The new issue of Doctor Who Magazine [#368, on sale now] includes a review of Buried Secrets, the first of the four-part Sarah Jane Smith audio drama series I've written. Here's what Matt Michael thought of the story...
"Collagen-lipped Pete Burns' recent appearance on Celebrity Big Brother sent his 1980s hit tune You Spin Me Round (Like a Record) rocketing straight back into the UK's Top Five singles. Big Finish is perhaps hoping that Elisabeth Sladen's reprisal of her performance as Sarah Jane Smith in the forthcoming new series of Doctor Who to similarly raise the profile of this spin-off range of CDs. Certainly, their timing couldn't have been better calculated to tempt thrifty fans to take on chance on Buried Secrets.
"The play begins with a radio news report that's more concerned with the first tourist flights to space than the disappearance of an archaelogical professor in Florence. This seems appropriate for what is very clearly the first act in a four-part series. While Sarah enjoys her semi-retirement following her recent globe-trotting adventures, her friend Nat is in trouble with the Italian police following the discovery of the professor's body i a sixteenth-century tomb, and the loyal Josh is busy stalking Sarah to protect her from danger.
"The first series of Sarah Jane Smith audios was one of Big Finish's very best Doctor Who spin-offs, successfully marrying an ongoing story with plays that could be enjoyed individually. Buried Secrets very much emphasises the continuing plot threads at the expense of the matter at hand, it is therefore difficult to rate this much on its own merits. That's a shame, because before it's subsumed beneath Da Vinci Code overtones and the machinations of a millennial cult (led by Blake's 7's Jacqueline Pearce), the Florentine murder mystery has the promising ring of a Sunday night detective serial. However, with a small cast it's quickly clear whodunnit - and why - as the listener realises that 'Buried Secrets' refers to the story arc as a whole and not just this particular play.
"As in the first series, Elisabeth Sladen gives us a Sarah who is recognisably a mroe grown-up version of the character she played in the 1970s, albeit one who still has a tendency to blub at inconvenient moments. The other actors all do a solid job of the t 'on the phone' acting that gives these plays a sense of immediacy as well as an audio-friendly storytelling device. Less dynamically, Sarah spends half her time in a restaurant with Harry Sullivan's step-brother, Will (City of Death's Tom Chadbon), apparently to set up next month's Snow Blind. It's a plot that allows writer David Bishop to re-establish the character at the expense of her doing very much. Fair enough as a hook for the series, less successful as a play in its own right, Buried Secrets is a bit of a throwaway effort."
Well, you can't please all the reviewers all the time. Still, two points in the review do stick out. Neither producer-director John Ainsworth nor myself had any idea Sarah was being brought back in the new series of Doctor Who that starts on April 15th. The fact this second series of SJS audio drama is coming out in the months immediately before the character returns to TV is purely coincidental. Secondly, Sarah has a grand total of two scenes in a restaurant with Will Sullivan. These take up a 8 minutes and 56 seconds of the play's hour-long running time, a fact that doesn't quite match Matt Michael's opinion. Perhaps subsequent stories in the series will be more to his liking?
Meanwhile on the Big Finish forum of Outpost Gallifrey, the Sarah Jane Smith audio Fatal Consequences is currently getting the top rating of Excellent from more than 70% of all those who've voted on the story's worth thus far. I'm finding the level of praise being directed at the SJS audios on the OG forum a little unnerving. Fortunately, I have DWM's review to keep my ego in check...