Doctor Who and The Sarah Jane Adventures

Doctor Who (1963-1989)
Doctor Who (2005-    )
The Sarah Jane Adventures (2007-    )
Type: Spin Off
Group: 27

   Wow. This show is like a triple spin off. It has its origins, technically, in three other projects.

   First off we have the original Doctor Who series. Spanning three decades(!) Doctor Who was created as a British kids sci-fi adventure series. As it turns out more than British kids ended up watching. It became a cult sensation with kids and adults around the world. The show centered on a character known only as The Doctor. The Doctor was a member of a race called The Time Lords. He traveled all over time and space in his timeship the TARDIS. A TARDIS ship is designed so that it can appear as anything on the outside thus allowing it to blend in to anyplace it might land. Landing in Eskimo country? Have the TARDIS look like an igloo. Unfortunately The Doctor's TARDIS was stuck permanently looking like a British callbox: a wooden blue emergency phone booth just a bit bigger than a standard phone booth intended as an emergency stop point for British motorists in need. It seems originally the idea was for the TARDIS to change look week to week but apparently budget issues caused it to stay as a callbox. Good bit of luck actually. A ship with no set look would be harder for an audience to, well, fall in love with. In contrast, a ship that looks like a police callbox is quirky and iconic.

   A police callbox would seem a tight fit for a time traveler to live in. Luckily a TARDIS is bigger on the inside than the outside. Massively bigger. So big The Doctor could easily bring friends along for his adventures which he did in the form of a series of "companions" who would accompany him. Maybe the two most popular were Sarah Jane Smith and K-9. Sarah Jane was an independent and inquisitive companion. And, well, she was hot. Hey, it's true. Not bad traits for a companion. I should be so lucky as The Doctor. K-9 was The Doctor's robot dog. Okay, sounds a bit too precious but it was a kid's show and, as it turns out, K-9 was pretty cool. And what kind of jerk wouldn't like a robot dog?

   Both Sarah Jane and K-9 had long runs on the show as companions. But the setup of the show is that companions do come and go. Eventually they each ended up leaving the show. But the producers weren't fools. These were popular characters. Maybe they could, you know, spin the two of them off into another successful show. A pilot was created for a show called K-9 And Company. Now the weird thing is, K-9 and Sarah Jane didn't leave the show together. In fact, they weren't both companions to The Doctor at the same time! The pilot didn't actually get picked up as a series but it was broadcast as a Christmas special. The show had Sarah Jane Smith finding Doctor-like adventure on Earth. At the very start she discovered that The Doctor had left her a gift in the form of K-9. Together she and K-9 would get into all sorts of scrapes and adventures. Well, they would have but, again, the show didn't go to series so they actually just had the one adventure. Then they disappeared from continuity for over two decades. I actually have gotten some emails saying I should include K-9 And Company as a spin off. And I would IF it had gone to series. But, you know, I'm mentioning it here now so there you go.

   Doctor Who left the air in 1989 but came back in a new series in 2005. It was hard to tell at first if the new series was a total reboot or if it was a continuation of the old continuity. A new actor was playing The Doctor but that didn't prove anything. You see there is one more thing about The Doctor. He has the ability to regenerate. If he is fatally wounded, he comes back to life in a new body. Good trick. It also meant The Doctor could be rotated like the companions. Whenever an actor's time as The Doctor was over they could bump him off and bring in a new Doctor. It also meant the producers could constantly tinker with the vibe of the show. Each new actor playing The Doctor did not try to copy previous actors' take on the character. Each Doctor had his own unique quirks and personality.

   Long story short, a new actor in the role didn't prove one way or another if the old show and the new show shared continuity. And a number of The Doctor's old foes showed up in the new show: Daleks, Cybermen... But, again, that hardly proved anything. Any version of Superman will feature Lex Luthor, any version of Doctor Who would use his rogues too. The proof that the old and the new Who were connected came in the second season in the form of Sarah Jane Smith and K-9. Well, duh, what did you think it would be if I'm mentioning it here? The second season episode School Reunion found The Doctor (the second Doctor of the new series) investigating strange goings on in a British school. Also investigating the school? Investigative reporter Sarah Jane Smith, played as in the original series by Elisabeth Sladen. Done deal. Old and new Who were both part of the same continuity.

   As it turned out the students at the school were being either manipulated by - or being eaten by - essentially space vampires (the episode was a kind of homage to Buffy The Vampire Slayer even featuring a cast member of that show). On their first meeting, Sarah Jane did not even realize she was talking to The Doctor, him being a totally new person and all. She only realized the truth when she stumbled upon that telltale callbox sitting inexplicably in the middle of the school. The episode then made some good drama out of what had went before: the fact that Sarah Jane had felt abandoned by The Doctor, that she was maybe a bit jealous of his new younger companion Rose and that, oh yeah, she had this broken mechanical dog in her car. The Doctor went to work, K-9 was quickly fixed and was back in action literally saving the day before the end of the story. The end of the episode had the new and old companions all as friends and The Doctor offering Sarah Jane the chance to rejoin his crew. But Sarah Jane had actually found herself and decided to stay on Earth investigating trouble there with K-9.

   Which brings us to The Sarah Jane Adventures, a show featuring characters from the original Doctor Who that were paired up in a failed pilot and then revived in on the New Doctor Who. The Sarah Jane Adventures essentially had the same sort of premise that K-9 And Company was supposed to have had with Sarah Jane investigating odd goings on. There was a kind of retro spin to this spin off too. Like I said, the original Doctor Who was more of a youth oriented show. The show was a half hour long, daytime, weekly show with stories spanning several episodes. By contrast the new Doctor Who was an hour long primetime deal. Sometimes there might be a plot spanning several episodes but, generally, each episode told a self-contained story. The Sarah Jane Adventures returned to the model for the original Doctor Who. It was a weekly half hour show with the plots always being two parters. And while it certainly had a more high budget look than the original Doctor Who, like that series, it's clear The Sarah Jane Adventures was working on a tighter budget. You can see them stretching their dollars, making the most use of any cool locations they find and borrowing costumes and effects from both the new Doctor Who and its other spin off Torchwood.

   The Sarah Jane Adventures started out with a one hour special titled Invasion Of The Bane. Young pre-teen Maria has just moved into Sarah Jane's neighborhood and soon discovers life won't be dull there. First she spies Sarah Jane talking to an alien in her backyard. (This is a minor Torchwood crossover really since the alien is the same as one seen on that show. Only its clear this was less to link the shows and more to reuse an effect shot to get the best production value for the least amount of money) Then Maria and her new girlfriend Kelsey stumble into a plot by local soft drink company Bubble Shock to take over the world. It seems each bottle of Bubble Shock is fortified with the mystery ingredient Bane. Turns out Bane is actually an alien life form and that once enough people have chugged alien, the makers of Bubble Shock will flip the switch and turn everyone into possessed zombie slaves. As part of their plan they also genetically engineered a young boy constructing his body and mind from scans they've done on all the people taking the tour of their factory. See, some people were immune to Bane so they built the boy as a model of all people so that they could work the kinks out of the system. Long story short, Sarah Jane Smith kicks some alien arse and saves the day. In the end the boy is liberated but, well, alone. After her travels with The Doctor, Sarah Jane never did marry or have a family. That changed as she adopted the boy, naming him Luke. Having his mind built from all those other minds, Luke was super smart. Nice symbolism too. With Luke being a conglomeration of "all" the people in England, Sarah Jane figuratively and, in a way, literally is a mother and protector to all the kids of England.

   The pilot also introduced Sarah Jane's super computer Mr. Smith (her old nickname for The Doctor). In true kids show fashion, Mr. Smith was hidden in a wall in Sarah Jane's attic and would appear with the walls folding back impressively. The original intent was for Sarah Jane, Maria, Luke and Kelsey to be the core team on the show supported by Mr. Smith. Only between the premiere special and the series one tweak was made: Kelsey was replaced by the similarly headstrong male character Clyde. I think I understand why. First off, the show was a little heavy on the estrogen. Not dissing the girl power. But you do want little boys to have someone to relate to too. As it stood there were three female characters and one boy who by his character's origin was socially inept and awkward. That's a character you can relate to but in many ways not a fully strong male character. And Kelsey character wasn't perfect either. The idea was for her to be cocky and headstrong but in execution she was a bit of a pain. Not crazy bad but off. A little too self centered. They could likely have fixed that but I'm guessing they had already figured they needed to get another guy in there so, hey, why not do a bigger retool. So in came Clyde, a swaggering cocky guy but one who could learn from his mistakes and become a better person as time went on. Plus he could serve as more of love interest for Maria, seeing as Luke came off more as a brother type.

   But what about K-9? He's part of this show, right? Well, yes and no. The first special establishes that K-9 is in deep space on an important mission. He is reachable through a small hatch in Sarah Jane's attic but, for the most part, he's occupied. There are several potential reasons for this. I've read online that the writer who created K-9 holds the copyright on the character and that there is a cost consideration anytime K-9 appears. But I can see other reasons to minimize K-9. First of all, he's a super powerful robot. You have a show built around Sarah Jane and her "kids" having adventures. K-9 would provide an all too easy out for many situations. On top of that, set on modern day Earth, it would be hard to explain to folks the existence of a super robot dog. Just easier to have him in deep space and have excitement around his occasional cameos.

   As I've mentioned, this show didn't have a primetime budget. So they did make maximum use of what they had to work with. They recycled that Torchwood effect. The Doctor Who aliens the Slitheen became regular villains on the show. I think this was likely in part because there were existing Slitheen costumes that could be used without destroying the budget. It also worked out well since Slitheen's were aliens who could take on human form but with the side effect that they farted constantly. Fart jokes equals kids show comedy gold. There's also a couple episodes where they found some really cool real locations to shoot on, some great old buildings. They shot the hell out of those places. Instant great production value for low cost. And when they had what should have been effect heavy episodes you could see them "calling their shots". In other words we don't have the money to do a billion effect shots so lets make stay light on those elements, just do a few of them but make those count. As a result we only see two of the aliens and one of them is only seen on a monitor meaning only one costume actually had to be created. Then while in the alien spaceship there is a lot of running around in practical locations doubling for the ship (a factory maybe?) with one or two effect shots to really sell the idea: one of a portal looking out on Earth in the distance and one CGI shot on the escape ship in its hanger. There may have been a couple more effects shots but not many.

   In closing I have to get max respect to the writers of The Sarah Jane Adventures and Elisabeth Sladen for making the show work as well as it does. There are plot holes and the budget is tight but they cover those up by making the show an enjoyable romp. And Elisabeth Saden is awesome. At the time of the show's filming it's not like Elisabeth Sladen was a young'en. I mean, it's not polite to talk about a woman's age but, hey, it was two decades since her time on Doctor Who. And guess what? She is still just stunning. Wow. Still crazy attractive and she brought a great depth to her character. Doctor Who dances with glee through his dangerous adventures. The folks at Torchwood grit their teeth and steel themselves to do the job they're paid to do. Sarah Jane isn't filled with nerves of steel or swashbuckling glee and she doesn't get paid. She does what she does because she cares and you can see most of the time she is really scared while she does it... which is maybe the most believable reaction of them all. She's scared but she does what she has to anyway. You gotta love her.

   With there currently only being 12 half hour episodes (figuring they could cut the premiere special into 2 episodes) and it being a "kids show" I'm not sure folks outside the UK will get a chance to see this show anytime soon but they should. Seriously, BBC America, Sci-Fi Channel, somebody get on the stick and bring this sucker over. Make a marathon special of it. The show isn't a masterpiece but it's solid. Give the sci-fi freaks outside England a chance to check it out. Heck, throw K-9 And Company in and you've got a couple more episodes right there. Come on, be like Nike and just do it!

Other Doctor Who Crossover Links
Doctor Who and Doctor Who
Doctor Who and The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy
Doctor Who and Torchwood

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