Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Lipstick Review I


First things first; it's been a while since I last watched children's television. Initially I thought this would be a problem when trying to review something like The Sarah Jane Adventures, which has been hyped for months as 'specially for children'. I thought "If I'm not 'down' with the young guns, how can I seriously expect to review a television programme from their point of view?"

Luckily for me, The Sarah Jane Adventures is much more than some would have us believe. Yes, it's children's TV - but it's also damn fine drama too.

Take the whole Sarah Jane and Luke situation; adopted mother/son - two people who desperately want to love each other, but just don't know how to. It's complicated stuff for kid's at home to take in, but something that the SJA don't shy away from - because if this first episode is anything to go by, the programme makers are showing us that children's television can be every bit as sophisicated and grown up as the adult equivilant.

Unlike most kid's television today (I'm looking at you Grange Hill, and you Beaker) the performances of the child stars never fails to amaze me. Look at Yasmin Paige, who rocks as Maria Jackson. She's just as good as any Doctor Who cast member - infact she's all the better for being half their age! Lets hope she continues to shine (especially through the 'domestic' scenes between mum and dad) throughout this series.

But it's not Yasmin who's the standout performer of this first episode. Instead that honour falls upon Thomas Knight, who's seriously upped his ante following "Invasion of the Bane". Now his acting range seems far wider, and more subtle. Whereas before he was the weakest of the three leads, he's now very much on a par with the rest. His scenes with Sarah Jane are all the better for it.

I can't really comment on Daniel Anthony's new chararacter, "Clyde" who - unlike Rose Tyler or Gwen Cooper or Martha Jones during their first shows - doesn't really get the chance to shine here. It's not that he remains an enigma (far from it) - we learn tonnes about the character. He's streetwise, and almost militaristic (we'll see more of that in part two!). His parents have divorced, so he's very much a loner (although he'd never admit to being so).

No, what distracts from Clyde is all of the other characters and plot - there's so much to re-introduce and so much plot to develop that he's pushed to the side a little. A shame, because after the disappointing Kelsey character at New Year's, he's a welcome addition to the team!

Lis Sladen, as ever, is magnificent as Sarah Jane. It's a compliment to both her and writer Gareth Roberts that the character, despite being almost 35 years old, still feels remarkably fresh - as if there's still so much more to know about her. Also, for a show called "The Sarah Jane Adventures" it's refreshing to see that the 59 year old central character hasn't been sidelined to make way for a group of teens. Sarah Jane is central to everything, which is how it should be.

But it's not all favourably. The actors portraying the Slitheen teachers are incredibly arch in approach, and is it me or does the Headteacher resemble a fat, alien (but still very camp) Kenneth Williams? Watch the episode again, and you'll see what I mean!

The Slitheen are still an incredibly clumsy creation. They look very silly on screen, and not good silly. They wobble about, which kinda deflates any dramatic tension that the creatures may have built up. Despite Alice Troughton's beautiful direction, the creatures don't convince on a grand scale - but that, on reflection, creates a very low key feel; one which suits this particular adventure well, with its goal of relaunching the series after 9 months away.

All in all, this Slitheen adventure feels like a retread of both "School Reunion" and "Aliens of London" - hell they even re-use the same cliffhanger ending, where the Slitheen are exopsed three different times, that the latter used back in 2005. It's lazy writing when a writer borrows from a show's past in the first place; it's even lazier when the writer doesn't even pretend to add something new to the mix.

But forget about the somewhat muddled Slitheen plot (by the end of part one I still haven't got an idea what's going on!) because elsewhere the writing is top notch. Gareth Roberts writes fantastic, and funny, dialogue for all his characters - and a personal highlight for me would be the continuing bickering between Alan and Chrissie Jackson.

So, at the end of part one things aren't all rosey - the team are seperated and the Slitheen are loose! No matter what, I'll be back next week - but with some reservations. The Slitheen are fine, but give us original monsters from here on out! But all in all, a fine start - with a smart script, clever direction and a fantastic core cast. Promising; I'll award it a Grade B-

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