Big Finish Productions
Sarah Jane Smith:
Buried Secrets

Written by David Bishop Cover image
Format Compact Disc
Released 2006

Starring Elisabeth Sladen

Synopsis: Sarah Jane Smith believes her days as a crusading investigator are behind her, safe from those who tried to destroy her. But others believe she has a destiny and they will stop at nothing to prevent her fulfilling it. A trip to Florence to help an old friend leads to the unearthing of a murderous conspiracy buried within the city's catacombs...


A triumphant return! by Joe Ford 11/4/06

The first series of Sarah Jane Smith audios were... well they weren't very good really. The premise behind them was excellent, bringing Sarah back to life in a series of high-octane adventures, investigating the criminal underworld of modern suburbia, but the series was sabotaged by some decidedly shoddy scripts from writers the producer should know not to trust (the words Dicks and Letts spring to mind). Looking at the averages, two out of five were enjoyable (and one of those was a bit so-so in spots), two were desperately boring and one left me so indifferent I didn't know what to think when the CD player switched off. The best story of the lost though by some considerable distance was David Bishop's Test of Nerve. It got all the ingredients perfect; it dealt with real life horrors (post-war syndrome, terrorist attacks) in the setting the series should have triumphed (inner-city London). It was terrifying and the second half featuring Nat about to bombed and Josh gassed and Sarah having to choose between the two is about as exciting as Big Finish ever got.

So it was with some relief that I heard that series two was being brought back and David Bishop would be writing the whole series. On the strength of Buried Secrets, it is going to be a far superior series to the first one.

Redefined and yet still noticeably the same characters, the regulars come across much more confidently than they did last season. I really like the mix of Sarah, Josh and Nat and it pleased me to see they were reunited for this year. Josh is much less irritating, last year he had this propensity to put on silly voices all the time and try act like Mr Cool and yet here he is much more restrained and far more interesting. He comes across in Buried Secrets like Fitz Kreiner from the EDAs, loyal and protective and a real laugh to be around. Bravo to Bishop who lets him jump into action without thinking and still come across as a modern hero without embarrassing dialogue, but more praise still to Jeremy James who has toned it down considerably and sounds much more comfortable in the role. Sadie Miller's Nat was extremely prickly last year; I think this came down to the actress's inexperience and the character's disability... it was a reasonable mix and it was always clear there were intense thoughts rolling around in that young mind. Here she gets to loosen up a bit, have a date, go on holiday and do some research... she is much more likable and, again, Miller seems much more relaxed in the part. Add to the mix here a charming and upper class Will Sullivan played by the always-reliable Tom Chadbon as Sarah's new friend and you have an interesting cast to play off each other.

But the biggest improvement of the lot is Sarah's treatment. Sarah will always be my favourite companion no matter how many Roses try and compete and not only is it an obvious idea to give her her own series but she deserves it, such is the longevity and likeability of this character. Series one tried something quite interesting, it made Sarah a paranoid and frightened person, always finding menace in her own shadow (admittedly there was usually something lurking there...). They made her almost unlikable, very cold to her friends and a practical recluse. If the stories had backed up her attitude, if there had been harmful forces after her all the time it might have made this development more believable but in the end Sarah looked a bit obsessed and worse, foolish.

So hurrah for David Bishop again as he rekindles everything I love about Sarah and allows Elisabeth Sladen to give a warm performance just like the charming babe who used to travel through time and space. Her attitude is much more refreshing here, refusing to hide away, embracing life and generously handing out her money to interesting research outposts. It feels like the sun is shining on her face again and Sladen delivers a wonderfully loose performance, enjoying her friends' company and relishing her newfound freedom. What's even better is the series is not in denial like series one; Sarah openly discusses her time with the Doctor and even goes to dinner hoping to meet up with Harry. This is definitely our Sarah again.

The plot itself is clearly a part one of a much bigger story but what we get here is likable and intriguing enough. Rather than being opposed to it like I was with series one, the brisk world-hopping feels quite refreshing here and only goes to emphasise the almost Alias-like quality of the series. Highlighting this in big bold letters, Sarah discovers something quite dark about herself, that she has been written about in a document by an ancient prophet (can anyone say Sydney Bristow?) and that her actions will result in something BIG. I'm not sure I am entirely convinced about this on the evidence of this instalment but it certainly paves the way for some interesting possibilities. The scenes set in Florence are nice, with some interesting investigating being done by the intrepid trio. The domestic scenes are good too, the first half of the story is a slow-paced reintroduction of the characters which works because they all feel so natural and it is genuinely nice to catch up with them.

The production is typically excellent and the music adds much to the overall atmosphere. I seem to write that in every Big Finish review lately but my repetitive nature is merely a testament to how lush and stylish their production work is now. Technically, there are no issues with the company at all.

It surprised me how much I enjoyed Buried Secrets; I was expecting more of the same, to be frank, but what we have got here is a refreshing re-launch for the series, a confident and (fairly) stylish return for everyone's favourite heroine. And to add the final cherry to the cake, the next instalment sounds really good too.