Review: Sarah Jane Smith: 2 The Tao Connection
The Tao Connection: The Skinny: In this second episode of the series one thing leads to another... it always does. Sarah Jane assumes yet another new identity, Josh is nearly lost forever, literally and Nat suffers a crisis of confidence. This story is overladen with over the top acting and extraneous plot devices that do little more than make it unsuitable for a younger audience. Having said that I must also say that it holds together. There are sufficient links to the facts of Taoism (also spelled Daoism) in this fictional work to give the drama a present day reality. Soundscape is first rate.
And now, the rest of the story...
HEADLINE: BILLIONAIRE RECLUSE BUYS HOLTOOTH HALL
Liner notes: The body of an old man is found floating in the Thames -- although the corpse’s DNA corresponds to an 18-year old friend of Josh and Ellie. Sarah Jane heads towards West Yorkshire in a bid to discover what killed the man, why someone is kidnapping homeless teenage boys and whether there is a link between that and philanthropist Will Butley’s retreat which hosts The Huang Ti Clinic. Sarah discovers that there is more to ancient Dark Sorcery than she may have otherwise believed...
I really like the segue from Comeback into The Tao Connection, the second of nine Sarah Jane Smith stories by Big Finish Productions, for it neatly ties up a few loose ends. If you stay with the series I believe you will come to appreciate lots of clever devices which, like the first few minutes of each episode, serve as audio adhesive to bind the works together.
I'm not as impressed with this episode as I was with Comeback; an opinion which is primarily coloured by my reaction to an overdose of overacting that's layered on top of plot devices which do nothing to form a cohesive storyline. Sort of like dropping the F bomb in a movie just to up the rating, The Tao Connection goes where it need not go to tell its story, but I will let you be the judge of whether I'm being fair-minded in that assessment. In art the general rule from the "less is more" school of design goes something like this... if you can remove an element from a design and the design holds together then the element you removed is unnecessary (so you can leave it out). Certain aspects of this story could've been left out without damaging it in any way.
There are some emerging threads to the fabric of this yarn both as a series and as a standalone episode. Natalie, one of Sarah Jane's assistants and her net-wise researcher who is played by Elisabeth Sladen's daughter, Sadie, always drinks 2 of her favorite hot beverage whenever she has a hot beverage, two hot chocolates to be precise. Sarah Jane is fond of peppermint tea and while Josh likes his decaf and beer (not at the same time) he is better remembered in the series for switching off his mobile (cell phone). Unlike a keystone which keeps an arched door together and overhead, little details like these don't bind the series together in any concrete way as much as they give it a down to earth feeling, providing episode to episode continuity while helping to make plausible plots which are at times anything but down to earth.
This is yet another fine example of how Big Finish Productions can instantly transport you into the midst of a dark and decidedly twisted reality no matter where you are or what you're doing. You think you've got problems? Wait until you meet Will Butley. I almost felt sorry for him. But only almost. While there are a number of bright spots in the action, like getting to hear Sarah Jane neutralize an adversary with Venusian Aikido, I enjoyed the story behind The Tao Connection more than the production itself. Remove a few extraneous plot elements and some overacting and this would get the full monty. Sorry, couldn't resist.
The Tao Connection earns a 3 MOBILE Rating
PRODUCTION NOTES: Cast: Elisabeth Sladen (Sarah Jane Smith); Jeremy James (Josh Townsend); Sadie Miller (Natalie Redfern); Caroline Burns-Cook (Claudia Coster); Juliet Warner (Ellie Martin); Mark Donovan (DI Morrisson); Moray Treadwell (Will Butley); Steven Wickham (Mr. Sharpe); Jane McFarlane (Nurse Jepson); Robert Curbishley (Read); Wendy Albiston (Meg Hawkins); Toby Longworth (Wong Chu); Maggie Stables (Mrs Lythe)
Writer: Barry Letts; Director: Gary Russell; Davy Darlington; Sound Design: Davy Darlington
Trailer link: Trailer_2_The_Tao_Connection.mp3
Product link: http://bigfinish.com/Sarah-Jane-Smith
Detailed synopsis: http://www.drwhoguide.com/sj_02.htm