Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Doctor Who #770: Eye of the Gorgon Part 1

"Unfortunately Mrs. Gribbins always was something of a useless old fossil."
TECHNICAL SPECS: First aired Oct.1 2007.

IN THIS ONE... Medusa-worshiping nuns look for a talisman in an old ladies' home.

REVIEW: Well, I'm certainly happy that not every story will take place in that Ealing school as if the kids were weirdness magnets, but Clyde is still instrumental in getting Sarah Jane involved in a mystery taking place at a retirement home where a friend of his gran's is housed. And desperate to be part of this world, it makes sense that he would enthusiastically bring "cases" to the group. And sting when he's benched. We get into the plot as a character beat, and so Phil Ford's story proceeds. Luke is given an alien talisman because he's a good boy who happily talks with old ladies. He's later kidnapped because Clyde can't stand to be left behind and they set off on their own adventure. They're sitting out in the first place because Sarah notices Maria's blue and might need a chance to talk. And Alan is turned to stone because he's actively looking for Maria who ran out upset. That's a well constructed episode.

Even foreign elements in the plot inform the personal stories of the characters. Mrs. Nelson-Stanley is very much an older Sarah Jane, clued in on the truth of aliens (including Sarah's first, the Sontarans), and who used to travel with a brilliant man (her archaeologist husband), fighting monsters and exploring the world. It's perhaps why Luke was drawn to her, and certainly why Sarah can trust her. As another nod to the past, for classic Who fans in the audience, Sarah has nothing much to say about Clyde's ideas about putting his brain into a robot so he'll never die, shades of The Brain of Morbius. That was also a story about a Sisterhood, though here, it's about trading on the schoolboy fear of nuns (did Ford go to Catholic school?). As with many Sarah Jane Adventures, the villains are pretty obvious and two-dimensional, so there's little question as to who wears the black habits. And if you think that's a bad joke, you should hear the one THEY make about the "trouble with Maria". The characters do invite the use of some beautiful locations, raising production values considerably.

But my highest marks go to Maria's subplot, treating the recent divorce of her parents, amiable though it was, with a great deal of realism. Thoughtless Chrissie has a tiff with her current beau and runs to Alan's house, but this has consequences and disrupts the household. Chrissie IS a comic character, just this side of caricature, but we can understand the jealousy she feels towards Sarah Jane, this replacement mother figure. In many ways, Maria is the adult in this relationship, but she's still a young girl, and Chrissie gets a well-deserved tantrum from her daughter. And Alan is made to understand the divorce has taken a toll on Maria, and that she can't help but feel rejected by her mother. The latter's return to the household is a mixed message of the worst kind. Good stuff I didn't think would be dramatized in a kids' adventure show.

- Though the show can't seem to get away from cardboard villains, the characterization of the regulars is tops, and the plot is in their service, not the other way around.