Just last week, I commented on the fact that The Sarah Jane Adventures has seldom hit the high notes of previous seasons, and then this comes along. Way to prove me wrong, Russell T. Davies. But I shouldn’t expect less. I remember with some embarrassment when I said someone should take RTD’s pen away from him and never let him write again. I’m so sorry, Russell. Please forgive me. I was wrong. I would give anything for your emotional writing to grace Doctor Who scripts again. It is so evident that Russell cared about the stories he was writing and watching this episode really makes that point with crystal clarity.
As frequent visitors to the Junkyard know, I’ve been listening to Big Finish again, and I’ve stated frequently that I don’t check what episode comes next. Well, I’ve been doing the same thing with these. When the episode ends, I don’t watch the “coming soon” trailers. So when this story opened with Luke chatting via “skype” with Sarah Jane and company, I thought that was a nice touch, but I was not aware of what was coming until UNIT pulled up and Captain Beautiful stepped out of the car to speak with Sarah Jane. She tells her of the death of the Doctor, and word reached them by some bird-like creatures. Now, pretty quickly, I’m reminded of why Russell deserves his pen back. When Sarah Jane is told about the Doctor’s demise, she immediately doubts the source of the data. It’s Rani who has to remind her, “hey, since when did we start to judge by appearances”. Bravo! And normally, I’d say Sarah Jane should be the one to remind the audience and her friends, but she’s under extreme emotional stress. If Russell forgets himself, it’s that Haresh sees the military pull up and he’s surprisingly calm about letting Rani go out with them. It’s here where I question if RTD has any concept of having kids, but I’d let that go in favor of the outstanding writing that is to come. (I do still love the relationship Rani has with her dad; it does feel like they are really related!)
Capt. Beautiful tells Sarah Jane how hard it is getting in touch with the Doctor’s friends and she mentions Liz Shaw is on the Moonbase (to Clyde’s surprise). When Sarah Jane starts to reminisce about her past adventures, we get to see flashbacks, but they get interrupted and it was annoying; I wanted more. But then, it was Jo Grant and she was back in living color; every bit the air-headed girl she was in the days of Jon Pertwee, now grown up and traveling with her grandson, Iron Fist Santiago. (Sadly, after that horrendous Marvel series, I kept expecting Santiago to talk about his Chi and his dojo. While I’m gratified this never happened, and I was surprised to realize he was in this before he ever was Iron Fist; I still couldn’t get it out of my head: this was the Iron Whiner! I therefore ignored him as best I could.) Barring him, and air vents big enough that they might have been in Classic Star Trek (you could drive a car through most of them, but turning around seems a bit tricky…), I can find almost no fault with this episode.
Part of its epic nature is that I utterly forgot it was Matt Smith’s Doctor that turns up. It wasn’t until his voice comes through that I remembered: oh yeah, this was the one! The one that Clyde asks him if he’s always white and how many times he can change (507, according to Smith!). The one where the Doctor says that every regeneration hurts. This was the one where Russell reminded us why the Doctor is awesome. “Exactly as predicted, … save the world or save the children, the Doctor goes the wrong way” and the Doctor goes to save the children! I love this character. But it’s not just the character; it’s his adventures and as a long time fan, this is a dream episode! It’s a trip down memory lane, and I do wonder how much new fans could relate, but that’s their problem. For me, this was one of those episodes that just ticked all the boxes.
Jo Grant finds out that the Doctor came back to visit Sarah Jane and she says “he must have really liked you”. That was a punch to the gut. As the two start comparing notes, we fans are brought back to Italy and Peladon and Karfel. We are reminded of Axons, the Brigadier and the Three Doctors, Sutekh, Eldred and Davros, finger-shooting Androids and Kraal, Spiridon, the Time Monster, Sea Devils, Drashigs and side show entertainers with miniscopes, mutants and Azal and Bok, Ogrons and Draconians, even Aggedor and Alpha Centauri! Clyde and Rani make Sarah Jane remember all of their adventures, from Maria and Luke to the Clown, Sontarans, the Mona Lisa (to the Doctor’s confusion), the Slitheen, the Gorgon, the Trickster, and Clyde’s dad, all of it… All the while the music hits a crescendo of victory… And the joy that I feel as a fan of nearly 40 years is just overwhelming me! I want to leap up and cheer; punch the air with glee! Yes, this episode is that much fun!
And could anyone blame me? NO! If you’re a fan of Doctor Who and have not seen this episode, shame on you. Wait, it gets better! When Jo is talking to the Doctor, he admits to having checked on her and her surprise is heartfelt. Their dialogue can bring tears to the most cynical. Then, later, Sarah Jane talks to Clyde and Rani at the end about other friends of the Doctor that she looked up. She mentions a woman in Australia named Tegan who is fighting for Aboriginal rights, Harry Sullivan who worked on vaccines to save lives, Ben and Polly running an orphanage, Dorothy-something running a company called A Charitable Earth (nice acronym, that!), and the one that made me tear up, a couple who are said to never age: Ian and Barbara Chesterton. I always knew they’d get married.
The Sarah Jane Adventures is, for the most part, lighthearted fun in the Doctor Who universe, but once in a while, it reminds us that magic can happen anytime the Doctor is involved. This story was priceless, and I will revisit this one again. In fact, I think I want to watch that scene again, when memories save the day… ML