Mirror, Signal, Manoeuvre

Posted in Audio by - April 02, 2018
Mirror, Signal, Manoeuvre

Released November 2002

After an uneven journey that peaked with the tense grittiness and immediacy of ‘Test of Neve,’ the first series of Sarah Jane Smith comes to a close with ‘Mirror, Signal, Manoeuvre’ by Peter Anghelides. The one aspect that the series has undoubtedly excelled with as it has progressed is lending credibility to the increasing paranoia Sarah has carried with her, and she has now become so concerned with looking in the rear-view mirror that she no longer notices who is in the driver’s seat as she travels to a remote island in the Indian Ocean to investigate a bio-warfare scandal from the 1940s. Pursuing the story with a fellow journalist from Planet 3, Sarah refuses to contact her friends in the UK and fails to recognise that she herself is the story of interest as enemies from her past and dangers of the present collide.

Even though she ends up being perfectly justified in being so mistrustful and suspicious given that everyone she meets here is involved in the plot against her, it’s quite shocking to note just how dark and aloof Sarah has become at this point, but it’s fitting given her past that another journalist who understands the perils of the job is the only person with whom she can converse. With her preventive measures actually putting her friends into danger on more than one occasion, Josh and Natalie could be forgiven for following Sarah’s lead as she purposefully ignores their calls and go out of contact, but it’s a testament to the type of people Sarah has surrounded herself with despite the lifestyle she leads that these two steadfast companions are able to put aside emotional differences to continue to support their friend in any way they can, and Jeremy James and Sadie Miller give strong performances to suggest that level of frustrated dedication that once again proves so vital to saving Sarah from her own whims and foibles.

With how many nefarious individuals and companies Sarah has helped to expose and take down over the years, it’s not hard to believe that a grudge and desire for revenge would come back to haunt her at some point, and the arrival from behind the scenes of Miss Winters who was last seen with the SRS in ‘Robot’ lends an incredible sense of cohesion with Sarah’s televised tenure while reminding everyone of just how long she has been investigating and trying to right wrongs. After fifteen years in prison for blackmail via apocalypse when Jellicoe took the fall for murder, Winters has already managed to ruin Sarah’s life by ensuring she took the bait for the false story that ended her career, but she now wishes to utterly destroy Sarah’s reputation by framing her for the release of SCALA’s powerful, self-replicating virus that will kill millions, using all of Sarah’s closest contacts and even the cannibalised remains of K9 to achieve her goals. Patricia Maynard returns to the role of Miss Winters with gusto and once more brings out a detached iciness that is powerfully effective against Sarah who must confront the repercussions of her actions, and the revelations that Harris was working for the SRS when UNIT broke up the last meeting and continued to act in Winters’s interests while she was imprisoned and that Wendy is in actuality Jellicoe’s daughter brings the disparate threads of both this story and the series together nicely while highlighting the bigger scale of events that the Doctor inadvertently sets in motion when abruptly leaving at the end of an adventure.

In essence, ‘Mirror, Signal, Manoeuvre’ encapsulates everything that both does and does not work about this promising but rough first series. The pacing of the first half is quite slow before the main thrust of the narrative finally kicks in, and the long-brewing confrontation between Sarah and Miss Winters is over all too quickly despite how momentous it ends up being. While simultaneously proving Sarah right to distrust the world at this time and condemning her for so completely forgetting her friends to the point that this team is basically anything but, it ties up the events of the first series that also took some time to find its footing and get going while paving a clear path for series two. This is a darker take on Sarah than might be anticipated given her time on television, but this aspect continues to open up exciting avenues for exploration now that the importance of companionship has been reaffirmed after another near brush with death that puts Josh’s changing character into the spotlight.

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