My Sarah Jane

The Sarah Jane Adventures - Elisabeth Sladen as Sarah Jane Smith

Back when I was five or six years old, I got to meet Sarah Jane Smith. It was the local summer festival and I got in a queue of kids, with my ten pence in my hand and instructions to give it to her when I got to the head of the queue. When I got there, Sarah Jane was lovely and asked me my name and signed a photo for me. When I looked at it, it said, “To Matthew with love from Liz Sladen,” which was a bit confusing – but, still, I got to meet Sarah Jane Smith!

Sarah Jane Smith remains the longest-running companion to travel with the Doctor in Doctor Who – and, up until the debut of the new version of the show in 2005, she was probably the best loved one as well. Her tenure ran from the first episode of The Time Warrior (on December 15, 1973) to the final episode of The Hand of Fear (on October 23, 1976). The first Doctor Who story I can clearly remember is The Time Warrior (I have vague memories of bits of the season before, but nothing coherent) so Sarah Jane was the first companion I was really aware of. So, just as people tend to refer to the Doctor they grew up with as their Doctor (Tom Baker was my Doctor, even though I caught Jon Pertwee’s last season), Sarah Jane Smith was my companion, my Sarah Jane.

Sarah Jane’s final scene was re-written by the actors, Tom Baker and Elisabeth Sladen, because they didn’t feel the original version was emotional enough. It isn’t the words that make it a beautiful scene, though, it is the way it is played, with what isn’t said being just as important as what is:

It was hardly surprising, with such a well-loved stint in the original series, and with a leaving scene of such potential, that the production team brought Sarah Jane Smith back in 2006, thirty years after she was last a series regular, for the episode School Reunion. If you haven’t seen this episode, there is another chance to see it on Sci-Fi this Friday at 10.00am, as part of a Doctor Who marathon. Now, David Tennant is a bit younger than me (I’m not sure how that happened, the Doctor getting younger than me…), but I think that Sarah Jane is his companion as well, and it’s pretty obvious from the scene when the Doctor first meets Sarah Jane again that he didn’t have to do much acting:

I think that, even without having grown up with Sarah Jane Smith, School Reunion is one of the most moving Doctor Who episodes. And Sarah Jane finally got a proper goodbye, all those years after being left behind:

Such was the success of that episode that Russell T Davies and the Doctor Who production team created a spin-off for her, The Sarah Jane Adventures. This was the second time she had got a spin-off, back in 1981 there was a pilot episode made of a putative series called K-9 and Company – but the series never got made. The pilot is only really worth watching for the hilarious 1980s title sequence – and possibly if you are a continuity lover who just has to know how Sarah Jane ended up with K-9 (spoiler: the Doctor sent K-9 to her in a crate). Here is a clip of the opening few minutes:

The new series is much more successful and here I think it is worth repeating what I said in a comment on Sandie’s previous post about the show:

Don’t be put off by the fact that this is apparently aimed at kids. Effectively it’s pretty much the same as Doctor Who (which is also aimed at kids, but not exclusively) but with teenagers in the main cast. And all the young actors are very good – with the possible exception of one who’s in the opening special (Invasion of the Bane) but who (to the great relief of many) didn’t make it to the series proper.

Actually, thinking about it, the child characters are pretty much the same age as the main Buffy characters (at least in Buffy season one) – the main difference being that they actually look their age. I’d definitely say that it fits into the “enjoyable for adults” category of shows like Kyle XY or Sabrina the Teenage Witch.

On the whole I’d thoroughly recommend this – and the penultimate story, “Whatever Happened to Sarah Jane”, is, I think, as good as anything that Doctor Who or Torchwood has to offer.

As it happens, someone else was thinking along similar Buffy lines to me. As they put it:

“A bunch of cute teenagers deal with high school, romance and family troubles – and save the world in their spare time, with the help of an older, wiser, incredibly attractive mentor with a mysterious past.

My God, they’re practically the same show!”

Check out their hilarious Buffy-style opening sequence for the Sarah Jane Adventures:

The same person also runs The Sarah Jane Smith Wardrobe Appreciation Society Website.

The Sarah Jane Adventures debuts on The Sci-Fi Channel with a 90 minute special, Invasion of the Bane, on Friday April 11 at 7.30pm. After that, its regular slot is at 8pm. If you’re already planning to watch Battlestar Galactica and Doctor Who on Friday nights, it will make a great addition to your viewing. Also, Russell T Davies has hinted that something from The Sarah Jane Adventures will feed into the forthcoming series of Doctor Who, so keep your eyes peeled.

I will be posting about ways of approaching the original (1963-1989) Doctor Who series (now known as The Classic Series), later in the month. However, if you want to see more Sarah Jane Smith, watching her Classic Series stories will also give you a pretty good introduction to the way Doctor Who used to be. Here is a list of the ones that are (or will be) available on Region 1 DVD, in order of original transmission (with DVD release dates in parentheses):

The Time Warrior (April 1, 2008) DVD Details
Robot (August 14, 2007) DVD Details
The Ark in Space (August 6, 2002) DVD Details
The Sontaran Experiment (March 6, 2007) DVD Details
Genesis of the Daleks (June 6, 2006) DVD Details
Planet of Evil (March 4, 2008) DVD Details
Pyramids of Mars (September 7, 2004) DVD Details
The Brain of Morbius (to be announced)
The Hand of Fear (November 7, 2006) DVD Details

NB: In the US, Region 1 DVDs are released by Warner Home Video, which is why I’ve linked to their site. However, they should also be available from all the usual DVD retailers and rental services.

DVDs of Doctor Who are released first in the UK, in Region 2 versions, by 2|entertain.

To finish up, here’s a fan-made compilation of some great Sarah Jane moments: