Review: The Sarah Jane Adventures 2×1

Sex lives of the potato men

In the UK: Mondays, 4.35pm, BBC1
In the US: The SciFi Channel again, probably

Last series of The Sarah Jane Adventures posed something of a dilemma. Obviously, being a spin-off of Doctor Who featuring a former Doctor Who companion, comparisons with the mother ship were inevitable. Thing was, the comparison invariably became "Don’t you think The Sarah Jane Adventures is more entertaining, more adult and more consistently higher quality than Doctor Who?" – even though ostensibly it was aimed at six year olds.

Now it’s back, packed with action, continuity references and Sarah Jane fun. So again we have to ask, which one’s better? We also have to ask, can we bear the shame of watching CBBC at our ages?

Just like last year, episode one features the return of a popular Doctor Who villain, handily mixing kanny marketing that should draw in old and new viewer alike, as well as kanny budgeting since there’s a whole world of effects and costume re-use that cuts costs.

This time, it’s the Sontarans who are making a return visit, thus sending a tingle up the spine of the old guard, who remember that Sarah Jane’s first ever Doctor Who encounter was with a Sontaran. The Whoers in charge of Sarah Jane don’t let us down, inserting a good few references to those old stories into the script to keep the adults fans happy, even if the six-year-olds are struggling.

The Sontarans, surely the leaders in "most mistreated monster" in the eternal Doctor Who awards ceremony, fare averagely here, doing the usual stupid thing of waiting rather than shooting everyone stone dead instantly and then telling everyone within earshot its plan. We could do without "Sontar, ha" again, too.

However, since there’s only one of him/her/it and it’s in full on Predator mode, it also proves to be a scarier monster than in nu-Who, stalking people through the woods, and hatching cunning plans, all by itself.

Meanwhile, back to things domestic, as one of the main cast reveals he or she is leaving. It’s a measure of the quality of the writing and the depth of the acting from said character and the other cast members that we do give a monkey’s about this; and that Sarah Jane’s reaction isn’t exactly what you’d expect.

Despite all these pluses, it is very much a kids’ show, unsurprisingly, so it’s pretty unchallenging and feels like we’re intruding on someone else’s viewing. The latest series of Who probably had the edge over the show in terms of quality, simply because of the darker eps and David Tennant. But it’s a close run contest and it’s almost compulsory to watch it all the same, just for the overlap with the other shows, the eternally marvellous Lis Sladen, further insights into Sarah Jane due down the line, and the return of at least one much loved old-Who character later in the series. Plus later episodes might be even better.

You’ve made it this far so a big question: do you want episode by episode reviews of this, as with Doctor Who and Torchwood, or should I leave y’all in peace? Answers below or on a postcard, please. And the best way to watch it, by the way, is on an iPod when no one’s looking.


  • I’m Rob Buckley, a journalist who writes for UK media magazines that most people have never heard of although you might have heard me on the podcast Lockdown Land or Radio 5 Live’s Saturday Edition or Afternoon Edition. I’ve edited Dreamwatch, Sprocket and Cambridge Film Festival Daily; been technical editor for TV producers magazine Televisual; reviewed films for the short-lived newspaper Cambridge Insider; written features for the even shorter-lived newspaper Soho Independent; and was regularly sarcastic about television on the blink-and-you-missed-it “web site for urban hedonists” The Tribe. Since going freelance, I've contributed to the likes of Broadcast, Total Content + Media, Action TV, Off The Telly, Action Network, TV Scoop and The Custard TV.