Apologizing in advance for the rough shape of this blog entry. It’s been awhile and I’m still very upset so my thoughts won’t be as organized as they usually are, nor the presentation as polished. But the emotions are real and from the heart. However clumsily they’re expressed.
Just the other day when I was giving out URL to my sadly neglected blog, here, yes, this one. This one you’re looking at right now. The one I haven’t been to, or done anything with it since last Christmas, as evidenced by the last post. Bad me.
Anyway, as I was starting to say in the previous paragraph that didn’t really go anywhere I was contemplating this neglected blog, thinking that maybe, possibly, perhaps I should get back on it and you know, like… blog. Yeah, I considered it. Briefly. But then walked away for essentially the same reason I haven’t been posting anything in it for the past three and half months. Give or take.
Because I couldn’t think of anything I want to talk about.
Well, that has changed. I wish I could say it was for a happier reason then the tragic event I became aware of today moving me so deeply I do want to talk about it.
I’m referring, of course to the untimely death of the talented and vivacious Elisabeth Sladen who brought us the incomperable Sarah Jane Smith. For those of you who have possibly been residing under a rock for the last 40 years the iconic character of Sarah Jane was arguably (she certainly was in my book) the most beloved and popular Doctor Who companion in the entire run of the series. She certainly was the only one to warrant her own spin off series on more than one occasion; the last one ongoing and according to the website I just read green-lit for a fifth season that I guess now won’t be happening.
I am not ashamed to admit I’ve been crying buckets ever since I heard of Ms Sladen’s passing at the entirely too young age of 63. If I were consigning these words to paper via pen and ink the page beneath me would be one huge moist and messy blur.
It’s hard to explain why the death of a woman I never knew except as an image on my TV screen should affect me so profoundly. It’s even more startling to experience it, moving me to take time to reflect upon the event with intent to explore it. But after having done the latter I’m going to have a go at the former. We’ll see where we end up.
I’m not ashamed to admit I’m old enough to have watched the first run of the Doctor from the very beginning. And did. When it comes to the Doctor it took the advent of David Tennant for there to finally be a serious contender to rival Tom Baker for the top doctor spot in my heart. However when we’re talking companions? No contest. In my heart Sarah Jane Smith stands head and shoulders above all the others who’ve traveled in the TARDIS no matter which Doctor was standing at the time and space controls. For me she always was, and will be the only companion. Accept no substitutes.
I was in my mid-20s when PBS first brought the plucky Sarah Jane to my TV screen. Almost immediately, she had my full attention and admiration. Like I said, I’ve been watching the Doctor from the beginning and up until she blazed across the screen and my consciousness I hadn’t a very high opinion of the long line of stereotypical females who’d been tagging along behind our favourite Time Lord pulling on his coat tails functioning mostly as expositional aids and predictable plot devices.
The ditzy female always blundering into trouble and needing to be rescued. Sigh.
And then came Sarah. Although initially, both the third Doctor and the fourth treated her with the same sort of paternal indulgence bordering on condescension as was their custom with all her predecessors, she didn’t let their head patting and side-lining stop her irrepressible spirit and courage from shining through.
Sarah was different. And we soon saw exactly how.
During the brief bout of cable hiatus that occurred during my recent move I dug out some of my Doctor Who tapes from the Tom Baker era. It had been a long time since I had seen some of these episodes, therefore I was delighted to take a trip down memory lane and become pleasantly reacquainted with a young Sarah Jane Smith. Watching them from my present day perspective as a woman in her 50s with some distance between the me I was then and now what I found most striking and surprising – how ‘contemporary’ she was. That is to say, Sarah, as she was presented to us in the mid-70s would not seem anachronistic or dated if she were plucked out of that era and dropped into our modern midst.
That’s not something you can say about a lot of female characters from the 70s no matter what the genre.
If the Sarah of that era stepped out of the fourth Doctor’s TARDIS in 2011 she could more than give Miss Pond a run for her money. Or work just fine with the newest Doctor. Like her modern version reunited with the Doctor in 2005 70s young Sarah could more than hold her own in our world. And run rings around the contemporary companions.
I actually think she’d do them better. If you don’t believe me, go back and watch some of those classic episodes. More oft than not the Doctor would dismiss her, tell her to stay put and HE would the one to blunder off and get into trouble. I’m not making this up, watch them and see. Invariably SARAH would defy his condescending restrictions and go after him—on her own—and save his bacon. Often times at considerable risk to herself. Ark in Space, Android Invasion, Planet of Mars, Masque of Mandragora, Seeds of Doom, to name but a few of my favourites where her timely intervention was the only thing that saved him. I’m not saying he didn’t save her as well, but watching those old episodes the thing that struck me, over and over, was how often she was entirely on her own—often because the Doctor walked away and left her—and her function in the story was to not simply be placed passively in peril, needing to be rescued. Far from it. She was every bit as heroic, resourceful and determined as the Doctor. She saved him as much as he saved her. Maybe more.
Brain of Morbius. Completely blind. She learns the Doctor is walking into a trap so she escapes and sets out sightless across a dangerous, completely unfamiliar alien landscape to warn him. Outstanding.
That might not seem so extraordinary now, but given the time when it was made, Sarah was an amazingly strong character. Rare in that era especially in Sci Fi. While one could argue the contemporary companions have had their own solo, kick ass moments, somehow in a genre since replete with plenty of feisty female predecessors they’re not as ‘break-out’ as she was. And still is. As well as being one classy, classy woman. Woman. Not girl. Never girl.
And then there was the rapport between her and the Doctor. Subtle yet intensely intimate, evolving between them organically without being ‘interpreted’, classified or categorized. We could see it; we didn’t need to be ‘told’ what it was. Or have it shoved down our throats. There was real love there. Trust and affection. But most importantly… Respect. We didn’t need any declarations; in fact, the bond was all the more binding and real without them. Nor were we subjected to witnessing the female side of the equation diminished by stating repeated desires for a certain type of interaction that was never going to happen, then wasting energy and throwing away her dignity pining and whining when it was clear it was not forthcoming, or acting like a possessive neurotic female always yapping about needing constant validation about how ‘special’ she was.
Sarah Jane and the Doctor had real chemistry, respect for one another and a rapport of equals that has never been approached by any other companion. Or even rivalled.
And never will be.
That’s my opinion and I’m sticking to it.
Sarah was and is my hero. That has never changed. In my mind the Doctor never left her, they are still together and will travel the universe forever. (Harry can tag along; I’ve got a soft spot in my heart for him too). She has no peer, no equal and right now I can’t even begin to think of a reality without her. Or the incomparable woman who brought her to life.
Sarah Jane. Elisabeth. Thank you. We love you and will always miss you. Safe journey.