BBC Video // 2008 // 338 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Eric Profancik (Retired) // November 10th, 2009
"Mr. Smith, I need you."
Being a fan of Doctor Who, I constantly clamor for more: more episodes, more Blu-rays, more bonus features, more of everything and anything. That's why I tuned in for both The Sarah Jane Adventures and Torchwood. These shows are spin-offs of the new Who series, with the former on SyFy and the latter on BBC America. After giving both of these shows a chance, I'm still only watching one.
Sarah Jane Smith (Elisabeth Sladen) is an investigative journalist by day and alien hunter by night. Actually, she pretty much chases aliens day and night with journalism being her cover story. With the help of her genius son Luke (Tommy Knight), his best friend Clyde (Daniel Anthony, Doctors), old neighbor Maria (Yasmin Paige, The Mysti Show), and new neighbor Rani (Anjili Mohindra), Sarah Jane works to save the world from one evil alien menace after another. This time it's not just the Earth that's in peril; it's the entire universe. Can Sarah Jane and her young friends save the day...again?
When I heard that there was going to be a Sarah Jane spin-off, I was leery. I know of the previous attempt from 1981, K-9 and Company: A Girl's Best Friend, and I know it didn't make it past the pilot. That was likely the fault that the show decided to focus on the robotic dog instead of the feisty, vivacious, and lovely Sarah Jane. Still, I went into this second attempt with great trepidation. I watched that first story and thought it was just average. I watched the second story and didn't think any more of it. If memory serves, it was in the third story I stopped watching it entirely. So it is today; I've given up on The Sarah Jane Adventures.
It's not because it's a bad show with poor scripts or horrible acting. No. It's that I'm not the target audience. Doctor Who and its two spin-offs form a three rung ladder of maturity. The first step is Sarah Jane, being a show with gentler themes created for children. The next step is Doctor Who, a middle-of-the-road show that can appeal to a broader audience, with facets to be enjoyed by both the young and old. And then the final step is Torchwood, the decidedly adult show that features blatantly bisexual aliens, dark themes, and violence. So while Sarah Jane is a decent show, I don't enjoy it because it's a bit too simple< for me.br>
That still holds true with this DVD of the second season. The show is still a bit thin for me, with simple plots, too many conveniences, corny humor, everything happily wrapping up in a short time, and too many kids. While that may describe most television these days, there's a distinct effort to make this show kid friendly, most notably in that the majority of main characters are children -- well, teenagers. Outside of Sarah Jane (who is still stunning at 61), our main characters are Luke, Clyde, and Rani, the new girl. They are all in high school (or whatever it's called across the pond), and Sarah Jane brings them in to help her solve the alien menaces. It's quite illogical to put kids in mortal peril week after week, but that's another review all together.
When I view this series from the correct perspective, it's not a bad show at all. It's obviously a labor of love, with nice stories, good acting, and decent production values. I can imagine younger viewers easily being captivated and pulled into Sarah Jane's many adventures. Children will like the brilliance of the genetically engineered Luke, Clyde's comedic ways, Rani's spunk and inquisitive nature, the neat-o factor of the computer, Mr. Smith, the nefarious aliens, and the cool special effects. There's plenty in these stories for the audience to enjoy. And it doesn't hurt that these stories help to carry on and embellish the general Who universe as well.
This three-disc set has some good points and a few too many bad points. One of the good points is the 1.78:1 anamorphic video. It's typical television transfer fare with an overall accurate if not robust palette: good flesh tones, solid blacks, and a good balance of contrast to show a nice level of detail. As I watch the program, I wasn't bowled over but I didn't notice any significant defects. The audio track, a Dolby Digital 2.0 mix, is where we have a first bad point. On the whole the audio transfer is a decent effort, with clear dialogue and some minor channel separation to add a bit of flavor to the presentation. But I did hear in several instances some heavy clipping, most noticeable in the first stories. They stand out strongly and are hard to miss. Luckily they are infrequent, but something like this should have been caught. The next bad point on the disc is the uninspiring bonus features. While it looks like the discs have a nice assortment of items, most of it is text-based and thin. I was not impressed by anything in this section and felt I had wasted most of my time going through all three discs to check it out. In "The Sofa Area" you will find text-based synopses of all episodes from both seasons. In "Sarah's PC" you'll find more text-based profiles of characters, investigative tools (the alien stuff she has laying about), and aliens. In "Mr. Smith" you get the biggest diversity of items: "Blue Peter Footage" (4:35) has the three teenage actors on a brief snippet from the show; "Audio Adventures" (5:17) is an audio clip that's more of a commercial to buy the audio adventures of Sarah Jane; then there are three short bits from Me and My Movie Monday with minimal behind-the-scenes footage: "Behind-the-Scenes with Tommy Knight, Part 1" (1:29), "Behind-the-Scenes with Julian Howarth" (2:09), and "Behind-the-Scenes with Tommy Knight, Part 2" (1:27); and lastly are "Series Scenes" (0:49) and "Behind-the-Scenes Photos" (0:49) that are both photo galleries. The best bonus item is the "Quiz Area," wherein if you answer five questions correctly you get a (3:15) video clip of a comic bit done for the BBC's Red Nose Day.
One of the things I'm not fond of in Doctor Who's new series is that it keeps circling back on itself, using the same enemies over and over. It's just four seasons in and I'm sick of the Daleks all over again. It's a big universe so give us some diversity. The same is now true of Sarah Jane. Don't rehash and reuse the same enemies too many more times. It gets stale very quickly.
The Sarah Jane Adventures is not a show for adults, even though many an adult will tune in because of its ties to Doctor Who. Most of those adults won't find the show that enjoyable, but perhaps their children will. This is a sci-fi, alien show firmly created for the younger population, with safer dangers and gentler foes. In that regard, it's a charming little show that works well to its audience and I hope it lasts for many more years. This set would also make a Bappetizer to an introduction to the Who universe. Yet it's a shame this set has a few too many flaws, with some audio glitching and a weak assortment of bonus features. Because of that, I think I'm going to hold back a buy recommendation. If you can rent this set, go ahead and do that instead.
The Sarah Jane Adventures: The Complete Second Series is hereby found guilty of wearing too much sonic lipstick.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: BBC Video
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 338 Minutes
Release Year: 2008
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Episode Synopses