Audio Review: The Sarah Jane Adventures Collection

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RETURN to Bannerman Road one last time to enjoy this collection of 10 exclusive audio adventures featuring intrepid journalist and former former time traveller Sarah Jane Smith, ably assisted as ever by her team of young assistants Clyde, Luke and Rani, and the extraterrestrial supercomputer Mr Smith…

The unexpected death of series star Elizabeth Sladen has tragically robbed us of any further adventures with the cast of the acclaimed CBBC show, and this box set provides a fitting coda to the role she made her own.

The audio format allows for budget-free adventures and a depth of characterisation and plotting sometimes lacking from the fast-paced TV show, and there’s enough here to keep even the younger fans of the series engrossed in what is happening.

Sladen excels with her reading and portrayal of the different characters, drawing in the listener and keeping them hooked throughout each of the stories she narrates. Stepping admirably into the breach for the last two tales are Daniel Anthony (Clyde) and Anjli Mohindr (Rani), but although their performances are exemplary, they do draw attention to the loss of Sladen, which leaves these stories tinged with sadness.

The selection of different adventures here offer a variety of alien menaces for the team to investigate, and here we focus on some of the highlights…

In The White Wolf, a letter from a forgotten old friend sends Sarah Jane, Rani, Clyde and Luke head to the village of Wolfenden, where a white wolf carved in the hillside may have unexpected links to alien abduction.

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Themes of the occult in remote rural villages are very much a staple of fantasy fiction, and this particular story draws on influences including the very first SJS spin-off, K9 & Company (1981), with dark secrets hidden in the English landscape. Playing on the themes of age and memory, this is a much more low-key affair than the often bombastic TV episodes, but is no less impressive as a result.

Deadly Download finds the gang battling a dangerous computer virus capable of destroying everything and taking over the Earth, and in Wraith World Rani meets her favourite author and receives a journal full of notes and sketches from his book series, only to find the worlds of fiction and reality starting to collide.

Children of Steel recalls one of Sarah Jane’s earliest on-screen escapades, and her first alongside the Fourth Doctor, when she established a special bond with the K1 robot.

SJ discovers what she believes to be the head of a Victorian robot at an antique auction, part of the so-called Difference Golem, which contains a research probe from the future that somehow powers its brain.

Joined by Rani, Sky and Clyde, Sarah Jane visits Holcote House, the former residence of eccentric inventor Sir Joseph Montague, in a bid to determine the origins of this highly advanced technology, only to discover the dangers of meddling with artificial intelligence as the robot, now known as Adam, is returned to life…

With strong influences from Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, this is an entertaining romp which is ably read by Anthony, and would have succeeded just as well on screen as in an audio format.

The tenth and possibly final audio release in the SJA series, Judgement Day, offers a retrospective of Sarah Jane Smith’s career as a journalist which has rarely been recognised on television, explaining her role the aftermath of many of the alien incursions which featured both in Doctor Who and in her own eponymous show, including the evacuation of London following an influx of prehistoric monsters and the Skarasen’s attack on Parliament (as seen in Invasion of the Dinosaurs and Terror of the Zygons).

The determined young reporter who believed in revealing the truth came to realise that it was often better for the world at large if certain revelations about our place in the universe were kept hidden, and she was complicit in covering up what had really happened in a bid to restrict the public’s knowledge of aliens.

But although Sarah Jane believed she was doing the right thing, her past deeds are called into question by the Veritas, an ancient force for justice who place her on trial for her life…

The narrative offers a rarely seen examination of the character and motivations of Sarah Jane Smith which couldn’t provide a better finale to the series if he’d tried. An outstanding conclusion to a highly successful range which will be much missed.

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