Of all the Doctor's companions, something about Sarah Jane Smith, a resilient journalist with a knack for finding trouble, has always appealed to television viewers. So much so that Elisabeth Sladen was asked to reprise the role in 1981 to ease the transition between fourth and fifth doctors (she wasn't interested), and given her own TV show, K9 and Company, when she refused to reenter the TARDIS. Despite the best intentions of all involved, the spin-off died a shabby and slightly embarrassing death after just the pilot episode. Given Sarah's popularity, it's hardly surprising that the Doctor Who team decided to try again after one more appearance in the classic series (The Five Doctors), a TV movie (Downtime), a self-titled audio series and a heart-wrenching return to the Doctor's side in "School Reunion". This time, however, they got it right.
The Sarah Jane Adventures is a highly enjoyable romp through the alien filled existence of the Doctor's one-time best friend that depicts her as a cross between Captain Jack (techno-savvy ex-companion to the rescue) and the Doctor himself. For a journalist, her interpersonal skills are a bit skewed, but her calm demeanor and sense of humor are barely shaken in the face of adversity. She lives alone, lets no-one close, and her previous next-door neighbor went insane after thinking he saw aliens. He did. Enter Maria, a thirteen year old girl with shades of Rose Tyler, who moves in with her dad. Sarah's refusal to let the teenager in on the secrets of her life ("Go home - live a normal life - I work alone") recalls both the Doctor's initial reaction to Rose and another former companion, Jack's, reaction to a curious colleague in Torchwood.
Yet Maria finds out anyway, by employing every Companion's favorite trick and running into danger. The villain of the pilot episode is a creature called the Bane, who plans to take the Earth for its own by controlling the humans it can and eliminating the rest. The means is a new, fizzy and completely free drink called Bubble Shock. Not only does the company give away free samples, they provide free public transport and propaganda filled tours of their factory. Surely this should have made someone *other* than Sarah suspicious? Is she the only thinking human left? Or maybe it's just the influence of the robot dog, sentient computer (which answers to the name of Mr Smith - perhaps its first name is John?), sonic lipstick and the other alien paraphernalia in her life...
With the help of Maria and a human boy called the Archetype, constructed as a lab rat by the Bane and its children in order to help them better understand humanity and how to take it over, Sarah Jane outwits and destroys the alien threat. The Earth is safe once more and millions of people released from Baneful mind control. The Archetype needs a home, so Sarah adopts him with the help of some judicial government hacking. Welcome Luke Smith. He looks human, but his speech and behavior is anything but.
With the SJA being set around 2 years after School Reunion, Sarah's made good on the promise she made the Doctor to stop waiting for him and to start living her own life. Clearly, she will never stop missing him. Since her last sighting of the TARDIS, she's built a life that revolves around helping stranded or lost aliens, collecting alien materials fallen to Earth, and getting rid of hostile alien threats. Torchwood, anyone? But like the Doctor, Sarah isn't too fond of secret government organizations, which obliquely references both her adventures in the audio series and a possible contact with Torchwood before the Battle of Canary Wharf (Army of Ghosts/Doomsday). Due to the nature of her work, she lives and fights alone until Maria and Luke prove their worth.
The Doctor's influence and memory will always fill her life. In a telling, poignant moment, the girl asks her new mentor if she has a boyfriend. Sarah replies "There was only ever one man for me. And after him, nothing compared." In a moment of Bane-caused frustration, she lifts her sonic lipstick and invokes his name: "help me, Doctor". But it is Sarah Jane herself who thinks of the answer she needs. Calling on the man she loves and on whom she's modeled her life brings inspiration (What would the Doctor do in this situation? Ah yes, I know. Make a flippant comment and drive a bus through the wall) but her inner strength and courage is all her own. Sarah Jane cannot live with the Doctor, so she lives for him.
Once again, Russell T. Davies and team have married the energy, great visuals and humor of the new series of Doctor Who with the spirit, characters and back story of the classic series. I enjoyed this show even more than Torchwood, which, despite being great viewing, often lurches from one theme to another in a frantic attempt to fit everything in. The Sarah Jane Adventures is better paced, and far more family friendly; the combination of well-loved classic companion for the parents who remember, the teenage heroes for the youngsters, and the Doctor Who and Torchwood references for the fans, not to mention Sarah's unrequited love for her Doctor for all the romantics, makes for a highly appealing and entertaining show. This Doctor Who spin-off manages to preserve the spirit and gentle humor of the original show, while introducing a collection of tantalizing new elements and characters.
2007 looks to bring a very interesting season.
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