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To me, this is by the best part 1 of either series so far. nudging out The Lost Boy part 1 and barely edging Eye of the Gorgon part 1. It's a pleasingly odd mixture of absolutely bog-standard Doctor Who elements arranged in a way that leaves a lot of unanswered questions. I like how this season seems to be trying to better define its characters emotionally. "Clown"'s emphasis was on SJS' past fears as a child, whereas "Stars" plays up the fact that there is an emotional consequence to Luke having not been born. This series is right to briefly stop and consider the emotional problems of the Smiths as a family unit. Last season, the SJS/Luke relationship was obscured by the SJS/Maria relationship. Rani as more of a pure professional protege more clearly divides the narrative time. Rani brings out the reporter; Luke, the mother. As a result, SJS feels more multilayered this season overall. And with Luke more firmly anchored to SJS for emotional discovery, his time with Clyde can be more firmly that of two buddies, rather than "cool guy giving advice to loser". Sure, there's still some of that left, but it's delivered with greater nuance than just "this is how we humans do it, spaceboy". The greater attention this year to more clearly demarcating a little relationship between everyone makes a scene involving all of the main cast more lively—such as the when they were all in the theatre audience.
I think the guy playing the heavy has sunk his teeth a little much into his part. He did seem a bit over the top. That said, the mystery surrounding him and where his powers are coming from is far more interesting than his overacting is distracting. So kudos to Gareth Roberts for giving us in Martin Trueman a villain who is largely "actor-proof".
Best detail: Loved the shout out to Draconia; good to see that not all references to Doctor Whohave to be something that have to do with Sarah's personal history or BBC Wales additions to the Whoniverse.
Worst detail: I don't get SJS' continuing disdain for being called "Sarah". The Fourth Doctor and Harry did it all the damn time. Why's she suddenly so touchy when Rani's mom does it? If the idea is to create a running gag that "the mom across the street never gets Sarah's name right", I think they're going in the wrong direction by trying to achieve it this way. It would've been far funnier to have her blatantly screwing up her middle name. I'm not saying Rani's mom should have done it for the same reasons (i.e., that she was too disinterested in Sarah to figure out her name), but if the end result had been ANOTHER mom across the road who can't get the name right, that would have been funny. As it is, "Sarah" isn't getting her name wrong, in my view, and it makes no sense that SJS should be angry with that.
Missed opportunity for a fun tie-in: it's sorta hard to complain about this story failing to integrate itself into the wider SJS narrative on Doctor Who. I mean, after all, this episode probably spoke more strongly about her relationship with the Doctor than any other. And it was the first time Tennant appeared on SJS, even if in flashback. But I found it odd that Gareth Freakin' Roberts, champion of the Fourth Doctor, didn't slip in a little reference to SJS' prior brush with astrology. 'Course, The Masque of Mandragora is my favorite serial of all time, so I'm slightly biased. What's more odd is that with all the talk of the horrors of the barriers between universes breaking down in the Series 4 finale, Luke, Sarah and Mr. Smith didn't get alarmed at the implications of the antagonist's power possibly coming from an entirely different universe. So, it's bad if the Daleks do it, but not if some hack astrologer from Acton does? While the lack of reference to Masque is certainly understandable, failing to reference Journey's End left me scratching my head.
"I think of myself as ambitious in casting terms, and I know that Bonnie [Langford] has the potential to make the part totally unirritating . . ." — JNT, 1986
The Masque of Mandragora was the subject of a Big Finish audio in the Sarah Jane Smith line. They may have wanted to avoid a direct link. It is also possible that Mr. Smith is not aware of this event in particular, just the general uses of astrology throughout the galaxy.
Some interesting points there, Darth...
Daleks don't accept apologies! YOU WILL BE EXTERMINATED!
I'll have to go and read those posts. My wife and and I were watching the ep and the drop down logo thing came down right in front of SJ's face and it took me right out of the story. At least the US way of putting crap at the bottom of the screen is "mostly" unobtrusive.
I'm going "Full Circle" and putting my avatar back to what it was when I first joined. :)