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Reviewed by Ross Ruediger
ere’s a show that’s immensely frustrating to review. No matter how tied it is to the current series of “Doctor Who,” there’s no getting around the fact that its target audience is pre-teen and younger, and that’s a demographic of which I’m simply not a part. Nor do I have a kid that age in the house to gauge a reaction through. I’m pretty sure that if the show had existed when I was 10, I’d have thought it was incredible. But I am, as they say, pushing 40, and so to appreciate it I’ve got to be awfully forgiving, or maybe understanding is a better word. This isn’t like a Pixar movie (or even “Doctor Who,” for that matter), where the material is operating on several levels. Nope, this thing is made for kids.
If you’re unfamiliar with the show, it details the exploits of the Doctor’s old companion Sarah Jane Smith (Elisabeth Sladen), her adopted, genetically-engineered-by-an-alien race son, Luke (Tommy Knight), and two other teenagers – Clyde (Daniel Anthony) and Rani (Anjli Mohindra) – who come along for the adventures, which typically involve some kind of alien invading Sarah Jane’s suburban neighborhood. By this point in her life, Sarah’s got all kinds of cool gadgets, including sonic lipstick, a super-computer called Mr. Smith, and occasionally the robot dog K-9. When it comes to fighting aliens, she knows far more than the average human, so she’s pretty well equipped to deal.
I’d seen numerous stories from the previous two seasons of the show, but this is the first full season I’ve watched from beginning to end. Near as I can tell, the show actually has gotten better as it’s gone along, due partly to the fact that the teens who make up a big part of the dynamic are getting older and more interesting each season. Previously, I’d thought it a snoozefest, but now it’s “tolerable” to “not bad at all.” There are six hour-long stories here, each divided into two parts, with a nice little cliffhanger smack in the middle. They run the gamut of action with humor, to whacked-out sci-fi meditations, to a haunted house story. In one episode, the Mona Lisa comes to life and brandishes a weapon she stole from another painting. What seemed to be the hallmark of most of the stories is that they had really and truly engaging setups while the payoffs frequently left something to be desired, but again, I’m not a kid, so that has to be taken into account.
There’s a noteworthy story on this set called “The Wedding of Sarah Jane Smith.” It’s of note because the Doctor as played by David Tennant shows up to help out. The stuff he recorded here was actually the last stuff he recorded as the Doctor, even though the tale probably takes place between “Planet of the Dead” and “The Waters of Mars.” Is it worth buying for one story alone? Probably not, unless you’re a Tennant fanatic, in which case you’ll be buying this no matter what. Now, that isn’t to say the set isn’t worth picking up – just that if his appearance is the only reason you’re interested, the other five stories may not be of much interest to you.
In theory, I should love this show no matter what, because Sarah Jane Smith is and will probably always be my favorite “Doctor Who” companion. But part of the reason the show turned me off initially is because Sarah Jane as written here is not the girl I grew up watching. She’s far more serious and tends not to have as much fun (instead, Luke, Clyde and Rani have all the fun). It’s taken me a good long while to realize that, from a writing standpoint, a character in her early 60s (Lis, by the way, does not look 60+) cannot possibly be the same woman she was in her 20s. Sarah Jane’s been through a lot in her life, and endured numerous disappointments along the way. How she’s written and played on this show is totally realistic for her character, and it’s high time I just deal with it. And so I am.
If by some chance you’ve stumbled across this review and know nothing of what I’m talking about, I’ll simply close with this: If you’ve got a pre-teen in the house, and you’re looking for some good entertainment for them, you could do far worse than “The Sarah Jane Adventures.” It’s a sweet, fun little show, with some neat ideas and its heart very much in the right place. It isn’t stupid and doesn’t talk down to kids, and deals with some important themes they’ll relate to and understand. Neither you nor your children are likely to find anything even remotely like it on American TV.
Special Features: This is just nearly a barebones affair, as the lone extra on here is a clip of a “Sarah Jane” audiobook called “The White Wolf,” which is read by Sladen. Just a clip, mind you, designed to get you to go download or purchase the book itself. I’d complain, but once again, kids are probably not that interested in commentary tracks or production featurettes, and kids are who this set is primarily geared towards.