Check out our interview with boxset writer Joseph Lidster here!
Twelve years after The Sarah Jane Adventures came to an untimely end on television, and three years after the tearjerking finale Farewell Sarah Jane, released during lockdown, the chronicles of intrepid journalist Rani Chandra continue in the new spin-off series Rani Takes on the World from Big Finish!
Beyond Bannerman Road, the debut boxset in the series, sees Anjli Mohindra returns to the role of Rani in three new audio adventures, which explore her life after the death of Sarah Jane, seeing her face aliens, reunite with old friends and, perhaps most terrifyingly of all, take on the perils of adulthood!
Joseph Lidster‘s Here Today opens the series, giving us the low-down on what Rani has been up to since we last saw her. Having brought down the government and started a successful podcast, we find her trying to come to terms with Sarah Jane’s death, trying to step out of the shadow of her old mentor while simultaneously honouring her legacy. Lidster’s exploration of this is touching, even tearjerking at times, and is sure to bring a smile to the face of any Sarah Jane Adventures fan.
Daniel Anthony also makes a return here as Clyde Langer, and effortlessly slips back into the role he originated thirteen years ago, while selling the ways in which his character has changed since he was the cheeky, wisecracking teen we watched on TV back in the early 2000s. His partner Phoenix is introduced here and, although we don’t hear much of them interact, their relationship pushes the character in a really interesting direction, confessing to Rani that he doesn’t feel ready to be a father.
This kind of deft character work sits at the heart of the story, with even side characters like Rani’s housemate and producer Samira (Raghad Chaar), UNIT soldier Matthew (Angus Dunican) and the mysterious Patricia (Yvonne D’Alpra) getting their own little arcs across the episode. It’s almost a shame when the plot- while admittedly interesting- kicks in, such is the strength of Lidster’s grasp on the story’s characters. All in all, this is a lively, engaging, emotional introduction to the series, and one of Big Finish‘s strongest scripts of 2023 thus far.
James Goss‘s Destination: Wedding is a little more of a lightweight affair, taking us to a luxury island resort where one of Rani’s old classmates is getting married. Mina Anwar returns here as Rani’s mum, Gita, and it’s great to hear her reunite with Mohindra; the two shared excellent chemistry on screen and that translates perfectly to audio, in no small part due to Goss’s script, which recaptures their relationship well.
This is a bit of a strange story, all told, very different from those on either side of it. It’s also odd, given the series premise of Rani investigating strange goings on, that she just stumbles into the mystery here, by pure coincidence, rather than actively seeking it out as elsewhere in the set. Still, this is an engaging listen.
Rounding off the set is The Witching Tree by Lizzie Hopley, a more supernaturally-tinged story involving a haunted restaurant. Much of the episode is presented as a podcast, with Rani directly narrating to the listener her investigation, which really sets it apart from the other stories. I wouldn’t want every episode to be like this, but it’s an interesting narrative quirk that makes the piece feel almost like a found-footage film, adding to the spooky atmosphere.
Where the story works less well is in its exploration of the Clyde/Phoenix relationship from Here Today. I thought it was really interesting not to go down the predictable route of putting Clyde and Rani together, but it seems that might be what’s going to happen after all after the not-so-unexpected twist here. Despite this, the story is well-told and performed, and has a nice guest appearance from Jonny Green as Torchwood’s Tyler Steele.
Special mention must go to composer Sam Watts, whose score for this boxset is just sublime. Hearing some of the cues from The Sarah Jane Adventures used here quite literally brought a tear to my eye; having grown up with the show, it was truly magical to hear the same characters with the same music again after so many years.
Elisabeth Sladen was one of my childhood heroes and I was, like so many other children, completely devastated when I found out she’d died. I met her once, when I was seven or eight, and she asked me if I enjoyed watching The Sarah Jane Adventures. I remember being far too starstruck to respond in any meaningful way, but the truth is, the show was one of the biggest parts of my childhood, even more than Doctor Who. I used to run home from school to watch it. My mum would tell me bedtime stories where Sarah Jane would take me on adventures. We’d play it on the playground. I was completely enchanted.
After the show was cancelled, I spent years wondering what happened next and, thanks to the team at Big Finish, now I have an answer. The story goes on… forever.
Beyond Bannerman Road is available on CD or as a download at http://www.bigfinish.com
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