. Instead, the identity of who should be Luke's real mother dominated proceedings.

This allowed some fine verbal sparring between Sladen and the excellent Samantha Bond, but wasn't the sudden appearance of someone claiming to be Luke's real parent(s) the basis of first season finale 'The Lost Boy'? It was also great to see The Brigadier back, but it's a shame he didn't fire off a polite warning shot of 'five rounds rapid' from his walking stick in the general direction of the Sarah Jane writers.

One past element really lacking was the general absence of the Jackson family despite a few fleeting appearances. They were great fun and fitted into the framework of Bannerman Road. By contrast, the Chandra clan failed to make a significant impact and the parents were sorely underused, despite the endless possibilities of Rani's father being the local headmaster. Clyde's mother turned up midway through the season and provided some wonderful humour and cheeky banter with her son. Yet this was the last we saw of her. What a waste.

As Rani, Anjli Mohindra was fine with dialogue, but painfully self-conscious on a physical acting level when compared to the effortless ease with which Daniel Anthony and Tommy Knight portray Clyde and Luke. It was almost as if someone was stood slightly off set operating her with strings. That theory at least fits into the whole 'body possession' procession of the second season.

However, the casting was generally superb throughout the stories and helped to ensure the episodes were always full of powerful confrontations. Anthony O'Donnell, despite being buried under prosthetics, turned in a powerful and surprisingly moving performance as Kaagh, a mentally bruised Sontaran searching for self-worth and redemption. Light entertainers Bradley Walsh and Russ Abbot both had a commanding presence as demented villains, while Gary Beadle gave life and credence to Clyde's selfish father.

In fact, the fractured bond between Clyde and his estranged dad demonstrated how effective Sarah Jane can be when dealing with domestic issues. This was especially true when compared to the leaden chase sequences that often bogged down the show this year.

The above criticisms may seem harsh for what is still a pleasing and well-meaning show. It definitely deserves a timeslot where the whole family can watch it together, rather than on Monday afternoons. Let's pray this is amended for the third season - and that the writers create the fresh plots and dazzling monsters that the show and cast deserve.

> What do you think of Sarah Jane's second season? Share your views

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