A bit of housekeeping before I begin: I had no idea that it would take me as long as I did to write this particular meme entry. I had a lot to do over the weekend, and I wanted to take the time to craft a proper entry. Now I face the problem of being several days behind on meme-age. I may endeavor to catch up; then again, I reserve the right to do more than an off-the-cuff entry on other prompts where I feel such treatment is necessary. In other words, this thing might go more than a calendar month. Sorry!
Right. Off we go, finally, on to Meme #5, about my favorite companion. She’s one of the Doctor’s first “liberated” companions, with a knack for ankle-twisting and being hypnotized. She overcame both to lead her own Scooby Gang in fighting alien menaces on Earth. Yep, you guessed it, I’m talking about….
Sarah Jane Smith
My obsession with Sarah Jane Smith began with my first exposure to the series.Oh, sure, the mad man with the box was a good enough attraction, but Sarah sealed the deal. Up until seeing Doctor Who, I hadn’t ever seen a female in a SF/Fantasy series who was like me. Military types abounded, even though Lt. Uhura and Nurse Chapel and Yeoman Rand didn’t do more than make mooney eyes over a male lead and say “yes, sir,” “Hailing Frequencies are open,” and “Yes, Doctor.” The chickie babes on dreck like Battlestar Galatica, Buck Rodgers, and Quark didn’t count, because obviously they were all vapid sluts and couldn’t figure out an algebraic equation if their lives depended on it. (Not that I could, either, but at least I didn’t display my physical charms as a distraction from my lack of mathematical excellence!) The only female SF television character I had any respect for was Dr. Helena Russell, despite the silliness that infused season 2 of Space:1999. Dr. Russell, though, was a DOCTOR and that involved SCIENCE which I wasn’t allowed to TAKE in high school because of my INABILITY TO COMPREHEND HIGHER MATH. Plus, she was old, at least my mom’s age (35), and had the hots for Commander Koenig, who, although cute, was ANCIENT. Well, okay, not as ancient as the Barry Morse character in season 1, but you get my drift.)
(Kroll, now I have to go look up the character name, ’cause I’m annoyed I don’t remember. A quick Google search reveals it to be Victor Bergman. And that he was not in Season 2 because he wouldn’t take a pay cut. Like anyone but me cares.)
But then… along came Sarah! A young woman (not very much older than me), who looked kind of like me (face shape, hairstyle, eye color) and had an awesome wardrobe– what wasn’t there to emulate? And… a journalist! I was editor of my high school newspaper, so I was a journalist, too! Hello, complete and total glomping onto her! I wanted to be as brave as she, as plucky as she, as totally adored by someone amazing as she.
Needless to say, it was quite a surprise to see Sarah leave in “Hand of Fear.” But, it was okay, because I had a lot of novelisations with her in them to read, and it was only a couple months until WTTW cycled back to “Robot.” I especially liked seeing the episodes I had seen the first time again– since I knew what was going to happen, I could pay more attention to the subtleties. Sarah has a way about her– you know what she’s feeling even before she realizes herself! Elisabeth Sladen gave a nuanced, delightful performance every time (no matter how suspect some of the stories were). I wanted more, more, more! So I wrote a lot of fan fiction involving Sarah, and made (as my first Doctor Who costume recreation) the Andy Pandy overalls.
Being young and fickle, though, once I saw newer companions, my loyalty wavered. I had small interludes with Romana I (being snobby and overly proud of her school record– much like I had turned once I hit college) and Nyssa (brilliant, regal, and, most importantly, was the Fifth Doctor’s favorite companion) before being seduced for the next several decades by the Perpugilliam side of the Force. Yet, no matter how I obsessed about (and costumed for) other companions, I still held Sarah in high regard. She was like my first kiss in a way– unexpected, sweet, a reminder of simpler times. I always meant to do more of her outfits, but never got around to it. And then hiatus hut hit, and my interest began to wane….
Flash forward to the announcement that Sarah would be returning in “School Reunion.” Oh, I was so thrilled! I so wanted to see how a classic companion fared in a new series environment, and to have Sarah be the one… well! The episode did not disappoint, either. Sarah was Sarah, no matter how many years had passed, and I was so happy that the Doctor could finally express all the love and affection he felt for her!
A bit of the “in-between” story rubbed me the wrong way, though– the whole not-doing-anything-with-herself-because-she-was-waiting-for-him-to-return thing didn’t sit right. Why would she even bother investigating the school if she was trying to desperately not be involved with the whole extraterrestrial thing? I considered it, finally, in light of issues I’ve been grappling with the past several years… and realized how wonderful to have Sarah go through the same thing!
Okay, now you’re going “Whatchew talkin’ ’bout, Willis (Tower)?” And I don’t blame you! Let me hip you to My Interpretation of Sarah’s Midlife Crisis.
(Note that I am not a p-sychiatrist, nor do I play one on teevee. I speak in part from my own experiences, and in part from popping Self-Help books like candy. Also, I don’t consider novels or audios or “Dimensions in Time” canon. Although, I certainly don’t object to the Nyssa & Peri team-up in the latter. But I digress.)
First off, things would have gone much more smoothly in Sarah’s head if the Doctor hadn’t left a K-9 for her. From being dropped off in Aberdeen until that fateful Christmas, Sarah probably didn’t think too much of not ever hearing from the Doctor. She had a life to get back to, after all. She returned to reporting with a vengeance, globe trotting to get all sorts of interesting stories. Keeping busy in order not to dwell on her loss? Only to a small extent, I would think. She was much more happy being in control of her own life again! Able to have a bath when she wanted it, clean clothes when needed, and, best of all, not being hypnotized left, right, and center. She had great confidence, and was enjoying what she did thoroughly.
Then, that one Christmas very early in the 1980’s, she finally opened the present the Doctor had left for her: K-9. Oh, she was thrilled, at first. Surely if he remembered her enough to give her such a fantastic gift, he would eventually come around to perform maintenance on the tin dog…. But, no. Months became years became decades. Although Sarah kept on with her reporting– and most likely began her collection of alien oddities, especially with the Brigadier retired from U.N.I.T. and her dislike for military (or quasi-military, in the case of Torchwood) operations– she began to lose hope that she would actually see the Doctor again.
Sarah had to have woken up one day, realized how old she had become, and freaked. Uncovering conspiracies had become too easy; it wasn’t work, and it was something she had always done, so it wasn’t exactly exciting or special any longer. While she had a long legacy of doing good behind her, it didn’t seem enough, not compared to the excitement of seeing all of time and space, and not compared to her youthful journalistic triumphs. Other, younger writers received the accolades now. Although comfortable in her huge house on Bannerman Road in Ealing, with income both from her writing and from her aunt’s estate, she felt so lonely and useless sometimes.
She could have been more open to meeting her neighbors, but, as a rule, she found neighbors to be too nosy and clinging. She would have loved to be married to Harry, but he had the gall to pass on before they reached the point where they had known each other so long, they might as well get married. K-9 broke down. Aunt Lavina died; Brandon disappeared out of her life. Participating on forums didn’t bring the same level of intimacy face-to-face friendships did, especially when she took pains not to mention anything personal in her posts.
The whole incident with the spaceship and the A+ blood type at Christmas 2005 had to annoy Sarah. She knew the Doctor had to be involved somehow, and, although she was happy to know he still existed, she was also angry that he couldn’t bother having a look-in on her afters. Still, her conflicting emotions wasn’t going to keep her from doing what she did best. When she found out about the curious goings-on at Deffry Vale High School, she loaded K-9 in the back of her VW and toodled out to the school, assignment in hand.
The fact that she brought K-9 along is telling; she at least subconsciously suspected she might run into the Doctor again. And when she did… hooboy! All the anger, hurt, and perhaps shame (’cause there’s nothing worse than running into an old friend from your youth and have to report you’ve not done much since you last saw him) came out, a boil quickly lanced to quickly heal. And, really, by the end of the episode, Sarah recovered enough to realize that, no, she didn’t actually want to travel with the Doctor again, and yes, life on Earth can be an adventure, too.
Armed with an upgraded K-9, she actively sought the life she currently leads: defending both the Earth and its people from baddies both home-grown and foreign. Granted, it was hard going at first, because she was still reluctant to open up to people. Much easier to have her neighbors etc. think she’s a madwoman than to have to explain– even briefly– what she’s up to. Fortunately, some 18 months into this new old life, Maria Jackson comes along– and Sarah finds new friends and new responsibilities.
And together, they fight intergalactic crime.
(See, I told you I need to work on my endings!)
The upshot is, I am profoundly grateful that Sarah is back, and that she’s in charge, and that she’s kicking alien butt with a gang of teenagers, and she’s genuinely awesome despite being a Certain Age. Sarah is as magnificent now as she was when I first discovered her. Although she had lost her way for awhile, she found her proper path and hopped right back on it. It gives me hope that, I, too, can find my way again and be as magnificent now as I felt back then, on the brink of high school graduation.