Doctor Who #829: The Mad Woman in the Attic Part 1

"If you had all these friends, if you had such a great life, how did you end up like this?"
TECHNICAL SPECS: First aired Oct.22 2009.

IN THIS ONE... In 2059, an older Rani Chandra lives in Sarah Jane's old attic. In 2009, young Rani meets a telepathic alien girl in an amusement park.

REVIEW: The episode starts just like Deep Space Nine's The Visitor - an aged sidekick gets a visit from a curious young person during a storm and tells them their story - but unlike DS9, the Sarah Jane Adventures are meant to be a happier place to begin with, which makes the contrast between sunny 2009 and dark 2059 all the more shocking. Makes for a great transition. The actress who plays the older Rani, Souad Faress is a dead ringer for Anjli Mohindra, so much so I have to wonder if the resemblance somehow inspired the story in the first place. I even find the young Rani's inflections in Faress' speech. Odd to see a future-that-must-be-changed story that doesn't feature the Trickster and "Sarah Jane Smith" in the title, but I'll take. Besides, Rani hasn't really been featured this strongly since her first appearance.

Television characters tend to begin life when we first see them on screen, and we don't really think about their pasts (for example, the death of Sarah Jane's parents was mentioned decades after the character's debut). Before Bannerman Road, Rani did have a life. She lived on the southern coast of England, was best friends with an orphan boy called Sam, and uh-oh, she told him all about her adventures with aliens. Sarah Jane is furious, but that's because she made the same mistake we did in assuming life started for Rani when she moved in across the street. Of course Rani would have had friends before, and that bond is still as strong today as the one between the group and Maria. Maybe Sarah needs a vetting process like Torchwood's. What Rani calls a best mate is perhaps a shade off what Sam would call it, if you know what I mean. And isn't it always the way. Thematically, of course, it's part of the script's mirroring strategy (quite beyond all the mirror imagery in the story). Rani feels like she's just a replacement for Maria, and Sam feels like he's been replaced by a cooler group of kids. Maria is the "new Sarah Jane" in America, but Rani has moved into Sarah Jane's place by 2059 and is heir to that title as well. (I wonder if the casting of all the boys in this story part of the same strategy - Sam and Adam the visitor both look like versions of Luke; I was going to criticize the casting, but now I think it makes a kind of sense.)

As for the alien du jour, Eve, she turns out to be rather nice, if misguided. Collecting friends by turning them into fun fair zombies, her intentions are naive but good. She's quick to tell Rani her friends love her and that she should go back to them, so the dark wish fulfillment, showing her the disturbing future we started with, might just be an object lesson from a well-meaning, time-sensitive girl. And oh wow, a Time War reference. It's been a while since we've dealt with a race destroyed by that particular conflict. Eve seems to be their Kal-El, whoever they were. Another character to watch out for is Clyde in this story. They're actually doing something with his artistic skills, glad to see that back, and he's becoming an able verbal trickster, getting into Rani's room to get clues and catching the fun fair caretaker in a lie. Sarah's always a bit irritated with him, but she's got to admit, he pulls his own weight on the team.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium-High - An interesting timey-wimey mystery with thematically sound underpinnings.



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