Off the bat, let me say: I enjoyed these episodes! Oh, I’ll bitch about things in just a moment, but I had fun watching them. This story is very much aimed at the children, but it isn’t childish. The story doesn’t talk down, just gets on with it.
This story could be considered as School Reunion with the Slitheen replacing the Krillitanes. The Slitheen are a great metaphor for teachers being monsters, although, like School Reunion, the story doesn’t make any real use of that. The best we get is along the lines of ‘that teacher isn’t a threat’, but then… Instead, the story is about how the Slitheen are planning to, well, get revenge (as it happens), and just happen to be at the school where Maria and Luke happen to be – and this brings up an amazing co-incidental accident of the script. Why should this school play the pivotal role it does? Co-incidence always plays a big part in most Doctor Who adventures, but there really is no excuse for one this big this soon. The fact that the story doesn’t make much use of the school aspect emphases this more.
But the story needs to be lightweight as the episodes have another role to play: re-introducing the world of Sarah Jane Adventures. This is helped by the introduction of the character of Clyde Langer (replacing Kelsey from Invasion of the Bane) who gets to ask ‘what’s that?’ Any resemblance to one Mickey Smith is, I’m sure, purely an accident of casting. Thus we are treated to slabs of exposition which could easily explain why this story was two episodes long!
That all said, the threat are the Slitheen, whom, I have to say, are less threatening here than in Aliens of London/World War Three. We get no fast moving CGI versions, so we are treated to Paul Kasey doing his best monster lumbering, providing plenty of excuses as to how everyone outruns them (the Slitheen are supposed to be great hunters??), and their claws aren’t really designed for the machines they wanted built. Still, at least they aren’t doing the whole George Bush parody, and we do get a kid-friendly version, and there’s tons of farting for children to chuckle at (I did wonder if the fans were in mind with the whole Clyde/Luke ‘is farting funny?’ runner).
Now, Doctor Who often requires a blind eye towards the accurate end of technology, but what happens here not only takes the cake, but also steals the entire kitchen! The Slitheen are stealing energy, from every source, be it electrical or heat or… and the machinery that makes this happen incidentally causes cellular decay… but humans are cellular and produce heat (and low level electricity), yet no humans are harmed by this process? The hey?? Hand-waving physics are all very well, but there are some basics that might occur to people.
I did say at the beginning that I did enjoy this adventure, and the reason for that can be easily summed up: the cast. It really is great to see Elizabeth Sladen back as Sarah Jane, but the lion’s share of this episode goes to Yasmin Paige (Maria), Tommy Knight (Luke), Daniel Anthony (Clyde) and Martyn Ellis and Ian Midlane as the teachers. The cast really invest themselves in their parts, bringing a smile to the face when the rest of the story doesn’t. The production team score highly here, and it’ll be this group of people that have the power to make Sarah Jane Adventures a success.
Revenge of the Slitheen was as much a second pilot to SJA as anything else, borrowing on the Slitheen threat to make an impact and introducing the new cast and themes that’ll no doubt play out over the year (one definite arc is that involving ‘family’). As long as the actors are buoyant, they’ll make up for any downfall in story, making SJA a very watchable series.