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The Sarah Jane Adventures Episodes 35 &
Sarah Jane uncovers a new scheme by the Slitheen to destroy the Earth, but the villains are stopped by the Blathereen, members of another family on Raxacoricofallapatorius. The Blathereen profess nothing but goodwill towards the human race, and offer Sarah Jane the gift of Rakweed, a hardy and nutritious plant which can grow in even the most hostile of environments. Although Sarah Jane does not entirely trust the Blathereen, she decides to take a chance and accept the Rakweed -- little realising that the Blathereen have their own sinister designs on Earth.
Alongside Brian Dooley (the writer who originally developed Mona Lisa's Revenge), the other new contributor to the third season of The Sarah Jane Adventures was Rupert Laight. Laight had worked with Gareth Roberts, one of the programme's regular writers, as a storyliner on Emmerdale, and had also provided scripts for Is Harry On The Boat? and worked as a story associate on Coronation Street. In 2002, Laight's story Ghost Town formed part of the first season of Sarah Jane Smith audio adventures from Big Finish Productions.
Laight was invited to write for The Sarah Jane Adventures in late 2007, when the production team was given the green light to plan for not one but two seasons of the show. Laight was aware that his episodes were destined for the third season, allowing for considerable development; as a starting point, he was asked to introduce the Blathereen, a second family of aliens from the planet Raxacoricofallapatorius like the Slitheen, who had battled Sarah Jane in the serials which bookended the first season: Revenge Of The Slitheen and The Lost Boy. The Blathereen had already appeared as villains in the 2005 Doctor Who novel The Monsters Inside by Stephen Cole.
Laight's story, which was originally functionally designated “Blathereen”, became “Gift Of The Blathereen”. In addition to both sets of Raxacoricofallapatorians, it was intended that this serial would feature an appearance by Noel Clarke, reprising his role as Mickey Smith, the Doctor's sometime companion and Rose Tyler's sometime boyfriend, who appeared regularly during the 2005 and 2006 seasons of Doctor Who. Mickey had returned to Earth following a spell in a parallel universe in the 2008 Doctor Who season finale, The Stolen Earth / Journey's End, and would now be allied with UNIT. As originally envisaged, Mickey helped Sarah Jane and her friends track the Slitheen at the start of the story before becoming enmeshed in the struggle against the Blathereen.
In early versions of “Gift Of The Blathereen”, the titular “gift” -- called Yorrum grass at this point, rather than Rakweed -- was already being grown in the Sahara desert, from where it rapidly spread to infect various parts of the globe including England. Sarah Jane was able to track the Slitheen, who were being held captive by the Blathereen. The Slitheen agreed to help the humans, only to betray them to the Blathereen -- but not before providing enough information about Yorrum grass to enable Mr Smith to synthesise a weedkiller. As “Gift Of The Blathereen” evolved, the involvement of the Slitheen (who now included Janine Slitheen from Revenge Of The Slitheen) was reduced, with the weedkiller being created with help from the work of Professor Cowly, whose research centre had become the starting point for the Yorrum grass infestation.
Unfortunately, it eventually became apparent that Noel Clarke would not be available during the production period, so Mickey would also have to be dropped from the storyline. In the new version, Cowly and his research centre were eliminated, with the Blathereen offering the Yorrum grass directly to Sarah Jane. The Yorrum grass was now susceptible to a solution made from daffodils, as Rani discovered when she and Clyde escaped to her mother's flower shop. For this draft, Laight used the title “The Whispering Grass”, a reference to the song Whispering Grass (Don't Tell The Trees), a 1975 hit for Windsor Davies and Don Estelle. Ultimately, however, the serial would go by a simplified version of the earlier working title: The Gift.
By now, Laight's story was intended to be the fourth to be recorded and aired as part of the third season of The Sarah Jane Adventures. This meant further alterations: Tommy Knight, playing Luke Smith, would have to be excluded from the narrative because filming would coincide with the writing of his GCSE examinations. Furthermore, Clinton Road in Penarth would not be available to appear as Bannerman Road. However, things changed again when the entire structure of the 2009 season was revised in order to accommodate the restrictive schedule of David Tennant, who would be appearing as the Tenth Doctor in The Wedding Of Sarah Jane Smith. This was originally planned to be the season finale, but now became the year's third serial. Instead, The Gift would take its place as the climactic adventure. This meant that Bannerman Road and Luke could both appear -- as could K·9, whose return originally took place after the events of Laight's episodes. This would be the first season of The Sarah Jane Adventures in which the antagonist of the opening serial did not return for the finale.
The final form of The Gift now began to take shape, such as the introduction of the Rakweed's vulnerability to sound. All along, one of the biggest difficulties Laight faced was identifying an appropriate motive for his story's villains. Earlier drafts had suggested that the Blathereen were genuinely trying to help humanity, but were unaware of what would happen when they unleashed their gift; that only one of the Blathereen was evil, unbeknownst to the other; or that the Blathereen were motivated by the dying ecosystem of Raxacoricofallapatorius and were planning to turn the Earth into a new homeworld. It was only at a late stage that the idea was adopted that Tree-lorn-acre and Leaf-apple-glyn (named for JRR Tolkien's 1964 publication Tree And Leaf) were products of a Slitheen-Blathereen union.
The Gift was directed by Alice Troughton, who had just completed The Eternity Trap. For a time it was thought that money could be saved by repainting the existing Slitheen costumes to turn them into Blathereen, but it was ultimately decided that new costumes should be constructed. At one point, Laight had envisaged the Blathereen as being a shade of blue, but they were eventually coloured a more distinctive orange. Troughton's first two days of shooting were July 2nd and 3rd, both of which were split between Clinton Road and the attic set at Upper Boat Studios. Scenes in the attic remained the focus from July 7th to 9th, with the shot of the exploding Blathereen held back until last due to the amount of time it would take to clean and repair the set. Part of the 9th was also spent at the QED Centre -- which, like Upper Boat, was located on the Treforest Industrial Estate in Pontypridd -- for the news report from Park Vale Hospital. The 10th was another day spent at Upper Boat, this time for sequences in the Chandra residence.
Since The Sarah Jane Adventures began, two different schools had been used to represent Park Vale Comprehensive: Hawthorn High School in Pontypridd and Cardiff High School. Both were employed for The Gift, the former on July 11th and the latter on the 13th and 14th. Scenes in reception and the staff room were taped at Hawthorn, and those in and around the science lab at Cardiff High. The Blathereen spaceship set at Upper Boat was the focus on the 15th. This left just the Slitheen confrontation from the start of the story, which was recorded at the Hoover Candy factory in Merthyr Tydfil on July 16th and 17th, wrapping the year's shooting schedule.
Part two of The Gift brought the third season of The Sarah Jane Adventures to a close on November 20th. In comparison with 2008, the programme's ratings in 2009 had improved considerably, bolstered by the mid-season appearance of David Tennant and the new twice-weekly, BBC1-oriented broadcast schedule. The future of The Sarah Jane Adventures seemed assured, and planning was already well under way for not one but two further sets of episodes. However, after a year of relative stability both in front of and behind the cameras, 2010 was to bring a period of substantial change...
|Updated 12th August 2017|
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