Over the years that Doctor Who has been on the air, the Doctor has shared his adventures with more than a score of companions. One of the most popular— the all-time favorite according to a 2009 poll of readers of Doctor Who Magazine— was Sarah Jane Smith.
Sarah Jane, played by Elisabeth Sladen (1946-2011), was a freelance journalist who initially traveled with the Doctor in his third and fourth incarnations (Jon Pertwee and Tom Baker) from 1973-1976. Subsequent to her departure during the show’s initial 1963-1989 run, Sladen was twice invited back to reprise her role. And, until Torchwood debuted in 2006, her 1981-one off K9 and Company: A Girl’s Best Friend was the only Doctor Who spin-off idea to make it to the filming stage.
In 1983, when the 20th anniversary special “The Five Doctors” aired, not only was Sarah Jane one of the returning companions, but she also played an active role in the story. More so than the Doctor’s own granddaughter, Susan (Carole Ann Ford).
Is it any wonder, then, that A) of all the past companions who could have been invited to appear after the series returned in 2005, then-producer Russell T. Davies asked Sladen to reprise Sarah Jane in the 2006 episode “School Reunion”? Or B) that Davies would go on to create a series centered around the resourceful Ms. Smith, The Sarah Jane Adventures (2007-2011)?
I recently watched the first three seasons (there are five in all) on DVD, and enjoyed them. The first episode, “Invasion of the Bane”, finds a somewhat aloof Sarah Jane, now living in the London suburb of Ealing, reluctantly interacting with her teenage across-the-road new neighbor, Maria Jackson (Yasmin Paige) as she investigates strange goings-on regarding the company behind a drink called Bubbleshock.
Sarah Jane— -still an investigative journalist at heart— has taken it upon herself to battle alien threats (and help friendly aliens in need) in her own, quiet way. She doesn’t want anything to do with Maria— or anyone else— but the fact that the alien Bane see both as threats and are targeting them brings them together.
Things get more complicated for Sarah Jane when the Archetype, a teenage boy created by the Bane, escapes and assists in their defeat. Knowing that the boy, a genius whom she names Luke (Tommy Knight), has nowhere to go, she adopts him.
Of course when a teenage boy was actually created by aliens a few hours before you met him, you can’t go through the normal adoption procedure. Good thing Sarah Jane has a sophisticated alien computer, which she calls Mr. Smith, to create the necessary paperwork. Not strictly legal, but what else is she going to do? Leave him to fend for himself? Let Torchwood know about him? Neither would be in Luke’s best interests.
No, the Torchwood team isn’t actually mentioned, as The Sarah Jane adventures is ostensibly a kids’ show and Torchwood definitely isn’t; but her comment about “secret organizations... tending to go in with guns blazing” is an oblique reference to both Torchwood and UNIT, with whom Sarah Jane was associated during her initial travels with the Doctor.
In season one, Luke and Maria befriend classmate Clyde Langer (Daniel Anthony); and in season two, after Maria and her family move to Washington, D.C., a girl named Rani Chandra (Anjli Mohindra) moves in across the road. Sarah Jane wasn’t all that pleased when Clyde learned what she does. She was bound and determined that Rani would remain ignorant of what’s really going on.
Too bad for her that Rani— herself an aspiring journalist— is “into weird.”
Neither Luke nor “class clown” Clyde, are thrilled that Rani’s father is their school’s new headmaster.
Over the course of the series, Sarah Jane and the kids face off against a Gorgon; the Pied Piper (yes, that one); the Mona Lisa (yes, that one); a cosmic force predating the creation of our universe; an alien berserker who is affecting Clyde’s estranged father; the time-shifting agent of chaos known as The Trickster; and the Doctor Who monsters the Slitheen, Sontarans (whom Sarah Jane met in her first adventure back in 1973), and the Judoon. They also investigate a haunted house.
Eventually, the Doctor himself appears. His 10th incarnation (David Tennant) shows up in the third season episode, “The Wedding of Sarah Jane Smith”; and his 11th incarnation (Matt Smith) appears in the fourth season adventure “The Death of the Doctor.”
“The Death of the Doctor” (the only fourth season episode I’ve seen) also teams Sarah Jane with her predecessor on Doctor Who, Jo Grant (Katy Manning).
Sarah Jane is also reunited with the Brigadier (Nicholas Courtney, 1929-2011), the head of UNIT during her tenure with the Doctor— and another popular character— in “Enemy of the Bane.”
The series is called The Sarah Jane Adventures, but it’s very much an ensemble show. Maria, Luke, Clyde and Rani are just as important as she is. And all the characters face challenges.
In “Whatever Happened to Sarah Jane” the Trickster changes history so that Sarah Jane died at age 13. Maria’s the only one who remembers the true history. With Sarah Jane gone, so are Luke and Mr. Smith. Clyde doesn’t even know her. Setting things right isn’t going to be easy.
In “Mark of the Berserker”, Clyde not only has to deal with the return of his estranged father, but must also find a way to reach him before the mind-controlling alien Berserker takes the elder Langer over completely.
In “The Mad Woman in the Attic”, Rani, feeling ignored by the others, does some investigating of missing people on her own. A decision with long-term consequences.
In “Mona Lisa’s Revenge”, Luke and Sarah Jane have a quarrel, which leads Luke to rather foolishly decide that he, Clyde and Rani can handle matters involving the come-to-life painting without Sarah Jane’s help.
Oh, and to paraphrase a line from a certain 1970s TV series, don’t let the Mona Lisa get hold of a Sontaran gun. You wouldn’t like the Mona Lisa with a Sontaran gun.
In “The Temptation of Sarah Jane Smith”, Sarah Jane has the opportunity to save her parents, who died when she was a baby. But it’s a trap by the Trickster. One affecting the future of the human race.
If you like science fiction and/or Doctor Who, you’ll probably like The Sarah Jane Adventures.
Speaking of shows worth watching, Supernatural aired its mid-season finale, “Death’s Door”, on Dec. 2. This has not been a good year for Sam and Dean Winchester (Jared Padalecki and Jensen Ackles). But then, is it ever? As I’ve said before, at its core, the show is about family; and while he might not be related to the brothers, Bobby Singer (Jim Beaver) has been very much a surrogate father to them. And now, so soon after the apparent death of Castiel (Misha Collins), Bobby may also be headed for that undiscovered country.
Shot in the head at the end of the previous episode, “How to Win Friends and Influence Monsters”, Bobby fights for life. Comatose and stalked in his own head by a Reaper, he struggles to find a way to at least wake up and let Sam and Dean know what he’s learned about the Leviathans’ plans.
In the end, he’s faced with a choice. Go with the Reaper or stay behind and eventually become a ghost. The kind that’s hunted by people like himself.
It’s not all doom and gloom in Supernatural, of course. There have been fun episodes over the years, and this season’s no different. As you might guess from the episode titled “Season Seven, Time for a Wedding!”
Copyright 2011 Patrick Keating
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