The second series of the kid-friendly Doctor Who spin-off continues with a new cast member and another alien menace that’ll have you hating Sondheim for writing “Send In The Clowns.” Here is a review of the next story of The Sarah Jane Adventures.
The Sarah Jane Adventures: The Day of the Clown
Written by Phil Ford
SYNOPSIS: Luke, Clyde, and Sarah Jane welcome the Chandra Family to Bannerman Road. The daughter of the family, Rani (Anjili Mohindra), shares an inquisitive spirit akin to Sarah Jane. That inquisitive demeanor benefits the gang when she begins to wonder about the clown that starts appearing at school. Sarah Jane begins paying attention, because whenever the clown appears, children start disappearing.
ANALYSIS: It was extremely sad to see Maria Jackson go, and this episode echoes that sadness beautifully through Luke. After all, it’s never easy when your best friend leaves, and it’s even harder to move on to the next one. I definitely do not envy Anjili Mohindra, as she’s put herself in the position to be the next girl next door. She will constantly be compared to Maria for a while. There will be many naysayers in the beginning who will pine for who they lost. All Mohindra needs to do is stick to her guns because she has made an excellent start of it.
The people behind the Doctor Who franchise have done exceptional work on the casting front, and I don’t envy the people behind The Sarah Jane Adventures. After all, great child actors are few and far between, and luckily, The Sarah Jane Adventures gets them all. Mohindra clearly understands that there is more to this show than aliens and fantastic bouts of derring-do. Like its parent series Doctor Who, SJA is about living your life and being able to roll with whatever life throws at you. What makes the character of Rani so instantly appealing is that you see a little bit of Sarah Jane in her. She has the same journalistic spark of Sarah Jane when we first met her in “The Time Warrior.” You can see it when she starts seeing the clown. It’s not fear in her eyes; it’s the kind of curiosity that shows the makings of a proper companion character.
As for the story, Phil Ford taps himself into Stephen King territory and explores the root of fear. In the case of this episode, the root of the fear is a clown, a fear which Sarah Jane actually bears. This comes as a surprise considering all these things she’s done and all of the alien menaces she’s faced. One of her chief fears is so normal and so understandable. It’s strange that clowns are initially there to create joy and yet they provoke the complete opposite from us. Director Michael Kerrigan knew exactly how to bring that fear out onto the TV screen. I think another thing that helps is Bradley Walsh’s chilling turn as the Ringleader Spellman and as Oddbob the clown. There is something quite disturbing about the way he alternates between accents as he switches personas.
The anatomy of this story also taps into a bit of the Buffy episode “Gingerbread” which steps into classic fairy tales to create a new terror. This episode brings the story of The Pied Piper into the spotlight, and writer Ford uses the child stealing element to create a story that is very sinister and deceptively mature for a show that is primarily targeted towards children. It’s actually very in tune with the storytelling structure of the Harry Potter novels and the way that JK Rowling never condescends to the audience by watering down the story. Nor does she insult the reader’s intelligence by making the writing too complicated. The Sarah Jane Adventures feels the same way. It never compromises its integrity to gain an audience, and it never shuts us out. It’s entertaining on a broad organic level.
I think the main fault is in the resolution of the story. The resolution is actually very clever and very well plotted, but the execution is rushed to the point that you don’t really get a chance to enjoy it. This is a shame, because it shows off Rani’s cleverness and Clyde’s natural grace under fire. While you do feel a bit cheated that it was rushed, the story never loses focus on the main goal of introducing a new character, and to that end it’s mission accomplished.
ESSENTIALLY: Despite some hiccups in the end, “The Day of the Clown” is a great, freaky start for a new character.
FINAL GRADE: B+