Comeback

Posted in Audio by - March 28, 2018
Comeback

Released July 2002

Elisabeth Sladen brought so much inherent charm, charisma, and strength to the role of Sarah Jane Smith alongside both the Third and Fourth Doctors that it’s no wonder the character has remained ingrained in the public consciousness since her debut in 1973, leading the aborted spinoff K-9 and Company, returning for anniversary and other special broadcasts, and even returning alongside David Tennant’s Tenth Doctor before starring in The Sarah Jane Adventures on CBBC. Before her famed return to television in 2006, however, Sarah Jane Smith featured in her own self-titled range for Big Finish, exploring a more paranoid and remote character reeling from the cascade of aliases and lies she must employ on a daily basis and the disastrous ramifications of a story that went horribly wrong.

Suffering from unemployability and a reputation in shambles after her continuing Planet Three series of exposes about the devious undertakings of certain corporations ran into a roadblock when one set of allegations was proven false and her employer was sued, Sarah Jane has ceased to exist in the public, though she knows that somebody has gone to incredible lengths to frame her and ensure she is ruined. Remaining cautious, she does act with a sort of reckless abandonment as she goes undercover to uncover the secrets that have been guiding her life, and she proves just how adept she is at manipulation and subtle coercion at several points throughout to further reinforce her unique talents as a successful investigative reporter. With a pre-credits title sequence that hints at greater dangers and confrontatiosn yet to come as the series progresses, this burgeoning story arc is further fleshed out by the advent of two de facto companions, Jeremy James’s rebellious man who comes from money but refuses his parents’ help and who spent eight months locked away before falling into a series of dead-end jobs, Josh Townsend, and Sadie Miller’s no-nonsense intelligent hacker who has Sarah’s utmost respect, Natalie Redfern. There’s an easy chemistry that instantly develops among all three leads, and each proves invaluable in his or her own way as the plot progresses and the mystery intensifies.

‘Comeback’ is so indisputably successful with introducing and developing its leads, however, that it means there isn’t much time for any sort of layered storytelling or deception once Sarah Jane arrives in the village of Cloots Coombe in Wiltshire where all roads seem to lead. There are some truly intriguing ideas on display, however, and a failed MOD chemical experiment that entered the village well and left the population sterile is a harrowing backdrop steeped in fretfully real potential. With the resulting arrangement to clone the villagers only a smokescreen to see if a population with no familial ties and no cost to the government if killed in battle could be formed, the mutant feeding off of the life forces of those who helped give it form has come to symbolize the very worst of human greed and despair in its many forms. There are plenty of emotions and very visual moments that could be mined from such a setup, but there simply isn’t time given the exposition needed for the leads to fully explore the nuances of this situation and the intriguing denizens of the village fronted by church, and it’s quite telling that the villain drops all pretenses almost immediately upon meeting Sarah Jane to expedite the plot.

Because the Cloots Coobe storyline is quite compact and rushed, ‘Comeback’ doesn’t necessarily reach the heights that it strives to achieve. However, the end result in terms of introducing Sarah, Josh, and Natalie is remarkable within the first half’s paranoia-filled tension, and the polished performances, direction, and sound design with hints at future developments looming large help to craft an engaging experience that is a fine re-entry point into the ever-developing world of Sarah Jane Smith and the always-sublime performances of Elisabeth Sladen.

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