Friday, April 18, 2008

She's So Lovely

Fans of the long-running British science fiction television program Doctor Who may be pleased to learn that the show’s second successful spin-off, The Sarah Jane Adventures, has been picked up by the Sci-fi Channel here in the U.S. (The “new” Doctor Who and its first spin-off, Torchwood, have been playing on both Sci-fi and BBC America since 2005.)

The character of investigative journalist Sarah Jane Smith, played by Elisabeth Sladen, was a companion of the time and space traveling Doctor in the mid-1970s, during what’s now known as the “classic” or “original” Doctor Who series. It holds the record for the longest running science fiction TV show in the world – 26 years (1963-1989).

Above: Sarah Jane Smith (Elisabeth Sladen) and the
Third Doctor (Jon Pertwee) in the 1973 story, The Time Warrior.
(The Doctor is a Time Lord from the planet Gallifrey and, like all
Time Lords, has the ability to “regenerate” his body when near death.
This concept allows for the convenient re-casting of the show’s lead actor.
To date, ten actors have played the part of the Doctor for television.)

Doctor Who was revived in 2005, and Sarah Jane Smith, once again played by Sladen, made an appearance in an episode of the show’s second season (see the previous Wild Reed post, Blast From the Past: The Return of Doctor Who’s Sarah Jane Smith).

Above: Although she is yet to realize it, Sarah Jane is meeting
the Tenth Doctor (David Tennant) in this scene from the episode of
the new Doctor Who series (2006) that reintroduced
the character of Sarah Jane Smith.

With Sarah Jane frequently considered by fans as the Doctor’s
most popular companion, it wasn’t that surprising when the series The Sarah Jane Adventures was launched in 2007 (see What Sarah Jane Did Next).

In both the United Kingdom and the U.S., the show has garnered positive reviews. Ellen Gray, writing for the Philadelphia Daily News, notes, for instance, that:

For anyone who’s shared a love of Doctor Who with their children, only to discover that [its] racy spin-off, BBC America’s Torchwood, might be just a bit too racy, one of the Doctor’s former companions comes to the rescue. The Sarah Jane Adventures stars Elisabeth Sladen as Sarah Jane Smith, a journalist whose investigations are decidedly of the X-Files variety. Aided by her 13-year-old neighbor, Maria (Yasmin Paige), Sarah Jane faces down baddies every bit as big as those Torchwood takes on, but with (a lot) fewer sexual overtones. Could be just what The Doctor ordered.

The Chicago Times observes:

If Torchwood is Doctor Who’s sexy, irreverent cousin, then Sarah Jane is its plucky and earnest aunt. The show offers a satisfying dose of alien-flavored escapism, especially for younger fans of genre fare (Sarah Jane has a few hip and appealing teen companions) . . . [Sladen] projects an air of trustworthiness, courage and unapologetic independence, and though Sarah Jane’s attitude is brisk and unsentimental, it leaves room for plenty of wonder at the stranger things in the universe. And by the way, how many series feature a middle-aged woman as the lead – and even let her battle many-tentacled aliens? Score one for the Brits.

While declares:

This series has been nothing but a joy from start to finish, with the consensus being that it pisses all over Torchwood from a great height. And you don’t even have to stay up late to watch it. . . . Lis Sladen has been wonderful, Niki from This Life has been funny, the kids have been much less annoying than TV kids usually are, and [the] Hot Dad [from next door] has been, well, hot

A second series of The Sarah Jane Adventures is about to air in the United Kingdom, and the indomitable Sarah Jane Smith will also appear in the season four finale of Doctor Who – which, by all reports, promises to be a real humdinger, involving the return of the evil Davros, creator of the Doctor’s arch foes, the Daleks. (Davros was first encountered in the six-part 1975 story, Genesis of the Daleks, which is consistently ranked by fans as one of the all-time favorite stories of the original series.)

Of course, this is all probably a load of old rubbish for anyone not into Doctor Who. Regardless, I want to celebrate the recent U.S. premiere of The Sarah Jane Adventures on the Sci-fi Channel by sharing the following compilation of clips, artfully put together by Leathertuscadero, from Season 1 of the show, and set to the song, “She’s So Lovely.” How appropriate! It’s followed by excerpts from Jason Arnopp’s interview with Elisabeth Sladen from the November 2007 issue of the Doctor Who Magazine. Enjoy!

Jason Arnopp: How do you like being a leading lady?

Elisabeth Sladen: Oh, lots! But I never think about it. I just go to work and enjoy it. It’s nice to have a little more say, but as Sarah Jane I would always pipe up. When I met Russell [T. Davis, the show’s creator] and Phil [Collinson, esecutive producer] for the first time, I didn’t presume it would be the same at all, but it’s important for me to have some say in Sarah Jane. I’ve lived with her for 30 years.

Jason Arnopp: Sarah Jane does share the Doctor’s loneliness.

Elisabeth Sladen: Yes. When Russell first suggested The Sarah Jane Adventures, I wondered where they could take her, but she’s just opened up and I absolutely relished that. I loved that period of finding things in Sarah Jane, and it’s all come back. I’m so pleased. . . . During a lunch, to talk about where we thought [the first series] should be going, I said, “She’s used to handling aliens, but she’s not used to handling the normality of school.” She’ trying to give [her adopted son] Luke as normal a life as possible, so ignores things she should have picked up on. She decides that she can’t jump before she thinks any more, because she’s now responsible for someone. It’s nice that she tries to be over-protective, but he’s not a normal boy so doesn’t know what things are supposed to be like.

. . . I love those scripts for [the first series’] Whatever Happened to Sarah Jane [story]. So different! It gives you a little insight into why she used to place so much stock in the Doctor, and why she traveled with him. I worked with Graeme Harper on that story . . . I hadn’t worked with the man for 30 years since The Seeds of Doom! The man has not changed. He’s a bouncing ball! The energy and the enthusiasm and the sheer love of it.

Then, of course, there’s the final story, The Lost Boy. All hell breaks loose!

Above: The cast of The Sarah Jane Adventures.
From left: Yasmin Paige (Maria Jackson), Thomas Knight
(Sarah Jane's adopted son Luke), Elisabeth Sladen (Sarah Jane Smith),
and Daniel Anthony (Clyde Langer).

Jason Arnopp: There are few characters on television who we’ve seen growing up, almost in real time. Isn’t it nice that Sarah Jane has developed so well?

Elisabeth Sladen: I had a message from Russell that said, “Who would believe it? Still more to find in Sarah Jane!” That was so lovely, because it gave me confidence. I’m quite happy treading new water because I feel very sound in what I have. There’s no other thing I’ve ever played, where I can think “yes” or “no” so quickly, in terms of what she would or wouldn’t do. Which cuts out a lot of shilly-shallying.

Jason Arnopp: [During the early years] you once wrote some core character details for Sarah Jane. How have those values changed?

Elisabeth Sladen: She’s not so petulant, maybe. But she still has the whole thing of never giving up!

Jason Arnopp: Do you envy any of Sarah Jane’s traits?

Elisabeth Sladen: Her absolute honesty. It’s almost a ruthless honesty, I think. She’s so brave, too.

Jason Arnopp: Your run of 1970s Doctor Who was one of the finest hours in the show’s history, wasn’t it?

Elisabeth Sladen: Oh, I was so lucky. Stories like Genesis of the Daleks . . . I’m amazed that we managed to do that one as we did. It’s a great one, with a fantastic moral dilemma. There’s also the odd story which I think people don’t talk about enough. For instance, Death to the Daleks, the first Dalek story I did. I’ve never really spoken about it, but it’s an amazingly well-pieced-together story, and could perhaps do with being re-evaluated. Sometimes you can let your perception of a story be tainted by how you felt while shooting it. But when you look back, you realize its merits.

Left: Traveling back in time to the Edwardian era, Sarah Jane does her bit to help the Doctor defeat an alien menace named Sutekh and his robotic mummies! (Pyramids of Mars, 1975).

Jason Arnopp: Which of your stories would you show a “new” fan, in order to introduce them to your era?

Elisabeth Sladen: I love the energy of The Time Warrior. It totally clarifies where Sarah Jane came from and why she’s like she is. It gives you a lot of information about her, before she takes on the Doctor’s responsibilities. I love that story for letting Sarah Jane be so strong. Perhaps Terror of the Zygons and Seeds of Doom, too?

Above: The Fourth Doctor (Tom Baker) and Sarah flee from
the carnivorous Krynoid in Seeds of Doom (1976).

Jason Arnopp: Which do you consider the most frightening story from your era?

Elisabeth Sladen: I got the most goosebumps from seeing Davros for the first time. And Genesis of the Daleks also earnt us the most flak, from Mary Whitehouse. There’s a lot of near-the-knuckle stuff in The Brain of Morbius, too. Oh, and The Hand of Fear. That’s more squeamish and unpleasant. [Producer] Philip Hinchliffe was very concerned about some of the things in that one.

Jason Arnopp: Which classic Doctor Who foe would you choose to appear in The Sarah Jane Adventures?

Elisabeth Sladen: I don’t know. They’re all marching towards me, in my head, as I think! Ooh, Sontarans! I’ve got quite a history with them, after The Time Warrior and The Sontaran Experiment. I loved the way you’ve got the [oversized] helmet, then the head’s the same shape underneath! I also loved the Judoon in [the new] Doctor Who – they just don’t stop, they’re like locusts! They made a very scary marching noise.

Above: The Third Doctor (Jon Pertwee) and Sarah
take on a Sontaran in The Time Warrior (1973).

Jason Arnopp: How does it feel to be part of so many fans’ childhoods? Is that a weird feeling and/or nice?

Elisabeth Sladen: It’s very nice! Because I never went into this profession to be known or applauded, excerpt for what I did. I’m just so grateful to have a job, and one which I love. I didn’t go back into these Sarah Jane Adventures as part of a career thing – it was for the sheer joy of being part of a crew again. You feel so cared-for, you really do. I have my liveliness in Russell, Julie [Gardner, executive producer] and Phil, but I never even have to use them. It’s very special that I’m allowed to do this now, because I never saw it coming.

Recommended Off-site Links:
The Sarah Jane Adventures (Sci-fi Channel website)
A 2006 interview with Elisabeth Sladen
The Life of a Doctor’s Assistant

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Blast from the Past
What Sarah Jane Did Next
Impossible! . . . It Can’t Be!
She’s Back!
London Calling

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

She really is. Beautiful.