It continues to surprise me that many viewers of the main show seemed to ignore The Sarah Jane Adventures, to me the best Doctor Who spin-off. Maybe some were put off by the fact that it was supposedly aimed at a young audience, but we should all know by now that it’s no reason to ignore a series.
While many more tuned into Torchwood and K9 and Company, it’s actually The Sarah Jane Adventures that’s closest to the tone of Classic Who, and so is the ideal programme for fans looking for their fix of the Whoniverse. Here are 10 stories from the SJA you need to watch.
Whatever Happened to Sarah Jane?
The quality of Series 1 was perhaps slightly up and down, but it’s still generally more consistent than… well, than most series of Doctor Who actually. The most lauded story was this little gem that ventured into Sarah Jane’s past.
By this stage, we’d got used to the dynamic between Sarah, Luke, Maria, and Clyde: Whatever Happened to Sarah Jane? turns this on its head, envisioning Bannerman Road without the Doctor’s former companion. Our lovely Miss Smith has been replaced by Andrea Yates (Jane Asher) – Sarah’s former friend, who died when she was a kid…
It’s the debut of the Trickster (Paul Marc Davis), who crops up a few times during the show and is mentioned in Turn Left (2008), and the first of three SJAs to be directed by Graeme Harper (The Caves of Androzani).
The Day of the Clown
The SJA is a good reflection of Doctor Who, including the occasional time-twisting tale, some pseudo-science, and, expertly proven with this two-part serial, something downright creepy.
The Day of the Clown is scary. It is. The main perpetrator is – keep a straight face please – Bradley Walsh, who plays Odd Bob the Clown. And Elijah Spellman. And the Pied Piper. There’s something incredibly ominous about the idea of the Pied Piper of Hamelin, who first led away the town’s rats… and then the townsfolks’ children. You can probably see where this Sarah Jane Adventures is going.
If you want to be assured of the show’s bravery, you definitely need to see this.
The story also introduces a new regular, Anjli Mohindra’s Rani Chandra, and is brilliantly directed by Michael Kerrigan (Battlefield). Sarah also talks about her Aunt Lavinia, so K9 and Company fans can get all misty-eyed.
Enemy of the Bane
The Sarah Jane Adventures burst onto TV screens with Invasion of the Bane, screened on 1st January 2007. It was far from perfect, but Samantha Bond’s Mrs Wormwood was quite a highlight. In the Series 2 finale, she’s back – as is Commander Kaagh the Slayer, a Sontaran left over from The Sontaran Stratagem/ The Poison Sky (2008). Anthony O’Donnell is a superb Sontaran, and he and Wormwood spar wonderfully.
But the main reason to watch is for Brigadier Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart. It’s sad to say, but this is the last story starring Nicholas Courtney as the character he first brought to screens in 1968.
Aside from some great conversations between Luke and his “mother,” Mrs Wormwood, the most pleasing thing about Enemy of the Bane is seeing the Brigadier again, and interacting with Sarah, both still at the top of their game. Lethbridge-Stewart is left behind a tad towards the conclusion, but it’s still fantastic to see Courtney back, reminiscing about the good old days.
The Wedding of Sarah Jane Smith
The Tenth Doctor appears in this one.
Oh, you want to know more?
Written by Gareth Roberts (The Shakespeare Code), the story enjoyed increased viewing figures as one of the few chances in 2009 to see David Tennant again; screened about a fortnight before The Waters of Mars, there was a good sense of foreboding (“The Gate is waiting for you!”) as the life of this incarnation of the Doctor drew to a close. Indeed, it was actually the last thing Tennant filmed as the Doctor – until The Day of the Doctor, that is. He doesn’t actually show up until the end of Part One, but he certainly makes up for this in the concluding episode.
He doesn’t detract from the regular stars of the show, however, and Sarah especially shines with Elisabeth Sladen turning in an astounding performance.
Is The Sarah Jane Adventures defined by its relationship with Doctor Who? As a spin-off, you might think it should rely on the main show heavily; while it’s true that it does to some extent (partly or budgetary reasons), the really positive thing is how it still consistently find and delivers new angles, greatly adding to the mythos instead of being propped up by it.
I really liked Aliens of London/ World War Three and its aliens, the Slitheen, but you could argue that they found a more natural home in the SJA. In fact, they appeared a couple of times during Series 1… but there’s an added twist in the Series 3 finale, screened in November 2009.
We meet the Blathereen, another family from Raxacoricofallapatorius who previously appeared in the 2005 novel, The Monsters Inside. There are two big differences between the Slitheen and the Blathereen: the latter are orange and come in peace… supposedly.
With the mysterious Rakweed choking the world, and Sarah taking a trip to Antarctica, you can’t help but be reminded of The Seeds of Doom. The Gift is a real gift to any fans who have followed the show and these cast members since 2007.
These stories aren’t the only highlights from the first three series of The Sarah Jane Adventures; they’re merely a springboard for fans to discover a great part of the Whoniverse. Come back later this week to see which Series 4 and 5 stories made the cut!