Secrets of the Stars

Posted in Episode by - February 21, 2022
Secrets of the Stars

Aired 20 – 27 October 2008


Astrology, the study of the movements and positionings of celestial bodies and the effects they have on the human condition and the world, is a divisive science, a joke to some but attracting devout followers and scoffing deriders in equal measure. In Gareth Roberts’s ‘Secrets of the Stars,’ however, astrology ruled a universe predating this one, and the Ancient Lights are coming to Earth through a most unexpected messenger, astrologer Martin Trueman.

In many respects, Trueman is a classic over-the-top Doctor Who villain, flamboyantly and overdramatically playing to his audience while driven by power and greed. He is supremely confident and self-assured, and he has no qualms telling everyone who will listen what his ultimate plans are as more people unwittingly fall under his control. While it’s easy to simply write off Russ Abbot’s performance as one-note and more directed at this programme’s younger target audience, however, the opening scene before Trueman has such power thrust upon him is far more important to the overall character by showing the glint of humanity in this man who has conned so many for his entire life when he refuses to take a client’s mortgage money, and the eventual truths revealed about his own childhood help to quickly but effectively develop a more well-rounded and somewhat sympathetic character that keep this universal threat much better grounded in reality and true emotion.

Of course, Sarah Jane does not overtly believe in astrology, but her travels with the Doctor have taught her that anything is possible and she is thus willing to at least listen to this man who is so quickly garnering such a following. Because she, likewise, is so self-assured as a character, it’s disconcerting to see just how effectively Trueman is able to get under her skin and to make her question her own beliefs, and her reaction to his fairly direct knowledge about her travels with the Doctor and his influence on her proves to be a poignant turning point that Elisabeth Sladen delivers beautifully. It’s nice to see that Sarah Jane is trying to integrate into the community a bit more alongside Rani’s parents- Gita being much more open to the astrological possibilities than Haresh- even if she is always looking for a story, and having her confront her past in front of others is a significant moment for the character who so often acts more subtly and out of the public’s eye.

As obviously crucial as Sarah Jane is to this show, though, the young cast members are every bit as important to each individual episode’s success, and they continue to excel in ‘Secrets of the Stars.’ For only her second story, Rani has already cemented herself as a dynamic presence and essentially a young version of Sarah Jane, and her curiosity and steadfast determination will continue to serve her well as she boldly confronts the mysteries of the world and beyond. Likewise, in one of his most prominent roles yet, Clyde proves himself to be cunning and intelligent when all pressure is placed on him to allow his friends to begin to fight back against Trueman, and Daniel Anthony gives a suitably unnerving and emotionless performance when Clyde is temporarily under Trueman’s control that ensures the situation never loses any of its intended seriousness. Finally, as Luke continues to come to terms with the feelings of loneliness and the strengths that can come from being the outsider like this show so champions, Tommy Knight is gentle but perfectly emotive at each step of the way. The plot itself is quite a bit weaker than those of previous stories even if the visual of entire subsections of the population so easily being taken over is a frightful one, but the core performances are superb and help to create another unique instalment that features plenty of exciting references to Sarah Jane’s past.

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