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Recap / The Sarah Jane Adventures, S5 E5&E6: "The Man Who Never Was"

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The unintentional final episode of the series, which unfortunately makes us bid goodbye to our beloved ensemble cast, and only made so because Elisabeth Sladen lost her fight with cancer.
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Team Sarah Jane investigates the owner of a computer company.

Part 1

A female janitor at Serf Computer Systems listens to owner Joseph Serf's advertisement for his new computer, the Serfboard. She resentfully mutters where her billion dollars is. She approaches an elevator and is grabbed by an unseen creature.

Luke returns home from Oxford for a visit, making this his first face-to-face meeting with his new sister Sky. He notices that his old room has been given to Sky. He also shows his friends a special dog whistle he made for communicating with K-9.

Sarah Jane mentions that she has been invited to a rehearsal of the Serfboard's unveiling and invites her children along. At the Serf Systems office, Sarah Jane and her children run into Lionel Carson, her old editor who knows nothing about computers and still uses a typewriter. They are led into an auditorium by Harrison, Joseph Serf's head of public relations. Serf comes out and gives a presentation. His face suddenly pixelates, which Sky and Luke notice. After the rehearsal, all the guests are given a free Serfboard (which for some reason has both a touchscreen keyboard and a conventional keyboard). Lionel, despite his distaste for computers, is inexplicably impressed by the Serfboard. This, plus the "glitch" they saw earlier, makes the Smiths suspicious. Luke stays at the office to spy while Sarah Jane and Sky take the Serfboard home.

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Back in the attic, Sky shows Clyde and Rani the video of Joseph Serf. Mr. Smith digs up Serf's background, learning that after a skiing accident, he became reclusive and appeared only publicity images. Team Sarah Jane notes that he never holds anything in his post-accident photos. Sarah Jane realizes that Serf died in the skiing accident and was replaced with a hologram. She calls Harrison to request an interview, dropping hints that she knows Serf's secret. Clyde and Rani stay in the attic while Mr. Smith analyzes the Serfboard. Mr. Smith finds nothing suspicious about the Serfboard. Clyde and Rani switch it on and find that not only is the Serfboard ordinary, it is substandard technology.

Sarah Jane and Sky meet up with Luke back at the Serf Systems office. Sarah Jane meets with Serf and Harrison. Sarah Jane keeps trying to get Serf to reveal that he is a hologram while she and Harrison keep tossing thinly veiled threats at each other.

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Sky senses a high level of electricity coming from under the office building. She and Luke find a secret basement filled with one-eyed aliens who control all of the hologram Serf's movements, including his hypnotic powers.

As Sarah Jane keeps asking pointed questions, the aliens controlling Serf begin to panic and make mistakes. They try to hypnotize her but fail and Sarah Jane swipes her hands through Serf, exposing him as a hologram. Harrison points an alien weapon at Sarah Jane. Meanwhile, the aliens in the basement notice that they are being watched by Sky and Luke.

Part 2

The aliens swarm around Sky and Luke, babbling in an alien language. Their leader, speaking English, tells them to escape.

Back in Serf's office, Harrison has Sarah Jane restrained by a security guard. He turns on a video feed to the basement and sees Sky and Luke. He orders security to capture them and presses a switch on his pen, activating the shock collars on all the aliens. He reveals to Sarah Jane that the aliens crash-landed in Central Asia and were sold to him as slaves. He intends to use the Serf hologram's hypnotic powers to get everyone watching the upcoming unveiling to want a Serfboard. He locks Sarah Jane in one room and Sky and Luke in another. Sarah Jane meets Adrianna, the cleaner who ran into one of the slaves earlier. Adrianna says that the slave was trying to escape and she is determined to help them. Sarah Jane and Adrianna trick a security guard, escape, and free Luke and Sky. They return to the hologram control room where the slaves are getting ready for the debut of the Serfboard. Sarah Jane sneaks up to the lobby and uses the phone to call Mr. Smith, who in turn signals a ship from the slaves' homeworld, Skultos.

Meanwhile, Luke uses his dog whistle to send a Morse code message. Though K-9 is too far away to hear it, Mr. Smith detects it and tells Clyde and Rani to grab Mr. Harrison's pen. Rani and Clyde create fake ID's of a married couple on Serf's guest list. They sneak in and pick the pen from Mr. Harrison's pocket. Sarah Jane sees this on the monitor and she and Adrianna lead the slaves to the roof.

Harrison starts the show before the ship has reached the Serf Systems office building. Luke and Sky have to operate the hologram alone, resulting in Serf making unnatural movements and saying strange things. Harrison realizes something is wrong, takes his pen back from Rani, and activates the slaves' shock collars. Sky and Luke turn up the hologram's hypnotic powers and tell everyone in the auditorium to grab Harrison's pen and smash it. They then hypnotically tell everyone that the Serfboard is a ripoff. The hologram then tells "Clani" to head to the roof. Team Sarah Jane reunites on the roof of the building where the ship is coming to pick up the escaped slaves.

Outraged, Harrison runs to the roof and tries to grab one of his escaping slaves, getting "beamed" into the spacecraft with them. The spacecraft flies away with Harrison onboard. Impressed with Adrianna, Sarah Jane gives her a UNIT card and tells her to consider becoming an agent.


This two-part story brought The Sarah Jane Adventures to a premature end after five seasons, due to the death of Elisabeth Sladen prior to any further episodes being shot. It is sometimes erroneously stated that this story was filmed as the intended finale of Series 5 (with earlier episodes to be filmed later), but this wasn't the case.

Tropes

  • Americans Are Cowboys: When Sky tries to make Serf sound American (though to be fair she is basing the template on her favorite movie, Toy Story).
  • Being Watched: Subverted. Rani says she feels like the Serfboard is watching her. Turns out the Serfboard is just an ordinary computer.
  • Beneath Notice: Sarah impersonates a cleaning woman towards the end.
  • Billions of Buttons:
    • For some reason, the Serfboard has both a conventional keyboard and a touchpad keyboard similar to an iPad.
    • Unintentional prediction: within a few years of the story being produced, many small computers would have both conventional keyboards and touchscreen interfaces.
  • Bittersweet Ending: A double-the story ends on mostly a high note, though there is the fact that the real Serf will be tainted by the hologram. And then there's the ending of the entire series.
  • Bread, Eggs, Milk, Squick: "Would you like something to drink, Sarah Jane? Coffee? Tea? Anthrax?"
  • Continuity Nod:
    • Clyde mentions the Rakweed from "The Gift" and his experiences with Ellie from "The Curse of Clyde Langer."
    • "I'm an old hand at hypnotism," Sarah Jane says while resisting Serf's influence. This is from the companion who holds the record for being subjected to hypnotism/mind control in Doctor Who.
    • The UNIT business card, complete with a 1970s-era code name.
  • Corrupt Corporate Executive: Harrison.
  • Cyclops: The Skultians.
  • Darker and Edgier: A series supposedly for children doing a story in which industrialists buy aliens as slaves? Even by SJA standards, this is darker and edgier stuff than the norm.
  • Dead All Along: Joseph Serf was killed in a skiing accident in 2007. He is kept alive as a hologram.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Harrison. The best part:
    Sarah Jane: I'm going to stop you.
    Harrison: What are you going to do? Hit me with your handbag?
    • This is Sarah Jane. Who knows what she actually does have in said handbag?
    • When the kids express amazement that she's one of the top journalists in the country, Sarah Jane asks, "What do you think pays for all this? Taking in washing?"
  • Everyone Knows Morse: Justified, as it's the genetically engineered boy genius and the alien supercomputer who know it.
  • Explosive Leash: Harrison puts on on the Skullions to keep them controlled.
  • Fantastic Racism: Loads from Harrison.
  • Fantastic Slur: Harrison refers to the Skullions as "Scullions", an archaic and quite demeaning British English word for menial kitchen workers.
  • Five-Man Band: First (and last) time the SJA team has five humans/humanoids in it (not counting Alan Jackson or the Doctor).
  • Glamour Failure: Serf whenever he glitches or the Skullions mess up a command.
  • Goshdang It To Heck: Serf's speech when Sky is at the speech controls.
  • Humans Are the Real Monsters: Not all of them. But a rare trope to be displayed in this series (take away the humor and this story is actually more expected from Torchwood).
  • I Banged Your Mom: A kid-friendly version. Luke is visibly uncomfortable when Lionel starts flirting with his mother and it's suggested they were once friendly.
  • I Know You Know I Know:
    Clyde: Isn't that a bit dangerous, though? They know you know.
    Sarah Jane: Oh, I know they know I know. That's the only way to get in.
    Sky: And they know you know they know you know.
    Sarah Jane: Sometimes that's the best way.
  • Intangible Man: The Serf hologram.
  • Kick the Dog: Harrison's treatment of his alien slaves is so vile that you'll beg for Sky to zap him.
  • Lampshade Hanging: When Sky's phone is smashed, Luke says "Join the club. I've had seven phones in the last two years."
    • And again when Mr. Smith tries to contact Sarah Jane. "Oh, pick up for once Sarah Jane."
    • Clyde bringing up that Mr. Smith has a history of saying stuff was normal while it wasn't.
    • Ironically, this is one of the only stories to actually focus on Sarah Jane's job as a reporter beyond it being a way to get in the door. When the kids express amazement that she's considered one of the top journalists in the country, she snarks right back at them.
  • Last-Second Word Swap: When Mr. Smith learns that K-9 did not come home with Luke, he says "Oh, good...ness me what a terrible shame."
  • Mass Hypnosis: How Serf convinces people to support his computer despite it being completely unremarkable. Does not work on Sarah Jane Smith.
  • Meaningful Name: Skullion sounds like "scullion," a drudge worker. Similarly, a serf was a peasant who worked like a slave on a large estate, and not even the formal abolition of serfdom by Tsar Alexander II improved their lives in any appreciable way.
  • New Media Are Evil: Subverted. The gang finds nothing dangerous about the Serfboard. In fact, it is inferior to most Earth computers (even though it's clearly running a version of Windows!).
  • No Biochemical Barriers: Averted. Skullions are burned by liquid water, but have no problem with citric acid.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: Serf is obviously an Expy of Steve Jobs, combined with Howard Hughes (reclusive, autocratic, refuses to deal with people). The fact Serf is actually dead and Jobs died not long before the episode aired is purely coincidence.
  • No-Sell: Sarah Jane barely even seems to notice the hypnotism.
  • The Pirates Who Don't Do Anything: Lampshaded when Sarah Jane is invited to a special gathering of only top journalists, and she notes, "What do you think pays for all of this? Taking in washing?"
  • Portmanteau Couple Name: Luke greets Clyde and Rani as "Clani." invoked
  • Projected Man / Mobile-Suit Human: Joseph Serf is a hologram controlled from a room by a team of Skullions.
  • Real Person Cameo: Reporter Jason Mohammad is outside the Serf headquarters.
  • Ripped from the Headlines: There have been a number of news articles about harsh working conditions at Foxconn, one of Apple's suppliers. The worker Adriana alludes to the poor treatment of Eastern European workers in Britain.
  • Series Finale: An unintended one due to Elisabeth Sladen's death. After a montage of clips from all five series, as well as including footage from "School Reunion", a message on screen says that the adventure will continue forever.
  • Shock Collar
  • Shoddy Knockoff Product: The Serfboard.
  • Shout-Out:
    Luke: Remember, he's American.
    Sky makes Serf talk like a cowboy
    Luke: You've been watching Toy Story again!
    Sky grins
  • Silly Walk: Serf while Luke and Sky are operating him alone.
  • Slavery Is a Special Kind of Evil: With the added sting of Luke acknowledging that it's still practiced on Earth in places.
  • Something Only They Would Say: Clyde and Rani are able to identify Luke twice when he refers to them as "Clani."
  • Stage Whisper: Subverted. Clyde whispers to Rani that Mr. Smith may have been taken over by the Serfboard. Mr. Smith responds "I can hear you and no it hasn't 'got' me."
  • Tuckerization: Gareth Roberts named John Harrison after a friend who was an actor.
  • Undercover as Lovers: Clyde and Rani pretend to be a married couple to rescue their friends.
  • UST: As usual with Clani.
  • What Are Records?: Sky asks Lionel what a typewriter is. Justified as she's actually a newborn in a teenager's body.
  • Written-In Absence: K-9 is back at Oxford backing up the Bodleian Library. (Real-life reason: The prop could not be licensed for Series 5 due to the character being used in the non-BBC K9 spin-off series.)
  • You and What Army?:
    Harrison': Sarah Jane Smith. Step away from them.
    Sarah Jane: You're too late. I said I'd stop you.
    Harrison: You and whose army?
    (A massive spaceship pops into existence above the building.)
    Sarah Jane: That army.

https://static.tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pub/images/themanwhoneverwas2_9502.png
Sarah Jane: "I've seen amazing things out there in space. But strange things can happen wherever you are. I've learned that life on earth can be an adventure, too. But, in all the universe, I never expected to find a family."
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