Outside the Government: Prisoner of the Judoon
It’s October 15th, 2009. Chipmunk are at number one with “Oopsy Daisy,” with Shakira, the Black Eyed Peas, and two separate Jay-Z tracks also charting. In news, since July, Ireland approved the Lisbon Treaty on the second attempt, the 2016 Olympics were given to Rio di Janeiro, and North Korea freed two American journalists following intervention by former President Bill Clinton. While more around the time of this story, Tim Berners-Lee publicly apologizes for excessive backslashes in urls, a Ugandan MP proposes making certain instances of homosexual activity capital offenses, and Stephen Gately, one of the lead singers of Boyzone, died in Spain. Also, Edgar Allen Poe’s funeral is held.
On television, meanwhile, The Sarah Jane Adventures is back. It is interesting to compare the positions of Torchwood and The Sarah Jane Adventures going into their third seasons. Torchwood was a show in visible need of some sort of revamping or, at the very least, of Davies actually being heavily involved in the season instead of largely sitting on the sidelines. The Sarah Jane Adventures, on the other hand, was rapidly perfecting a sort of business-as-usual approach that served it well. So where the mantra of Children of Earth amounted to “everything really does change for once,” the mantra of The Sarah Jane Adventures in its third season amounted to “let’s do it again.”
Prisoner of the Judoon exemplifies that, ticking all the boxes of what one would expect a season premiere of The Sarah Jane Adventures to be while still managing to be its own thing. You’ve got the return of a Doctor Who monster, a story built so that everybody gets at least one moment to shine, and a nice high-concept premise to hold it all together. The latter, of course, is that Sarah Jane’s found herself possessed for the first time since The Hand of Fear. Lis Sladen, unsurprisingly, plays it with gleeful relish – Sarah Jane as possessed by the Androvax is all lascivious growl and menace.
It’s an interestingly calibrated performance – it would have been easy to make the big “Sarah Jane is possessed” story an opportunity to be scary. The last time Sarah Jane was absent from the story was Mark of the Berserker, which used her absence to make the story scarier. Without Sarah Jane to keep things in line, Clyde’s father became an extremely threatening figure capable of doing much more damage than any villain possibly could when Sarah Jane is around. This time, however, Sarah Jane’s absence is, if not comedic, at least a source of fun – an opportunity for Lis Sladen to let her hair down and act out instead of being the buttoned-up, straight-laced figure. The story is a big party in the same way that New Earth was for Billie Piper.
Meanwhile, the rest of the cast gets to shine as well. Luke gets to capably act as a surrogate Sarah Jane and stop the aliens, Rani gets some lovely comedy bits with her parents, and Clyde gets to be practical and a leader figure. All of these have their varying significances. Luke is consciously moved away from being the awkward social outsider – there’s one scene early on of Clyde ribbing him for being bad at jokes, but he’s been allowed to grow into a more mature and confident character. Part of this is just the good sense of dealing with the realities of young actors: Tommy Knight has visibly matured and simply doesn’t look or feel as young. And given this, it’s the sensible way to make the character more mature. Luke has gone from being “the genius” to a character who can save the world through knowledge of alien computers and who can talk down Mr. Smith when need be.
Rani’s evolution is in many ways subtler. Certainly Anjli Mohindra feels more relaxed in the role, and her rapport with Daniel Anthony is a real boon. Her relationship with her family is also interesting. It’s notable that we basically haven’t seen Haresh at his job as headmaster of the school since Day of the Clown, and instead Haresh and Gita have become slightly bumbling, comedy adults, their own plot driven, in this case, by Gita cheerily abandoning any sense of reason and simply behaving like a lunatic, with Haresh gamely tagging along. This dynamic works, but has an odd effect, leaving Rani’s role to mainly be the figure that connects part of the supporting cast to the main cast. Equally, however, the next story is consciously Rani-focused, and so this is perhaps not a major issue for this time.
It is Clyde who goes through the most interesting transformation, however. The iTunes versions of these episodes all have a (somewhat annoyingly repetitive) opening tag that enthusiastically explains the premise of the show to a clip montage from the season. What jumps out is not that these exist, but rather that the narrator is Clyde, positioning him as, in many ways, the main character of the series and as the character who, rather unexpectedly, took over the role vacated by Maria when she left at the start of Season Two, namely that of the window in on proceedings.
This is in most regards useful for the show. From the start, the idea of the “point of view” character in The Sarah Jane Adventures was odd. The title character was originally the supposed “point of view” character in Doctor Who, albeit from a point in the series where Doctor Who was a familiar enough format to not quite need one (and indeed, the concept was effectively abandoned for four years after her departure). Furthermore, the series is a spin-off of Doctor Who, which means an audience who is already familiar with some key underlying premises. And so Maria was a point of view character only inasmuch as she introduced the supporting cast to the audience by meeting them. With that role now firmly surplus to requirements, we find ourselves instead needing Clyde as the primary character.
But Clyde isn’t there to introduce us to the world. He’s there to love it more than any other character. Clyde is, ultimately, the most aspirational character. He’s there for the same reasons Rose Tyler is – as the character who, through meeting aliens and seeing the wonders of the world, transcends his under-privileged background. Clyde is the main character because he, more than anyone else, works with Sarah Jane out of love. And so he becomes the one who is most like Sarah Jane – more even than Rani, who merely echoes Sarah Jane’s superficial origin story of being a reporter. Clyde, on the other hand, is the one who most straightforwardly acts like a companion in waiting. (And, sure enough, see the two occasions on which Clyde interacts with the Doctor. But more on that later.)
Everyone, in other words, is carefully and deliberately well-served by the script here, and the result is an episode that fairly definitively states “this is what The Sarah Jane Adventures is as a show,” which is exactly what you want in a season premiere. Save, obviously, for the tiny detail of Sarah Jane’s absence, but even she gets to shine repeatedly in the show’s opening sections, and there are just enough bits of Sarah Jane in the second episode to reiterate what role she plays.
The rest of the time, then, Prisoner of the Judoon is a well-oiled machine. Of particular note is the handling of the Judoon themselves, or, for most of the story, itself. Not for the first time, The Sarah Jane Adventures puts effort into individualizing “monster” races. So instead of, as we got in Smith and Jones, a horde of basically identical rhinoceros aliens, we get Captain Tybo, a single rhinoceros alien who even gets a small character arc as he goes from being aggressively heartless and prone to angrily enforcing petty rules to ultimately letting Clyde and Rani off the hook at the end of the story. The result is mainly a series of fairly good gags – Captain Tybo angrily enforcing a variety of extremely minor laws is reliably funny. The speed limit is particularly delightful, culminating as it does with the spectacle of a rhinoceros in a police car asserting that he is on an undercover mission.
The result is also a rather charming message – one that suggests that rules are subject to common sense and worth disobeying sometimes. Which is a nice, softly anarchic message that ties in very well with what Doctor Who is supposed to be. As with most of The Sarah Jane Adventures it’s understated, but it’s clearly there. This is children’s television that exists to tell us that cops aren’t always on our side and rules are, if not made to be broken, at least probably worth breaking. Not for the first time, there’s a real sense that The Sarah Jane Adventures is the show where everyone is putting the most effort into making sure that what they do is for the social good and making the world a better place. Torchwood did indeed reinvent itself in 2009 to become absolutely brilliant. The Sarah Jane Adventures just started that way.
February 19, 2014 @ 12:10 am
The opening tag is not just on the iTunes version. It's also at the start of every episode on the DVDs and (I believe) on their original transmission.
For what it's worth, I really like it. I find it a much more appropriate sequence to open The Sarah Jane Adventures than the "flying letter vortex". And the moment where Clyde stares right down the barrel of the camera and says "Always" never fails to crack me up.
February 19, 2014 @ 3:38 am
I don't see how Children of Earth can be described as Torchwood reinventing itself to become absolutely brilliant. It's obviously a really strong story, and I wouldn't quibble with calling it "absolutely brilliant."
But it's not in any way a successful reinvention of Torchwood. It's completely unsustainable; a dead-end. At the end of Children of Earth, we have two Torchwood characters actually still alive (plus Rhys). Torchwood itself is blown up, and apparently will not be rebuilt. There's nowhere to go, no show left to have been reinvented. When Torchwood re-emerges, it's this weird hybrid American thing with a far too long season order and lots of Bill Pullman hamming it up in horribly unconvincing ways. After that it dies, probably permanently.
Children of Earth was maybe a brilliant apotheosis, a blowing up of the show and its entire premise that gave us a very great four hours of television. It's not a successful reinvention of Torchwood.
February 19, 2014 @ 4:08 am
Yup, they started using it as a standard intro. It's really grating, in my opinion, because even newcomers can find out the set-up in pretty much any episode without this tagged on (Mr Smith's a big computer, Sarah has a gang, and they fight aliens).
February 19, 2014 @ 4:09 am
Ignoring the MD abomination, I'd call Children of Earth a successful finale. I think it should've been Torchwood's finale full stop.
February 19, 2014 @ 4:50 am
Just random thoughts – Androvax's spaceship is remarkably luxe. I should like a craft like that!
Also, the bit where Tybo remonstrates with his subordinates to break the posted "no entry" sign and let him out is absolutely hilarious.
February 19, 2014 @ 4:58 am
Due to workload and things, I've had to sit out the Children of Earth discussion, but my roomate and I have been watching it this week (capping our two month & a bit Torchwood marathon). He's never seen any of it before, and I hadn't seen it since it was on. And good lord, is it good. It handily dispenses of all the troublesome cheese while keeping the cheeky humor intact, but feels vital, dangerous, humane and exciting. It's some of the best television that's ever come out of the Doctor Who franchise. And it absolutely should have been the end of Torchwood.
As far as it being a "reinvention" goes, it really works because it keeps the basics of the premise, but puts them into a new format (paranoid conspiracy thriller meets John Wyndam). How it fails as a reinvention is that this format simply can't be repeated without straining credulity, as Miracle Day sadly proved. After this, Torchwood should have either ended entirely (and as far as ending go,Jack leaving planet Earth in disgrace even after having saved us all, and Gwen returning to her everyday life but with her horizons permanently expanded is about as fitting as one can imagine) or, they should have come back with a Series 4 that returned to the anthology format with a mostly new cast in a new location.
February 19, 2014 @ 6:41 am
I guess that's my basic point – with a television show, which is by definition an ongoing thing, a reinvention has to set up the show to move forward in a new way. That's now what "Children of Earth" does – it sets fire to the basic concept of the show and puts nothing in its place.
February 19, 2014 @ 7:53 am
But! But! What about my TV writing debut with the Comic Relief mini episode From Raxacoricofallapatorius With Love? A seminal SJA moment, surely? I think I mean seminal…
February 19, 2014 @ 8:46 am
February 19, 2014 @ 10:02 am
Nitpick Central: Chipmunk is an "is" not an "are"; there's only the one of him.
February 19, 2014 @ 10:03 am
I agree with John here. I stayed out of the "Children of Earth" discussion for time reasons, but I didn't like the series, didn't think that it worked over all, and was heartily happy when it blew everything up and was done.
children of earth had plenty of acid in it, and no redemption and like much of Davie's Doctor Who, didn't really have an ending until RTD suddenly said, "Oh, i guess everything is over." and the soldiers just start to walk away. children of Earth came in with nihilism in it's veins and had nothing else to replace it when it bled all that out. thats not a TV show, thats venting.
SJA may have targeted lower, but by continuing, it had the opportunity to make its points on the sly and sometimes do them better by not being so overt. clyde's "Always" in the beginning was so heartfelt, that it echoed how most of us would feel if the TARDIS showed up on our doorstep. We heartily would agree, lets go and get back in time for "stuff". In terms of audience identificiation, he's a less annoying Rose.
February 19, 2014 @ 10:19 am
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February 19, 2014 @ 10:24 am
In my head, your little skit is called "The Two Ranis". Brilliance.
Also read that an alternative title was "Ron With the Wind" – is that true?
February 19, 2014 @ 10:29 am
The Season 3 intro is a bit wordy. IIRC they tone it down for Season 4/5.
February 19, 2014 @ 1:22 pm
Thinking about Sarah Jane Adventures, one thing I realized was that there's a paucity of bonus material available compared to an era of Doctor Who. That little amount there is, therefore, I made the conscious decision to hold for the book. Same for Torchwood, hence my not doing Lost Souls.
Anyway, the book bonus essays can drag a bit, since they're almost always on the theme of "here's stuff that wasn't quite a good enough idea to do the first time." They're some of my least favorite things to write. And so when there's something that's both very fun and that I can get away with holding for the book, I am inclined to do so.
February 19, 2014 @ 1:27 pm
Speaking of the spaceship, I suspect this was meant to be seen AFTER "Dreamland," though it ended up airing before.
February 19, 2014 @ 2:02 pm
There was a comment I was going to make at some point during Children of Earth and totally forgot about. Something about how interesting it would be to compare SJA with CoE. The latter was horrific because the premise — someone is mind-controlling our children and plans to kidnap a percentage of them — invokes a primal grown-up fear: someone is coming for our kids. If the 456 had instead targeted grown-ups, the premise with minimal tweaking could have been a particularly epic SJA storyline, with kids coming together to save their hypnotized parents.
February 19, 2014 @ 4:21 pm
So there was no backslash backlash?
February 19, 2014 @ 5:30 pm
This is random, and I wish i'd posted it around Day 3, but does it strike anyone that the 456 are RTD's riff of the Rills? Hideous creatures that live behind glass, shrouded in poison fog, and speaking through a voice synthesizer?
February 19, 2014 @ 10:10 pm
February 19, 2014 @ 10:50 pm
The intro was definitely there on original transmission and I always liked it, especially for Clyde's 'Always'.
February 20, 2014 @ 7:47 am
As others have said, the intro's on the DVDs as well. I find it rather exasperating, but the clips with it serve as as a seasonal overview
February 20, 2014 @ 7:59 am
Seconded on the lack of bonus material. The Monster Files are rather dull, but at least the series 1 & 2 DVDs have little "explore the attic" bits. Series 3-5 have nothing, not even audio drama clips or trailers. (At least, the American release– The UK series 4 included Pyramids of Mars as a tribute to Sladen. I suppose copyright issues prevented that from working with Region 1 releases, but given the high cost of Classic dvds in the States…)
And the BBC has no plans to release the complete (1-5) boxed set of SJA in the USA. The BBC has improved the export rate for DW, but they're woefully incompetent at SJA.
February 20, 2014 @ 9:20 am
I'm hoping that Phil covers the two Series 5 audio adventures that feature Sky as part of the gang? (Not that there's much to say about them but we have so little sense of how Sky functions as a character…)
February 20, 2014 @ 9:23 am
Er– not a 'proper' covering, just a touch on, perhaps as a epilogue on 'The Curse of Clyde Langer.'
February 20, 2014 @ 9:26 am
But The Mountain Goats are an 'are.'
February 20, 2014 @ 3:00 pm
Series 3 has some fun 'interactive' trailers where it's unknown as to whether the postman, the granny or the (someone else, can't recall) is a Slitheen in disguise, IIRC.
And Series 4 has an incredible trailer with SJA enemies talking evil plans, but it turns out it's the SJA gang all having a laugh with some form of perception filter on.
February 20, 2014 @ 6:59 pm
I always loved Gita's utter lunacy – I thought she was pretty fantastic, though utterly unrealistic. Plus, she's basically the first mother character who was supportive from the get-go. In fact, I think Rani is the first character in the RTD universe with two regular supporting characters (I guess you could make the case for Gwen's parents, but they were basically plot functions)
February 21, 2014 @ 11:16 am
I love Gita. I wants her to show up on a Doctor Who episode during one of those random "The Doctor is thrown in with a grab-bag of humanity" stories with no mention whatsoever of her being Rani's mum.
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