Warning! This story makes explicit, and numerous, references to BURPSS.
Or the British UFO Research & Paranormal Studies Society as they like to be called, but more of them later. The Vault of Secrets, penned by Phil Ford (The Waters of Mars from Doctor Who and the wonderful Eye of the Gorgon from the first series of SJA, to name but two), opens in a most dynamic style with little to no dialogue for the first few minutes. And it’s not long before we see some the return of some familiar foes, both from the mind of writer Ford.
Androvax the Destroyer is back and up to his old body~jumping tricks again. The lizardy one first appeared in Prisoner of the Judoon on the run from those intergalactic horny rhinos but this time on his tail are the “Men in Black”, otherwise known as the Alliance of Shades – who debuted in the animated story, Dreamland. Keeping the continuity flowing, Mister Dread is still fronting these bad guys who now want to remove Androvax from Earth. Dread, delightfully played by Angus Wright, has a nice line in the dead~pan gag: “This is not in my job description,” he intones when Sarah Jane asks for help.
Ford also manages to tie the story in with his Who outing, The Waters Of Mars. Back in the Bannerman Road loft, SJ & Co. are remotely~sabotaging a NASA probe on Mars that is about to discover the evidence of an “ancient and terrible civilisation.” The Ice Warriors, perhaps? But the gang take a back seat as we watch Rani’s parents attend a meeting of the aforementioned BURPSS – a group of UFO~nuts, not unlike LINDA from Love & Monsters.
It’s great to see Gita Chandra take a front seat, as it were, in proceedings – actress Mina Anwar really sells the part, particularly excelling in the more comedic parts. Most notably when her hubby dismisses her sighting of Androvax and plops off to play some badminton, to which Gita states, “Enjoy your game. I don’t suppose you’ll be able to play once the lizard people make us all their slaves!”
Comedy plays a large, and most welcome, part in The Vault Of Secrets, with numerous references to The Terminator films, The X~Files and even Dragon’s Den. The antics of BURPSS are also chucklesome with two lovely performances from Cheryl Campbell and David Webber as Ocean Waters and Minty respectively (pictured below) – hopefully they’ll be back for some more fun in the future. An inadvertent laugh also came when Rani proclaimed she was “fitter” than her mother. No argument from me…
But the main thrust of the story lies within the question of just who is the “bad guy”? SJ decides to help out the injured Androvax (who is trying to save his species), thus positioning Dread and his buddies as the villains (even though they’re trying to protect the Earth from aliens). It’s an interesting moral stance to take, especially as the events unfold – right up until the very last seconds of part two.
Clyde also gets to display his thoughtful side during a quiet conversation with Rani (in the midst of multiple chases), telling her, “I reckon that time and the universe, they’re not random. Everything’s sort of tied together by these invisible strings.” To which Rani queries, “If something’s gonna happen, it’s gonna happen?” I shan’t spoil what happens next but I think an ongoing storyline could be starting up between the two…
The titular vault is home to an impressive inter~dimensional sight, a hangar home to some nifty~looking spaceships. The CG work is both expertly designed and realised – a fantastically Star Wars~y bit of telly to come home to around tea~time. Although, in essence, The Sarah Jane Adventures is a “sci~fi” show, it’s not often we get truly sci~fi moments like that. There’s also a cracking, but brief, scene featuring a “severed” hand; again, superbly brought to life on screen. There are some slight negatives, however. The Alliance of Shades are outwitted and evaded a bit too easily for androids who claim to be 100% efficient. Androvax’s inhabitation of other people’s bodies (and there’s a few!) is also not what it could be with the actors involved hamming it up a tad for my taste. But by the time Elisabeth Sladen says the words “hot pants”, you’ll probably forget about those points.
The Vault of Secrets has the rompish feel of a series opener but the drama and intrigue, not to mention the open~ended resolution, to fully satisfy. The Sarah Jane Adventures is building upon Doctor Who through its interconnectivity whilst also creating, and adding, to its own mythology. Two stories in and Series 4 has all the all marks of a classic run and oh, look…. who’s that coming around the corner…?
The Vault of Secrets parts 1 & 2 air: 5.15pm, Oct 18 & 19 on CBBC 4.30pm, Oct 20 & 21 on BBC One