"So where's Will Smith?"
IN THIS ONE... Androvax is back and he needs to get into a vault to save the last survivors of his race from the Men in Black.
REVIEW: Phil Ford's second story with Androvax is also his second story to connect to Dreamland, the animated 10th Doctor story he wrote for the Year of Specials! In the first, Prisoner of the Judoon, Androvax stole the plans to the Roswell ship from Dreamland, and in this one, the eponymous Vault is guarded by the Alliance of Shades, robotic Men in Black bent on keeping humanity in the dark about aliens (and failing miserably, I hasten to add). Mr. Dread (no relation to the Judge, note the spelling) and his crew get their first live action appearance, and while that's cool enough, it only makes me wish some of the stuff from The Infinite Quest would be "canonized". Ah well. There's another sly reference, this one reaching back to the classic era, when Sarah Jane remotely disables a Mars probe so it doesn't come across Sutekh's pyramid. So THAT'S what happens to all those NASA probes!
Androvax is certainly worthy of a return engagement. He has a cool look, and spends most of his time possessing other characters anyway. Last time, Lis Sladen brought the character to life with a creepy, reptilian performance. There's no way the kids can top it, but each gets to give his or her interpretation. Sarah teaches us that even though Androvax is a genocidal killer, it's no reason to turn their backs on his guiltless(?) species. Finding out a hundred of his people may be alive is certainly enough to make him question his nihilism, and dying from a poison might certainly have brought on an existential crisis. But even though the evidence is in his favor, can he be trusted? The episode ends on an ambiguous note.
As a sequel to Prisoner of the Judoon, The Vault of Secrets also addresses Gita's close encounter from the former. She's now going to a support group called BURPSS (oh the hilarity), though one gets the feeling it's mostly to broaden her flower shop clientele. Still, she did see aliens that time, and look, one of them is back. It gets more convenient still when it's revealed BURPSS leader Ocean Waters (oh, my sides, my sides) holds one of the two access discs Androvax needs, given to her by Mr. Dread when she was abducted back in 1972. Very convenient plotting. TOO convenient. At least it gives her and Haresh some time in the sun after their absence from The Nightmare Man, and they always make a good comedy double act.
REWATCHABILITY: Medium - Ford writes a fair set-up to an adventure story, but it's the small, character moments (Sarah's secret mission, Luke Skyping from Oxford, the kids' reactions, Haresh's discomfort with Gita's new obsession) that hold your interest, not the by-the-numbers plot.