The Sarah Jane Adventures at 15: “Invasion of the Bane” Retro Rewind Review
Gustaff Behr takes a look back at the spin-off series.
The Sarah Jane Adventures was a spin-off series of Doctor Who which ran for five seasons, from 2007 to 2011. The show followed former companion Sarah Jane Smith, after being reunited with the Tenth Doctor, and her friends/companions as they deal with alien incursions…all from an attic in Ealing, London. Retro Rewind travels back in time to see how this close to a decade and a half old show holds up today. Has it aged like a fine wine, or some chicken that’s been left out in the sun for too long? This is Series 1, episode 0: Invasion of the Bane!
Invasion of the Bane was written by Gareth Roberts and Russell T Davies, and aired 1 January 2007 as a “New Year’s Day” special. It was unique in that it served the same function as a backdoor pilot, even though “School Reunion” from Series 2 of Doctor Who did the exact same thing the previous year.
The episode uses its one-hour run time wisely and manages to juggle a lot. For starters, we are introduced to Maria Jackson, our audience surrogate, who has just moved to Bannerman Road with her father and mother…only not. It quickly becomes apparent that her mother, Chrissy and father, Paul, have recently divorced. Maria is still massively affected by this and even hopes the two can find their way back to each other.
Sarah Jane is reintroduced as an eccentric hermit-type who has no friends or life outside of helping/defeating aliens. It’s a tragic characterization, and we later see how much of her life she spent not truly moving on from the Doctor. She never married, nor had kids. Most people who do know who she is like Kelsey call her weird or crazy. From an audience standpoint, a lot of folk could easily think of her life as being miserable. I genuinely liked this colder, more practical characterization as it makes for great development when Luke comes along later.
And speaking of Luke, the actor playing him, Tommy Knight, gives a passable performance which is forgiven since playing a blank slate character makes it hard to narrow down whether the actor is still finding their sea legs or just can’t act. As we learn later in the series, it’s simply because Tommy Knight was still coming into the role.
The episode’s plot involves the global phenomenon ‘Bubble Shock’, a soft drink that the episode shoves down your throat at every opportunity. No, seriously! The advertising for this plot point is ridiculous. Whenever the television is one, it is advertising Bubble Shock. Whenever we see posters, it’s Bubble Shock. Be it on buses or people having conversations, half the time it’s Bubble Shock. It gets annoying really quickly, but at least I can say that Bubble Shock has a better marketing department than Doctor Who (ba-dum-tss). Mrs. Wormwood is in charge of Bubble Shock’s production and makes for a formidable foe for Sarah Jane Smith. She behaves like a typical mustache twirling villain, but then again, this isn’t Doctor Who, this is a CBBC show.
The look of the Bane monsters holds up well after fifteen years, much better than the Werewolf or the Lazarus monster from the parent show. The episode chooses its moments when to show off the creatures and gives them the Jaws treatment otherwise. It works well, as the show is designed to frighten children, but also relies on fear of the unknown to add to the fear factor. Shots of characters reacting to the monster are, predictably, toned down as soon as we see what the Bane actually look like.
Invasion of the Bane has an excellent pace though. It strategically introduces its cast. Mr. Smith, Sarah Jane’s talking alien computer, is the odd example as he is momentarily foreshadowed but given no explanation when added to the roster. Unlike Luke or Maria, he is just there. It doesn’t hurt the episode much, as not everybody’s backstory needs to be explained right away. We also get to see K-9 again who is rather sloppily put on a bus from the series given that he and Mr. Smith serve the same plot function, except he is mobile and can easily get Sarah Jane out of trouble if needs be. It is still a heartbreaking moment when Sarah Jane refers to K-9 as her one friend, only to have Kelsey Hooper mock her for it.
And on the topic of Kelsey, she is easily the worst character, not just in this episode, but arguably the entire series. The actress who portrays her does an excellent job making her constantly unlikable, but her existence is loathing. Her over-the-top, brash and consistently rude behavior is a huge mark-down for the episode given how much she is in it. Kelsey exists only as a vessel to jump start the investigation, stir up conflict or make characters exposit information, be it Sarah Jane or Mrs. Wormwood. I’d go so far as to say that this isn’t even a true character, but a caricature of one. Thankfully, she was replaced after this episode.
Invasion of the Bane balances character moments well, and all in the span of one-hour. As someone who has never thought of Sarah Jane all that highly, I actually found myself warming to her. She showcases a more practical way of dealing with matters, opting to save Luke and Maria who she can see while abandoning Kelsey and half-heartedly assuming she must have gotten out already. Sarah Jane undergoes significant development by the end of the episode when she decides to adopt Luke. After so many years, she finally lets someone in. She has a family. Her rule of not putting anyone else in danger is broken in favor of starting a friendship with Maria.
Overall, Invasion of the Bane serves as a good introduction to Sarah Jane and the Bannerman Road Gang. There are parts where you know it’s made for a younger audience, but also deeper, more mature elements that lets you know that even if you are older, you can still enjoy it.
So…after so many years, how do you regard Invasion of the Bane?