SJA: Whatever Happened to Sarah Jane Smith?

Wow. That was better than a lot of episodes of Doctor Who, new and old. The story is as clever and complex as you’d expect from the main show, and it’s just as dark and serious as anything Torchwood managed – there’s no doubt as to which is the better spin-off, nor the one that’s more enjoyable for grown-ups. Although the sub-plot with Maria’s dad being a super cool sk8r dude was very how-do-you-do-fellow-kids, especially when they had to have Clyde wear a helmet.

The first episode was the making of Maria, as she took centre stage in Sarah Jane’s absence and set about unraveling the mystery. She handled the extra pressure much better than I thought she would, and the scene where she confronts Andrea and vows to get Sarah Jane back was reminiscent of The Doctor in Bad Wolf.

And fuck me, does this show know how to up the stakes. It was creepy as hell when Sarah Jane was removed from time, with everything changing around Maria, but then the Graske comes along, takes Maria too, she ends up in Brighton in 1964, and everything is dialled up to 11. It’s totally gripping and relentless – there are huge moral debates about life and death going on, and meanwhile the world is about to be destroyed by a giant meteor, and the clock is constantly ticking. It’s an absolute thriller.

The meteor is the perfect plot device to use for this story – it’s the show saying, quite unequivocally, that no Sarah Jane = the end of the world. For most other characters, this would be a bit of a stretch (I don’t mean to keep shitting on the inferior spin-off, but I’d never believe that the Torchwood team were that vital, for example). But for Sarah Jane, and Elisabeth Sladen, you totally feel it, and you’re desperate for her to get back. I felt my lip wobble when she was pleading to be back with Luke.

And bloody hell, her replacement was Jane Asher! Having such a famous face as the Sarah Jane substitute was a little bit of a distraction at times, but I guess it needed to be someone notable so that they didn’t seem too inferior by comparison. So there she was, fondly reminiscing about the 60s being her golden time while she passes round her home-made cakes. Although, Andrea was supposed to be 13 in 1964, while Jane was old enough to be shacked up with a Beatle by that time.

Meanwhile, I really enjoyed the Trickster bringing up The Doctor. Throughout the series, there have been frequent mentions of Sarah’s links to UNIT; as well as reinforcing her credentials as a defender of the Earth, these help to maintain a link with the main show, which the explicit references to The Doctor, and what the current adventure could mean for him, cements. This really feels like it’s not just a part of the same universe, but that it’s another aspect of the exact same show – the story of The Doctor’s best ever companion, and what she gets up to without him. Doctor Who and The Sarah Jane Adventures are two sides of the same coin, and on the evidence of this, equally capable of excellence.

RATING: 9

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