The Sarah Jane Adventures Episodes 43 & 44:
The Empty Planet

Plot

One night, Mr Smith detects an untraceable alien signal. Nothing seems amiss... until the next morning, when Rani and Clyde awaken to find that their parents, Sarah Jane, and indeed everybody on Bannerman Road have all vanished. Even Mr Smith does not respond to their commands. Heading into town, they find that London is deserted, with only a frightened boy named Gavin left behind. But suddenly, strange sounds fill the air, alien symbols appear on every television screen, and robots roam the streets. Can the two teenagers solve the mystery of the empty planet?

Production

Gareth Roberts was a frequent contributor to The Sarah Jane Adventures, having most recently written The Wedding Of Sarah Jane Smith for the programme's third season. For season four, he was initially asked to provide an emotionally-challenging story for Sarah Jane (in the vein of 2008's The Temptation Of Sarah Jane Smith) as the year's third serial. However, when it became clear that this notion wasn't working out, Roberts was asked to start over with a different concept. This would now be scheduled as the fourth adventure of the 2010 season, since Matt Smith's availability to play the Eleventh Doctor had shifted Death Of The Doctor to the third spot.

Roberts began work on an adventure featuring Professor Rivers and the Pharos Institute, an occasional presence in the show ever since The Lost Boy in 2007. Here, Rivers alerted Sarah Jane to an organisation called Alpha Solutions which had poached most of the Pharos staff, including Toby Silverman (who had appeared in 2009's The Eternity Trap). Going undercover, Sarah Jane discovered that Alpha was experimenting on a captive alien to synthesise an enzyme which bestowed super-strength. However, the production team ultimately felt that the tenor of Roberts' storyline was wrong for The Sarah Jane Adventures, and the writer agreed to develop something else.

The idea for The Empty Planet had been devised by Russell T Davies for Doctor Who in 2007

The new idea assigned to Roberts was one which executive producer Russell T Davies had devised for Doctor Who in December 2007. During the press launch for the second season of Torchwood, Davies had found himself walking the eerily empty halls of a London hotel, and began to think about a story in which the father of a family mysteriously found himself all alone -- until he ran into the Doctor. Davies opted not to use this notion for the 2008 Doctor Who Christmas special (which instead became The Next Doctor), but instead suggested it to Phil Ford, with whom he would be co-writing an episode intended for broadcast at Christmas 2009. Ford began developing a storyline called “A Midwinter's Tale”, replacing the father with a grandmother who joined the Doctor to oppose the alien Shi'ar who had frozen time on Earth in order to hold a festival which celebrated the marriage of their queen. Davies became concerned that “A Midwinter's Tale” lacked sufficient incident for a one-hour special, and was also worried about the practicalities of staging a deserted London. The story was dropped, and Davies and Ford co-wrote The Waters Of Mars in its place.

For Roberts' version of the storyline, ultimately called The Empty Planet, the deserted hotel setting was abandoned because the action would focus on Clyde and Rani as the only humans left on Earth. The lack of emphasis on Sarah Jane was intentional, in order to provide Elisabeth Sladen with her usual mid-season break. Considerable thought was given to the explanation for why Clyde and Rani had not vanished along with the rest of mankind, before finally settling on their being confined to Earth by Captain Tybo in 2009's Prisoner Of The Judoon.

In early drafts, Gavin was not an alien prince but a shapechanging villain, who had fled to Earth and taken the form of the first person he met. The robots were pursuing him because he had stolen a power source from their peaceful homeworld; Gavin planned to plug this device into Mr Smith and use it to take over the planet. At the end of the story, Rani would have called the real Gavin to make sure that he was safe. The suddenness of humanity's disappearance was originally made more explicit, taking place after Rani had woken up for the morning, with the sounds of her parents getting ready for the day abruptly cut off. Another change was the removal of the concept that the robots communicated only through musical sounds.

In early drafts, Gavin was not an alien prince but a shapechanging villain who had fled to Earth

The Empty Planet was recorded alongside Death Of The Doctor as the year's second production block. On April 26th, 2010 director Ashley Way taped material in the attic and the Chandra residence at Upper Boat Studios. In order to most effectively portray the abandoned London streets, it was agreed that some filming would have to take place on Sundays, which were normally off-days for the cast and crew. The first of these was May 9th, which was spent on Skinner Street in Newport. Newport remained the venue for the next three days. On the 10th, locations included the Coffee Shop (for the cafe where Clyde and Rani tried to figure out what was happening), Bon Marché (the clothing store where Clyde hid from the yellow robot), and the Park Square Car Park (atop which Clyde and Rani looked out on the deserted London, achieved via greenscreen). Way's team returned to the Coffee Shop on the 11th and 12th, with work on the latter day continuing with more street scenes recorded in and around Market Street and Upper Dock Street.

Filming on May 13th began on the grounds of a private home in St Nicholas, for Gavin accepting his destiny. The aftermath in which the Earth was restored to normal was then taped at Alexandra Park in Penarth. The second Sunday of the shoot was May 16th, which saw action play out in and around Commercial Street and Kear Court, back in Newport. Bannerman Road scenes were completed at Clinton Road in Penarth on the 18th. May 19th and 20th focussed on sequences at Gavin's home, an apartment on Channel View Road in Cardiff. Part of the latter day was also spent at Maes y Felin Farm in Dyffryn, for the flashback set on Gavin's homeworld of Kravasta. Finally, more material in Rani's house was taped at Upper Boat on the 21st.

In editing, it was realised that part one of The Empty Planet was running significantly under-length, and so several new scenes were written to extend the episode. Most of these were set in the Chandra home, and included a replacement version of Rani's return at the end of the serial, which had been planned for filming at Clinton Road on April 27th, but cancelled due to heavy rain. However, Jocelyn Jee Esien had been hired to return as Carla Langer for the second story of the fifth season, The Curse Of Clyde Langer, having originated the role in 2008's The Mark Of The Berserker. This provided the opportunity to add a new sequence to The Empty Planet in which Carla and her son discuss Clyde's artistic acumen. All of the new material was filmed at Upper Boat on July 11th.

Gareth Roberts intended that there be no incidental music during the scenes on the deserted Earth

Roberts had intended that The Empty Planet boast no incidental music whatsoever between Rani waking up to a deserted house and the restoration of the Earth's populace. However, Way was concerned that this would be to the episodes' detriment, and instead a very sparse score was composed by Sam Watts. Also unusual was the decision to omit a pre-credits sequence at the start of part one.

A further oddity for The Empty Planet was that its second installment actually debuted in high definition before its first. This was because, to that point, the BBC had only a single high definition channel -- BBC HD -- which broadcast programmes transmitted in standard definition throughout the BBC family, and was on-air for only about nine hours per day. As a result, the high-definition broadcast of some shows was substantially delayed. For example, the first few episodes of the 2010 season of The Sarah Jane Adventures were airing one per week on BBC HD, rather than two per week as on CBBC and BBC1, meaning that they were falling farther and farther behind their standard-definition counterparts. On November 3rd, however, the BBC launched BBC1 HD, which would air high-definition versions of all BBC1 programmes in a simulcast with the standard-definition channel. (BBC HD would remain as a home for high-definition versions of other BBC programmes, until it was replaced with BBC2 HD in March 2013.) The Empty Planet part two was the first episode of The Sarah Jane Adventures to benefit from this new arrangement; part one would not receive its high-definition transmission until BBC HD caught up on December 12th.

Sources
  • Doctor Who News.
  • Doctor Who Magazine Special Edition #28, 13th July 2011, “Episodes 4.7/4.8: The Empty Planet” by Andrew Pixley, Panini Publishing Ltd.
  • Doctor Who Magazine Special Edition #32, Autumn 2012, “The Stories That Never Were...” by Andrew Pixley, Panini UK Ltd.

Original Transmission
Episode 1
Date 1st Nov 2010
Time 5.17pm
Duration 25'11"
Viewers (more) 993k
· CBBC 993k
· BBC1 510k
(3rd Nov 2010)
· BBCHD unknown
(12th Dec 2010)
Episode 2
Date 2nd Nov 2010
Time 5.16pm
Duration 25'34"
Viewers (more) 808k
· CBBC 808k
· BBC1/HD 580k
(4th Nov 2010)


Cast
Sarah Jane Smith
Elisabeth Sladen
Luke Smith
Tommy Knight
Mr Smith
Alexander Armstrong
(more)
Clyde Langer
Daniel Anthony
Rani Chandra
Anjli Mohindra
Haresh Chandra
Ace Bhatti
Carla Langer
Jocelyn Jee Esien
Gavin
Joe Mason
Red Robot
Paul Kasey
Yellow Robot
Ruari Mears
Voice of the Robots
Jon Glover


Crew
Written by
Gareth Roberts
Directed by
Ashley Way
Produced by
Brian Minchin
(more)

Created by
Russell T Davies
Co-Producer
Phil Ford
1st Assistant Director
Richard Harris
2nd Assistant Director
Sarah Davies
3rd Assistant Director
Delmi Thomas
Production Co-Ordinator
Hannah Simpson
Script Supervisor
Nicki Coles
Script Editor
Gary Russell
Location Manager
Gareth Skelding
Camera Operator
Martin Stephens
Focus Pullers
Steve Rees
Mani Blaxter Paliwala
Grip
John Robinson
Boom Operator
Jeff Welch
Gaffer
Dave Fowler
Standby Art Director
Jackson Pope
Standby Props
Phill Shellard
Graphics
BBC Wales Graphics
Costume Supervisor
Barbara Harrington
Assistant Editor
Carmen Sanchez Roberts
Post Production Supervisor
Nerys Davies
Post Production Co-ordinator
Marie Brown
Colourist
Jon Everett
Online Editor
Matt Mullins
Sound Editors
Matthew Cox
Howard Eaves
Dubbing Mixer
Owen Thomas
Title Music
Murray Gold
Music
Sam Watts
Casting Director
Andy Brierley
Production Executive
Julie Scott
Production Accountant
Mark Strainge
Sound Recordist
Bryn Thomas
Costume Designer
Stewart Meachem
Make Up Designer
Emma Bailey
Visual Effects
BBC Wales VFX
Special Effects
Real SFX
Prosthetics
Millennium FX
Editor
Ceres Doyle
Production Designer
Keith Dunne
Director of Photography
Mark Waters
Production Manager
Steffan Morris
Executive Producers for BBC Wales
Russell T Davies
Nikki Wilson

Updated 20th August 2017