Sarah Jane Adventures: Finale Review

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Clint Hassell reviews the final ever story of The Sarah Jane Adventures, The Man Who Never Was.

“The Man Who Never Was,” planned as the sixth story/finale of Series 5, became the de facto third story and the overall series finale with the death of star Elisabeth Sladen. In many ways, this provided The Sarah Jane Adventures with the best finale possible, as “The Man Who Never Was” wraps up many long-running plot threads while showcasing much of what made the program so great.

In the time between “The Curse of Clyde Langer” and “The Man Who Never Was,” Sky has flat-ironed her hair, demonstrating that she is adapting successfully as a pre-teen in her new Earthly environment. (I can imagine a make-over scene where Sky and Rani bond over fashion.) Also, Clyde and Rani are officially dating, tying up the dangling romantic subplot especially present in Series 4. By skipping forward three serials, “The Man Who Never Was” is free to focus on the two main unresolved plot threads: Luke meeting Sky for the first time, and the extent of Sky’s remaining electrokinetic abilities, both of which are addressed by episode’s end.

“The Man Who Never Was” repeatedly demonstrates the character of Sarah Jane Smith at her best. One of my favorite aspects of the episode is that it reminds the audience that Sarah Jane has always been a talented investigative journalist – the fact is actually pivotal to the plot. “What do you think pays for all this? Taking in washing?” Sarah Jane asks. (Actually, Sarah Jane’s aunt, Lavinia, left her a great deal of money when she died, though Sarah Jane’s subsequent phone call-as-thinly-veiled-interrogation to Serf’s assistant, Harrison, more than proves that she is “one of the country’s top journalists!”) Later, Sarah Jane and Adriana’s ruse to trip the guard and free themselves is brilliant in it’s simplicity. I love the Sonic Lipstick and was heartbroken that it didn’t feature in the story, but I was happy to see Sarah Jane have one last opportunity to prove that she is smart enough to not have to rely upon it.

As central to the plot as Sarah Jane’s talents are, every character has a specific role to play – the mark of a well-written episode. Sarah Jane and Adriana free themselves and then Luke and Sky, who have already alerted Mr. Smith (via K-9’s whistle) to Harrison’s plan. Meanwhile, Rani concocts a way to infiltrate the SerfBoard launch party and get close to Harrison, allowing Clyde to steal his sonic pen. Later, Sky thinks to use the Serf hologram to command the audience to destroy Harrison’s pen, with Luke increasing the hologram’s hypno controls to ensure the plan’s success. I am constantly amazed at how well The Sarah Jane Adventures services each of it’s main characters.

“The Man Who Never Was” especially showcases Elisabeth Sladen’s wide range as an actress. At first, the scene where Sarah Jane interviews Joseph Serf seems annoyingly long. I kept wanting her to just throw her pen, or her water, at him, revealing him to be a hologram. Instead the scene plays out as a hilarious game of cat-and-mouse between Sarah Jane and Serf’s assistant, Harrison. Usually, comedic scenes involve Clyde, or Rani’s parents, or the wacky guest-star-of-the-week; it was fun to see Elisabeth Sladen’s comedic timing featured, especially when the scene is then followed by another in which Sarah Jane reveals, with tears in her eyes, how Harrison’s evil plan has involved slavery.

I love that the episode really isn’t about the SerfBoard – it’s neither supernatural, nor alien, nor deadly – the episode is really about why slavery is bad. Luke‘s line, “Humans used other humans as slaves for centuries, [in] every culture the world over. Nobody ever challenged them until a few hundred years ago. In some places, it still goers on,” is simple, but it’s honest, and it immediately ties in the fantastic plot of the episode to a real-world life lesson, now accessible to all viewers.

The episode contains several other, hilariously-memorable lines, including a clever reference to the Tenth Doctor’s trademark “What? What?! WHAT?!” from Luke and Harrison at the beginning of Part Two. Other favorites:

SKY: “That’s my phone!”
LUKE: “Welcome to the club. I’ve had seven phones in the last two years.” (Is that true?)

MR. SMITH [translating Luke’s Morse code message]: “Clani, grab Harrison’s P-E-N- . . . full-stop.”
(That’s the most risqué joke I can recall on any Who-related show . . . and it ended up here!)

LUKE: “Remember, he’s American!”
SKY-CONTROLLED SERF HOLOGRAM [in response]: “YEEEEEEE-HAW!”
(As an American – and a proud Texan no less – remind me to file a complaint . . . when I stop laughing!)

It may seem like a small detail, but I loved the inclusion of Adriana in this serial. True, her character exists primarily to guide Sarah Jane to Storage 5, a phone, and the Serf Systems roof, but the episode expands her character, making her pivotal not only in Sarah Jane’s escape, but in the episode’s discussion of slavery; despite being held prisoner herself, Adriana is angry about the treatment of the Skullions. Her character represents the best that humanity has to offer – an ongoing theme in the Whoniverse. I love that she was visibly stunned to see a UFO (which, incidentally, reinforces the plot point from Doctor Who that the cracks in time erased the Cybermen and Dalek takeovers of Earth – Adriana is probably seeing a UFO for the first time), and we got a final shout-out to U.N.I.T.!

. . . And suddenly, we’re back in the attic on Bannerman Road. You know that feeling you get when you’re being dumped – that exact moment when you realize that it’s over and the entire universe caves in through your chest and falls out your butt? That’s what I felt at exactly this moment: “Oh, God, I am not ready for this.” Where’s my final, “I need you, Mr. Smith”? Where’s my tear-filled goodbye to K-9, her “daft, metal dog”?

No, it all ends with a montage (and, thankfully, one far less tear-inducing than the tribute attached to the American version of “The Impossible Astronaut”): Sarah Jane, an Arcateenian, Rani and Clyde, Jo Grant-Jones, Luke, Maria, the Judoon, Sky, K-9, and Ten. I was surprised to not see any clips of Maria’s or Rani’s parents (or Clyde’s mom, I guess), or Mr. Smith, or Eleven, or the Trickster, or maybe the Slitheen. I’m especially surprised to not see any clips of Sarah Jane with Three or Four (or Harry, or the Brigadier, or Davros, or the Sontarans), from classic episodes of Doctor Who, because, let’s be honest, the montage isn’t just a celebration of the series, but also of Sarah Jane Smith as a character, and of Elisabeth Sladen as an actress, and a person.