Sarah Jane Adventures: The Mad Woman in the Attic
(2 episodes, s03e02, 2009)
When wishes go haywire.
In 2059, the Bannerman Road house is in disrepair. The attic is abandoned, Mr. Smith is broken down, and an old woman lives alone in the attic. A boy named Adam finds the woman, and we discover that she is Rani Chandra. She is unkempt like the house, spending her time lingering over photographs and memories.
She begins to tell him her story…
In 2009, Rani brings a story about strange lights to Sarah Jane, but she and Mr. Smith have already decided that it was merely lightning. She’s annoyed because the group is talking about Maria Jackson, who she considers to be “the girl before her” and is now hiding aliens in America.
Hurt by the dismissive attitude, she leaves and finds an e-mail from an old friend. She meets up with Sam Lloyd and they end up at a deserted pleasure park. Sam knows about the Bannerman Road Gang and wants Rani to investigate the mystery of a demon at the park.
Of course, Sam deserts her, so she looks around on her own and soon finds Harry the caretaker. She works her way into his office. After they talk for a bit, she brings up the haunting, but Harry dismisses her with fear. A voice says, “Playtime is beginning,” and Rani witnesses people who had previously disappeared on the rides. Their eyes are red and they’re grinning maniacally. The voices says, “Playtime is over,” and the rides stop. Rani takes her investigation to the haunted house even as Harry protests.
Sarah Jane, Luke, and Clyde find the e-mail from Sam. Even though Sarah Jane is upset that Rani has told someone about their secrets, she decides to investigate. When they arrive, Sam is cold toward the trio but tells them where to find Rani. Luke stays with Sam while Sarah Jane and Clyde head for the park.
As Rani makes her way to the heart of the haunted house, she finds a red-skinned alien named Eve. Harry locks Rani in the room and the two talk, though Eve does so telepathically. Eve is able to manipulate time, seeing pasts and futures, and is presumably the last of her kind. She came to Earth in a spaceship as her people destroyed each other in a massive war. Harry found her and kept her safe.
Eve says that the people in the carnival are her friends, but she cannot go outside because of her appearance. She assures Rani that she needs the Bannerman Road Gang and asks if Rani wants to see her future, but that future is of a mad, lonely woman. Rani wants nothing to do with that future, so she offers to help Eve escape.
Eve also shows Luke and Sarah Jane their timelines. Luke’s past contains memories of this very show while his future includes a graduation. Sarah Jane’s involves memories of her parents, The Five Doctors, The Hand of Fear, The Time Warrior, and The Stolen Earth.
Her future somehow involves the TARDIS and the Tenth Doctor.
Sarah Jane and Clyde go in search of Eve. Simultaneously, Rani and Eve decide to go outside. The two teams eventually come together, but Rani’s feelings of rejection come to the surface. Back at the orphanage, Sam has departed with only a note to spare. It says that it wasn’t Eve who wanted Rani.
Once outside, Eve starts up the rides again, forcing them to spin wildly. When Rani gets upset, Eve possesses her as well. The mirror that showed Sarah Jane her future laments that Eve is outside, revealing that it is the artificial intelligence from the spaceship and needs Eve to return its control. Eve cannot control her power and is dying.
Sarah Jane returns to Eve, telling her that she must let everyone go, but Eve doesn’t know how to free them. After Sam arrives, he joins Sarah Jane and Clyde as they escort Eve back to the ship. The ship absorbs Eve’s excess energy, which frees her captives and saves her life. Rani runs for the beach with Harry in tow and rejoins her family.
Eve invites Sam and Harry to travel with her but needs the energy of a black hole to fuel the ship. Sarah Jane connects with K9 and they coordinate efforts to transfer the Switzerland singularity‘s energy to the ship. With that, K9’s mission is finished and he returns to the attic.
Unfortunately, as the ship departs, it grants Rani one wish. It chooses the wish she made earlier, that her friends would leave her alone, and erases the Bannerman Road Gang from existence. Rani protests but the ship takes off regardless.
Back in 2059, Adam reveals his true identity. He is the son of Sam and Eve, and he has come to reverse the wish because the ship was damaged and misinterpreted the wish. Given the opportunity, Rani wishes her family back into existence, deleting the timeline. Sam and Eve head into space and the Bannerman Road Gang heads home.
The adventure ends as Sarah Jane takes a photo of Rani, Luke, Clyde, and K9. K9 even says “Cheese!”
In a coda, we see the new future of 2059. Rani lives in the house at Bannerman Road, but it is well-kept and happy with three grandchildren and her son. Rani works with Luke and Maria, and the photo has a place of honor on the shelf nearby.
This one starts out as a tear-jerker in an era when Elisabeth Sladen is no longer with us. The part of Rani’s story about how magnificent Sarah Jane was, how much she meant to Rani and the Bannerman Road Gang, pulls at the heartstrings because Sarah Jane and Elisabeth Sladen were really one and the same.
What follows from there, however, is a paint-by-the-numbers alternate timeline tale with a misunderstood alien menace… who honestly isn’t that menacing. The story has a sweet aspect to it since the alien is innocent, acting out purely in loneliness and fear, but the mystery and menace are both pretty thin.
Couple that with Rani’s sense of rejection, which feels unfounded given her history in this show, and that leaves the story pretty average overall.
One note extends deep into the classic era: Sarah Jane mentions the Zodin, which were first brought up by the Second Doctor in The Five Doctors and blurted out in delirium by the Sixth Doctor in Attack of the Cybermen. It’s a running gag of sorts in the Doctor Who universe.
Rating: 3/5 – “Reverse the polarity of the neutron flow.”
UP NEXT – Sarah Jane Adventures: The Wedding of Sarah Jane Smith
The Timestamps Project is an adventure through the televised universe of Doctor Who, story by story, from the beginning of the franchise. For more reviews like this one, please visit the project’s page at Creative Criticality.