Over the years Doctor Who has been on the air, the Doctor has shared his adventures with more than 30 companions. One of the most popular— the all-time favorite according to 2009 and 2014 polls 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. 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.
When the 20th anniversary special, “The Five Doctors”, aired in 1983, Sarah Jane was not only one of the returning companions, but 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 five-season series centered around the resourceful Ms. Smith, The Sarah Jane Adventures (2007-2011)?
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 regard both as threats 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 she names Luke (Tommy Knight), has nowhere to go, she adopts him.
Of course, normal adoption procedures don’t apply to a teenager created by aliens a few hours before you met him. Good thing Sarah Jane has a sophisticated alien computer called 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 was ostensibly a kids’ show and Torchwood definitely wasn’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, who wasn’t pleased when Clyde learned what she does, was bound and determined that Rani would remain ignorant of the truth.
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; the time-shifting agent of chaos known as The Trickster and The Nightmare Man, who preys on college-bound Luke’s insecurities.
Other adventures include the investigation of a haunted house; interaction with the Men in Black (Rani: “So where’s Will Smith?”) and Sarah Jane, Clyde and Rani being sent on separate missions back in time.
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” 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”, after a quarrel with Sarah Jane, Luke rather foolishly decides that he, Clyde and Rani can handle matters involving the come-to-life painting without her 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.
In “The Empty Planet” Clyde and Rani must work out why everyone but the two of them— and a young boy— has disappeared.
The fifth season introduced a girl named Sky (Sinead Michael), who first appeared on Sarah Jane’s doorstep as a baby, but soon aged to a teenager. Like Luke, she was of alien origin. Sarah Jane adopted her, too. Unfortunately, there wasn’t the opportunity to develop the character as much as the others had been. Still, there were some nice brother/sister bonding scenes between Luke and Sky.
If you like science fiction and/or Doctor Who, you’ll probably enjoy The Sarah Jane Adventures.
Copyright 2016 Patrick Keating.