It’s old news to you blokes in the UK, but here in the States, we “Doctor Who” fans are positively chomping at the bit to check out Season Four of the series. The fact that the first episode of the season, “Voyage of the Damned,” is premiering tomorrow on the SciFi Channel is therefore like getting a Christmas present in April…though, mind you, it also doesn’t hurt that the episode in question actually has a Christmas-oriented plot. (It’s become an annual tradition for the series to produce a 90-minute holiday special to precede the actual season premiere.) The real “Who” geeks in America have probably managed to view the episode via the ‘net, since I know that it’s been broken up into chunks and posted in its entirety on YouTube by some industrious fans, but even those who’ve seen in such a fashion will still no doubt enjoy being able to watch it on a decent-sized screen in top-notch quality.
When we last left The Doctor, he’d crashed the TARDIS into…the Titanic? Well, yes and no. Seems it’s actually a starship bearing that famous name that he’s collided with, and he’s arrived just in time for a lovely shindig. The best bit about the function: one of the waitresses looks suspiciously like Kylie Minogue. As “Who” casting goes, this one’s clearly strictly for the novelty, but Ms. Minogue holds her own admirably as she and The Doctor pop down to Earth for the holiday (the ship’s in orbit around our big blue marble), only to find that London’s all but evacuated due to fears of yet another alien invasion…and, y’know, it’s a fair cop, what with how many times it’s happened in the past. The two find themselves abruptly returned to Titanic, however, just in time for – you guessed it – a collision. I won’t be spoiling the fun for those of you who haven’t seen the episode yet, but I will say that my favorite character was a short and spiky red alien called Bannakaffalatta, and I, like the Queen herself, must give The Doctor props for his steering ability. All in all, it’s not one of the best “Who” episodes, but it’s always good to see David Tennant step back into his familiar shoes, and the finales on both the Titanic and on Earth were each sweet enough to get me at least mildly choked up. (I’m an old softie, though, so your own mileage may vary.)
Not only is The Doctor back on SciFi, but also on the Channel is a new show featuring one of his former compatriots, Miss Sarah Jane Smith. “The Sarah Jane Adventures” came about when the BBC asked “Who” executive producer Russell T. Davies to consider working up a spin-off for the kids’ market; rather than take their initial suggestion of a teenage version of The Doctor, he pulled together a series which focused on Sarah Jane, since the actress who played her – Elisabeth Sladen – had recently revisited the “Who” universe, anyway, in “School Reunion.” The resulting series, which teams Sarah Jane with her 13-year-old neighbor, Maria (Yasmin Paige), still feels very “Who”-like, but, as anticipated, is a bit less intense, so as to keep from scaring the younger viewers.
The hour-long premiere episode – it’s regularly a 30-minute show – premiered on SciFi last week and set the stage for the series by showing Maria and her dad moving into their new neighborhood. (Maria’s mom’s still in the picture, but after sleeping around, she and Dad aren’t exactly a couple any more.) The two quickly begin to meet their neighbors, including a rather obnoxious little girl named Kelsey (Porsha Lawrence Mavour) and, more importantly, Sarah Jane. On the first night in the new house, Maria spots Sarah Jane communing with an alien; as you’d expect, she’s pretty freaked out, but she’s also fascinated. It’s a fascinating area all around, this new neighborhood, as the soft drink called Bubble Shock! is manufactured nearby…by aliens! Long story short, Sarah Jane gets involved, teams up with Maria and her pal, takes down the aliens, and ends up with an adopted, alien-bred wonder child in the process.
“Invasion of the Bane” was initially aired as a one-off special rather than the first episode, which turned up 9 months later, but I’ve seen the first proper episode as well – the two-part “Revenge of the Slitheen” – and it’s just as much fun. Even better, Kelsey’s abruptly vanished from the proceedings, replaced by Maria’s new and far less annoying school friend, Clyde Langer (Daniel Anthony). As you’d expect from a Slitheen-themed episode that’s been adapted for a younger audience, the fart jokes are legion, but, really, who doesn’t enjoy a good laugh at a bit of gas, eh?
If you’ve got a kid who’s into sci-fi, you’d do well to steer them toward “The Sarah Jane Adventures,” and if you’re already a “Who” fan, you won’t want to miss it, either. It’s quite like something you’d expect to have originated from ABC Family these days; it’s well-written, it’s both funny and dramatic, the special effects are on par with “Doctor Who,” and despite technically being for teens, it’s in no way dumbed down for a younger audience.
Catch “The Sarah Jane Adventures” tomorrow at 8 PM EST, with “Doctor Who: Voyage of the Damned” premiering immediately thereafter, at 8:30 PM EST.