The adventures of Sarah Jane

UsjaS3Promos-0001This week, we did something that we’ve been putting off for a while: watched some episodes of The Sarah Jane Adventures. I ordered the disc with “The Wedding of Sarah Jane Smith” from Netflix, so that we could finally watch the episode with the Tenth Doctor in it, and then added the disc with the Eleventh Doctor’s episode, “The Death of the Doctor.” We received the disc about two months ago and promptly ignored it, mostly because we had so many other things to do, including re-watch the Eleventh Doctor’s full run. After paying for Netflix for two months for one disc, we popped it in this week and watched all of the episodes on it: “Prisoner of the Judoon,” “The Mad Woman in the Attic,” and “The Wedding of Sarah Jane Smith.” And I’m happy to say, I loved it.

Now, SJA is a children’s show, aimed, I believe, at the young teen crowd, and that’s one of the reasons that my husband didn’t like it as much as I did. He’s not fond of children protagonists and plotlines that revolve around children’s problems, like figuring out whether or not your friends actually like you or are just tolerating you. I don’t have a problem with this kind of thing, and I found the show to be fun and engaging. That said, I really don’t like the character Clyde Langer, but the rest of it was great.

SJA seems to be structured like “filler” DW episodes, without an overarching season plot (but I could be wrong, as I haven’t seen a whole season), and this is probably the thing I like about it most: it’s a series of adventures, where the main characters get into a situation and solve it within the episode. It’s nice in modern TV to have longer story arcs, but it’s not necessary if the individual episodes are well-crafted to be fulfilling stories, and this is probably a good thing for a children’s show, not requiring the kids to follow an arc over several weeks or months. The show is about Sarah Jane defending the world from aliens with three teens, her “son” Luke Smith, and Rani Chandra and Clyde Langer, two kids who live nearby. The creators seem to have taken the character of the Doctor and broken him up into his component parts to create them: Luke is the hyperintelligent tech geek, Rani is investigative and compassionate, and Clyde is the smartarse. Sarah Jane is still Sarah Jane – willful, spunky, clever, and brave – though instead of being the companion, she’s the leader.  Add in the alien supercomputer Mr. Smith and the tin dog K-9, who together serve the purpose of the sonic screwdriver by giving the team the information they need as well as a little bit of firepower in a pinch, and you’ve got Doctor Who.

Spoilers in the next four paragraphs. Skip ahead if you don’t want to know.

The first episode we watched was “Prisoner of the Judoon,” in which a Judoon captain with a dangerous prisoner in custody crash lands and has to re-catch the prisoner. The prisoner has the ability to take over other creatures, and takes control of Sarah Jane to get into a nanotechnology firm to get nanites to build him a spaceship and then destroy the planet. Since the Judoon, as we know, are  just a little bit thick, Clyde and Rani have a lot problems steering the captain towards finding the prisoner. It’s up to Luke to save the day, as he uncovers why the prisoner revels in destroying civilizations and reverses the nanites’ destructive programming. Sarah Jane, once freed, tries to help the prisoner overcome his anger, but fails, which is a refreshing bit of reality – you can’t solve everyone’s problems in just a few minutes of soft words. The depiction of the Judoon was also perfect, as the law-abiding and imperceptive mercenaries we saw in “Smith and Jones.”

Next up was “The Mad Woman in the Attic,” and this episode was just superb. The “mad woman” is Rani in 2059, isolated and regretful after having lost Sarah Jane, Luke, and Clyde due to her own actions. In the current time, she is feeling ignored and underappreciated by her friends, and so she goes to investigate the claim of a demon-sighting by herself. I really don’t want to spoil the story of this one, because it really is a fantastic episode. It sets up the initial antagonist, and then twists it around – nothing is as it seems. The story teaches Rani a lot about how she fits in with her friends and how it’s not all about her. The episode also refers to the Last Great Time War, which astonished me; I was not expecting SJA to refer to such heavy DW subject matter.

The last episode we saw was “The Wedding of Sarah Jane Smith,” which, as I mentioned before, has the Tenth Doctor in it. Sarah Jane falls in love with a man named Peter Dawton and is about to get married to him when the Doctor, who throughout the episode had been trying to land the TARDIS at Bannerman Road, bursts in to try to stop the wedding. Too late: the Trickster appears and locks Sarah Jane and Peter in one second of time and the Doctor, Luke, Rani, and Clyde in another, to keep the Doctor from saving Sarah Jane. Turns out, Peter had been on the edge of death when the Trickster appeared to him as an angel, offering him his life in exchange for marrying Sarah Jane, an action which would remove her from her alien-fighting lifestyle and leave the planet open to chaos. Peter reneges on the Trickster’s deal, sacrificing himself to save Sarah.

sarahjaneadventuresThis was in a way the weakest of the three episodes overall, as a large part of it was devoted to the Doctor running around with the kids, pointing the sonic screwdriver in random directions to follow Sarah Jane as she moved around in the second she was trapped in; they wasted his appearance in this episode, as he honestly did nothing other than wait until the plot brought him back to Sarah Jane to tell her what was going on. On the other hand, the Doctor got to be the exuberant Doctor that he didn’t get to be through a lot of his last series. The ending of the episode was completely worth it, though. First, Peter’s decision and sacrifice was beautifully handled. Second, the parting of the Doctor and Sarah Jane was tragic: the dialogue mirrored their parting in “The Hand of Fear,” and since the episode was set just before The End of Time, we know exactly where the Doctor is heading, and his final expression as Sarah Jane walks off is heart-rending.

At the end of the day, SJA is an entertaining show, offering adventure and aliens and one of the most endearing characters ever to ride in the TARDIS, and I’m looking forward to seeing more of it. I’m not sure when I’ll get to watch more of it, as there are still so many classic Doctor Who episodes to watch, and I want to move into Torchwood, AND this last episode of SJA has really sparked me into wanting to watch me some Tenth Doctor again, but I am definitely looking forward to starting SJA from the beginning. Donna may be my favorite companion, but there is no one like Sarah Jane Smith. We miss you!

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Playing favorites

doctor-who-companions-63-13My husband asked me today to list my three favorite companions. Now, number one should come as no surprise to anyone who’s read what I’ve written before: Donna Noble is definitely the best. No question. No hesitation. Just the best. But the top three? That took a bit more thought, and I realized that I could probably name my top five, but I had a lot of problems with top three. So, here are my top five companions, not listed in order, except of course with Donna at the top. (I’m counting only traveling companions, not one-shots and few-shots like Jackson Lake, Wilfred Mott, and Craig Owens. Also please note that I’m not very familiar with the companions of the first three Doctors and a few of the other classic companions.)

Five Favorite Companions

Donna Noble: Donna was the perfect support for the Tenth Doctor. She acted as his conscience, and was the friend that he needed. She was always willing to defend her beliefs and was strong enough to stand up for herself, even against the Doctor. Both she and the Doctor grew while they were together.

Sarah Jane Smith: A strong, confident, fearless  woman, she was always willing to get right into the heart of the problem. She also worked well with all of the Doctors she met. I think a lot of Sarah Jane’s appeal had to do with her actress, Elisabeth Sladen, a woman who just sparkled on screen.

Vislor Turlough: One of the things I really like about Turlough is that he had secrets. His introductory stories were about his deal with the Black Guardian, which bound him to trying to kill the Doctor. The only other episode of his I have seen so far is “Planet of Fire,” and again, in that, we find out about his history on Trion, which he has guarded up until this time. He’s a survivalist, which makes him look a bit cowardly, but this makes him more realistic, as well as rounds out his character.

Ace McShane: Ace was a rough-and-ready street urchin, a great complement for the educated, sophisticated, and cunning Seventh Doctor. She was straightforward and unapologetic, and sometimes her decisions would cause more trouble than they would solve, but that’s how she was.

Rory Williams: Rory was loyal to the Eleventh Doctor without being obsessed with him, an important contrast to Amy. Thus, his motivations were far more complex, and it also allowed him to be a less than perfect companion: he was fearful of danger, worried for Amy, and distrusting of the Doctor.

Honorable Mentions

Tegan Jovanka: I haven’t seen enough Tegan, I think. She’s brash, blunt, and obnoxious – in short, a lot of fun.

Barbara Wright: I’ve only seen two First Doctor episodes, but I really loved Barbara in both of them. She’s not a sympathetic character, but she’s confident and takes charge when she needs to.

Companions I Don’t Like

Rose Tyler: Not a popular opinion, I know. I liked her a lot more in series 1, but in series 2, during the show’s “let’s see how silly the Doctor can be when he’s in love” stage, she’s insufferable. She’s whiny and selfish, manipulates the Doctor when she can, and treats everyone else like crap (especially Mickey, but also Jackie). Her writing was also erratic, portrayed as a strong, take-charge person in one episode and a cringing coward in the next. During the Darlig Ulv Stranden scene, I cried for the Doctor, but was glad to see Rose go.

Melanie Bush: I’ve only seen her in “Time and the Rani,” which was a terrible episode, but Mel made it so much worse. I am hoping she turns out to be better when she’s in a non-terrible episode.

Clara Oswald: The “Impossible Girl” arc was interesting, but Clara herself has no character. She simply seems to exist as a deus ex machina for stories in which the Doctor doesn’t win. And then suddenly we find out that she fancies him, with no previous, in-character clues. I’m hoping she’s treated better in the new series.

 

Less destiny, please

550w_cult_doctor_who_wedding_01We just finished watching Series 5, and let me tell you, the second time around it really made a lot more sense. I’m looking forward to Series 6 making more sense, too, since I still don’t have any idea what happened in that one! I definitely like Eleven a lot now, and I like Amy more than I did the first time, but Rory is still by far one of my favorite companions. I think part of it has to do with the fact that he’s a very normal person thrown into extraordinary circumstances, and he shines like star. He doesn’t really get all these fantastical things that are happening to him, and he really doesn’t want to be in the TARDIS, but when he has to be, he’s as strong as Amy or any other companion.

One thing that I did notice this time that I didn’t get on the first viewing of this series was the fact that everything centered around Amy. I knew that the whole scenario presented in “The Pandorica Opens” came from Amy, but I didn’t realize that so much of the whole series revolved around her, too. The entire story was really well done. However, I can’t help but feeling that there’s way too much “destiny” involved with the companions. It started with Donna, with the Doctor realizing that all of the timelines converged on her, explaining why she encountered him a second time after refusing to travel with him in “The Runaway Bride,” why the Ood considered her so important, and why she had such an important role to play in the final encounter with the Daleks. Then there was Wilf, who also was tied to the Doctor by destiny. And then there’s Clara, who was tied to the Doctor because of her actions in fixing her timestream. Thus, the stories of four out of the last five seasons were driven by the companions. (I’m not sure about Series 6, as I remember very little of it.)

While I like the general idea of the universe pushing certain events to happen, I’m getting a bit tired of it happening over and over again. It’s a cool concept only if it’s used sparingly. With probable new storyline of the search of Gallifrey and the fact that Clara’s “Impossible Girl” story has concluded, I can hope that the series storyline will not be so companion- and destiny-centric.

I just want another year of Donna

"I'm going ten-pin bowling. What do you think, dumbo?"

“I’m going ten-pin bowling. What do you think, dumbo?”

While I do housework, I usually have an episode of Doctor Who running on my iPad, and today’s was “The Runaway Bride.” I think I say this at least once a day, but man, we really needed another year of Donna. (It’s a running joke in our house that we curse David Tennant for leaving the show, not because we wanted more series with him, but because if he had stayed, then Donna probably have stayed, too [ok, yes, we did want more series of him, too].)

After a series of the Doctor and Rose gallivanting around the universe being lovey-dovey and exhibiting no character growth, and then a series in which Martha, for all that she was a strong companion, didn’t effect any growth in the Doctor at all, Donna came along and started to heal him. The thing is, it started as early as “The Runaway Bride.” Donna is pulled into the TARDIS the moment the Doctor’s contact with Rose is broken, and less than twenty minutes later, Donna on the rooftop is able to connect with him enough that he starts to talk a little about Rose and her family. At the end of the episode, the always-brash Donna tells him exactly what he needs to hear: that his life is too crazy for normal humans to share in it without a lot of personal danger, that he needs someone by his side to reign in his darker impulses, and that it’s okay to think about his good memories with Rose. He still has a long way to go, but she starts him on the road to recovery.

So, if anyone out there is listening, please move me to the alternate universe in which everything is the same except we have another year of the Tenth Doctor and Donna in the TARDIS. Pretty please?

Poor Martha

The Doctor and Martha Jones

The Doctor and Martha Jones

It’s kind of sad: I really like Martha Jones as a companion, but upon rewatching series 3 from start to finish, I really see why she’s unpopular. She was a great companion: very intelligent, strong-willed, faithful. She was willing to get right into the heart of the situation and do whatever she needed to do. She was also called on to sacrifice far more than Rose or Donna: She spent two months as a maid in 1913, ridiculed for her station and race; she worked as a shop girl for an unspecified (but implied long) time in 1969 to support that deadbeat Doctor; and she traveled the world for a full year, on foot, while the Toclafane were hunting her, to spread the legend of the Doctor.

The thing that really ruined her character was that she fell in love with the Doctor. And it wasn’t just that she fell in love, because a storyline about a companion who loves a Doctor who doesn’t love her back could be interesting. It was that she fell in love immediately. The Doctor kissed her in “Smith and Jones,” and she was already moony-eyed in the next episode, “THe Shakespeare Code.” The first two episodes are tightly tied together – the Doctor insisted on “one trip only,” making it impossible to insert novel or comic book adventures between them – so she really did fall in love as soon as she met him. She knew him for about 8 hours in “Smith and Jones” (she enters the TARDIS after Leo’s party), then, then they land in London, watch “Love’s Labours Lost,” meet Shakespeare, and then they’re lying in the bed and she’s upset he’s talking about Rose – perhaps 6 hours. That’s a total of 14 hours and she’s already sighing about how she loves him and he isn’t seeing her.

This was the writers’ fault. After the reciprocated romantic involvement between the Doctor and Rose, they wanted a story of unrequited love, and I’m sure they also saw the opportunity to use Martha’s love to motivate her (to give her a reason for making the sacrifices she did in “Human Nature”/”The Family of Blood” and “The Sound of Drums”/”The Last of the Time Lords,” though I would argue that Martha’s walking of the earth is far more heroic if she’s doing it to save the world from the Master and not out of love for the Doctor). They just started Martha too early. As it was, she fell in love with the Doctor way too fast, which wasn’t realistic, and then her occasional expressions of that love weren’t worked into the episodes well, and therefore came off as her just mooning stupidly for him. It didn’t help that the Doctor’s mourning the loss of Rose was also poorly handled sometimes, such as the bed scene in “The Shakespeare Code,” making Martha look even worse.

Martha does return as a much better character later, in “The Sontaran Strategem”/”The Poison Sky” and “The Stolen Earth”/”Journey’s End,” but by then, either we were more interested in Donna or we’d already formed a poor opinion of Martha and didn’t care to see her again. In my “if they could do it all over again” world, after “one more series of the Tenth Doctor and Donna,” I’d ask for Martha’s series to be redone with her romantic feelings starting somewhere around “The Lazarus Experiment.” In fact, that’s the best place for it: up until then, she’s just a loyal companion, but when her mother starts to question the Doctor, Martha starts realizing she’s in love. It’s actually still too early in her real timeline – it’s only been a couple of days since she met the Doctor – but to the audience, five episodes into the series is enough time.

When I watch her episodes now, the romantic storyline bugs me, so I just sort of ignore it, and I still prefer Martha over second-series Rose (Donna ftw!). I find her to be a lot better in the novels, which tend to not address that aspect of her, and that’s the Martha that I picture to myself.

An interesting thought about companions

One of the best things about being married to a fellow Doctor Who fan is that we talk about the show all the time and sometimes come up with interesting insights out of seemingly banal conversations. Here is one from today.

Tegan, the token human

Tegan, the token human

Last night, we were watching “The Talons of Weng-Chiang” and were surprised when the Doctor mentioned that Leela was human. We had always thought that her people, the Sevateem, were human-looking humanoids from a different planet, but instead, they’re a regressed tribe of humans from the future. In discussing this, I realized something very interesting about the Doctor’s companions: the Fifth Doctor is the only Doctor that traveled primarily with non-humans. His companions were Tegan (human), Nyssa (Trakenite), Adric (Alzarian), Turlough (Trion), Kamelion (android), and Peri (human) (and Peri was only his companion for two episodes). The Doctor that comes closest to this is the Fourth Doctor, who traveled with the humans Sarah Jane, Harry, and Leela, and with the non-humans Romana, K-9, and Adric (for four episodes). All of the Fourth Doctor non-humans were in the latter half of his run: there were no humans in the TARDIS between the departure of Leela and the arrival of Tegan.

It almost feels like someone decided the Doctor needed to have non-human companions and went overboard with it, and then someone decided to punt them all from the TARDIS at the end of the Fifth Doctor’s run.  Beyond these, the only other non-human companions were Astrid Peth (Tenth Doctor) and River Song (who was human with some Time Lord characteristics).

After seven seasons of the modern show, it would be nice to have a non-human companion. It wouldn’t have to be a non-human-looking companion. A humanoid companion with an alien personality would be really nice, especially if there’s also a human in the TARDIS for us to identify with. Turlough and Romana especially were very interesting companions, and I’d love to see the show do something similar again.

Propriety

I read an article this weekend that discussed an issue that the early Doctor Who showrunners had to deal with, the propriety of having a woman traveling alone with a man. It’s something that we don’t even think about nowadays. We had no problems with Rose, a 19-year-old girl, running off with the Doctor, who looked to be in his forties. Of course, early on in series one, there was no indication of a romantic relationship between the two characters, and by the end of series 1, we were comfortable with the two characters traveling together, so it wasn’t an issue. But back in 1963, this would have raised eyebrows. Considering that Doctor Who was considered a children’s show, that kind of thing was forbidden.

Susan and her chaperones

Susan and her chaperones

When the show was first conceived, Susan was created as a teenager but wasn’t the Doctor’s granddaughter, and even with the presence of Ian Chesterton and Barbara Wright in the TARDIS to act as chaperones, the propriety was questionable enough that they changed the character to be his granddaughter. This way, no one could suggest that there was anything going on between the Doctor and his young companion. Of course, it worked out well for the show, since the familial relationship between the Doctor and Susan was such a big part of the show’s early days.

Since the article made me wonder how well they kept to this ideal, I plotted out the tenures of all of the companions to see how they overlapped, and someday I’ll convert it into an image to show it all comes out. But in the meantime, I’ll point out a few salient points.  Throughout the entire classic series, the Doctor has at least one female companion at all times, except during the Fourth Doctor episode “The Deadly Assassin,” which is set between the departure of Sarah Jane Smith and the arrival of Leela. Throughout the tenures of the First and Second Doctors, there was always at least one other male in the TARDIS with the Doctor and his female companion: first Ian and Barbara, then Steven Taylor, then Ben Jackson, and finally Jamie McCrimmon.

The Third Doctor never had a male companion: Liz Shaw, then Jo Grant, then Sarah Jane all were his sole companion, though Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart, and to a lesser extent Sergeant Benton and Captain Yates, also appeared during much of these episodes. I think that the reason the women were allowed to be alone here was that for much of the Third Doctor’s tenure, he was trapped on Earth and wasn’t actually traveling. Thus, though the women were companions, they didn’t live in the TARDIS and therefore didn’t live with the Doctor. By the time the Doctor gets his TARDIS back, two years had passed and the concept of the Doctor having a platonic relationship with a single companion was acceptable enough.

When the Fourth Doctor appeared, Sarah Jane had a chaperone in Harry Sullivan, but he left at the beginning of season 13, and from then on, the Doctor wasn’t forced to take on extra companions. Sarah Jane, Leela, and Romana didn’t have a chaperone for most of their time (I don’t consider K-9 to be an appropriate chaperone). The Fifth Doctor’s run gets a little interesting. For the first time since the Second Doctor, the Doctor had a full TARDIS – three companions – for almost two seasons (again, I’m not counting Kamelion because though he’s technically in the TARDIS and rounding out that third spot, he really only acts like a full companion in his first and last episodes). I know that it’s been mentioned that Peter Davison was forbidden from putting his arm around Nyssa’s or Tegan’s shoulders specifically to prevent people from thinking that the Doctor might have any familiarity with them, so the propriety ideal is still there. However, Peri was then introduced specifically for her sex appeal. Very interesting dichotomy of thought there.

From Peri on through Ace, the Doctor always only had one companion, so again it was ok for the Doctor to be traveling with a single female. And of course, in the new series, that’s not even an issue anymore – the issue of the Doctor’s relationship with his companion(s) is now dealt with through the story, rather than ignored, which is probably what caused the problem in the first place. If the show doesn’t tell the audience what’s happening, that’s when they start making up their own theories about it.