Big Finish Productions
Sarah Jane Smith:
The Tao Connection
|Written by||Barry Letts|
|Starring Elisabeth Sladen|
|Also featuring Jeremy James, Sadie Miller, Caroline Burns-Cook, Juliet Warner, Mark Donovan, Moray Treadwell, Steven Wickham, Jane McFarlane, Robert Curbishley, Wendy Albiston|
|Synopsis: The body of an old man is found floating in the Thames although the DNA of the corpse 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 the retreat of philanthropist Will Butley which hosts The Huang Ti Clinic. Sarah discovers that there is more to ancient Dark Sorcery than she may have otherwise believed.|
Venusian Akido and Other Facts of Life by J. Paul Halt 5/9/02
Well, Barry Letts managed to do exactly what Terrance Dicks neatly avoided doing in Comeback. He has written a Doctor Who story that doesn't have the Doctor in it.
Specifically, it's a Season 11 Pertwee story. It's all here. A dark fantasy-thriller plot with heavy Buddhist overtones. Sarah (read: The Doctor) being smugly intelligent and either knowing or guessing everything, at every turn. Josh, who had been nicely competent in Comeback, is reduced to the Who companion role here. He bickers with Sarah for comic effect, whinges about minor physical discomforts, and gets captured a few times to move the plot along. Letts even throws in some Venusian Akido. It was hard enough to take when Pertwee did it (loved Pertwee, hated the Akido), but here he has Sarah use it -- twice!
On the plus side, The Tao Connection is actually a pretty good story. Once I moved past my disappointment that the distinctive tone set by Comeback is abandoned here, I have to admit that I enjoyed the whole 75 minutes of it. It was well-paced, neither slow nor rushed. Sarah's investigation of the clinic progressed nicely, and there were several tense scenes. The climactic confrontation between Sarah and the "villain" of the piece is extremely effective, and wonderfully-played. The villain is himself quite a marvellous creation, inspiring more pity than hatred, and the actor is flat-out superb (a bit hammy, but it suits the part). It kills me to admit it, but on a basic story level, Tao Connection is actually far better than Comeback.
Performances remain strong, with the always-delightful Elisabeth Sladen given some meatier material this time out. Though Josh seems to have slid drastically with regard to competence, Jeremy James' acting remains just fine; and a sort-of drunk chase scene (listen to the play and you'll know which bit I'm talking about) manages to be suspenseful and humorous at the same time. Sadie Miller's Nat continues to be underused, but Miller's actual performance is growing on me.
So another solid 7/10 for this outing, which would have pulled an 8 if it had just remembered not to be a Doctor Who story.
But please -- please! -- no more Venusian Akido.