This review contains spoilers.
5.4 The Curse Of Clyde Langer Part 2
I am filled with dread whenever I hear that a ‘children’s’ TV series is going to tackle a serious issue. After all, who can forget Jessie Spano from Saved By The Bell’s caffeine-fuelled rendition of “I’m So Excited”? Certainly not Elizabeth Berkeley. Or the episode of Saved By The Bell where the gang are offered marijuana? Or the one where they went drink-driving and crashed Lisa’s mother’s car?
I suppose what I’m trying to say is, I’ve watched a lot of Saved By The Bell.
The Sarah Jane Adventures has largely stayed away from real-life issues until now. Child abduction was touched on in series one, and divorce was covered in another Clyde-centric episode in series two, but there’s always been a big alien threat to bury the issue as much as possible. Surprisingly, this episode discards any pretence or euphemism and tackles the problem of homelessness head-on, with Clyde being plunged into a world which, as Sarah Jane puts it, is more alien than any other they’ve come across.
What is less surprising is that the subject is handled incredibly well, for the most part. Clyde is befriended by ‘Ellie’, a homeless teenager played by Skins actress Lily Loveless, who acts as his guide to this lonely new existence.
Ellie may be the most attractive, clean, well-groomed homeless person ever – clearly her glossy blonde hair and perfect teeth were protected by her contract – but she’s also a sympathetic, likeable character, who does a great job of showing Clyde (and, by extension, the children watching) that the homeless are fully-rounded individuals too, rather than the stereotypes that are wheeled out all too often.
And of course, Ellie acts as an episodic love interest for Clyde. In normal circumstances I’d be sceptical of such a bond forming over the space of a couple of days, but there’s a great chemistry between Lily Loveless and Daniel Anthony, and it makes for an interesting reversal of the Luke/Clyde dynamic of earlier series, with Ellie the experienced, streetwise one and Clyde the nervous, naive one.
As for Daniel Anthony, his performance in this episode is nothing short of outstanding. An episode like this wouldn’t work without a strong performance at its core, and Anthony delivers in buckets. This was easily his finest hour, and I predict we’re going to see a lot more of him in the future.
I talked at length in my review of part one about how Clyde is the heart of Sarah Jane’s gang, and we get to see them suffering without him here. I’ve also written about the writers’ apparent contempt/apathy towards Rani before, and in this episode she even goes so far as to tell her father that she’s not herself anymore with Clyde gone.
And that’s the crux of it: aside from a sketchy “wants to be a journalist” outline, Rani’s never been defined very well outside of her relationship with the other characters on the show. It’s a shame, and not something we’re ever likely to have rectified in the one story we have left.
New girl Sky gets more to do in this episode, being the one person unaffected by the curse, thanks to her parentage. She has dropped the over-enthusiasm which made her so eye-scratchingly hard to watch in the series’ opener, and is perfectly adequate here, but I find it hard to care about her as a character. The ‘Next Time’ preview suggests she’ll get a bit more focus next week, so perhaps my opinion of her will change then.
Eventually the gang are reunited, but rather than being a joyous moment, it’s a heart-breaking one, as Clyde is forced to choose between his new love and saving the world. I’m sure I can’t have been the only one hoping that Clyde would find her again at the end and somehow ‘take her away from all this’… But of course, that would’ve been at odds with the message and the realism of the story.
The fact that Clyde never finds her, and his realisation that he didn’t even know her name, make for some of the most moving scenes The Sarah Jane Adventures has ever attempted. The writers are to be applauded for not taking the easy way out, and also for the repeated references to the ‘night dragon’, which we were led to believe might be related to the monster of the day, but was in fact something far more real and poignant.
As with the previous episode, the alien plot was almost inconsequential here. The way in which the totem (looking now like something straight out of 80s CITV series Knightmare) was defeated probably doesn’t bear up to much scrutiny, though it was nice to see the attic coming under direct attack. But as with the recent Doctor Who episode Closing Time, anyone complaining about the ease with which the menace was dispatched has missed the point of the story entirely.
This has to be one of my all-time favourite episodes of The Sarah Jane Adventures, up there with the Trickster stories and last year’s Death Of The Doctor. It’s not the sort of episode that they could have done every week, but the fact they completed filming on this one is a very welcome one indeed.
Read our review of the last episode, here.Read Pete’s (sometimes) daily ramblings at www.typeforty.co.uk, or catch him in action on the Pete and Barry: A Couple of Nerds podcast, available from iTunes or at www.peteandbarry.co.uk.