The Man Who Never Was

Posted in Episode by - December 04, 2022
The Man Who Never Was

Aired 17 – 18 October 2011


As the final story to be sufficiently completed following the unfortunate passing of Elisabeth Sladen, ‘The Man Who Never Was’ by Gareth Roberts serves as the unintended finale to The Sarah Jane Adventures and was consequently asked without foreknowledge to provide a fitting farewell to a beloved character who had pervaded popular culture since her debut in 1973 and to a brilliant series that had matured and grown along with its audience since hitting screens in 2007. Here, Joseph Serf has launched his new computer, the SerfBoard, that everyone wants, but Sarah Jane suspects that the product and marketing just might be too good to be true.

Tapping into the obsessive culture surrounding the latest technological releases from Apple and other companies, ‘The Man Who Never Was’ presents an instantly relatable premise buoyed by the sophisticated, confident charm of Mark Aiken’s Joseph Serf. However, when it becomes clear that Serf quite literally is not the man everyone believes him to be, it’s James Dreyfus who expertly steps into the villainous role as Harrison, continuing this series’s strong tradition of employing more traditionally comic actors to play straight and serious roles. Harrison is a man who certainly has a comeback and an insult for every occasion, but Dreyfus quite brilliantly plays him in a way that suggests Harrison isn’t completely in control of the situation Serf is fronting which becomes all the more appropriate when the terrifying truth behind the alien technology and alien enslavement he must employ to retain the public visage required to sate his own immense greed become known. There’s more than a passing nod to child labour and other unfortunate labour situations across the globe, and what comes off initially as a relatively lightweight plot characterized by humorous glitches in Serf’s mannerisms and movements becomes all the more resonant and profound as a result.

Even though ‘The Man Who Never Was’ was not intended to be a finale of any sort, it’s fitting that Sarah Jane’s final adventure should see her trying to free a group of slaves. No action more clearly exemplifies who Sarah Jane is as a person and what she believes in most, and Elisabeth Sladen is fantastic as Sarah effortlessly taps into her journalistic inquisitiveness while slyly suggesting that she has noted the flaw in Serf’s performance in order to be granted an exclusive interview. She’s adept at avoiding hypnotic suggestions and she’s more than capable to escaping a locked room and employing disguises to facilitate her means, Sladen’s effortless charm and energy here providing an incredibly strong reminder of just how resourceful and determined her character is and presenting an enduring and bright beacon of hope and optimism. This is accentuated through the presence of both Luke and Sky whom Sarah Jane has taken under her wing, the boy now home from his studies reaffirming just how much Sarah Jane can help to shape those around her while Sky just begins to embark on her own journey of discovery and maturation. Tommy Knight and Sinead Michael share an immense chemistry that really signifies the passing of the baton to usher in what assuredly would have been a confident and enthralling set of continuing adventures. Michael and Sky’s unique abilities are not featured as much as may have been the case in a true finale, but the character’s infectious energy and childish sense of wonder continue to provide a unique frame of reference to compare and contrast to the more seasoned thoughts and reactions of her peers.

Although Rani and Clyde likewise might not be quite as front and centre as in typical episodes despite their integral role in retrieving the pen device Harrison so relies on to exert control over the slaves, Anjli Mohindra and Daniel Anthony are given plenty of opportunities to once again showcase the superb chemistry they have developed over their years together. This is a show that has subtly been nudging the two characters together even as neither would admit it, but Luke’s Clani naming for them firmly infers their trajectory together and opens up a tremendous realm of exciting possibilities for their own continuing adventures. The Sarah Jane Adventures has always been reliant upon its young cast members every bit as much as Elisabeth Sladen, and although Maria is only briefly featured in a closing montage that reminds everyone of what Sarah Jane was, is, and will continue to be, ‘The Man Who Never Was’ expertly highlights the incredible performers of all ages that have made the show such an enduring success. It’s neither the deepest nor most powerful story this series has offered, but its focus on the characters to help uncover a much more thoughtful plot hiding beneath the whacky facade of Serf creates a sombre but satisfying conclusion to the televised saga of Sarah Jane Smith, a tribute to who she is as a person and what she can inspire in others both on and off the screen.

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