"Boy, they have no idea what they're moving in over the road from."
IN THIS ONE... Rani Chandra moves into 36 Bannerman Road. She's seeing a clown no one else does.
REVIEW: Much as Sarah Jane might resist the idea, we know full well Rani Chandra is meant to join her little team. She's just moved into the house across the way, she bumps into Luke and Clyde first thing, she can see the creepy clown where others can't, she wants to be a journalist some day, she believes in aliens and things, and according to her mum, she's clever, observant and curious to a fault. She's even got a Doctor Who-related name! (Made me think all sorts of crazy things at the time.) Point is: You can't fight destiny. She makes a good first impression, I think, more a mini-Sarah Jane than Maria was, impulsively getting into trouble and keeping others in the dark because they won't believe her or worse, get in her way. She's cute too, and Clyde notices. Are the kids old enough now for romance? For all his protestations, I think Luke DID fancy Maria, and this new girl is taller than he is! Who does that?
Anyway, with Rani comes a whole new family and I like them too. Haresh the new headmaster (took a while to replace the Slitheen!) at the school immediately becomes Clyde's nemesis and Rani wisely hides the fact he's her dad until she can't anymore. In a kids' show where authority figures like teachers might as well be evil aliens, it's nice to see the hardass at school turn into the relatable dad at home. Smartly observed as well as amusing. And Gita, oh my, she's just too charming. Ebullient and positive in a way Chrissie never was.
And then there's the plot. Seems natural for SJA to do an abducted kids story every series, since I imagine this is an important anxiety for parents and kids alike (I'm neither, you tell me) and inherently creates tension. Plus, creepy evil clowns, another common anxiety, one it seems Sarah Jane shares. She's never been this on edge except when facing monsters from the old days. The scene with the robot clowns could have been directed with a little more energy - it all seems very slow to me - but otherwise, the episode as a whole has a strong funhouse atmosphere, full of crazy tricks to creep out or startle the audience. And writer/showrunner Phil Ford gives us Clyde as class clown to make the episode more thematically consistent. Good show!
REWATCHABILITY: Medium-High - The Chandra family gets quite a good introduction in an episode filled with neat moments.