Thursday, November 05, 2009

The Adventures Continue

I love Elisabeth Sladen – and her character of investigative journalist Sarah Jane Smith, first introduced way back in 1973 as the space/time traveling companion of the Time Lord known simply as “the Doctor” in the classic sci-fi TV show Doctor Who.

Since 2006, Sladen has reprised the role in guest appearances in the “new” Doctor Who (see
here and here) and in her own TV show, the successful Sarah Jane Adventures (see here and here).

The third series of The Sarah Jane Adventures is currently showing on UK television, while the second is set for DVD release here in the US on November 10.

Both series boast some entertaining stories of alien threats to Earth being thwarted by Sarah Jane - with help from her extraterrestrial super-computer, Mr. Smith; her sonic lipstick; and her son Luke and his teenage friends Clyde Langer and Rani Chandra (all of whom share a delightful Harry Potter-esque camaraderie).

Perhaps the most compelling story of Series 2 is “The Temptation of Sarah Jane Smith,” which sees our plucky heroine succumb to the temptation of going back in time and preventing the deaths of her parents in a car accident.

It’s all part of a devious plan by the Trickster (right) to have Sarah Jane unwittingly open a fault in time by tampering with a fixed point in 1951 - the year of her parents’ death. The opening of this fault in time allows the Trickster to physically enter reality and ravage Earth for the last half century – something Sarah Jane and Luke discover upon returning to their own time.

Yikes! Rest assured, things are eventually put right.

Series 3 is getting a lot of press at the moment due to the fact that it features a guest appearance by none other than the Doctor himself – at Sarah Jane’s wedding, no less! And as you’ll see, the Doctor isn’t the only unexpected guest . . .

Yes, it’s the Trickster – once more up to . . . er . . . his old tricks. This story, like so many before it, bears testament to the fact that the show is, as one critic notes, “a marvel; delivering epic, affecting adventures with great style.”

In promoting the third series of The Sarah Jane Adventures, Elisabeth Sladen recently appeared on the UK television show The Wright Stuff, where she was asked to share her opinion on “gay hate teen attacks” – a topical issue in the UK in the wake of incidents such as this.

Lis’ wise and impassioned remarks remind me of the insightful observation of Juliet Cowan (who played Chrissie Jackson in Series 1-2).

The Sarah Jane Adventures is not a kind of watered-down version of Doctor Who. It’s more about relationships; it’s about living within all the different families, made-up families, alien families. The series kind of stays there: the characters don’t travel in the same way that the Doctor does, they have a base and a home, and they have to deal with their experiences within that.

Here’s hoping that given the concern in Britain about “gay hate teen attacks,” one experience that the characters of The Sarah Jane Adventures will deal with in future episodes will involve a gay character, family and/or storyline.

Of course, some may think it odd for a grown man to be so enamored with a TV series basically aimed at kids. But think about it: many books and films beloved by adults were originally produced for children and/or teenagers - The Chronicles of Narnia, Harry Potter, His Dark Materials, all things superhero-related . . . Oh, and my all-time favorite novel, The Neverending Story.

It’s no wonder then that critic Alex Newman writes of how The Sarah Jane Adventures, “this supposed children’s program . . . tackles loss, loneliness, fear and despair - all ingredients of ‘adult’ drama - but in a way that allows the characters to grow and learn something about themselves and their boundaries - and other people.”

And as has been especially observed in the development of the character of Sarah Jane over the three series of the show, such growing and learning involves opening up and trusting others, risk-taking, and a willingness to change. Sarah Jane isn’t the reclusive, frosty woman first seen at the
beginning of Series 1. She’s an altogether different person; and it has not been her encountering of exotic aliens that has changed her for the better, but rather her entering into relationships with regular human beings. (Okay, in the case of Luke, not so regular!)

Newman observes that the show accomplishes all of this “without hitting the younger end of the audience over the head,” and also avoiding “falling into the trap of producing tacky syrup for the older end of the spectrum.”

All of which proves series writer Gareth Roberts’ point that, “Like all the best children’s stories, [The Sarah Jane Adventures] should work for everybody.”

And it does, Gareth, it does!

Why? Well, I think it has a lot to do with what Lis Sladen
recently identified as the special “nub of emotion” at the heart of Doctor Who and, by extension, The Sarah Jane Adventures: “It’s about being different,” she says. “It’s about you being allowed to be a loner. And everyone has that in them . . . they don’t really want to be one of the crowd but dare they be anything else?”

For as Sarah Jane Smith knows all too well, being something other than “one of the the crowd,” being open to all kinds of questions, and never giving up in trying to put things right, often results in others thinking you’re eccentric, moody, weird, even insane. Yet as Sarah Jane defiantly declares: “I don’t care what people think of me. Never have. I just want to find the truth.”

Ah . . . the inspiring Sarah Jane Smith! Did I say how much I love this character and the actress that brings her so wonderfully to life?

Following are some images from the Series 3 story, “The Wedding of Sarah Jane Smith.”

Above: The Doctor makes a house call
to 13 Bannerman Road, Ealing.

Above: Luke, Rani, and Clyde inside the TARDIS.

Above: The Doctor and Sarah Jane say goodbye.
(But they’ll be meeting again in “
The End of Time,” the last story
David Tennant as the Tenth Doctor prior to the character’s
regeneration into his eleventh incarnation,
who will be played by
Matt Smith.)

For more on 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

Recommended Off-site Link:
Love and Marriage: A Review of “The Wedding of Sarah Jane Smith” - Frank Collins (Behind the Sofa, November 6, 2009).

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