Doctor Who #811: Secrets of the Stars Part 1

"Sign of the twins. Two faces. That's this session over."
TECHNICAL SPECS: First aired Oct.20 2008.

IN THIS ONE... Martin Trueman becomes the vessel of the Ancient Lights. Astrology trumps science.

REVIEW: Meet Martin Trueman, a con man's name if I ever heard one, he's a bad astrologer and a Gemini who gains a "second face" when he's possessed by the Mandragora Helix--oh wait, though Gareth Roberts wrote the script with the Helix in it, it was changed to the "Ancient Lights" when it was decided an SJA villain was too easy to defeat compared to an old Doctor Who menace. Well... I sort of choose to believe the Helix was at least related to these "Lights" and that they have a common origin. After all, they both work on impossible astrological power. I just wish Sarah Jane was allowed to make the connection on screen, given that she faced the Helix during her tenure on the parent program (do appreciate the Draconia reference though). Instead, Rani makes these Doctorish assumptions about physics from the previous universe and Luke fills in the blanks (Mr. Smith just can't detect energies from the previous universe and goes 'round and 'round  saying there's nothing there, which is a neat twist).

But back to Martin Trueman... Children's entertainer Russ Abbot is a natural at doing the stage show stuff and gives a human performance when he decides to tell his client he's a fraud and to keep her mortgage money, but goes way over the top once he starts using his powers to shoot star energy from his fingers. Sure, the Lights are controlling him (probably), and that's usually the only Doctor Who actors need to star chewing the scenery, but there's a line and I hate it when it's crossed. The people he hypnotizes (Cheryl and Clyde) manage to be sinister while also keeping the volume down to a believable level. Even during his stage show, Abbot's performance is dialed down from those star power scenes, bringing warmth and light humor to the scene. To Sarah, of course, his knowledge of her secret life is unsettling. (By the way, when DID she start hating to be called just "Sarah"? The Doctor used to call her that all the time!)

Though Trueman's prediction that she will soon lose a battle is meant as a threat, I like to see it as a premonition of things to come later in the season. After all, they're already sewn the seeds of The Temptation of Sarah Jane Smith, and all this talk of destiny also points in that direction. Could Trueman be reading the stars incorrectly, seeing what he wants to see? As far as character moments go, we get each character's take on astrology, etc., but it's Luke's anxiety over being different that takes center stage. He doesn't have a sign, of course, because he was never actually born, but his plight is really every teenager's, isn't it? If Sarah can't quite cheer him up, he might take comfort in the fact that his difference probably means Trueman has no power over him. That's usually where this kind of thing leads.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium - I can't help feeling Secrets of the Stars would feel more significant if the Mandragora Helix were in it. As is, it's perfectly fine, if unremarkable.


snell said...

" (By the way, when DID she start hating to be called just "Sarah"? The Doctor used to call her that all the time!)"

You just answered your own question. Because calling her just Sarah reminds her of her time aboard the TARDIS. And only the Doctor ever got the liberty of shortening her name...


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