Monday, June 1, 2009

Sarah Jane Smith II

- SJ Goes Completely Apeshit in Dorset -

VI: The Conspiracy of Buried Secrets

2007 dawns. As the world finally comes to terms with the existence of alien life in Cardiff if nowhere else, and Prime Minister of Great Britain Harriet "Hellfire" Jones fights off a vote of no confidence with a machine gun, and Sarah Jane Smith finally intends to leave Dorset and move into 13 Kandyman Road, Cardiff with her new boy-toy Josh Townsend now she’s uncovered the conspiracy preventing her getting her hard-earned inheritance.

Nevertheless, Josh is convinced that Sarah’s claims of working with UNIT fighting aliens and travelling in time are clearly paranoid fantasies and so, to prove himself, Sarah and Josh head to the local Italian restaurant to meet Dr Harry Sullivan, a less-than-memorable character from 1970s Doctor Who she last saw at Loch Ness.

Josh unsurprisingly takes an instant dislike to Harry, especially when they discuss a get rich scheme to drill in the local pond to calculate the point of no return for global warming, an incredibly expensive and pointless waste of time. Josh idly finds a postcard from the late Wendy Metalkill, written in Pig Latin, warning of a brand new conspiracy:

"Arahsay Anejay Ithsmay, your ifelay is of oremay ignificancesay antha either of us ealizedray! The End-Days areay uponay us allay! Ewarebay the arletscay colytesay of the Orphansay of the Uturefay! The Ookbay of Omorrowstay is openingay! Do otnay ignoreay isthay arningway - ISTHAY IS OTNAY A OAXHAY!!"

After deciphering it as some bollocks about the Book of Tomorrow – a kind of Nostradamus quatrain that actually made sense and predicted the apocalypse in the year 2000, but was stolen by the more fashionable doomsday cults, such as the Orphans of the Future: just like the Illuminati only less camp. The Orphans are split into the White Chapter (who believe the aliens who made mankind will return and save everyone) and the Black Chapter (who believe the aliens who made mankind will return and ethnically cleanse the Earth). Both sides realized they were complete tools when 2000 came and went with no apocalypse of any kind, but apparently Miss Metalkill was a card-carrying White Chapter member.

Dismissing it all as rubbish, Sarah decides to hang out around the Medici Project – an even dafter get-rich-quick scheme trying to discover if Tuscany’s most famous family had their tombs underneath Dorset. It’s a million-to-one shot, but in the highly unlikely event that they’re right it will challenge all previously-accepted Renaissance history!

After Professor Gian-Carlo Brunetti mysteriously vanishes, Sarah’s old pal Natalie Redfern, the world’s only paraplegic forensic pathologist, internet hacker and qualified Shiatsu masseuse is sent to take over and quickly finds Brunetti’s bullet-ridden corpse inside the coffin that was supposed to contain a 400-year-old corpse of a Grand Duke. This is really rather embarrassing and makes all the gullible investors suspect they’ve been conned!

Sarah offers her help to Nat, since the crypt doesn’t have wheelchair access and Nat agrees. True, Sarah and Josh might disappear into the catacombs like so many others, but they might solve the mystery. Either counts as a result as far as Nat is concerned.

Meanwhile, her pal Dr Edmons makes a frantic phone call to a woman with a deep sultry voice – no, not a telephone sex line, but Keeper Servalan of the Chapterhouse! Edmons explains that despite their efforts Sarah got the letter from Metalkill, and that the prophecy is coming true at last! Dr Edmons is then shot dead by a sniper, who runs into the catacombs, where Sarah and Josh find a room wallpapered with pages of the Book of Tomorrows.

The sniper, Lucky, screams that this is all destined and he has killed Brunetti and Edmons for being "false" disciples" who faked the fake archaeological dig solely to get their hands on the missing pages of the Book of Tomorrow, which accurately predict Sarah’s arrival, even down to her bra size! Lucky reveals he works for the Brethren of the Black Chapter and, while he explains his evil plan to entomb Sarah forever, is beaten up by Josh.

Nat decides that she’s had enough of Sarah Jane Smith and her stupid conspiracies and leaves, this time forever! Sarah and Josh don’t even notice she’s gone and instead they decide that, despite all the evidence to the contrary, their conspiracy-related problems are over.

VII: The Snow Blind Conspiracy

Sarah, Josh meet up with Harry to work with their new self-cleaning con with the three investors (the French couple Mungo and Raddish Morgan, and Nicholas Briggs) who they wine and dine by giving them a tour of a local 7-11. Mungo and Raddish seem to be so stupid that a corner shop on English soil counts as an amazing tourist hotspot.

Proceeding to the "drill site" of the ice cream freezer, Harry realizes it’s started raining and there’s a chance they’ll be stuck in the 7-11 until the weather clears... and in Dorset that could take months! Sarah tells Josh to tell Harry to stop panicking and thus Harry receives a black eye. Harry believes that Sarah is cracking up and is getting increasingly paranoid.

Mungo and Raddish ruffle through the frozen food, convinced that what they can find under the microwave dinners could change the world! Suddenly, Mungo passes out from exposure to the cold and Raddish demands to see a native penguin colony. Nicholas Briggs meanwhile buys himself a new toothbrush and murmurs his apotheosis to canonical Doctorhood is surely only a matter of time.

Suddenly, Nicholas Briggs grabs Sarah and throws her into a drink fridge, but by the time a shop assistant releases her, she’s gone blind from close proximity to the strip lights inside. Meanwhile, Nicholas Briggs laughs insanely and sets the 7-11 on fire, then stabs Raddish with his specially-sharpened toothbrush. Briggs rants that the ice cream freezer is full of amazingly rich uranium deposits – it seems HE was working a con on THEM, but was so convincing he tricked HIMSELF into believing it!

Meanwhile, the dying Raddish reveals that she’s actually a member of the brand new Crimson Chapter of the Orphans of the Future and that she and Mungo are only here to see the prophecy come true while simultaneously capture Briggs’ uranium for the sect to use to provide cold hard cash.

Briggs kills everyone except Harry, Sarah and Josh and runs off into the night vowing that his intricate complexities will manifest themselves in due course and this will all make some kind of sense. The others flee as the 7-11 burns down, despite all that rain.

Keeper Servalan of the Crimson Chapter bitches about the failure of their latest conspiracy to make a fortune and kill Sarah, so they’ll have to try something else as the End Days close in. For the great crusade to succeed, her evil agent will have to kill Sarah in a BRAND NEW CONSPIRACY!!!

VIII: The Conspiracy of Fatal Contingencies

Sarah, now convinced of the brand new conspiracy by the Orphans of Tomorrow or whatever they’re called, decides to go on the offensive and randomly accuses the Zorro Re-Chauffeur company (a hire car business with a sideline in biological weaponry) of being behind everything and intend to fulfill the apocalypse prophecy by wiping out humanity with a doomsday virus, like that crappy Survivors Terry Nation shite.

Just then Sarah gets an anonymous invite to the Zorro Re-Chauffeur Company which should come as no surprise what with Keeper Servalan setting up a new conspiracy less than two paragraphs previously. PAY ATTENTION!

Harry investigates Zorro Re-Chauffeur and discovers they have discovered the antidote to the Ebola virus, which seems rather counterproductive for a doomsday cult. Sam Jones and her environmentalist cronies are convinced this a cunning double-bluff.

Meanwhile, Sarah gets a phone call from local billionaire Sir Crall Travis, the one-eyed, one-armed war hero who has vowed to be the first British space tourist after that damned American beat him to being the first full stop. Travis the Keeper of the White Chapter, the part of the conspiracy who DON’T intend to wipe out all life on Earth.

Travis explains that when Earth didn’t end in 2000, the Orphans of the Future decided to actually READ the Book of Tomorrow and find out what it said. It was in fact a detailed description of the Tom Baker story "The Masque of Zorro" and that Sarah Jane Smith is the messiah, rather than ex-time traveler with paranoid fantasies. Thus, upon finding the real Sarah, the White Chapter is partying and the Crimson Chapter is jury-rigging their own genocide, wiping out all humanity before any celestial forces can prove them wrong.

"Oh," Travis adds, "and Harry Sullivan is a sleeper agent for the Crimson Chapter and has orders to kill you."

Indeed, Travis is right and Zorro Re-Chauffeur is the secret base of Keeper Servalan herself! She has brought Harry and Josh here to lure Sarah into a trap – involving a super-sized dose of the Ebola virus! First Dorset, then Paris, Tokyo and Moscow will be destroyed by the plague and Servalan the Bitch in Crimson will have the immense pleasure of proving herself right.

Sarah arrives to find everyone infected with the virus. Servalan offers to cure everyone in return for blowing Sarah’s brains out with a plasma bullet. Since Sarah is infected as well, she has nothing to lose. Servalan reveals that the godlike aliens the cults reverse is, in fact, the Zorro Helix and Sarah’s actions in that Tom Baker four-parter 500 years earlier have caused all this – which is an unheard-of distortion of Karl Marx’s original script, but what can you do?

Servalan explains that it was SHE who hired Miss Metalkill to ascertain if Sarah was the same cute chick mentioned in Fresno San Diego’s self-pitying blog, but throughout the first series of her spin-off Sarah just kept surviving thanks to a combination of her own paranoia, the White Chapter’s own conspiracy, and the fact she’s the main character and can’t be killed off – at least until the End Days finally come down upon them all!

As Sarah collapses from Ebola virus, Josh rushes in to rescue everyone in a really cool action sequence but Harry attacks him and there is an incredible six-way-gun-battle that ends with Servalan, Harry and all her acolytes dead of gunshot wounds to the head.

Josh saves Sarah with the cure in the nick of time.

How VERY convenient.

IX: Segue Into "School’s Out"

With all the Crimson Chapter’s doomsday plot completely stuffed, and astronomers noticing a curious Z-shaped celestial body hurtling towards Earth for the first time since the 15th Century, in what can only be a homage to "Night of the Comet"!

After burying Harry’s body in the ditch behind her flat, Sarah decides to set up a self-help group for Dorset folk who find out their loved ones were actually part of a doomsday cult. There’s a surprisingly large turnout, including Nat, surprisingly, despite her insistence that this is a fluke and she has no intention of ever clapping eyes on Sarah Jane Smith EVER again!

Josh brightly finds that Travis has invited them both on an all-expenses-paid trip aboard the Dauntless, the first ever space tourism shuttle. NASA is deeply suspicious of this space tourism, and the fact that it could put them out of business is ENTIRELY irrelevant. Travis explains that the Dauntless is a way to get to the Zorro Helix, which he is confident heralds their salvation... despite the fact it has been clearly established that it is in fact a nexus of Pure Evil, but the White Chapter are a bit over-optimistic about things.

Sarah’s paranoia makes her wonder why Josh is so friendly with Travis and Josh finally reveals the truth.

"Travis is my father!" Josh Townsend-nee-Travis proclaims.

Finally realizing how much she’s missed that extraordinary Time Lord she used to hang around with, and how much she’d like to bump into him again, ideally with him regenerating into a sexy young stud with a Scottish accent, Sarah agrees to join the Travises on their funky reusable private enterprise space shuttle which is being launched from the UNIT skybase Valium, conveniently parked in a Dorset air field five minutes away from Sarah’s flat.

The Dauntless sets off for its twenty-minute trip into outer space and the Zorro Helix, while Nat remains on the Valium watching in her chair. As per usual. However, it turns that the pilot – one Benji Chaytheem – is actually the sole surviving acolyte of the Crimson Chapter and starts screaming about he has a degree in the Book of Tomorrows and sabotages the shuttle. Swigging from a bottle of absinthe, Chaytheem ignores all the countless reasons why his suicidal tactics are completely pointless and unnecessary.

Josh then reveals that HE is an acolyte of the White Chapter, and has been protecting Sarah all along as part of his lifetime of indoctrination by the Orphans of the Future, and neither he nor his father are going to put up with the culmination of a centuries-old prophecy being shattered.

Another gunfight begins, igniting Chaytheem’s bottle of absinthe and causing a massive explosion that consumes the Zorro Helix in a huge, Z-shaped fireball and saves the Human Race. Unfortunately, it also sends the Dauntless spinning out of control. Aboard, Sarah finds herself ironically the only survivor in the doomed shuttle without guidance, life support, or contact with Nat and the Valium.

Sarah realizes she’s running out of air and surrounded by freezing corpses when suddenly a spinning police box slams into the Dauntless and sends it tumbling towards Earth. Aboard the TARDIS, the Ninth Doctor is too busy making sweet loving to Rose Tyler to notice what the hell is happening outside.

Oxygen starvation leads to permanent brain damage and Sarah completely forgets all about her paranoia, the strange Chapterhouse Cults, Nat, Josh and indeed most of her spin-off, not to mention that time she met Five Doctors. Giddily, Sarah calmly notices she’s just about to crash into a boy’s high school in New Zealand...

Book(s)/Other Related –
Sarah Jane Smith & Company
Sarah: Forgiven, Not Forgotten by Chris McKeon
SJ Versus Blake’s 7 Characters (Cardiff Only)

Fluffs – Elizabeth Sladen seemed destined for better things for most of this spin-off audio series.

Fashion Victims –
Nicholas Briggs and his lemon-striped blue suit with I AM CANON scrawled on the back in vermilion lipstick.

Goofs –
Choosing "The Mask of Zorro" as the one Sarah Jane Smith story to sequelize for a start, especially as The Sarah Jane Misadventures did it much better two years later. The fact that in "School’s Out", the partially-amnesiac Sarah miss-remembers the Chapters as the Cult of Cthulu shows you how damn interesting that option would have been.

Dialogue Disasters –

JOSH: Miss Metalkill has sent us a letter... FROM BEYOND THE GRAVE!!

HARRY: You don’t need to fight the Crimson Chapter alone!
SARAH: Aren’t I? They’re willing to kill me and ruin the lives of the people around me! It’s as if I’m to blame! Like I’m at the centre of events I can’t understand or control in some second-run audio drama conspiracy thriller series! I hate it when I get that feeling...

Dialogue Triumphs -

HARRY: I’m Harry Sullivan. Who the hell are you?

SARAH: You’re condemning millions of people to die!
SERVALAN: Oh, much more than that. The final death toll will encompass the whole world. Genocide.
SARAH: You’re insane!
SERVALAN: No, I’m just ruthless. There’s a subtle difference.
SARAH: All right, you’re insane AND ruthless.
SERVALAN: cunning bitch, you might just be right.

JOSH: So many people have died.
SARAH: YOU killed most of them!
JOSH: I know. Just call me "Badass"!

Sarah’s moving final speech:
"All my life I’ve been a crusader against conspiracies, but now I can see the bigger picture! This is my one, last, great adventure! I thought I had a destiny to fulfill, but I finally get it now! I don’t believe that a higher power or intelligence is shaping their lives! In fact, I wished I did! That might make the random cruelties of life easier to bear... but that’s what they are! Random! There’s no great plan, no predetermined force and no alien intelligence influencing the course of my life! THERE IS NO CONSPIRACY! It’s just bad luck!
I’ve been so randy all these years, I’ve missed the Doctor so much ever since I walked out of his life and hoped he’d try and come crawling back, but eventually I stopped looking. The world’s moved on and I’m out of synch with everyone else. Deep down I’ve always wondered if a big enough coincidence could lead to me bumping into him again, maybe destiny?
Gosh, New Zealand looks so big close up..."

Viewer Quotes -

"Aaaaah. So THIS is what she was doing when she landed that space shuttle on top of K9 at the start of the episode! It all makes sense now!!" – Average Fan Response (2007)

"Wow. Sarah Jane in Italy, a 7-11, a top-secret research lab and an out of control space ship. Thank God these audios were around, cause we needed MORE of those cliches." – Jared "No Nickname" Hansen (2009)

"Wait... are they saying that the Ice episode of the X-Files actually happened in a 7-11 freezer section and the alien parasite was just some partially thawed fish-fingers? What shit is this?!"
– Chris Carter (2006)

"Amazing. Throughout this series, Sarah Jane Smith shows all the journalistic instinct of a strawberry. And a particularly incurious strawberry at that!" – Dawn French (2006)

"So it turns out that every significant event of Sarah’s life is complicated web of conspiracies overwhelming each other? This has enough back story to stun a Lost fan – and that’s good, in my opinion. Anything that can render them unconscious should be distributed throughout the western world. Are they alive? Is the island limbo? Could be aliens? I DON’T CARE!!!" – Dave Restal (2006)

Rumors -
Big Finish’s SJ Goes Mad In Dorset had an excellent premise, bringing Sarah back to life in a series of high-octane adventures, investigating the criminal underworld of Dorset that mainly existed within her own mind. It’s just a pity the audio series was such crap, sabotaged by some decidedly shoddy scripts from writers the producer should know not to trust. Unsurprisingly then that David Bishop, who penned the only popular episode, should be called to write the entire second series.

On a similar unsurprising note, it all went horribly wrong.

With the "novel" twist that all the conspiracies Sarah was encountering the previous series were, themselves just part of an even bigger conspiracy, and that every single person in the entire storyline were all working for the same diabolical force – the completely forgettable Zorro Helix – Bishop set out to make the ultimate story arc to allowing its characters to develop and grow, twisting and turning to frustrate and delight the audience whilst continuing to tell a coherent and intelligent story.

He failed miserably, but it really is the thought that counts.

Of course, it’s always dangerous to bring back old characters in a new setting, what with the possibility of alienating the fans of that character and not living up to expectations. Especially when fans are the only suckers who are actually going to be listening. But after rubbing Sarah’s face in the fact her entire TV history had little or no bearing or usefulness for SJ Goes Mad In Dorset, SJ Goes Completely Apeshit In Dorset goes entirely in the opposite direction, which the entire plot hinging on three lines of dialogue in a 1976 episode.

Mixing half-thought-out steals from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, The Da Vinci Code, Alias, the series might actually have got somewhere if BBC Wales hadn’t decided to bring Sarah Jane Smith back to encounter the Tenth Doctor, Rose, Arthur the Horse and Mickey the Idiot. RTD was willing to abide by SJGMID continuity and have Sarah a lonely spinster without K9, but in return wanted the whole format of the audios ended forever to allow her a fresh start at Tepapawai.

Between Bishop and Toby Shithouse, the two contrived to sort out a few massive gun battles that killed off any loose ends and more importantly all of the regulars. It left Sarah in a cliffhanger situation which would be resolved by the TV episode... but unfortunately it meant around six months where the fanbase wondered how in the name of sweet merciful Jesus had Sarah ended up in a space shuttle crashing in New Zealand and when they got the answer, they weren’t particularly impressed with how she got there.

With her getting her own special spin-off TV-series, neither Sarah Jane Smith nor Elizabeth Sladen would return to Big Finish, so the final fate of Nat Redfearn (the only character left alive and not part of a clandestine conspiracy secretly ruling the world) is left unresolved.

SJ Goes Absolutely Fucking Foam-At-The-Mouth Insane In Dorset And Needs To Be Restrained would never be produced. And if you think that this is a tragedy, please get up, go outside and never come near me ever, ever, ever again.

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