In truth, Iâ€˜ve always looked on the Sarah Jane Adventures as a warm-up act for the main event – each episode one step closer to a new season of the parent show. As with most warm up acts, I confess to having given it less than my full attention in the past â€“ occasionally throwing an â€œOh, I like this oneâ€ glance, but in the main, happy to have it on in the background as I go about my business. Happily, The Nightmare Man joins the list of those episodes that stand up admirably beside the headline act, alongside predecessors The Lost Boy, Whatever Happened To Sarah Jane? and The Wedding of Sarah Jane Smith.
Very quickly, for those who love a little â€˜Whoâ€™ trivia, itâ€™s not in fact the first time a â€˜Nightmare Manâ€™ has appeared on the BBC.Â In 1981, a film of the same title â€“ an adaptation of sci-fi novel Child of the Vodyoni â€“ was adapted for the BBC by none other than Doctor Who legend Robert Holmes. A coincidence of course, but nonetheless worthy of note.
So back to the Sarah Jane Adventures; after a somewhat shaky start to season three, the series really began to find its footing at the mid-point â€“ boosted by, but not reliant on, the appearance of the tenth Doctor. Alongside some strong guest performances from Suranne Jones and Nigel Havers, a maturing cast and the return of a certain iconic robot dog, were major positives. Its journey reminds me somewhat of the Harry Potter films; over time, it has become altogether more believable…. in an unbelievable sort of way.
In fact, much like that magical film franchise, it was the SJA’s lead male that was perhaps responsible for my early lack of engagement. As such, the prospect of a season opener centring round Bane creation Luke Smith, was something of a concern. But credit where itâ€™s due â€“ the boy done good â€“ albeit assisted greatly by the Blair Witch narrative tool and superb supporting cast.
The story begins on a light hearted note with Luke informing Sarah Jane of an early University placement; when breaking bad news to your folks, itâ€™s all about the timing! Cue a brief Slytheen cameo (thankfully) and comedy demise â€“ but if its light hearted entertainment youâ€™re looking for, youâ€™ve come to the wrong place – because this is a tale of vulnerability, fear and friendship seldom tackled in a childrenâ€™s adventure programme.
Anxious about University life and separation from his friends and family, Luke begins to have nightmares. But these are no ordinary nightmares; these are cunningly layered by the mysterious Nightmare Man, a creature who feeds on the fears of his victims to establish himself in the physical world – brilliantly portrayed by Julian â€˜Davrosâ€™ Bleach. Yes it could have been scarier, yes it could have dwelled in the darkness for longer, but this is essentially a kids programme isnâ€™t it?
A special mention must also be given to writer Joseph Lidster, who deftly tackles many of the hurdles of the teenage years at break neck speed with a wonderful balance of sympathy and humour. As Sarah Jane, Rani and Clyde find different ways of coping with their loss, the Nightmare Man prays on Lukeâ€™s vulnerability, finally building sufficient strength to force his way into the real world while condemning Luke to a dark and endless void. But the sinister creature has reckoned without K-9 and, as Rani and Clyde are trapped in their own personal nightmares, the mechanical canine is transported to Lukeâ€™s rescue. Soon joined by his companions, whose close bonds free them from their entrapment, they unite to free the world of the evil Nightmare Man and condemn him to his fate â€“ coffee and cake with Grandma Smith.
And so we bid an emotional fond farewell to young Luke and our favourite tin dog – for how long, only time will tell.Â As for the Bannerman Road clan – well, for Sarah Jane, thereâ€™s a whole universe of aliens to keep her occupied and as for Clyde and Rani â€“ oh come on, itâ€™s only a matter of time isnâ€™t it? As for the series, this sets the bar very high, but thereâ€™s a huge amount to look forward to….
â€œReady?â€ â€“ â€œAlwaysâ€.
Elisabeth Sladen â€“ Sarah Jane Smith
Tommy Knight â€“ Luke Smith
Daniel Anthony â€“ Clyde Langer
Anjli Mohindra â€“ Rani Chandra
Alexander Armstrong â€“ Mr Smith
John Leeson â€“ K-9 Mark IV
Julian Bleach â€“ The Nightmare Man
Doon Mackichan – Louise Marlowe
Writer Joseph Lidster
Director Joss Agnew
Executive producer(s) Russell T Davies and Nikki Wilson
Production code 4.1 and 4.2
Length 2 episodes, 25 minutes each