The Sarah Jane Adventures series 4 episodes 11 & 12 review: Goodbye, Sarah Jane Smith

The latest series of The Sarah Jane Adventures comes to an end. And Elisabeth Sladen is on absolutely tip-top form...

Goodbye, Sarah Jane Smith

4.11-12 Goodbye, Sarah Jane Smith

And so, with the advent of this final two-parter, series 4 of The Sarah Jane Adventures comes to a rip-roaring conclusion as the Doctor’s favourite journalist/alien investigator is pitted against her ultimate enemy…old age!

Co-written by series stalwart Gareth Roberts and newcomer Clayton Hickman, Goodbye, Sarah Jane Smith brings a lot of threads that have been bubbling under the surface throughout the season to a climax.  From Luke and K-9’s farewell in the first story through to Sarah Jane’s refusal to accept the possible demise of the Doctor in Russell T Davies’ centrepiece adventure, this has been a series all about growing up, growing older and moving on. This story is no exception.

When a meteor falls to Earth, Sarah Jane, Rani and Clyde investigate the crash site, only for their rescue mission to be upstaged by the intervention of one Ruby White. Ruby’s a more kick-ass (and noticeably younger!) version of Sarah Jane, replete with her own house on Bannerman Road, a flash sports car and her own (handheld!) super computer named Mr White.

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Initially hostile to Sarah Jane and her fellow ‘amateur’ alien hunters, relations are thawed after Sarah Jane begins to show signs of poor judgement, and endangers Clyde and Rani during an alien attack. Rather fortuitously it’s Ruby who steps into the breach again and saves the gang from certain death.

With Ruby brought into the inner circle of the Bannerman Road, Sarah Jane becomes increasingly troubled by her own noticeably diminishing mentally agility. Seeking a diagnosis from the ever reliable Mr Smith, Sarah Jane soon discovers that she’s suffering from a form of neurological degeneration.

Worried about her unsuitability to continue investigating alien activity, Sarah Jane hands over all of her equipment (as well as access to Mr Smith) to Ruby, who she also entrusts with looking after Clyde and Rani. However, Ruby isn’t all she appears to be, and Sarah Jane’s symptoms have far more sinister origins than just the ravages of time…

Played with lip smacking glee by Julie Graham, Ruby is revealed to be an alien Katesh, a devourer of excitement and thrills who’s comes to Earth to seek out the most exciting life on the planet (no prizes for guessing who’s that is!) and consume it. However, with Ruby’s plan to replace and devour Sarah Jane revealed, the villainous Katesh’s path to victory is blocked by the return to Ealing of a couple of familiar faces.

While the bulk of this series has revolved around keeping the constituent parts of the extended Smith family apart, this story very much brings the gang back together with both Luke and – via-video link – K-9 returning to the fray for full blooded and important roles to play. The defeat of Ruby White is very much a team effort, but it’s a victory that wouldn’t occur without the roles played by the resident boy genius and the tin dog.

However, despite all the high-energy goings-on this is a story that very much highlights and plays to the strengths of the series’ most potent, and often overlooked, weapon – Elisabeth Sladen.

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Playing a version of Sarah Jane who is at once frail, failing and seemingly afflicted with dementia, her performance in the first part of this story in particular is especially strong. Given some of her strongest material on the show to date, Sladen grabs the opportunity that Hickman and Roberts have given her and runs with it.

It’s the culmination of an increasing relaxation of the Sarah Jane character that seems to have been occurring since the second half of series 3. Now freed from the need to mother the character of Luke, the Sarah Jane of 2010 seems to resemble far more closely the character we grew to love back in stories such as Pyramids of Mars and The Hand of Fear than at any point since her return to the airwaves in 2006. It’s a subtle shift, but a welcome one as the sometimes overly earnest Sarah Jane of series 1 and 2 was – for this writer, at least – starting to wear a bit thin.

However, for my money the real stand out performer in series 4 has been the ever improving Anjli Mohindra, who has noticeably blossomed as an actor with the increased responsibility that a smaller cast has brought. Daniel Anthony and – in a reduced role – Tommy Knight have both turned in decent work too, but it’s Mohindra who’s caught the eye. And – regardless of the future of the series – I’d imagine in simple career terms her stay on Bannerman Road may not last past series 5.

All in all, Goodbye, Sarah Jane Smith brings a mostly excellent fourth series to a fitting close. It hints at further stories to come (anyone willing to start a book on whether Julie Graham’s Katesh returns in series 5?) while also drawing certain strands to a natural conclusion.

Despite a couple of minor stumbles along the way, this has been the most consistently high quality series so far with a very strong set of scripts marshalled by script editor Gary Russell and brought to life expertly by producer Brian Minchin and directors Ashley Way and Joss Agnew. It may be too early to start talking about the episodes to come, but 2011’s fifth series already has a lot to live up to.

Read our review of the episodes 9 & 10, Lost In Time, here.

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