The Sarah Jane Adventures series 4 episodes 9 & 10 review: Lost In Time

After the somewhat disappointing The Empty Planet, the fourth season of The Sarah Jane Adventures kicks back into high gear with Rupert Laight’s Lost In Time...

2.9-10 Lost In Time

Unusually for the venerable Doctor Who spin-off, this adventure finds our core cast of characters drawn to a mysterious antique shop by the mysterious Shopkeeper (Cyril Nri) and his enigmatically named parrot, Captain.

In a storyline reminiscent of the late 70s Doctor Who extravaganza, The Key To Time, the Shopkeeper claims that lost in three separate time zones are three different artefacts, all made from the same time-sensitive metal, that could alter the course of history and destroy the Earth. To combat this, he sends Rani, Clyde and Sarah Jane back in time to 1553, 1941 and 1889, respectively, so that they can retrieve the artefacts and save the planet.

Wannabe reporter Rani finds herself in a situation where she’s mistaken as the new lady in waiting for the newly crowned Queen of England, Lady Jane Grey. But this isn’t just any day in the life of the royal court. No, this is, in fact, the day that Queen Jane is to be deposed as monarch by her cousin, (Bloody) Mary, and latterly executed as a traitor.

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While Rani is up to her neck in Tudor politicking, Sarah Jane is stuck in a seemingly haunted house with a young paranormal investigator named Emily Morris. Although the voices and seeming haunting of the building is somewhat reminiscent of Phil Ford’s The Eternity Trap from Series 3, this story adds its own unique quirk to proceedings by making the voices that are ‘haunting’ the house not voices from a distant past, but rather from the future.

Last, but by no means least, we have Clyde marooned back on the British coast circa 1941. Paired up with young evacuee George, Clyde and his new companion are soon the only line of defence against a secret Nazi incursion onto British soil that finds Hitler’s forces about to unleash their ‘ultimate weapon’, an anti-radar device, which is seemingly powered by the same time-element that the Shopkeeper warned them about.

So far, so exciting…

Coming directly after the seemingly tired and predictable The Empty Planet, Laight’s script is a subtle, surprising and ambitious story, which is expertly and sensitively directed by series regular Joss Agnew, who manages to create believable Tudor, Victorian and WW2 settings on a CBBC budget

In terms of the narrative, the splitting of the story into multiple time zones is a highly effective device, which gives the episode a natural momentum and pace, but which also shows an ambition and maturity in Laight’s writing that wouldn’t be out of place in the parent show. The way he deftly weaves plot strands in this episode is slightly reminiscent of Steven Moffat’s work, but also (thanks, mainly, to one rather fantastic mobile fan gag), has more than a slight hint of the anarchy that typifies some of Russell T Davies’ best writing.

So far, Joseph Lidster has been the most impressive new writer to emerge via SJA, but on this evidence, Laight is already nipping at Lidster’s heels and, if anything, I would have to say that the way Laight writes the emotional lives of the characters is far more effective.

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While Lidster writes with an admirable sense of earnestness and conviction, sometimes those virtues can spill over into mawkishness. To be fair to Lidster, that wasn’t the case with his rather sublime The Nightmare Man script earlier this season, but it’s an accusation that can definitely be levelled at his scripts for both Series 2 and 3.

In comparison, Laight, in both this and Series 3’s The Gift, manages quite expertly to balance the emotional storylines against the action/plot elements. The strand featuring Rani and Lady Jane Grey is especially affecting, as it’s tempered with the knowledge that the teenage monarch’s fate is both tragic and unalterable. In its own modest way, this segment of the story is reminiscent of Richard Curtis’ sublime Vincent And The Doctor, and again shows how effectively the production team have managed to tonally sync up the spin-off with its regenerated parent show.

If Rani’s is the most affecting section of the story, then Clyde’s battle with the distinctly Raiders Of The Lost Ark-style Nazis has to be the most entertaining. There’s a real pace and brio to this section, with some good gags on offer, a neat little hint at the Nazi’s racial politics (quite daring for a CBBC show, but good to see!) and finds Clyde defiantly evoking his British heritage in the face of Hitler’s troops.

Slightly less successful than intended (and, for my money, the one weak spot in the episode) is the 1889 section with Sarah Jane and young ghost hunter Emily. There’s some nice elements in this strand and Lis Sladen once again gives a strong performance as Sarah Jane, but the emotional ‘beat’ of Emily being unable to accept the loss of a loved one is a bit ‘been there, seen it, done it’ for the show and feels like something of a missed opportunity.

However, despite these few nitpicks, the ultimate pay-off to this strand, and the episode as a whole, is a neat little twist that brings past and present together effectively and manages to be both narratively and emotionally satisfying.

Lost In Time is ultimately yet another terrific story in this already very strong season that can legitimately lay claim to being one of the best stories produced in SJA’s history. Coming after The Nightmare Man and Death Of The Doctor that’s no mean feat. Here’s hoping next week’s finale maintains the generally excellent standard that this season has managed to achieve.

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Read our review of the episodes 7 & 8, The Empty Planet, here.

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