The Sarah Jane Adventures

Monday, January 1, 2007 by

It’s the law. It’s Doctor Who-related, so we have to fret about it. It must be the subject of fevered expectation. All TV trailers have to be recorded. When the show finally arrives, the background set dressing is to be scrutinized for references (I got the photos of the Brig, Harry Sullivan; the copies of the Metropolitan; the police box illustrations …). Every step taken in the Doctor Who world is a vital one. We all have to fret.

Thankfully, the only people who didn’t seem unduly het up were Sarah Jane Smith and her new friends. And that’s how it should be, because whatever else it was, The Sarah Jane Adventures was definitely pretty nifty kids’ television. Boasting a spritely script by Russell T Davies and Gareth Roberts, the whole production seemed to sidestep the weight of expectation placed upon it by thirtysomethings like me, and just got on with the business of providing entertaining adventure.

For 1970s kids, it’s still hard to adjust to the weirdest things about present day Doctor Who and its increasing flotilla of spin-offs – and that’s it’s a current, ongoing concern. Who is no more the museum piece, it’s alive; a vibrant, reactive affair that’s addressing modern day audiences. The last time Sarah tried out for her own series, she was accompanied by a plumy-voiced Blyton-esque schoolboy boffin “honking” over K9′s electronics. Now, her young neighbour drools over over “muffins” and moans continually about being “shamed”. For some of us, it’s all a bit shocking, and perhaps the main reason Torchwood has failed to truly win hearts and minds, with its “fuck tricks” and all. We kind of like our Who old fashioned.

But, actually, there were plenty of old fashioned licks and thrills here, and once you’d readjusted to all this – well – modern stuff, it was easy to let go. A big, evil corporation. An arch, power-suited boss talking in staccato (“Sarah. Jane. Smith!” spat Samantha Bond deliciously). And a big glutinous monster behind it all. More than all that, this was a very traditional children’s story in that all the workaday adults remained insulated from the truth. It was the kids who ruled the roost here. Well, the kids and their new top-secret best friend.

What child wouldn’t be delighted with the notion that in the world of suburbia the crazy woman across the road could provide a portal into high adventure? Fittingly, then, Sarah Jane was initially presented as a distant, otherly figure. Where once she’d been the audience’s representative onscreen, her experiences in the TARDIS had changed her forever. And as a surrogate Doctor – with “sonic lipstick” to boot – Elisabeth Sladen proved a credible match for the real thing. Maintaining her character’s trademark vulnerability, she still managed to bring us a winningly fallible hero – someone who you feel could inspire anyone to bravery.

Broken homes, smart-talking kids, and K9 (well, in cameo at least). Whether or not younger viewers actually need their own version of Doctor Who is open to question, but that aside, this new addition to the family brings with it all the charms of youth. You watch The Sarah Jane Adventures and you smile. In fact, you might even dance. That’s what it feels like the show is doing, as it leaves its own, tiny footprints in the Doctor Who world.


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