Martin Rayburn hangs his geek head in shame...
Tom Baker is my Doctor, and, thanks to when I first discovered Doctor Who, Sarah Jane my companion. I'd go as far as to say that Elisabeth Sladen almost defined the role of the companion, even thought the
series had been on air for over a decade before she arrived. Her entire run in Doctor Who, from 1973 to 76, was full of classic adventures that I'm happy to watch again and again. She was easily the highlight of K-9 And Company, and her return to Doctor Who in 2006's School Reunion made that episode one of my favourites from New Who.
Yet despite all that I have a confession. A shameful admission.
I never watched The Sarah Jane Adventures.
I always meant to, and knew one day I would sit down and binge watch the lot, I just hadn't actually got around to it. So when the call went out at Warped Factor for articles about Doctor Who spin-offs it seemed like the perfect time to 'binge-out', and where better to start than the very beginning, with the double length pilot episode Invasion of the Bane.
The first thing that struck me is how Elisabeth Sladen remained eternally youthful. Time seemed to move differently for her, can it really be 30 years since the Doctor unceremoniously dumped her at the end of The Hand Of Fear? She shows no sign of it, and is as watchable as
ever. She's joined by a solid cast of youngsters, and even though it's clear that The Sarah Jane Adventures is meant for kids, with Russell T Davies co-writing and
producing you know it won't be your average children's programme, it certainly won't talk down or be condescending to its audience.
The Sarah Jane Adventures begin about two years after School Reunion. We see that Sarah's made
good on the promise she gave the Doctor - to stop waiting for him and to
start living her own life. Clearly, she will never stop missing him, but 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,
Sarah Jane effortlessly takes on the role of the 'Doctor'. 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.
But every 'Doctor' needs a companion, right? 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 - 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, completely free fizzy 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.
Right, here's the first moment I'm taken out of the story - a minor point but surely these actions should have made someone other than just Sarah Jane suspicious? Is she the only thinking human left? Or maybe we're happy to accept the suspicious, but thanks to the influence of the robot dog (on a personal note, it's a shame that K-9 wasn't featured more but I understand the characters own spin-off series forced that issue - another show I've yet too experience!), 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, Sarah Jane is not. But I digress...
The Sarah Jane Adventures does a great job of showing how the Doctor's influence and memory will always fill her life. In a
telling, poignant moment, Maria asks her new mentor if she has a
boyfriend. Sarah Jane 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.
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.
In a way, and this is something I'd never considered before viewing, I
think The Sarah Jane Adventures might be a better concept than Torchwood. The reason being is that it
excludes nobody from watching
it. It kind of reminds me of classic Who, with its morality and
educational lessons. Russell T. Davies and team perfectly 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. It's very well paced, and I can see that binge watching this will be a delight.
As something of a postscript I'm now at the end of Season 1, and my opinion has not changed. The Sarah Jane Adventures really is a highly appealing and entertaining show. On a personal note, it's a shame that K-9 wasn't included more, but I understand that the characters own independently produced spin-off series forced the issue there (another show I've yet to experience!). I think 'Whatever Happened to Sarah Jane?' may be my favourite from the first
season. Superbly directed by Graeme Harper, it's a marvellous tale
which paves the way for Doctor Who's Turn Left episode, and left me longing for a new Doctor Who spin-off - as long as it's produced with as much love as this series clearly was.
By day, an ordinary bloke in a dull 9 to 5. By night, a tired ordinary
bloke. Martin still hasn't worked out what he wants to do when he grows
up. He is currently 46.