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'Sarah Jane's Third Season: The Verdict

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'Sarah Jane's Third Season: The Verdict
Still marooned in a frustratingly early midweek timeslot that deprives it of the family audience it deserves, The Sarah Jane Adventures aquitted itself admirably in its third season. Still prone to occasional lapses into frivolous panto territory, the show yet again displayed its ability to transcend the trappings of supposed 'kids' telly' to provide several poignant and tense stories.

The delights of Bannerman Road were nicely introduced each episode by the increasingly amusing Clyde, with the season throwing up a range of returning monsters and new creations. At times the stories tended to rely on largely unoriginal premises, but fortunately the writing and direction provided enough spark to keep everything fresh. The third season was also boosted by the consistent acting from the leads, with Anjli Mohindra displaying a vast improvement from her shaky first year as Rani, which came from the Joey Tribbiani 'smell the fart' school of acting.

The opening adventure 'Prisoner Of The Judoon' didn’t bode well for the season. A stale race against time that contained plenty of great culture clash gags revolving around the Judoon, but ultimately petered out into a tension-free climax. It also bore a ghastly turn by Elisabeth Sladen, so wonderful as the caring journalist, but utterly unconvincing portraying the Veil-possessed 'evil' Sarah Jane.

'The Mad Woman In The Attic' quickly pulled the series back on track with its touching and contemplative meditation on mortality and loneliness. The tale of poor, ostracised Eve, who just wanted to play and have fun, certainly struck a chord at a time when the world was examining the sorrowful life of the recently deceased Michael Jackson and his yearnings for a functional childhood and desire to 'belong'.

The rather morose visual texture of this two-parter also benefited the story, which showcased how wonderfully serious issues can be conveyed to a young audience in a non-patronising manner. The depiction of Rani in the future, before her timeline was altered for the better, was also poignant.

Then came the much-heralded arrival of a certain wedding-crasher called The Doctor, who failed to bag any bridesmaids but definitely made a dazzling impression on Sarah Jane's young friends. Quite rightly, he didn't turn up to solve everything himself with one flash of the sonic screwdriver, instead giving Clyde the confidence to play the hero himself. Furthermore, Nigel Havers's suave caddishness was well used as Sarah Jane's wannabe hubby - before the painful truth of his existence was revealed. In a memorably emotional scene, he opted to return to his former deceased state to thwart the creepy Trickster rather than pursue his own romantic yearnings. Bless 'im.

'The Eternity Trap' gave us a neat twist on the old 'haunted house' scenario, with paranormal activity masking the very devious machinations of Erasmus Darkening. A variety of sinister imagery, skewed camera angles and jarring POV shots all combined to create an unsettling effect and keep us on our toes as the characters explored a mansion full of secret passages and dark secrets. It did much to evoke the wonderful '80s children's series Moondial, with the added bonus of Clyde being on hand to provide comic relief.

The only dampener was Donald Sumpter's occasional tendency to fall into the painful over-enunciation of the stereotypical panto villain. His calling out to "Sarah Jane Smeeeeeeeeeeeth" was terrifying indeed - for the wrong reasons. Could Erasmus be the new Soldeed?

Evoking both Dorian Gray and Ghostbusters II, 'The Revenge Of Mona Lisa' thankfully stayed on the right side of silly courtesy of Suranne Jones and Jeff Rawle’s brilliant turns as the painting come to life and the over-zealous art gallery curator. A fine double act, they handled the bonkers (in a good way!) material with the right degree of playfulness - but without ever sending it up.

Watching Mona Lisa parading around, equipped with a Northern accent and plenty of colloquialisms, was a surreal sight to behold. The plot exposition did have a tendency to drift into techno-babble at times, much like the previous story, but the structure worked well and contained a clever climax that brought to life Clyde's sketch of the much-underused K-9. On a side note, it’s a shame that the 'metal mutt's banter with Mr Smith wasn’t more prominent throughout the series.

The season finale allowed more mileage out of those Slitheen costumes, with the seemingly benevolent Blathereen family showing that Raxacoricofallapitorius has spawned some very dodgy families. Just imagine how mad their planet's equivalent of The Jeremy Kyle Show must be? 'The Gift' also gave Tommy Knight a chance to demonstrate that puppy-eyed look he's been perfecting in recent times as Luke took a turn for the worse after becoming infected by the Blathereen's killer Rakweed plant - itself a nice spin on the old Trojan horse tale.

The season finale fittingly ramped up the stakes to a global scale, with the dynamic nature of the plot driven in the final part by the eerie POV shots of the Rakweed seeds swarming through the air. A gloriously messy ending, in which the Blathereens exploded after numerous farts (which Rani fortunately didn't try to sniff), rounded the season off in style. Let's hope another is on the way soon, and shown in the Sunday teatime slot it deserves.

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