Falling Out?

Thinking of Fall Out Boy (who despite being the most sold-out, mainstream band on the emo scene are, irritatingly, quite good) makes me reflect yet again on the shallowness of marketing.

Now, everyone knows that the public face of Fall Out Boy is Pete Wentz. Pete is genuinely good looking, very sexy, and thanks to the miracle of the information superhighway and his own carelessness, all his fans have the opportunity to see his dick in scinitillating phonecam closeup. Like all good emo boys, he flirts with bisexuality – he once commented that he thinks of himself as bisexual “above the waist”. So a blowjob’s not out of the question, then, Pete?

But here’s the thing. Pete’s not the singer, the frontman, or even the main songwriter – he’s the bass player. Not a role traditionally seen as the most glamourous (sorry, bass players that I know). In fact these functions are fulfilled by the far less photogenic Patrick Stump, whose name even seems less sexy than Pete’s. Pity poor Patrick, a genuinely talented man relegated to the status of background in his own band because he’s not the sexiest one.

Oh, the shallow, fickle face of music marketing. And yet here’s the thing – I’m still not going to go trawling the web for pictures of Patrick Stump’s genitalia. Yup, I’m shallow too. Sometimes I make myself sick…

He Ain’t Legend (Spoiler alert)

So yesterday I hared off down to the local fleapit to see shiny new Will Smith vehicle I Am Legend. Those who know me know that I’m not averse to big, dumb Hollywood blockbusters. But this time I had a more concrete reason – this particular big budget epic is based on one of my favourite books of all time.

I Am Legend is a 1954 novel by the great horror author Richard Matheson. For those unfamiliar with his work, Matheson’s the guy who wrote most of the best Twilight Zone episodes (as distinct from the sickly schmaltzfests written by Rod Serling) and also wrote the Spielberg classic Duel, in which a man pursued by a psycho in a diesel truck becomes the stuff of archetypal legend. He also wrote my favourite haunted house novel Hell House, filmed to great effect in 1973 as The Legend of Hell House.

I Am Legend is probably his most famous work, and is a must-read for any horror fan, especially those into zombies. The plot goes like this: Robert Neville is the lone human survivor of a plague that has killed most of humanity. The only other survivors have become honest to goodness vampires who roam the night in search of blood. By night, Neville cowers in his besieged house as the vampires try to get in and drink his blood. By day, he researches the germ that caused the vampirism, and roams the deserted Los Angeles, staking and burning any vampires he finds.

The key to the novel, and indeed its title, is this: some of the vampires have evolved beyond being slavering predators and have started to form a new society. From their point of view, Neville is a terrifying monster, a shadowy figure who kills them in their sleep, leaving only the dead bodies of their loved ones as evidence of his existence. In a world of vampires, it’s the vampire hunter who’s the monster that frightens children, as Neville realises in the book’s final, chilling scene: “he saw on their faces awe, fear, shrinking horror – and he knew that they were afraid of him… a new superstition entering the unassailable fortress of forever. I am legend.”

George Romero acknowledges that the book was his primary inspiration for writing Night of the Living Dead, and by association is responsible for the entire zombie genre. The evolution of the zombies in Romero’s Dead series directly parallels the evolution of the vampires in I Am Legend, as they become ultimately more human than those left alive.

So with an entire genre of horror cinema indebted to this book for its very existence, surely Hollywood should be able to make a decent film of it? I Am Legend has been filmed three times, firstly in 1964 as The Last Man on Earth, then in 1971 as The Omega Man, and now in 2007 under its own title. Both of the first two efforts were lacking something compared to the book, but with the new one having the proper title and everything, it could be good, surely? Well, it’s not. It sucks. And it sucks big time.

But why does it suck? Who can we blame? OK then, let’s start with the director. Francis Lawrence is an ex-music video auteur, and the man responsible for turning Hellblazer‘s John Constantine (a shifty, blond, Scouse magician) into Keanu Reeves, and then putting him into an incomprehensible plot seemingly comprised of set pieces from different stories in the comic glued together with little regard for logic. Like Constantine, I Am Legend displays Lawrence’s penchant for big, flashy visuals in place of anything resembling drama.

To be fair, the opening sequences of Neville roaming the deserted New York are very good, possibly the most realistic depiction of such scenes yet committed to celluloid. But even here, any fan of The Omega Man will recognise that half of the shots are just nicked wholesale, particularly the iconic zoom into the deserted streets from above onto Neville’s car. Plus, impressive though the post-apocalyptic vistas undoubtedly are, Lawrence has succumbed to the temptation of any shallow hack given a huge CG budget and packed every shot with so much detail that the eye is still trying to take it in while the brain should be following the drama. Sometimes, less is more; The Stand achieved a similar effect with just a traffic jam full of corpses going into the Lincoln Tunnel.

So what about the vampires? In The Last Man on Earth, the vampires are moaning, barely coherent bloodsuckers with all of the traditional traits of such creatures – they don’t care for crucifixes, garlic, or stakes through the heart, and there’s a scientific explanation for all of this, just as Matheson intended. Plus, any Romero fan will recognise the genesis of Night of the Living Dead‘s shuffling ghouls here, a full four years before Night hit the screens of a horrified America.

Fast forward seven years, and The Omega Man‘s vampires are merely light-phobic albinos with a Luddite agenda, intent on destroying the knowledge that they see as having led mankind to its extinction. Yet even this has its plus points; their leader Matthias (a fantastic turn from prolific character actor Anthony Zerbe) is urbane, civilized and erudite, and able to acerbically debate the finer points of ideology with his nemesis Neville. He’s also a screaming loon, but the civility only adds to his menace.

This time around, in one of the director’s better decisions, we hear the vampires before we see them, snarling and roaring through the empty city while Neville cowers in his fortified apartment. Sounds promising, you think – but then you actually see them. As Neville rather foolishly follows his dog into a darkened building, they descend on him en masse, and you realise that they’re yet another version of the athletic, superfast zombies we saw in 28 Days Later and the 2004 version of Dawn of the Dead.

That’s not too bad per se- though what’s wrong with proper vampires? – but the crowning irritant is that the “darkseekers”, as they’re referred to, aren’t even real. They’re yet more bloody CG, and they look it. As they attack, you’re reminded of nothing so much as an advanced game of Resident Evil, and their cartoonlike nature robs them of any real sense of menace because they’re just another special effect. At least 28 Days and Dawn had real, tangible ghouls.

Even then, you think, the movie could work well if it had a decent screenplay. But it doesn’t. This version was in development hell for years, and it shows, with the script bearing the unmistakeable feel of many different drafts lumped together with insufficient erasing in between. For one thing, it’s not just “based on the novel by Richard Matheson”. Oh no. It’s “by Mark Protosevich and Akiva Goldsman based on the screenplay by John William and Joyce H Corrington based on the novel by Richard Matheson”. If that sounds like a jumbled mess, it looks like one onscreen too.

The Corringtons’ screenplay in question is in fact the one for The Omega Man, and this new version has many obvious lifts from it. As in that version, Robert Neville is a military doctor who discovered the cure for the plague too late for it to have any effect, rather than having immunity conferred by Matheson’s admittedly specious device of being bitten by a vampire bat. There are plenty of minor lifts too; in one scene Will Smith’s Neville quotes along with the DVD of Shrek, obviously knowing every line of dialogue, echoing the scene where Charlton Heston’s Neville quotes along with Woodstock in an empty cinema. The difference being that the quote from Woodstock was profound and relevant, and funny though Shrek is, it doesn’t really have anything to say about the possible extinction of humanity.

Also nicked from The Omega Man is Neville’s attempt to populate his haunts with shop mannequins, which expands on the original where Heston looks longingly at a female dummy in a posh clothes shop. Even the inexplicably clean and shiny Shelby Mustang that Neville drives at the beginning of the movie echoes the ’71 Mustang that Heston memorably drove through a showroom window in the earlier version.

Just nicking from a previous version wouldn’t be too bad – we call those remakes, fellas – but it doesn’t sit too well with yet another attempt to film the actual book. Changing the location from LA to New York doesn’t rob anything from the premise, and the rotting Christmas trees that indicate the epidemic started in late December are a nice touch. But the new script also attempts to utilise the book’s structure of revealing what happened to Neville’s family in a series of interspersed flashbacks, and unwisely tries to improve on it. The book dispenses with this device halfway through, the story told, but this screenplay tries to eke out the tension by not revealing the end of the flashbacks till very near the end of the movie. What’s the bloody point? We know Neville’s family is dead, there’s not really much suspense to be gleaned by eking out the information of how it occurred.

Plus, the way they die turns out to be disappointingly mundane. In Matheson’s novel, first Neville’s daughter then his wife die of the plague itself. Horrified by the military’s burning of his daughter’s body, Neville chooses to bury his wife himself, leading to one of the most chilling scenes in the novel as he opens the door later that night to find her standing outside as a vampire, rasping his name. This scene is faithfully and superbly recreated in The Last Man on Earth as Vincent Price (playing Robert Morgan – the name was changed for this version) opens the door to a shadow of a woman, gravedirt clinging to her tattered nightdress, and readies himself with a stake.

In this one, they die in a helicopter crash trying to get off Manhattan before the military seal it off. Simple as that. No real drama compared to the original, and they eke the revelation out through the whole length of the movie so that ultimately all you’re left with is a sense of anticlimax.

Also taken from the book then irritatingly altered is the plot device of Neville having a dog. In the book, he gradually gains the trust of a stray mongrel only for it to die of the plague not too long after. In the movie, the stray mongrel is transformed into some kind of superdog, as Neville’s faithful hunting companion Sam, a German Shepherd apparently capable of understanding Will Smith’s every utterance. Now, the dog does well – it’s one of the better cast members – but having Neville accompanied by a sidekick, even a canine one, robs the character of the sense of loneliness he should have. To be fair, they don’t chicken out of having the dog die, but his time she dies as a result of heroically fighting off a pair of CG vampire dogs(!) intent on tearing out her master’s throat. The best aspect of this is the look on Neville’s face as he realises she’s infected and has to strangle her offscreen while the camera holds on a closeup.

Which brings us to Will Smith. Of necessity, any lead actor in this role has to pretty much carry the movie, since for the most part there are no other characters in it. And Smith, an actor who I genuinely admire, is probably the best casting as Robert Neville in any version. Richard Matheson disowned The Last Man on Earth even though it’s the most faithful adaptation of the book, purely because he thought Vincent Price terribly miscast as the hero. He had a point; Price tries hard, but he’s too associated with eye-rolling Roger Corman schlockfests to give the role the impact it should have.

Matheson preferred Charlton Heston in The Omega Man, and indeed the ultra-conservative former Ben-Hur makes quite a good job of it. But still, he’s really playing Charlton Heston, the screen hero who since Planet of the Apes had become the go-to guy for any big budget sci-fi epic. The screenplay’s attempts to equate the character with Christ don’t help, since it just makes one remember all those Biblical epics Heston was in back in the 50s. “Are you God?” a little girl asks him at one point. Of course he is; the movie rams that point home as he dies in a cruciform pose, but not before saving humanity with his blood.

Will Smith possibly carries the same sort of star baggage as Heston, but as anyone who’s seen Six Degrees of Separation will know, is capable of real, emotional acting. His portrayal of Neville as a doomed, possibly mad hero still trying desperately to end a plague that’s already over carries real weight, and it’s a great shame that it’s wasted in a movie that’s a pile of steaming poo.

Carried over from The Omega Man is the notion of Neville as a modern Messiah, saving humanity with a vial of blood. As if to finally underline the way the screenplay totally misses the point of the novel, offscreen narration explains that this is why he is a “legend”; his cure will provide safety for an extremely unlikely colony of survivors walled off in Vermont, obviously a tenth draft variant of the vampire colony that sentence him to death in the novel. Even the woman he befriends, who turns out to be an evolved vampire in the book, is a heroic emissary from said colony, and accompanied for reasons that defy any kind of sense by a small boy.

I Am Legend 2007 then, a wasted, missed opportunity from a hack director who’d be more at home making the latest Fall Out Boy video. It’s telling that an adaptation of the classic novel that kickstarted the zombie genre has ended up being little more than a pale imitation of recent, better zombie movies like the Dawn of the Dead remake. If you’re a fan of the novel, and if you can find it on DVD, you’d do far better to seek out The Last Man on Earth, which, Vincent Price aside, is a genuinely good version of the story. “They were afraid of me,” Price gasps as he dies. Now that screenplay got the point.

2007 Christmas Special: Voyage of the Damned

“Let the Christmas inferno commence!”

There are some very gay things in the world. The Pet Shop Boys cover of Village People’s Go West. Rufus Wainwright recreating Judy Garland’s classic Carnegie Hall concert. Anything at all involving John Barrowman. And then there’s Doctor Who. A show whose most rabid fanbase seems to consist primarily of gay men (I should know, I’m one of them) currently being run by the bloke who wrote Queer as Folk and featuring numerous appearances by the aforementioned John Barrowman. Straight fans often bemoan the show’s supposed “gay agenda” (which seems to consist of occasional lines suggesting that being gay might, actually, be OK).

The challenge, then, facing Russell T Davies and his team must have been – how do we make this show even more gay? One can imagine much brainstorming at BBC Wales until someone came up with the obvious answer – put Kylie Minogue in it! After all, short of getting David Tennant to dress in drag and fellating a Dalek, she’s about as gay-friendly as it gets.

So it was with some trepidation that I approached this year’s Christmas special. Was this just a gimmicky piece of stunt casting? Kylie’s guest appearance has been trumpeted so much for so long, you’d be forgiven for thinking it wasn’t a drama after all. Perhaps she was going to spend the whole thing performing her greatest hits. She was so ubiquitous that even the normally objective (and very pretty) Ben Cook of Doctor Who Magazine had a photo of her standing next to him as his Facebook avatar.

But I needn’t have worried. Lest we forget, before she became a loveable diva, Kylie Minogue was actually an actress. Well, insofar as being in Neighbours constitutes acting. Voyage of the Damned gave her a chance to demonstrate this with more aplomb than the Erinsbrough suburbs ever did, in another surprisingly good script from Russell T himself.

Russell seems to be on a genuine learning curve as a Who writer. Already a skilled dramatist, his previous efforts for the programme have shown an occasional lack of logic obviously borne of him being such a fan of the show. I’ve had genuine, and I believe justified criticisms of his scripts in varous ways since the series returned. But lo and behold, every time he turns out another script, it’s as if he’s been listening to me! (Be still, my giant ego). It’s just that he seems to avoid every pitfall I’ve previously had a go about and produce a script that’s a real improvement.

Take Voyage of the Damned. I was distinctly unimpressed by last year’s Christmas effort The Runaway Bride for various reasons – the plot lacked logic, the robot Santas were in it for no good reason, and most importantly, the story lacked a sense of jeopardy as no-one appeared to be in real danger and no-one died. This year, Russell redressed the balance with a script that had a higher body count than Rambo. And it was more than just a retread of last year’s show, being almost entirely not set on contemporary Earth.

Not that its roots weren’t showing. The most obvious source of inspiration was 1970’s disaster epic The Poseidon Adventure, about a luxury liner which comes to grief – at Christmas. The ensemble cast of survivors were true disaster movie archetypes as well, right down to the snivelling Richard Chamberlain-style weasel Rickston Slade and Shelley Winters-alike Foon Van Hoff. I was only surprised that there wasn’t a small child and a dog. Yet even here, Russell confounded expectations. In a classic disaster movie, it would be a given that Slade would die, and yet he was one of the few survivors at the end.

Russell’s other occasional weakness – a fondness for action/emotion set pieces jammed in with little regard for logic – was also not in evidence. There were some great set pieces, to be sure – the sequence of our heroes trying to make it over that rickety bridge while being besieged by the Host was a humdinger. But each of them arose naturally from the plot, rather than seeming shoehorned in because they looked good but had no place in the drama.

Of course, the other obvious “homage” here was classic Who story The Robots of Death. From the moment the Doctor first encountered the placidly polite Host and it started to twitch, it was obvious that they’d be wandering around the ship slaughtering everyone soon enough. And so it was, their “Information: you are all going to die” catchphrase not too dissimilar to SV7’s calm declaration “You have to die. All of you. That is the order.” The moment when Midshipman Frame slammed the door on them only to trap and detach one of their hands was also a straight nick from the scene where Pamela Salem is menaced in her Sandminer cabin by one of the robots.

But Doctor Who has always nicked from other sources, often with excellent results. After all, The Brain of Morbius is simply Frankenstein, while Pyramids of Mars is nothing more than an old Peter Cushing Mummy film. And the Host were very effective, their angelic design an excellent counterpart to their murderous intentions. It’s got to be the first time a halo’s been used as a murder weapon.

David Tennant was on fine form, expressing the Doctor’s loneliness with none of the irritating smugness he displayed in his debut season. The relationship he built up with Astrid was genuinely touching, and paid off nicely with his desperation to save her after her noble sacrifice (though, to be fair, she could easily have jumped off that slow-moving forklift before it plunged into the abyss).

And it was scenes like that which allowed Kylie to really show off her acting chops. From her first appearance, she was charming and likeable as a girl who still saw the wonder in the universe. The scene of her expressing delight at the “alien” shops and streets of Cardiff… er, London was enchanting, and her final scene as a half-there teleport phantom was heartbreaking. It’s a testament to Russell’s skill as a dramatist that he didn’t go for the easy happy ending of letting the Doctor save her, but at least she didn’t, technically, “die”. As well as being a touching scene, it served as a welcome reminder that the Doctor’s just as fallible as everyone else, and sometimes he can’t save everyone.

With these two at the centre of attention, it would have been easy for Russell to reduce the rest of the characters to two-dimensional disaster movie cyphers. But all the characters were nicely rounded, and played to perfection by a splendid guest cast. It’s always a delight to see old hand Geoffrey Palmer popping up, and here as Captain Hardaker he used his jowly, hangdog face to real advantage. He really made you feel for the guy even though he was about to be responsible for a mass murder and you then saw him shoot that nice young Midshipman. It actually seemed rather a shame that he died so early on, as I’d like to have seen more of his character’s haunted, guilty personality.

There were plenty of characters blessed with that earthy humour Russell likes too. The most obvious were the Van Hoffs, a likeable pair of proles who’d rather unfortunately won passage on the ship in a competition. The scene of the Doctor immediately siding with them over the snobs who were the rest of the passengers was great, and the characters went on to display real depth. It was more believable than in your averager disaster movie that Foon really went to pieces after her husband was killed, but she still pulled it together enough to make the heroic self-sacrifice demanded of likeable characters in disaster movies. The shot of her plunging to her death in slo-mo was genuinely moving, though it has to be said that the almost identical shot of Astrid plunging into the abyss might have had more impact if we hadn’t already seen this one.

Clive Swift, another old hand, was on fine form as Mr Copper, the loveable old codger of the piece. He got some of Russell’s best lines as the “academic” who didn’t quite get what 21st century Earth was really like. The coda, with him happily running off to spend all his money, was sweetly joyful, though I had to wonder why the Doctor didn’t warn him off marrying that awful Hyacinth woman…

And then there was Bannakafalatta. At first glance just an action figure opportunity made flesh, Jimmy Vee made him a loveable but believable figure. It was nice to see him getting a real character to play for once, after the last few years of incarnating any alien that happens to be a bit on the short side. And it was his secret cyborg status that cleverly held the key to the whole mystery, neatly setting up the concept that here was a society that treated cyborgs as underdogs who couldn’t even get married. The gay agenda? Possibly. I’m sure certain fans will take it that way…

Cyborgs brings us neatly to the villlain of the piece, Max Capricorn. the revelation of him as the force behind events didn’t entirely come as a surprise, since I was doubtful they’d hire an actor of the stature of George Costigan and confine him to a few shipboard commercials. Costigan was as good as ever in a role, which, let’s face it, was the standard villainous businessman. His scheme to ruin his betrayers on the board was a little reminiscent of Morgus’ business manipulations in The Caves of Androzani, but was nonetheless a clever motivation. I had to wonder whether some of the younger viewers would grasp the idea of share price manipulations, mind.

So what else was there? Well, it was a joy to see Bernard Cribbins, who by the looks of the trailer will be back next year. It was also a nice touch to have London deserted after the repeated alien incursions of the last two Christmasses. The set piece of the Titanic plunging down towards Buckingham Palace was genuinely heart in mouth – you wondered whether Mike Tucker and his crew were going to blow up another London landmark. Though I’m not so sure about the from-behind appearance of Her Majesty, in a pink dressing gown and curlers! And her cry of “Thank you, Doctor!” was pretty toe-curling, too. I guess she just knows that whenever anything like that happens, the Doctor’s bound to be involved somewhere.

On a final note, I’m likely to be in the minority of saying that I rather liked Murray Gold’s beefed up new arrangement of the theme tune. But I definitely didn’t like the new, hyper fast end credits, which sped by so quickly I could barely read any of them. Apparently this is due to a new BBC rule that credits can only be thirty seconds long, lest the viewer’s tiny mind and attention span be distracted by thoughts of turning to the other channel. Whatever, it made the end of the show seem unpleasantly American.

So another Christmas gone, and a huge improvement from Russell and crew this year. Kudos to the bloke for apparently learning from previous pitfalls and producing a fun and thrilling piece of family entertainment. And how gay was it, really? Actually not much. John Barrowman was nowhere to be seen….

The Superior Spin Off

The most surreal line of the week award continues to be won by Robin Hood. Last week, after an encounter with an ingratiating underling, Keith Allen’s Sheriff harrumphed, “Why do you never kiss my ring, Gisburne?” This week, pursuing a troublesome carrier bird, he was heard to loudly declare, “We have to catch the pigeon. Catch the pigeon!” Which presumably means the ever-cheery Gisburne is Muttley.

Those aware of my TV tastes are presumably baffled by my lack of comment on Doctor Who spinoff The Sarah Jane Adventures. Well, don’t worry, I did watch it! After all, being on Children’s BBC, it was a sight more adult than Torchwood.

With ten episodes comprising five two-part stories, it was the inevitable mixed bag, but some good stuff was to be found within. I was somewhat downhearted to see the return of Russell T Davies’ uninspiring blobby aliens in Revenge of the Slitheen, but pleasantly surprised to find them in an actually rather well-written story. Gareth Roberts, who is shaping up as a rather good TV writer, followed up his pilot script Invasion of the Bane with a sort of reboot of the show. Gone is annoying teenage girl Kelsey, replaced by somewhat less annoying teenage boy Clyde. Otherwise the format remains the same, but Gareth’s script deftly re-introduced the characters and situations for those who might have missed the pilot.

In a nutshell, ex-companion Sarah Jane Smith has adopted alien-created teenager Luke, hangs out with him and neighbour Maria, who’s really the show’s main character. Appealing though Sarah Jane us to us old fanboys, a children’s drama can’t really have a woman in her fifties as the star of the show. So Sarah acts as a sort of Gandalf/Doctor figure to the kids, involving them in the alien mysteries she solves with her convenient super computer Mr Smith (K9 being busy sealing off a black hole until his copyright owners see sense).

Of the stories, inevitably Gareth’s were the standouts. Revenge of the Slitheen had the alien Del-boys hanging around in a school, and they seemed to fit better in a children’s show than in Doctor Who itself. By far the standout of the entire series was Gareth’s Whatever Happened to Sarah Jane?, which was a well-written time paradox story that addressed some complex, adult themes far better than any amount of gratuitous swearing in Torchwood. The story dealt sensitively with issues like death, guilt and divorce in a sensitive way that didn’t talk down to its audience of children, without alienating them.

True, Maria’s awful mum does seem rather like a cartoon character and her dad is just too good to be true, but the show didn’t shy away from showing the devastating effects divorce can have on kids. It also confronted the issue of whether you would sacrifice your best friend to survive yourself, as a time paradox enabled Sarah’s friend Andrea to cheat her own death at thirteen years old by switching places with the teenage Sarah. As Andrea, the too-little seen Jane Asher gave a knockout performance as a woman haunted by the realization of what she’s done but still unwilling to undo it.

Indeed, the show had a remarkable quality of guest stars in some surprisingly challenging roles. Old stalwart Phyllida Law popped up in Phil Ford’s alien nun epic Eyes of the Gorgon, playing a woman adventurer deliberately reminiscent of an older Sarah Jane, now afflicted with Alzheimer’s. Children’s TV campaigner Floella Benjamin turned up herself in season finale The Lost Boy, instantly recalling Play School for those of us of a certain age.

Probably the weakest story was Philip Gladwin’s Warriors of Kudlak, in which a laser tag franchise was actually a recruiting ground for soldiers in an alien war. It had a couple of neat twists, such as the alien computer hiding the fact that the war had been over for years, but overall was reminiscent of nothing so much as The Tomorrow People. And I’m pretty sure the basic plot was filched from 1984 movie The Last Starfighter

The show had a pretty good regular cast, headed of course by the reliable Elisabeth Sladen. Lis played Sarah Jane exactly as she had from the 70s onward, but therein was a bit of a problem. The character has never really been too complex, so Lis’s range of emotions seemed rather… well, limited. It was revealing that in Whatever Happened to Sarah Jane?, Jane Asher gave a far more subtle performance as a character who was in many ways an analog of Sarah. Still, with this new show casting Sarah pretty much in the role of the Doctor, range is necessarily going to be limited.

The kids were good, though. Yasmin Paige as Maria had the lion’s share of character development and gave a good performance as a girl struggling to deal with a broken home while concealing her involvement with all sorts of alien shenanigans with her neighbour. Tommy Knight, as Sarah’s adopted son Luke, was basically the Spock/Data of the piece, constantly puzzled by the everyday banalities of life. His wide-eyed innocence was rather sweet, and very much in keeping with the tone of the character. Heaven help him when puberty finally hits him… Lastly, new boy Daniel Anthony gave a charismatic turn as the cocky, streetwise Clyde, though his character was too often used as comic relief to be truly convincing.

The final story, The Lost Boy, brought the series to a satisfying conclusion with the revelation that Sarah’s oh-so-convenient supercomputer Mr Smith was actually an alien entity bent on the destruction of Earth to free his people from its core. It’s a brave move to introduce a sympathetic alien computer, then reveal that it was the bad guy all along; rather as if Tomorrow People computer Tim had suddenly revealed himself to be Hannibal Lecter. Still, Mr Smith was easily despatched by a few blasts from K9, conveniently reappearing as if copyright were never a problem. It was great to see him again, with the ever-excellent John Leeson again providing the voice.

It’s been a fun series, and if Torchwood can get a second run, surely this can. The quality of writing and directing parallels Doctor Who easily, with many of the same people involved. True, there are quibbles; Sarah may not be as magnetic a character as the Doctor, and that sonic lipstick’s just plain silly. But it satisfyingly recalls the glory days of children’s drama when it was producing some of the most imaginative fantasy shows on British television. The only real puzzler is with the Doctor, Torchwood and Sarah Jane all preventing the destruction of the planet on a weekly basis, how come they don’t bump into each other more often?
“Oh, I’m sorry, Captain Jack, I thought I was preventing the alien meteor destroying the Earth.”
“No, Miss Smith, it’s an alien sex meteor. That’s Torchwood’s remit.”

Perhaps that’s why…