Wednesday, 21 February 2018

Eye of the Gorgon - SJA 1.2

In which Clyde Langer visits his mother's friend, Mrs Randall, at the retirement home where she lives - Lavender Lawns. She tells him that the place is haunted by a spectral nun who is seen in the bedrooms at night. Clyde informs Sarah of this, and she decides to investigate for a possible story. She goes there with Clyde and Luke. Maria stays behind as her mother, Chrissie, has turned up, expecting to move in with them. Maria is angry with her for being selfish and for abandoning them, and storms out. One of the other residents of the home - Bea Nelson-Stanley - gives an ornate amulet to Luke which she had hidden in an old tree trunk, asking him to keep it safe. She only has moments of lucidity, as she suffers from dementia. The home's warden, Mrs Gribbins, spies on Bea and sees her give the object to Luke. She then runs off to report this to a nun, Sister Helena, who has been watching the place. Her Sisters have been searching the place at night - leading to the supposed ghost sightings. Sister Helena is annoyed that the amulet had not been found sooner and blames Gribbins. She is taken to a room where an elderly nun is sitting with her head covered. The old woman lifts the hood and Mrs Gribbins is turned to stone.

Back at Sarah's house, the computer Mr Smith recognises the amulet as being of alien origin. Sarah returns to the home with Maria, and they discover that Bea was once married to an archaeologist, and the amulet was found on a dig. Sarah is surprised when the old woman mentions an encounter with Sontarans in her early days. Sister Helena traces Luke to Sarah's home, and he is abducted by her and some other nuns. Clyde calls Sarah to warn her of what has happened, and they go to Saint Agnes Abbey to free him. Sarah is captured and forced to hand over the amulet, as the youngsters are being held hostage. Sarah takes Sister Helena and the ancient hooded nun to her home. The older nun is really an alien Gorgon. She is about to turn Sarah into stone when Maria's father Alan turns up, and it is he who becomes petrified.

Mr Smith confirms that what has happened to Alan is reversible, though they only have 90 minutes to save him after which the process will be permanent. Sarah believes that the amulet may save Alan, so she, Luke and Clyde head back to the Abbey, whilst Maria goes to see Bea to try to learn more about it. Whilst they are all away, Chrissie goes to Sarah's house to look for her ex-husband and her daughter and sees the petrified Alan. She thinks that Sarah has had a statue of him made as she has become obsessed by him. At the Abbey, Sarah and the boys are captured once more. Sister Helena informs them that the Abbess is growing old and will soon be too frail to host the Gorgon. Sarah is to become its new host. The amulet is used to help open a portal that will allow more of the creatures to travel to Earth. Bea confirms that the amulet will restore anyone who has become petrified, as this had happened to her, and she gives Maria a mirror as she leaves. Maria rushes to the Abbey. She uses the mirror to turn the Gorgon's powers against itself - turning it into stone. The amulet is removed and the portal is sealed. The nuns, including Sister Helena, are freed from the creature's mental domination. Everyone rushes back to Bannerman Road where Alan is saved. He is wakes with no recollection of what has happened. Chrissie turns up with accusations against Sarah, but there is now no trace of any statue so Alan accuses her of imagining things. Maria hopes that the amulet might restore Bea's memories, but this is not to be.

Eye of the Gorgon was written by Phil Ford, and was first broadcast on 1st and 8th October, 2007. Ford will become one of the series' main writers, as well as contributing a script for the second season of Torchwood, and co-writing two Doctor Who stories (one with Russell T Davies - The Waters of Mars - and one with Steven Moffat - Into The Dalek).
As with a number of Doctor Who stories, the inspiration for these episodes derives from alien explanations for the ancient myths - in this case the story of Medusa the Gorgon. It is stated here that there were once three of these creatures, as with the legends. Medusa had two sisters - Euryale and Stheno. They had the power to turn people to stone. Medusa was killed by Perseus. The winged horse Pegasus was said to have sprung from her blood, whilst other versions say that snakes grew form it. The Clash of the Titans movies have it that Perseus needed the head to counter the Kraken, but legend states that he used it as a weapon against a number of foes - including the king who sent him on his mission to destroy her, hoping that he would not return. Another tale has it that Perseus used the head to turn Atlas to stone - thereby creating the Atlas Mountains.

The story mentions the Sontarans - foreshadowing their return in Series 4 of Doctor Who the following year. This was the first alien race encountered by Sarah Jane Smith, in The Time Warrior. Bea and her archaeologist husband Edgar defeated them in Syria in the 1930's, with no mention of the Doctor's involvement.
Bea is played by Phyllida Law. She is the mother of actress Emma Thompson and widow to Eric Thompson, who brought the French children's TV series The Magic Roundabout to Britain. Law was on the original shortlist of actresses to play Barbara Wright back in 1963. Sister Helena is played by Beth Goddard. She's married to Philip Glenister, and starred opposite him in Ashes to Ashes.

Overall, another fine story, which dwells a bit more on Maria. At one point she wishes she had never got involved with Sarah, but soon comes to realise what a wonderful life she now leads, even though her home life is messy.
Things you might like to know:

  • One of the images Sarah looks at whilst studying the Gorgon is a sketch of the shield design painted by Caravaggio, which can be seen in the Uffizi in Florence. For many years this was thought to have been a work by Leonardo da Vinci.
  • The Second Doctor and Zoe had previously encountered Medusa in the Land of Fiction (The Mind Robber). There, it was a statue of the Gorgon which came to life.
  • The nuns concealing the alien Gorgon mirrors the monks shielding the Werewolf in Tooth and Claw.
  • Fans at the time thought that this might provide a prequel to the forthcoming Sontaran story - perhaps featuring the Doctor meeting with the younger Bea and her husband.
  • Visitors to the Doctor Who Experience in Cardiff will have seen the petrified Abbess prop during the "experience" section of their tour, as it was displayed in the dimly-lit Weeping Angels forest section.
  • The house used for Lavender Lawns will be familiar as the location used for the hotel where Donna Noble and her family are staying when London is destroyed in Turn Left.
  • There is a Sound of Music joke as Sister Helena talks about how to "solve a problem like Maria". The BBC ran one of their Saturday evening talent shows based around this musical - the winner getting the part in a West End revival. One of the judges was John Barrowman, during his 'ubiquitous' phase.

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