Character Study: Sarah Jane Smith


A while back, my buddy Paul stated that following Mr. Spock, Sarah Jane Smith is arguably the greatest sci-fi character of all time.

To be honest, when I think of all-time greatest sci-fi characters, Sarah Jane doesn't come to mind. But when I stopped and pondered on it I had to admit, I can't argue with that logic, at all.

Smith perhaps the most popular traveling companion of the Doctor. She's also considered by many to be the best. She first came on my radar in the Doctor Who ep, School Reunion. I was immediately taken with this extraordinary woman, perhaps it's because we both share a background in journalism.

But upon further research, I was amazed at this extraordinary character and how much she grew and evolved.

Like many of the Doctor's companions, this is a character who evolved from an idealistic ingenue to a formidable force in her own right. While she may not be a Timelord, Sarah Jane is no less formidable. Armed with a sonic lipstick, a keen scientific mind, an inquisitive journalistic hunger for the truth that could give Lois Lane a run for her money, and extensive training and affiliation with UNIT, Sarah Jane has proven time and time again that she's more than capable of saving the world (or even the universe) on her own.

And what's more. She rarely has to utilize violence to achieve her goals. In fact, she tries to find a peaceful resolution to interstellar conflicts at all costs.

Smith set the standard for companions to come and she paved the way for the human doctor that is Dr. Martha Jones.

While I knew I was going to enjoy the Sarah Jane Adventures when I first saw the pilot, I had no idea the profound impact it would have on me.

While the series is a hit, personally I don't think it gets the credit it deserves, especially in comparison to sister series Torchwood and the mothership of the Who franchise, Doctor Who. In terms of tone, the dark and grim Torchwood lies on one end, Doctor Who in the middle, and the light but keen Sarah Jane Adventures on the far end.

Said credit can be attributed to executive producer Russell T. Davies, who got his start with children's programming. Davies knows and loves this medium. While Sarah Jane Adventures may be a kid's show, by no means is it child's play. It tackles heavy issues such as absentee parents, racism, divorce and does so without talking down to children. It's also one of the most progressive television shows on the air. The lead character is a fleshed-out extraordinary heroine with a diverse cast where the POCs actually outnumber the white cast members 4-2. And the POCs have prominent leading roles and did I mention the show was a hit!

More than that, Smith's adopted son, Luke, was a gay teen which for children's programming is still groundbreaking in many respects.

But I would be remiss if I didn't give props to the woman behind the icon, the beautiful and talented Elisabeth Sladen. A world class actress, I'm always amazed at how she carried the role with feminine grace. More than that, with all of the decades that have passed, despite the roles the character has become: reporter, member of UNIT, adventurer, adoptive mother (to boy genius and my future husband Luke Smith), Sladen effectively showcased Sarah Jane as this wide-eyed ingenue and I believe that's what makes her very relatable to children.

One of the most profound quotes I ever heard actually came from the pilot episode, Invasion of the Bane.

Sarah Jane: I used to think when I was your age, "I'll know what I want. I'd be sorted." But you never really know what you want, you never feel grown up, not really, or sort it all out. So I thought, I can handle life on my own. But after today [re: teaming up with Luke and Maria Jackson to stop the Bane Invasion], I don't want to."

While Sladen is no longer with us, her legacy will live on. As for Sarah Jane Smith, needless to say that the adventure continues.

But we already knew that.

on April 20, 2015