Saturday, November 23, 2013

As Doctor Who Celebrates its 50th Anniversary, Sarah Jane Smith is Voted Number 1 Favorite Companion

UPDATE: Be sure to scroll down to the postscript for images and commentary on the Twin Cities Doctor Who 50th anniversary celebration.

The venerable British sci-fi TV show Doctor Who celebrates its 50th anniversary today.

Over at BBC America Seb Patrick reports on the cable station's recent poll to find the "top ten favorite companions" of the space and time traveling Doctor throughout the show's history. I'm happy to say that my favorite companion, Sarah Jane Smith, is ranked at Number One!

Regular readers would know that I'm a great admirer of the character of investigative journalist Sarah Jane Smith . . . and of Elisabeth Sladen, the actress who so wonderfully brought her to life. Indeed, Sarah Jane Smith has been the focus of no less than ten previous Wild Reed posts! (Yes, that's 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9 and 10!)

Here's what BBC America's Seb Patrick has to say about Sarah Jane Smith, as played by the wonderful Lis Sladen who sadly passed away in April 2011.

When Sarah Jane was introduced in 1973 as the final companion of the Third Doctor, few could have predicted the impact she would go on to have. In her four years traveling first with Jon Pertwee and later Tom Baker [who played the Fourth Doctor], Elisabeth Sladen quickly became, for many fans, as much a reason to watch the show as the Doctor himself. She was a strong, fiercely independent and fascinating character in her own right, a huge step up in terms of the way female companions were presented, and one that would be massively influential in the years to follow.

It was no surprise, therefore, that she became the first companion to be offered a spin-off series – and although 1981′s K-9 and Company was an unsuccessful pilot, Sarah would still be introduced to a whole new generation of fans courtesy of her appearance in the 2007 episode “School Reunion.” She was a natural choice to bridge the gap between the classic series and the new – particularly after having been given a somewhat abrupt departure scene – and her renewed popularity quickly turned into a brand new spinoff series. The Sarah Jane Adventures was a huge success, achieving the remarkable feat of making a middle-aged woman the star of a show aimed at children – and even attracted guest appearances from the Tenth and Eleventh Doctors. Sadly, the latter of these stories – 2010′s “Death of the Doctor” – would be the last time Sarah Jane and the Doctor would appear onscreen together, due to Sladen’s sad passing away the following year – but her position as Doctor Who‘s most beloved and lasting supporting character will surely never be challenged.

“Not many actresses could do frightened and feisty at the same time,” says Keith Miller of the Official Doctor Who Fan Club, “but Lis Sladen nailed it.”

“She has the perfect combination of intelligence and spunk,” adds James Dailey of ”She understands the Doctor as no other, and makes a life apart from him after enjoying his company for many years.”

“No one can or ever will compare,” says author Arnold Blumberg. “She came along so many years after the show debuted and yet she is the template, the perfect example of how to write and perform a best friend and traveling companion for our Time Lord hero.”

Anglophenia’s Fraser McAlpine adds: “She has the relationship with [the Doctor] that makes the most sense. She’s as inquisitive as he is, as argumentative as he is, and more moral than he is.”

Finally, Paul Murphy of BBC Three Counties Radio distills Sarah Jane’s popularity down to the power of the actress’ performance, stating simply, “Elisabeth Sladen made you believe it.”

– Seb Patrick

11/24/13 POSTSCRIPT: Last night, like many Doctor Who fans around the world I attended a special screening of "The Day of the Doctor," the fiftieth anniversary episode of the show.

Notes the BBC News website:

Doctor Who fans have praised the show's 50th anniversary episode as "epic" and "phenomenal".

"The Day of the Doctor" was broadcast in 94 countries at the same time as it aired on BBC One on Saturday night.

Featuring three Doctors - Matt Smith, David Tennant and John Hurt - it delved deep into the character's psyche over 75 minutes. There were also cameos from former star Tom Baker, and Peter Capaldi, who replaces Smith later this year.

"It's the most ambitious episode we've ever done," said the show's boss, Steven Moffat, ahead of the premiere.

Opening with the show's original credit sequence from 1963, the special featured the Daleks and the return of shape-shifting aliens the Zygons, who first appeared in 1975.

. . . Speaking before the broadcast, Moffat - the show's lead writer and executive producer - admitted he was "nervous" about the scale of the special.

"I'm glad we don't do it every time, but it's very exciting to do it once," he told the BBC News website.

He said he hoped fans would be "very happy", adding: "It's got a big emotional wallop at the end".

Moffat described the first ever Doctor Who episode, "An Unearthly Child," broadcast on 23 November 1963, as "one of the very best episodes of Doctor Who ever made".

"All the ideas come from there," he said. "The music, the name, the Tardis, the police box bigger on the inside... in terms of brand new ideas that [first episode was] a roller-coaster of 25 minutes."

In the Twin Cities, the telecast was organized by the local Doctor Who Meetup group and held at the Parkvway Theater in south Minneapolis. My friends Lucinda and Maura were also there.

It was a fun night with many attendees dressed up as their favorite Doctor or character from the show. At one point, though, I seriously dated myself when I asked a young woman if she was dressed as Zoe (right), a companion of the Second Doctor during the show's late-1960s run. This young woman looked completely mystified before replying that, although her hair wasn't quite long enough, she was actually dressed as Clara, the current Doctor's companion! I haven't really been following the show lately so I was clueless about Clara, but I did commend the young woman on her outfit and said she could also pass as Zoe (especially with the hair!)

Above: Two guys, sonic screwdrivers in hand, dressed as the Third Doctor (left)and the Fourth Doctor.

Above: A crocheted ood!

Above: Don't blink! It's one of those Weeping Angels!

Above: Attendees at last night's Doctor Who 50th anniversary celebration dressed-up as (from left) Clara Oswald, the Fifth Doctor, and the Tenth Doctor.

Also screened at last night's Doctor Who celebration at the Parkway was An Adventure in Space and Time, a British television docudrama commissioned to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the show. I enjoyed just as much (if not more) than the 50th anniversary episode.

Following is Wikipedia's synopsis of An Adventure in Space and Time.

In 1963, BBC executive Sydney Newman (played by Brian Cox) has an idea for a science-fiction television show, Doctor Who, to fill a gap in the Saturday evening schedule. Helmed by the BBC's first woman producer, Verity Lambert (Jessica Raine), and first Indian director, Waris Hussein (Sacha Dhawan), the production is initially beset by difficulties that result in the pilot having to be re-shot. The finished product airs to underwhelming viewership on the day after the assassination of U.S. President John F. Kennedy, and the decision is made to cancel the show after the episodes still in production are completed. However, Lambert defends the concept for an upcoming serial featuring the Daleks, and she convinces Newman to air a repeat of the first episode. The Dalek serial achieves an audience of ten million viewers and the show is cemented into British pop culture.

The success of the programme gives Lambert and Hussein the opportunity to move on to other projects. Meanwhile, the health of series star William Hartnell (David Bradley) is declining and it eventually becomes clear that he is not up to the physical or mental rigours of his role.

Newman tells Hartnell that he intends for the show to continue, but without him in it; he is to be replaced by actor Patrick Troughton. As Hartnell films his final scene he sees Matt Smith, the actor who plays the same role nearly 50 years later, standing on the set and smiling at him.

Left: Jessica Raine as Verity Lambert, the founding producer of Doctor Who.

Above: Sacha Dhawan as director Waris Hussein and Jessica Raine as producer Verity Lambert in An Adventure in Space and Time.

Above: David Bradley as William Hartnell playing the Doctor and Claudia Grant as Carole Ann Ford playing Susan Foreman.

Right: Recreating the early Doctor Who story "The Web Planet": Jemma Powell as Jacqueline Hill, who portrayed Barbara Wright, and Jamie Glover as William Russell, who portrayed Ian Chesterton. Along with the Doctor's granddaughter Susan, Barbara and Ian were the Doctor's first space and time traveling companions.

Above: Recreating for An Adventure in Space and Time an iconic scene from the early Doctor Who story "The Dalek Invasion of Earth."

Above: A wonderful graphic I found online that celebrates Doctor Who's 50th anniversary. And as far as I can tell, Sarah Jane Smith is the only character (other than the Doctor) who is pictured more than once! She's pictured twice, once on each side of the TARDIS. Click on the picture to enlarge it and see if you can spot her!

Related Off-site Links:
Doctor Who Fans Around the World Await 50th Anniversary Special – Tim Masters (BBC News, November 22, 2013).
Google Celebrates Doctor Who 50th Anniversary with Video Game Doodle – Margaret Eby (New York Daily News, November 22, 2013).
The Doctor Who Bar
Blogtor Who

Update: Doctor Who Fans Celebrate 50th Anniversary EpisodeABC News (November 24, 2013).

For more on Elisabeth Sladen and Sarah Jane Smith at The Wild Reed, see:
Blast from the Past: Sarah Jane Smith Returns to Doctor Who
What Sarah Jane Did Next
She’s So Lovely
Impossible! . . . It Can’t Be!
She’s Back!
Too Good to Miss
The Adventures Continue
Remembering Elisabeth Sladen
Quote of the Day – April 20, 2011
Mourning Lis, Farewelling Sarah Jane

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