“Do you have a hobby?” the spiky haired, unconvincingly American hacker girl asked Lucas in Spooks this week. Of course he does – Lucas’ hobby is brooding. Although he also enjoys scowling, and thumping the steering wheel of his car.
Reliably barmy as usual, this week’s episode saw a group of cyber terrorists from the Russian and Chinese secret services compromise the Grid. This caused Ruth’s usual pinched frown to virtually collapse in on itself as she tried to communicate this information to Harry without the Cybermen seeing. The voyeurs themselves were based in the usual empty high rise office with full length windows that nobody looks out of. Except Lucas when he’s brooding. Quite why Section D doesn’t maintain a special database of empty offices with big windows I have no idea. Perhaps because it would make the episodes shorter?
This season, Lucas has more than usual to brood about. After three years on the show, he’s been confronted by a shifty looking Iain Glen, who knows his secret identity. Apparently, before he was Lucas North, he was Guy of Gisburne. Or something. Anyway, in order to prevent this becoming public knowledge, Lucas has framed an office junior at MI5 and allowed the aforementioned hacker girl to bleed to death so she didn’t spill the beans about the Albany file that Glen is so keen to get his hands on. But he’s getting his hands on it from Malcolm! Yes, the least cool and yet most lovable techie the series ever had has come back to hint that he knows more than we thought he did. Or something. Which leaves me torn between wanting him back on the grid full time, or sticking with the less lovable but much prettier Tariq.
Also in the pretty camp is new boy Dimitri, played by Max Brown. You can tell Max is quite a talent from his background in Hollyoaks. But he is nice to look at, and sensibly, the writers don’t give him much to say. His usual function is to defuse bombs, which he seems to have done in every episode he’s been in. So, logically, this week he was practicing defusing bombs. With an actual bomb. As you do. Still, this came in handy when the cyber freaks locked the Grid down and Dimitri was able to blow his way out. Or something.
Without even a brief pause for the audience to figure out how he did it, Harry was onto the cyber agents in a flash, displaying the customary cool that’s left him the only original cast member standing. But as yet, he knows nothing about Lucas’ treachery, all for the love of Laila Rouass, with whom he shares no chemistry whatsoever. The flaringly nonsensical and yet compellingly watchable saga continues next week…
Meanwhile Laila Rouass was also busy as an equally treacherous UNIT Colonel in this week’s guiltily enjoyable Sarah Jane Adventures. This series has gone from strength to strength, with some intelligent, perceptive writing acted by a talented cast who deserve to go on to bigger things.
Joe Lidster’s season opener The Nightmare Man was one of the best pieces of writing I’ve ever seen in children’s television, bolting its dream haunting bogeyman (played with astounding creepiness by Julian Bleach) onto a character heavy story that directly and indirectly summed up the tumultuous changes when children grow up and leave the nest. Luke, played by the sweet Tommy Knight, was written out as he went off to uni, and the script cleverly drew on his, his friends’ and Sarah Jane’s fears to enhance an ethereal, Neil Gaiman like tale of a creature who wants to destroy the world’s dreams. One of the most talented writers working on the show, Lidster too deserves to go on to bigger things.
After this haunting, Sapphire and Steel like opener, Phil Ford’s follow up Vault of Secrets was a broadbrush comedy romp that felt far less sophisticated, with aliens, android Men in Black and a comedy UFO group ‘amusingly’ called BURPSS. Still, it was just a brief interlude before the story all fans were talking about – Russell T Davies’ Death of the Doctor. (Not The Death of Doctor Who – that was episode 5 of 1965 serial The Chase).
So, how would new boy Matt Smith bond with Sarah Jane, who’d already forged a real chemistry with David Tennant? In order to make it even more challenging, Russell upped the ante by bringing in yet another old companion – none other than the much loved Jo Grant, played by the incomparable Katy Manning.
As makes sense for a show revolving around one of the Doctor’s companions, it was the companions themselves who had the lion’s share of the action – the Doctor didn’t even show up until the end of part one! That gave Katy Manning the chance to… well, be Katy Manning. Scattily running around spouting enthusiastic nonsense while knocking things over, it didn’t seem like there was much actual ‘acting’ involved. It was a joy to see Katy again, and she managed to perfectly upstage Lis Sladen at the funeral, leaving her gaping speechlessly. Although, a more cruel mind than mine might have assumed Sarah Jane was simply jealous at the far larger amount of work Jo had had done to her face.
The Doctor noticed too. “You look like you’ve been baked,” he cried, with his usual marvellous lack of tact. Matt was as excellent as ever, and if anything forged a better chemistry with Jo than he did with Sarah Jane. Fittingly, the script allowed Jo the most screen time with him, and while it was basically a retread of the similar scenes involving Sarah Jane in 2006’s School Reunion, the interplay between Matt and Katy did bring a lump to the throat.
The Doctor was also more satisfactorily involved in resolving the plot than he was in his previous Sarah Jane appearance, where he just ran about and frowned a lot while caught in a parallel timeline. This time, it was a joint effort – the Doctor, Sarah Jane and Jo were all instrumental in defeating the less than convincing giant vultures’ plan to break into the TARDIS.
And what a joy to see so many and such well-chosen flashbacks. Hopefully the kids of today are already asking their mummies and daddies about Jon Pertwee and Tom Baker. It was of course, a typical Russell tear-jerking stunt, and you could say that there were, well, rather too many flashbacks, actually. But it’s hard to carp about that when the resolution of the plot depends on an overload of memories. And I can forgive Russell – just – for having Jo officially remember her visit to Karfel as referred to in that 1985 trash heap of a story, Timelash.
But, as I say, a romp and a good tearjerker. As a piece of writing, it wasn’t up there with Joe Lidster’s opener, but as a fanboy wet dream it was second to none. The cherry on top was Sarah Jane’s final eulogy to every Earth based companion still – in the show’s continuity at least – alive and kicking. Especially affecting were the references to Harry Sullivan and Ben Jackson, both sadly no longer with us in real life.
So, typically of Russell, the tale was “full of sound and fury, signifying nothing”. But good fun, nonetheless. I can’t help feeling that the next three stories will have very hard work not seeming like an anticlimax. Perhaps Sarah should meet Lucas North and Harry Pearce? Or something…