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!