The second Sarah Jane Adventures
in a row to be written by showrunner Phil Ford, and a Sarah Jane-lite story, I suspect "The Curse of Clyde Langer" was originally meant to be shown later in the run had the whole series been filmed.
Ford goes all out with the tearjerker this week, most obviously with the fact that the episodes revolve around Clyde becoming homeless thus introducing him, and the younger viewers, to this world. It's a sign of the show's confidence that it's willing to go there, and admirable that they go for as realistic a portrayal as children's TV could attempt (Her Off Skins
' crackpipe is notably absent.) But a lot of kids' TV and literature attempts to introduce younger people to social problems and prepare them for the world. Where The Sarah Jane Adventures
has always felt particularly brave is in how close to home they're willing to go in giving viewers something they can relate to. Last year we had a genuinely upsetting look at Sarah Jane fearing early onset dementia, this year, for all that there's a mutant alien totem pole involved, Clyde gets rejected by everyone he loves including his mother. His burning his comic (/dreams for the future) because he needs heat to make it through the night is pretty potent. If the heartstrings being tugged from his point of view aren't enough, in the second episode we see Sarah Jane, Rani and Little Miss Jocelyn feeling their own effects of the curse with a vague sense of loss and regret at having rejected him, which the Sci-Fi element means they aren't able to understand.
I think you could spend ages going into the metaphors and ideas being casually thrown around in the episode, it's such a lovely piece of writing. But leaving the emotional impact to the side, there's the technical side of the story which shows how much the creators have learned from the previous four series, and where they might have gone had they been able to make more: The very nature of the curse is a nice culmination to the meme that's been there from the start, of Clyde constantly referring to himself in the third person, by his full name; this is what comes back to bite him this week. The producers have also hit on a good compromise for the problem of child actors growing up. Having started with three actors the same age as their characters (mercifully one got ditched after the pilot) there's now a mix of actual kids and young adult actors who can pass for teenagers. With both Yasmin Paige and Tommy Knight having left the show because of their exams, you couldn't entirely replace them with more kids (there's only so many accelerated-growth alien children Sarah Jane can adopt) but with Clyde and Rani providing continuity among the sidekicks, they're not being made to 90210
themselves either, and are increasingly being treated as adults. So Daniel Anthony, now the second most senior regular cast member, is able to carry the episode on his own, not only as an actor, but as a character who can plausibly look after himself. Next week, the last-ever story.