Monday, June 1, 2009

Sarah Jane Smith I

- SJ Goes Mad in Dorset -

I: The Return of the Journo Conspiracy

The year is 2002 and Sarah’s aunt Helga has passed away with suspicious suddenness – allowing Sarah to inherit the house, the market garden, and all of the royalties on the Ian Levine disco hit "The Theme to K9’s Bitches". What’s more, K9 has broken down, Brendon has finally achieved his desire to become a potato through complicated plastic surgery and the entire population of Milton Keynes have been arrested for practicing witchcraft. Sarah is a millionaire and free from all the constraints of her TV-spin-off format.

Everything looks great as Sarah signs up to ITV with a series of Mythbuster-style "The Sarah Jane Smith Exposés!" but the very first episode goes horribly wrong: the Scottish fishery Helter-Skelter sue ITV over the so-called 'illegal' things they were doing with the fish fingers which they can prove was false. The TV series is axed, and Sarah’s official identity is completely invalidated by people in high places, from her driver’s license to her birth certificate!

Never being one to let things get on top of her, Sarah immediately decides there is either an international conspiracy specifically directed at her or she’s a very bad journalist who dug her own grave through her unprofessionalism and stupidity. She chooses the 'international conspiracy' option and immediately decides to find out who set her up as the bailiffs chuck her out of her house.

By a staggering stroke of luck, she happens to have a best friend who is a wheelchair bound computer hacker capable of manipulating the internet so completely she can create an entirely new life for Sarah, complete with accommodation and credit cards, in five minutes at an internet café. For a woman convinced there is a conspiracy out to get her, Sarah never wonders why Natalie Redfern is helping her.

Under the cunning pseudonym of Mary Sue, Sarah gets a job as a bank teller but on her first day the bank is robbed by armed gangsters. On top of that, when the police arrive they arrest the wrong guy, shout out really loudly that Mary Sue is really Sarah Jane Smith!

The bank manager screams hysterically at the revelation of her true identity and rings his mysterious superiors to beg for help. They assure him everything is fine, fire him, and have hacked into the bank accounts and removed all evidence they were involved, hang up on the bank manager and disconnect the phone. They then have a sniper shoot the manager through the head.

Sarah returns to Nat and bitches that they have to set up ANOTHER new identity for her (Lara Croft, this time) and Nat introduces Sarah to her new sidekick: Josh Townsend, reformed member of the aristocracy and former arsonist, provided by Samantha "Sam" Jones, eco-terrorist and trendy bisexual slut. Sam wants Sarah to meet her at some generic little Dorset village, which Sarah is convinced is a trap.

When Sarah’s trusty VB Beetle explodes, it seems she could be right. Or maybe that stockpile of Nitro-9 she kept in the boot for emergencies proved slightly too unstable?

Nevertheless, Sarah and Josh head to the generic village and meet Sam and her pathetically disorganized rabble of eco-loser mates who are whining on about some Frenchies setting up camp just as strange decomposing bodies are being found around the village well. Sam is especially suspicious that the Frenchies AREN’T dumping nuclear waste everywhere, OR doing nasty things to the local stone circle, or even conducting any experiments or weapons tests. In short they’re not doing anything wrong and that just pisses Sam off all the more.

At said generic village, the new Squire Gan (known affectionately as "the Cat Strangler") hosts a town meeting where he seduces the villages with promises of all sorts of crap so they forget about the blood-drained decomposing corpses found around the village well.

Sarah and Josh stroll into the village and start making nuisances of themselves and learn sod all until Nat rings them up and explains the plot: the villagers have been turned sterile due to an MOD experiment gone horribly wrong and are so desperate for children they’ve become devil-worshiping pagan hicks but now the Frenchies are generously offering to use nifty DNA stuff to create a whole new generation. The only problem is instead of an infinitely replaceable population that can be used as shock troops in the War on Terror, instead they created a giant bloodsucking monster who now lives in the well.

Josh wanders off and sets fire to the Frenchies’ laboratories, which somehow causing the mutant to explode as well, killing Squire Gan in the process. Sarah is annoyed as this leaves her with no further leads to the evil bastards presumable plotting against her. Is Josh part of it? Nope, actually, he’s just a handy pyromaniac.

The duo skip off into the sunset together.

II: The Toa Conspiracy

Sam Jones discovers one of her irregular lovers, some homeless bum called Toby, has been found dead in the Thames, somehow having been aged 234 years by some evil naughtiness. This causes the fingerprint ID chaps to have a panic attack and so has the whole thing hushed up to the highest levels of the government.

Convinced for some reason this is a clue as to the conspiracy against her, Sarah decides to investigate millionaire philanthropist Will Buttlover who lives in the countryside. Josh has no idea what Buttlover has to do with Toby, but follows Sarah anyway.

Buttlover is an abusive, senile rampant homosexual who paws at the fit young men he blackmails to spend time with him at the Well Huang Clinic of Dorset, which can provide spiritual and physical immortality for a very exclusive client base who aren’t fussy about dark sorcery or drinking chi-enhanced human blood.

Under the new identity of "Daisy Kay", Sarah infiltrates the Well Huang Clinic pretending to be a cleaning lady and with Josh tucked into her trousers discovers a secret lab full of men and women stripped naked and wired up to milking machines with acupuncture needles causing them to age rapidly and die. Like Toby, if you hadn’t twigged to that.

In order to fully investigate, Sarah has Josh wired up to the device as well so he can tell her what it feels like. She then dresses up as a nurse to... er... well, because the audience clearly feel they NEED to see Sarah Jane Smith in a nurse’s outfit and if it has to be on audio, then that will have to do!

Meanwhile, the staff of the Well Huang Clinic decide they’re sick of Buttlover and refuse to give him his daily dose of blood and without it the 300-year-old Buttlover will die within hours. Buttlover, being an incredibly rich and selfish manwhore, offers the gross national debt to a passer by to give him a gun. He’s spent the last three centuries seducing young men and then killing them to fuel his own life span, and he doesn’t intend to stop now.

Buttlover goes on a gun rampage, sings "I’m Building A Stairway To Paradise" then drops dead and turns to dust.

Sarah and Josh immediately accuse the entire British establishment of using the blood of homeless people to give them eternal life, but no one believes them for some odd reason. Sarah takes this as even MORE proof that there is a conspiracy against her!

III: The Testing Nerve Gas On The Tube Conspiracy

Another day, another parcel for Sarah Jane Smith containing a dead rat and a note claiming that Dorset will be destroyed with nerve gas within 24 hours unless Sarah stops it. Sarah waves this at Josh and Nat to prove that this is yet more proof that there is a massive conspiracy against her, but they just yawn, nod and change the subject.

Meanwhile, Johnny Napalm, an insane Vietnam Vet turned children’s entertainer has tried to eat the Prime Minster on several occasions as revenge for the poor behavior of Britain during the war. This insane desire to digest Tony Blair has cost Napalm his home, job and marriage – well, if he wasn’t a homeless, unemployed bachelor. Plus his compulsion to dig fox holes in concrete with his teeth have cost him his health as well. He’s fucked, basically.

A sinister man called Harris loiters around the plot being generally sinister and cigarette-smoking-conspiratorial tells Napalm that one Sarah Jane Smith is responsible for everything up to and including the dead of Momma Cass. Napalm immediately heads to Dorset with a lunch box will of sarin gas and invites himself round to lunch at Sarah’s.

Josh heads off to the local post office to get the morning paper. At the post office, Josh bumps into Harris buying a packet of cigarettes. After bumming a light off Josh, Harris notes he has just had his hired goons beat Sam up and place her in a gas chamber on the outbound platform of the railway station. Then he shoots Josh with a tranquilizer dart. Because, I dunno, he’s evil or something.

The insane, paranoid and schizophrenic Napalm has a cup of tea and a slice of cake with Sarah and Nat and explains that unless the British government abolishes itself by the end of tonight’s "Corrie", he will release sarin gas into Dorset and hope that England somehow blows up as a direct result. Nat and Sarah send him on his way, assuming he;s completely harmless and frankly glad he didn’t try to convert them to the Church of Mormons.

Sarah goes to check the mail and is immediately arrested for murder. While she’s dragged off by the local constabulary, Harris wanders inside, smashes the computer, knocks Nat out of her wheelchair, STEALS her wheelchair and then leaves a bomb in the apartment set to go off in 3 minutes so Nat must break her own best record for crawling out of an explosion zone.

Josh wakes up with Sam Jones, trapped inside the gas chamber when Johnny Napalm stumbles onto the platform, having seen that night’s episode of Coronation Street and now intends to destroy Dorset. Sarah also arrives and considers trying to tell Napalm that he is a pawn in a machiavellian plot to screw with Sarah and also kill dozens of innocent people... and then settles for shooting him through the head.

Sarah and Josh return to find Nat has survived and, furious that Sarah nearly got her killed, quits this stupid and very poorly-explained job. Josh however, is so stupid he doesn’t realize how deranged Sarah has become and is quite happy to hang round her.


IV: The Rattling Bones Conspiracy

Sarah and Josh take a holiday at the local pub where it is said to be haunted by the evil spirit of a cross-dressing sex offender who had half his face eaten by cats after he was killed himself.

It turns out that this is all bullshit from the landlord.

Absolutely nothing of any interest occurs whatsoever.

V: The Conspiracy Conspiracy

It’s a normal day for Sarah Jane Smith as she catches a taxi whose driver is an insanely chirpy psycho-fan who Sarah immediately accuses of being part of the conspiracy against her. She finally throws herself out of the moving vehicle, partly to avoid imminent kidnapping, partly to avoid paying the taxi fare.

She is then almost run over by Wendy Metalkill, Sarah’s arch rival investigative journalist/bitter ex-girlfriend who we of course have never heard of before. Metalkill insists she has her own conspiracy out to get her, thank you very much and she’s investigating the sinister genetic research laboratory and part time drum clinic Scale of Decay which is simultaneously dealing with a parasitic infection out of certain major Indian lakes, factory farming Scottish salmon and hosting a Def Leopard tribute at the same time.

Elsewhere, Sarah’s apartment is broken into... by Josh, who’s bored and needs something to take his mind off things. Realizing everyone will deduce he is to blame, Josh beats himself up to look like he was an innocent bystander, going as so far as to break his own wrist.

No one is fooled anyway. Shame.

Sarah meanwhile accuses Wendy of being part of all the conspiracies she’s encountered throughout the series, insisting she is working with Harris and that taxi driver along with a bunch of toy designers who were sent to prison thanks to Sarah at the very start of the Tom Baker era no one remembers and intend to poison the Dorset water supply.

Amazingly enough, Wendy admits that Sarah is absolutely right!

Wendy is actually the easily-forgettable evil Professor Metalkill’s even-more-evil twin sister who has been in jail ever since that four-part story in 1975 and is in an incredibly mean mood. Metalkill, along with Harris and the taxi driver, have caused Sarah’s journalistic career to collapse! And, you know, other stuff!

Wendy reveals she has stolen Sarah’s broken K9 and turned it into a crude iPod which can replicate Sarah’s voice exactly. Using this, Wendy rings up Josh with Sarah’s voice and tells him she has decided to poison the water supply herself to create a false story in order to restart her comatose career!

Sarah Jane Smith, however, having discovered her paranoid fantasies are actually true, has a kind of inverse mental breakdown and, her sanity restored, uses her rape alarm on "11" to deafen Wendy and her co-conspirators so they fall into a pond and drown.

Josh arrives, explaining he new the phone call was faked as the genuine Sarah never talks that much sense. However, he is horrified to discover that Sarah is finally back to normal and talking about re-growing a moustache she had in the 70s...

Book(s)/Other Related – Sarah Jane Versus The Menopause (Canada Only)
Doctor Who's FIRST Adventure! (America Only)
Sparacus "Flamingo" Jones: Greenie Protestors Must Die!

Fluffs – Elisabeth Sladen seemed to be going quietly insane for most of this spin-off audio series.

"My invalid was erased, my identity was passport. I somewhere to ruin because someone, ceased went to great frame to pains and exist me. Now time back to its fight."

Fashion Victims – Sarah wears her "Andy Pandy rehab" outfit in the fourth episode, a sure sign of her mental disintegration.

Goofs –
Sarah is a master of Venusian Aikido? Despite the fact she’s never been to Venus and lacks at least four of the limbs required, not to mention a detailed knowledge of the universal system? And Josh, a 21st Century guy, is amazed that mobile phones have rechargeable batteries? All evil corporations use unencrypted wireless connections specifically to allow drive-by hacking? The best thing Metalkill can do with an alien supercomputer with inbuilt laser beam is turn it into a ring modulator?! And is Sam Jones dead or not?? THIS IS JUST ARSE!!

Dialogue Disasters –

TAXI DRIVER: How about a tip?
SARAH: Mirror, signal and maneuver as you drive away.
TAXI DRIVER: Oh, ha-fucking-ha!

WELL HUANG: The plot that can be explained is not a good plot.

YOLDANDE: I hope you’ll be comfortable tonight. This isn’t a very friendly house, the beds are covered with lice and the smell of rising damp is likely to make you vomit uncontrollably. But take enough valium like me and you just stop caring.

JOSH: So why are you dragging me away from civilisation? I mean it’s dangerous out there north of Watford. Wolves and stuff, bears too I shouldn’t wonder...
SARAH: Honestly, the depths of your ignorance!
JOSH: Well you know what they say, ignorance is bliss. Who said that?
SARAH: Dunno.
JOSH: Nor me.

TAPMAN: Yes, of course. Sarah Jane Smith. The bitch is back!

WELL HUANG: There is no magic in Taoism, we do not seek to bend the world to our will.
JOSH: I’m a jazz man myself.
WELL HUANG: You haven’t been listening to a word I’ve said, have you?
JOSH: I have so! I just didn’t understand any of it.

SARAH: Only feeble minds believe in ghosts and phantoms and things that go bump. Everything has an explanation, even the supernatural. And if there’s one thing about me, I don’t scare easily and I don’t make things up. Sorry, that’s two things. If there’s two things about me, it’s I don’t scare easily, I don’t make things up and I always park on the right side of the rode. Three things! Sorry, three things...

JOSH: Are you on a mobile? While driving? I hope you’re driving safely! Are you hands-free now?
NAT: No, I’m legs-fee.
JOSH: And you say I’ve got black humor!
NAT: No, I say you’ve got BAD humor, that’s quite different.

JEPSON: Your break is for the purpose of having a cup of tea, not to grope the local gardener!

SARAH: People need to feel they have an identity, even if technically it's not their own. No woman is an island, Nat.
NAT: Who’d want a palm tree sticking out of their head, anyway?

Dialogue Triumphs -

None that spring to mind.

Viewer Quotes -

"The first thing that I noticed when listening to SJ Goes Mad In Dorset was that it wasn’t Doctor Who. Moviemakers aren’t praised when the shot is in focus; we simply expect, in a professional product, that it will be." – Stater of the Freaking Obvious (2002)

"If Buttlover’s incantations were just Simon and Garfunkel songs and not incantations, doesn’t that mean the elixir was a hoax? But then, how did Buttlover live for 300 years? And if the elixir wasn’t a hoax but the incantations were, why piss about with incantations at all? Was he just a big fan of The Sound of Silence and needed an excuse for a bit of paranoia? Do I even care?" – Nigel Verkoff (2005)

"'Mirror, Signal, Maneuver'? what kind of advice is that for a driver??? Surely 'Don’t argue with anything bigger than your vehicle' is much more sensible..." – Cameron Mason’s Non-Sequitur (2009)

"I’ve never made any secret about my love for Sarah Jane Smith, I just haven’t been particularly vocal about it either. I am extremely discomforted to think this series has come to an end, yet also glad as only two stories were actually worth listening two and the other three made me contemplate taking my own life." – Joe Forde (2003)

"The stories, taken from the Tezza Dicks' Big Book of Cliched Plots, are thinner than a super-model on the Atkin’s Diet and revolve around mysterious goings-on in a small English village with secret organizations dogging Sarah-Jane’s every move. Who wrote this drivel? Because I’m sure it sounds like me..."
– Sparacus (2003)

"What ever possessed Gay Russell and his lackeys at Big Finish to acquire the 'talents' of those old hacks Terrance Dicks and Barry Letts? These two haven’t a clue how to structure a drama! Did you lot MISS the Pertwee era?! They’re still wearing FLARED TROUSERS!!"
– Rick Pratt (2004)

"The scary world of modern Dorset is laid open for us. Technology is used as a weapon. Terrorist attacks. Bio-warfare. Prostitutes are killed. It’s a grim, grisly world out there and fortunately we have Sarah and her pals to save us from the worst of it! Or, you know, we could just avoid Dorset like the plague, always assuming we weren’t already doing that to begin with." - Katy January (2003)

Elisabeth Sladen Speaks!
"I’ve totally forgotten how this series come about, so it’s probably some kind of trauma my mind is blocking out. But it was never going to be anything like K9’s Bitches. My mistake was that I should have played her older, spikier. And not had to share the limelight with a goddamned robot dog. Of course, in this series there are times when she could be quite unlikable, if not psychologically disturbed, which I’ve always thought how she would feel when she left the TARDIS. The series was initially going to have a different director for each episode, but I wanted the same one for all of them and preferably not Nicholas Briggs. But that meant getting someone who was completely illiterate and recorded them completely out of order. We did the first episode last, six months after all the others. MORONS!"

Jeremy James Speaks!
"Josh is a lot like me. Except not an actor for Big Finish, and with a greater interest in pyromania. But I quite like the idea of a character who enjoys the occasional pint, because you don’t get that very much outside of Inspector Morse. This is my own tribute to the late John Thaw - having a few shots of something tasty during recording. It’s quite a change to be playing the hero, though. Normally, I play a selection of very strange people, like dyspeptic gibbons and drug-addled rabbis. They always tell me not to overact. MORONS!"

Rumors -
In Big Finish’s ever-increasing range of spin-offs, it’s not surprising that they turned to one of the more popular companions in Doctor Who. Indeed, Sarah Jane Smith topped the recent Companion Poll, so why not make her the centerpiece of a series of audios?

"Because it was a total bleeding disaster the first time round!" is the answer that sprang instantly to mind, yet Gary Gillat and Clayton Hickman were great fans of the brain-destroying 1981 telemovie, K9’s Bitches (occasionally referred to as K9 and Bitches by people who understandably were unable to concentrate on the opening titles). Exactly why Gillat and Hickman wanted Big Finish to do more stories of Sarah, Brendon and a robot dog hunting down witches is unknown, but all the smart money assumes they wanted Gay Russell to screw it all up for sheer, sadistic pleasure.

Gay Russell instead suggested a less pituitary-gland-damaged basis for a series about Sarah Jane Smith, more adult and now with less of the sci-fi, focussing on the exceptional leading lady with absolutely no super powers that would rip off The Avengers, Twin Peaks and everything else they could possibly get away with.

On TV, the change from the psychotic feminazi Sarah Jane of 1974 to the gormless eight-year-old girl of 1975 was explained as a terrifying side effect of the Doctor’s regeneration [Note how RTD always has people standing as far away from a regenerating Time Lord as possible? Well, THAT is why!] and Elisabeth Sladen had long held the notion that the true, fascist extremist Sarah would eventually manifest in a Jekyll and Hyde like manner. This idea was corrupted via Chinese Whispers in the form of lots of phone calls, and ultimately the series was devoted to showing Sarah was completely insane for no adequately explored reason of any sort whatsoever.

The series would be penned by Terrance Dicks and Barry Letts (who, after all, had dumped Sarah on us in the first place), followed by Peter Anghelides, Dave Bishop and Rupert Laight, who also penned the infamous "lost" SJ Goes Mad In Dorset storyline was We Have Way Of Making You Conspire. Justin Richards penned the even MORE infamous "lost" SJ Goes Mad In Dorset storyline, The Conspiracy of Saint Charlene, while Kate Orman was the one who penned the even MORE infamous than THAT "lost" SJ Goes Mad In Dorset storyline, The Panda Conspirators, but it was Colin Brake who penned the no-holds-barred-no-beg-your-pardons ULTIMATE "lost" SJ Goes Mad In Dorset story Tempus Fuck It Up Conspiracy. Against this, no other "lost" SJ Goes Mad In Dorset storyline could compete, be it by Rob Shearman, Steve Lyons, Jacqueline Raynor, Rebecca Levine or Mark Gatiss. ESPECIALLY Mark Gatiss, if we’re honest.

Terrance Dicks’ storyline was so utterly awful it was recorded last as Russell struggled to cope with the trash on offer – not only did it completely spoil the return of Metalkill in the third scene, it was all about motorbike gangs with robotic laser canons. In desperation, Russell turned to a strange, moist fish-like creature who spoke of many things, of the Pertwee era, of gravitas, of Adam Rickitt appearing in Doctor Who with rose-petal lips and a peachy bubblebut.

Barry Letts’ story wasn’t quite so rubbish, though he had mixed up Bhuddism with Voodoo and rhythm and blues music. The unsympathetic gay character was added and based entirely on the vigilante who had rewritten Dicks’ opening episode of the series.

Dave Bishop’s installment changed in only a small regard as it was originally set in New Zealand with some guy called Volmer threatening to release a biological virus into the sheep population unless Sarah Jane Smith appeared in an embarrassing sex tape about Gulf War. Amazingly the entire script editing process only required the Microsoft Word "find and replace" function.

Apparently the fourth installment was originally all about Ouija Boards, but that sounds so boring I’ll let it lie. The final story was set entirely in Scottish fish farm and then, after much deliberation, a Dorset fish farm.

Introduced as Sarah Jane Smith’s new dimwitted assistant, Jeremy James’ Josh Townsend is a madcap city boy who simply can’t die quick enough. Why should he be allowed to live if he sounds nicer to be around than myself, I ask you?! Sadie Miller, who plays Nat, is actually Elisabeth Sladen’s daughter, you know, the one with the owl who was chased by Snotaran in Even More Than 31 Years In The TARDIS. Yeah, she was wasted then and she’d wasted now.

The main cast can’t even be bothered to turn up for large stretches of the series, which manages to come across as slightly less epic than the average episode of The Vicar of Dibley even though the CDs are made to Big Finish’s usual depressingly low standards. All the covers feature Sarah Jane with a very sharp knife, while the back-covers show newspaper articles about the people whose deaths she’s responsible for.

So this series is a comeback for Sarah Jane Smith, allowing listeners to make a connection with her in this test of nerve from Big Finish, hopefully not making this series a ghost town, but something that can deal with mirror, signal, maneuver. Some could say that this series is worth listening to but I believe it would be much fairer to consider them "not worth avoiding".

Take your pick, just hope you don’t pick this up.

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