THE DOCTOR WHO RATINGS GUIDE: BY FANS, FOR FANS

Big Finish Productions
Sarah Jane Smith:
Comeback

Written by Terrence Dicks Cover image
Format Compact Disc
Released 2002

Starring Elisabeth Sladen
Also featuring Jeremy James, Sadie Miller, Robin Bowerman, Juliet Warner.

Synopsis: Six months after the last part of her undercover investigative TV series for Planet 3 Broadcasting went out, Sarah Jane Smith is running scared. Living under false names, her true identity compromised, she has few friends and fewer clues as to her pursuers. Enter three people who will change her life the mysterious Mr Harris, old friend Ellie Martin and a guardian angel in the shape of the rougish Josh. Now, all roads lead to the village of Cloots Coombe in Wiltshire but will she find answers she needs there?


Reviews

An Engaging Yarn by J. Paul Halt 30/8/02

The first thing that I noticed when listening to Comeback was that it's not Doctor Who.

By which I mean, unlike a lot of spin-offs, it isn't trying to be Who without The Doctor. It sets its own tone immediately in the pre-credit sequence. If someone were to pop a copy of this in their CD player without having ever seen an episode of Doctor Who, they would never suspect this was not an original series in its own right.

And yes, this is a good thing.

It has a fairly gritty, detective-show feeling to it, particularly in the first half-hour. There are bank robberies, car explosions, and hit men shooting people in the head and chest. The villain doesn't use killer robots and alien technology. He uses the Internet to gather information and influence it; and when he wants someone killed, he picks up the telephone and asks for "Disposals." Most of Comeback feels so down-to-earth, in fact, that when sci-fi elements are introduced toward the end, they actually seem out of place.

For the most part, this is also a good thing. Big Finish have proved their facility with science fiction. But for an entertainment company to really thrive, they need to be able to do different sorts of stories. It's nice to see them starting to branch out; hopefully, if this series proves successful, they'll try doing a completely non-SF series at some point in the future.

CHARACTERS/PERFORMANCES

Performances are strong across the board. Elisabeth Sladen sounds exactly the same as she did in 1974, to the point where I found myself visualising Season 12 Sarah throughout. Sarah is well-characterized, smart and cautious enough to be convincing as a successful investigative journalist, but also reckless enough to rush headlong into a trap even when realizing that it's a trap. Jeremy James does a good job as her "sidekick" for the series, and his character ("Josh") is thankfully shown to be smart and capable himself; my greatest fear for this series was a repeat of the Jeremy Fitzoliver disaster from Barry Letts' 1990's radio plays.

Hard to comment on the third regular, Sadie Miller's Nat; she is only in a few scenes here. I like the idea of the character (wheelchair-bound Internet expert), but I'll have to reserve judgement until I've seen (er, I guess "heard") more of her.

SCRIPT

The script is vintage Terrance Dicks. By which I mean, it isn't brilliant. But it's pacey and entertaining throughout, with strong roles for each of the characters and some dryly amusing dialogue. Visualization is solid, with descriptive cues for the listener slipped into the dialogue fairly naturally. (No bits here where someone stands around saying things like, "Look at that 6 foot tall fellow driving the red car on the left side of the street in heavy traffic past the big blue building.")

The story is a bit predictable in places, with few surprises. It also lacks atmosphere and tension; I never once felt the main characters were in any real danger. The ending is also a bit rushed, and I think development of the stand-alone plot is sacrificed in favor of introducing the series premise, the overriding series arc, and the characters. But the story still holds together for the most part, and stands both as a good pilot episode and as a pleasant way to kill 75 minutes.

On the whole, Comeback proves to be a solid pilot, with plenty of potential to build into a very strong series. Pare out the SF elements completely, amp up the suspense,and maybe throw in a surprise or two, and Sarah Jane Smith could prove to be a real winner.

Overall Rating: 7/10 (might have been a 6, but I tend to be lenient rating pilot episodes)