Friday, 23 December 2016
Despite his poor form when it comes to audio stories (I’ve heard The Ghosts of N-Space and The Paradise of Death; never again), Barry Letts seems to have a better grasp on things than his erstwhile 70s colleague - the story is faster-paced and more involved, for one thing. Sladen continues to be the best thing about her own series (thankfully) for the second story in a row (with a particularly interesting look at how her time with the Doctor has moulded her; kudos to Letts for that). That said, an unexpected cameo from Maggie Stables as a Yorkshire B&B owner almost steals Sarah’s thunder. Apart from his weird penchant for dropping into strange voices, Jeremy James is perfectly fine as Josh Townsend, though I still find his entire character a bit implausible; I can’t quite get a handle on who he is, what makes him tick. There’s none of the elegance about his introduction and relationship to Sarah Jane that you get with Maria, Clyde and Luke in the first few Sarah Jane Adventures stories. Still, if one of the main duo is worth following that’s not too bad a percentage.
I hope I am not doing Terrance Dicks and Barry Letts a disservice when I state that the success and popularity of Sarah Jane Smith, from the 1973-76 era of the programme, lies almost entirely at the door of Elisabeth Sladen. Whether or not she was given naff material to work with (and regardless of the attempt to make her more of a feminist icon than Jo Grant, such material seems today now rather subpar), Sladen always rose above it, and her general gumption, gusto and good cheer shines on screen, as does an excellent rapport with both her “original” Doctors. It is thus no surprise that the one thing about Comeback that works, and works supremely well, is that it has Elisabeth Sladen playing Sarah Jane Smith in it. Years after her appearances on Doctor Who and her own abortive spinoff, and years before her return, she played the part for nine audio dramas for Big Finish, and as far as this first instalment goes she does it with the warmth and brio you would expect (frustrating authority figures is something she remains excellent at; witness the scene where she corrects the squire on his use of the quotation "a little learning is a dangerous thing", for instance). For this reason alone - that we have nine more instances of Elisabeth Sladen playing Sarah Jane Smith - I am glad that these audios exist.