April 23, 2011

Gordon's Five Favorite Sarah Jane Smith Stories

Taken by Boyce Duprey via Flickr
Consider this a companion piece to my recent Comic Related article on Nicholas Courtney (if you can excuse the really bad pun, that is).

Wednesday night's screening was awesome, thanks to some new pals via Facebook, and I'll be liveblogging the Matt Smith era beginning tomorrow; for now, for those of you who are new series fans, and fans of "classic" Who, my top five favorites - like the ones in my Comic Related column, they may not be fan favorites, but they're my favorites with Sarah Jane Smith, as portrayed by the late Elisabeth Sladen.

(No, there's nothing from her time with Pertwee, and not much from Sarah Jane Adventures, admittedly - haven't seen too much of the latter, and I feel that her stories with Tom Baker were much stronger. I have tried to be as eclectic as possible in my selection - you're more than welcome to make suggestions and debate, because that's what Doctor Who fans do best.)
  1. Genesis of the Daleks- A story steeped in issues around ethics and morality, I want to highlight the key scene in episode 5: you know, the one where Tom Baker's Doctor debates whether he touch two wires together and destroy the Daleks? Sarah Jane is the one who reminds him that the stakes are high, and that he has a duty to "protect" the future. It's one where the companion doesn't so much talk the Doctor into an action, but out of one. This story is a classic for a reason, and Sladen's performance throughout helps the story build to that single point. And, as a counterpart, consider her performance in....
  2. School Reunion (David Tennant's first year as the Doctor in the second series) -Similar set-up: the Doctor is given the chance to rewrite history and write major wrongs. Although the story tends to focus more on Sarah Jane never "growing up", her willingness to talk the Doctor out of his choice - to choose human emotions and qualities - could have easily been made mawkish. Much has been said about how the script may have "forgotten" other times Sarah Jane encountered the Doctor; however, I think that misses the point - Sladen portrays Sarah Jane as a woman whose life is "frozen in time", and that speech is as much for her own benefit as it is the Doctor's. (Which is why I love that the "pain and loss" speech serves as a fitting epitaph...and that if anyone deserved her own spin off series, with was Sladen).
  3. Pyramids of MarsPersonally, I've always had a soft spot for this story, particularly the exchange in episode one. (You know, the "I'm a Time Lord, I walk in eternity"). It's always struck me as a shorthand for the Fourth Doctor/Sarah relationship - she grounds him in human concerns, and he reminds her of the ever-shifting stakes. (See the  "Sometimes you don't seem...." "Human" later in the episode). Plus, with the sequence where the Doctor takes her into "alternative time" and shows her why they don't just leave and assume their future's safe...I just plain like this story.
  4. Death of the Doctor (From series four of the Sarah Jane Adventures) - My previous blog comments notwithstanding, I do think this is one of Sladen's better episodes. You could easily dismiss this as School Reunion with Jo Grant, but I think it's much better than that - we now see a Sarah Jane who's gotten on with her life, and who - in many ways - has really become a full-blooded human being. (Like, could you see Mickey Smith and Captain Jack Harkness palling around? Turlough and Adric...wait a minute, forget I just typed that). I'll stand behind this decision.
  5. The Hand of Fear - Sladen's swan song, and although the climax of the story is a little, well, wonky, the last fifteen minutes - with Sarah Jane expressing her frustration, and then moving towards heartache and bittersweet as she finally hasto leave as the Doctor is summoned back to Gallifrey...well, it's enough to break a Dalek's heart. One of the most emotionally engaging departures in Doctor Who history.
It is hard to believe that Sladen passed away so suddenly, and that her illness was kept within the family (remind me one of these days to podcast about the challenges of handling a family member's illness)...but thankfully, she's left behind some great stories, and work that has us not just missing her, but her character as well.

And the best way to honor that...is to enjoy her work.

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