Sarah Jane Adventures: The Empty Planet
(2 episodes, s04e04, 2010)
It’s a tale of loneliness and acceptance.
Mr. Smith detects an alien energy trace but it vanishes into Earth’s own energy signals. Sarah Jane asks for a deep scan to locate it while Rani and Clyde look on. Sarah Jane reminds her teammates that it is a school night and they should head to bed. As they leave, Rani reminds Clyde of a pending school assignment. Clyde rebuffs the advice because, hey, they might just be invaded tomorrow.
As Rani reads Great Expectations, her father stops by for a quick chat before turning in. Clyde, on the other hand, is working on his artwork rather than his reading, but his mother compliments his creativity and genius.
They both go to sleep. The world goes quiet. All signals cease.
When they wake the next morning, they seem to be alone in the world. Rani’s parents, Clyde’s mother, Sarah Jane, and even Mr. Smith are gone. Rani snags Sarah Jane’s sonic lipstick as she runs the streets to investigate. She returns home and Clyde stops by. Together, they head into town to look for people, but they don’t find anyone.
They also remark that there are no crashed planes or cars, so whatever took the humans did not want to cause harm or damage. Rani and Clyde continue their discussion over breakfast. They decide to head back to the attic, but discover another living person. They give chase on bicycles and follow him to his apartment. His name is Gavin, and he has been living with his aunt and uncle since his mother died and his father ran off.
Gavin is skeptical of the newcomers, so Rani tells him about aliens to gain his trust. A loud trumpeting and rumbling sound distracts them and Gavin slips away. Clyde and Rani pursue but Gavin has disappeared. Clyde wonders why he doesn’t seem like a normal kid but Rani doesn’t believe him. They return to the restaurant and hash out their relationship. While they talk, the planet’s broadcasts light up with a single signal. It’s a black screen with a red triangle and yellow alien text.
When they investigate, they find giant yellow and red robots who seem intent on blasting them both. Luckily, Gavin saves the day and the trio escape into the nearby shops. The robots prove that they aren’t very robust by completely missing Clyde posing as a mannequin. The trio reunites at the electronics store as they discuss the signal then return to the restaurant.
They try to figure out the common link between them, ranging from time fissures and the TARDIS to their restriction to Earth by the Judoon. That doesn’t quite explain Gavin, but the ruminations are interrupted by the robots. They scatter and the robots pursue.
Both Rani and Clyde end up being cornered and scanned by the robots. They reunite at the restaurant, robots in tow, and begin the time-honored science fiction tradition of trying to communicate. In Short Circuit fashion, they use a newspaper as input, resulting in the translation of the alien signal. It’s a countdown, and the robots reveal that they are in search of a heir who is hiding on Earth. Humanity has been blipped into a sub-universe and will return if they can find the young prince in time.
And, believe it or not, Gavin is the errant heir. His father was an alien king, and since the king is dead, the robots have come to take their new ruler home. The energy trace was a signal calling him home.
After a bit of quick detective work, Rani and Clyde track Gavin to a nearby nature area. The robots can’t see Gavin because of a bio-dampening ring that shields his alien half. Gavin believes Rani and Clyde, removes the ring, and takes his place as the rightful heir.
The prince orders that the people of Earth are restored as he jets off to his new home. Before he leaves, he names his benefactors Lady Rani and Lord Clyde. As the timer hits zero, everyone returns to the planet as if they were never gone save losing ninety minutes somewhere.
Rani’s parents thought she was missing. Haresh asks where she was and she tells him the truth: She was with Clyde. Sarah Jane walks in, thus reuniting the Bannerman Road Gang. Later that night, the team celebrates Rani and Clyde’s victory as Mr. Smith scrubs the official records to hide the truth. Sarah Jane springs for pizza in honor of their good work.
I liked the core moral here, which is that everyone has worth, value, and a place. We see it with Rani and Clyde as they become more than just “hangers-on” and save the people of Earth, and we see it with Gavin as he realizes that he is important on a scale that he never imagined.
As a scientist and engineer, it took me a few minutes to adapt to the dampening effect. It seemed to be limited to broadcast signals since electricity was still available, but it made me wonder for a while exactly how it worked. I had a similar problem with Revolution, a sci-fi series with the premise that all electricity ceases one day. “Yeah, but,” I said, “what about the electrical signals in the human nervous system?”
After a while, you just let it go as pure handwavium, kind of like the concept that the seemingly peaceful seeker robots would consider obliterating an entire species if they didn’t find their target. I mean, that is a whole new level of hide and seek.
One thing that did throw me for a while was Clyde’s use of “honest injun” to describe his integrity while paying for a soda. The phrase supposedly originated in the 1850s (or earlier) and gained popularity when used by author Mark Twain in the 1890s. By the mid-twentieth century, however, it fell into obsolescence, probably due to its prejudicial overtones. The slur “injun” is a corruption of the term Indian, as in Native American, and the honesty part is said to stem from the idea that white people “spoke with a forked tongue” while the tribesmen were considered to be forthright and sincere in their dealings.
Given the stereotypes and prejudices that still exist to this day about Native Americans (at least in the United States), it shouldn’t surprise me that a television program from 2010 worked one of them in. What did surprise me is how far they’ve reached, considering that The Sarah Jane Adventures is a UK production.
Among the minor things that I found fun, Clyde’s still working on his art and our remaining teenagers are still toying with a relationship. I’m glad that the latter is developing organically instead of being created out of the ether.
Rating: 4/5 – “Would you care for a jelly baby?”
UP NEXT – Sarah Jane Adventures: Lost in Time
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.