This review contains spoilers.
“Boy, does this feel familiar…”
Clyde’s observation in the opening stages of the episode is an astute one, as there’s a definite whiff of deja vu about this installment. Harkening back to the series’ pilot, Invasion Of The Bane, Sarah Jane and her two young friends are faced with protecting a now-adolescent Sky, who has been created by the alien Miss Myers to act as a weapon in the war she’s waging.
The similarity seems to be intentional, as it’s lampshaded on several occasions – Sky even gets to wear Luke’s clothes – and it comes across as a fond callback to the show’s beginnings rather than lazy writing.
In most respects, it’s a vast improvement on that pilot episode. The regulars are a lot more confident (and regular), with Elisabeth Sladen in particular putting in a great performance as she tries to protect the child. And a quick look at the pilot will show you just how far this series has come in terms of tone and direction. It’s not without its flaws, of course: Christine Stephen-Daly falls short of the script’s requirements with her ‘Footballers’ Servalan’ caricature, and it’s hard to feel any sympathy for her plight.
And then there’s Sky… I’ve never been a huge fan of child actors – there’s still a Jake Lloyd dartboard somewhere in the garage – and so my reaction to Sky joining the team is hardly one of uncontrolled joy. New girl Sinead Michael does a fair enough job with what’s written, but it feels quite jarring to suddenly have a ‘cutesy’ child among the now-adult regulars, like the show is trying to return to an earlier point in its development.
That, of course, is almost certainly the point. Had this been planned as the final series of The Sarah Jane Adventures, I have little doubt that we wouldn’t have seen Sky join the team. But with neither Daniel Anthony nor Anjli Mohindra not getting any younger, and with Tommy Knight already having left the show to all intents and purposes, getting in some new blood was an inevitable step in the show’s continued survival. I just wish she was a little less annoying.
There’s likely to be some debate about the idea that the new girl has superpowers. And whilst it does feel a little bit Alex Mack to me, the writers managed to handle Luke’s superior intellect in such a way that it didn’t overpower the stories, or serve as a convenient solution on too many occasions. And I have enough faith in the production team to continue that tradition here.
I complained in my review of Part 1 that Anjli Mohindra didn’t get a lot to do. Thankfully, the addition of Sky to the team gives the character added purpose, as she fits quite nicely into the ‘big sister’ role, wasting no time in breaking out the fashion tips and biology facts for her new protege.
Having spent several years mentoring Luke, Clyde is upgraded to the ‘cool uncle’ role, having made an impression on Sky with his jokes in the previous episode (even if she doesn’t quite understand them). It’s a nice bit of character development for Rani in particular, who at times during the last series was looking like being overpowered by her two co-stars. It’s reassuring to see her brought back into the thick of it.
As well as new roles, this episode goes to some new places, tonally. When Sarah Jane and the gang return to the power plant to face off against Miss Myers, she reveals her plan to lure the Metalkind to Earth and force Sky to commit genocide, killing herself in the process. And Sky, though reluctant, realises her place as a weapon and is about to go through with it, in spite of Sarah Jane’s protestations. It’s only thanks to Rani and Clyde that she doesn’t have to.
Having a weapon in the shape of a child and asking that child to commit suicide/genocide is a dark notion indeed, and kudos to the writers for dangling that carrot in front of us. Given that, it’s perhaps understandable that the gang do nothing to stop Miss Myers being taken off (presumably) to die. It’s not quite The Family Of Blood, but it’s among the darker ideas presented by the series.
Speaking of having carrots dangled in front of us, it was a pleasant surprise to see the Shopkeeper (and the Captain) again at the episode’s close, but also a slightly frustrating one. They were two of the more interesting characters from series four, and it’s great to see them back. But what more do they know? And who are they? I suspect these questions will, sadly, go unanswered.
All things considered, Sky is a solid start to the final series of The Sarah Jane Adventures, The acting is top-notch, the writing sharp, and the effects and design absolutely gorgeous in places. This is a show that’s firing on all cylinders, and that isn’t afraid to try new things. If the remaining stories are up to this standard, then we’re in for a great couple of weeks.
Read our review of part 1, here.