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The Unsilent Library - Whatever Happened to Sarah Jane?


4.    Whatever Happened to Sarah Jane?

Antony Keen


One of the highlights of Series Two of New Doctor Who was the episode “School Reunion”,[1] which saw the return of companion Sarah Jane Smith,[2] played by Elisabeth Sladen. Sarah Jane has long been one of the most popular companions in the show’s history.[3] Part of this is the result of timing; Sarah Jane was a companion in the Pertwee and Baker eras, when the show’s popularity was at its height. Part of it is the length of time Sladen stayed with Who; she first appeared in December 1973, in the first story of Season Eleven,[4] and left at the end of 1976, in the middle of Season Fourteen.[5] As a result, Sarah Jane was the companion for a longer time period than any other non-Doctor series regular apart from Tegan Jovanka, if one excludes the various UNIT personnel.[6] And finally, between them producer Barry Letts and script editor Terrance Dicks came up with an excellent character, an independent woman who, whilst clearly the junior partner in the Doctor’s adventures, was nevertheless a partner. And they then cast an actress who had obvious onscreen chemistry with Jon Pertwee, and later, even more so with Tom Baker.[7]

“School Reunion” was, not surprisingly, a highly enjoyable episode, particularly for the nostalgic.[8] It led to Sarah Jane’s return on a more regular basis, as eponymous heroine of The Sarah Jane Adventures, a series of which the worst criticism I can make is that it should have been done twenty-five years earlier.[9] But I would like to interrogate the view that this story presents both of Sarah Jane, and of the role of the companion in the show’s history. I am going to assume that this view originates from Russell T. Davies. Though the episode is credited to Toby Whithouse, he will have had certain parameters set by the production team. It was certainly, for instance, Davies’ idea to bring Sladen back.[10] It is also known that Davies does significant rewrite work on most scripts he receives.[11]

The view of the companion is shown in the following dialogue:

ROSE: I thought you and me were… but I obviously got it wrong. I’ve been to the year five billion, right, but this… now this is really seeing the future. You just leave us behind. Is that what you’re going to do to me?

THE DOCTOR: No. Not to you.

ROSE: But Sarah Jane… you were that close to her once, and now… you never even mention her. Why not?

THE DOCTOR: I don’t age. I regenerate. But humans decay. You wither and you die. Imagine watching that happen to someone who you –

ROSE: What, Doctor?

THE DOCTOR: You can spend the rest of your life with me. But I can’t spend the rest of mine with you. I have to live on. Alone. That’s the curse of the Time Lords.

This presents the Doctor as taking up female companions, and then discarding them as they grow too old. In the words of one commentator, he appears “that weakest and most pitiful of men, the serial Lothario, the academic who shags his students, the man who puffs up his own self esteem by preying on the adoration of women too young or stupid to know better”.[12] This has been accepted, if not in quite such negative terms, in some recent scholarly publications as representing the essence of the Doctor’s relationship with the companion.[13] However, I would argue that it is in fact a distortion of that relationship, as it has been portrayed in the Classic series. To do so, I will have to range over the show’s entire forty-seven year history, and not confine myself just to the period overseen by Russell T. Davies.

The TARDIS crew

Underlying the interpretation taken from “School Reunion” is the notion that the ‘typical‘ TARDIS crew is made up of the Doctor plus one young female. However, this has not always been the case throughout the show’s history. Many of the Doctor’s companions have been male, and for a number of years, the TARDIS crew numbered three or four. The William Hartnell and Patrick Troughton years (1963-1969) in particular typified this approach. “An Unearthly Child”[14] established a crew of four: the Doctor, Susan Foreman, Ian Chesterton and Barbara Wright.[15] When Ian and Barbara left in the last episode of The Chase,[16] they were replaced by Steven Taylor, with Susan already having been replaced by Vicki. The pattern of one male and one female companion was maintained until the end of Season Six, apart from a period in Season Four (1966-1967) where the crew had two males apart from the Doctor, Ben Jackson and Jamie McCrimmon, and one female, Polly. When a companion departed, they were usually replaced either in the same story, or in the next one. As a result, there were very few periods in the first six seasons where the Doctor was travelling with only one companion. The longest of these was from the death of Sara Kingdom in the last episode of The Daleks’ Master Plan[17] to the entrance of Dodo Chaplet at the end of The Massacre,[18] four episodes later. During that interval the single companion was male, Steven Taylor.[19] The sole period in which the Doctor was travelling with a female companion only was from the TARDIS’s departure from an unnamed planet at the end of The Savages,[20] leaving Steven behind, to its arrival on Earth in the next episode, Episode One of The War Machines.[21] Here the Doctor’s only companion was Dodo, but she left in the course of The War Machines, and Ben and Polly joined the TARDIS crew in her place.[22]

With hindsight, the turning point might appear to have come, as with so much else (the move to colour, the reduction in the length of seasons, the move to a more adult-orientated approach), with Spearhead from Space,[23] in which the Doctor was partnered with Liz Shaw. This may not, however, have been how it was seen at the time. Publicity photographs taken along the River Thames to promote Season Seven (1970) included not only the Third Doctor and Liz, but also Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart. The Brigadier also appeared in publicity photographs for the following Eighth Season (1971), along with the Doctor, and Liz’s replacement, Jo Grant.[24] Though it would have been obvious to anyone who had seen The Invasion[25] that the power relations between the Doctor and the Brigadier would be completely different to those between the Doctor and Jamie, nevertheless he could appear as, in some way, Jamie’s replacement, and so the show was still not focussed upon a single relationship between the Doctor and a young woman. The real change actually comes at the beginning of Colony in Space,[26] where Jo gets to go with the Doctor to Uxarieus, and the Brigadier doesn’t. From there it is a swift transition to the situation seen in Seasons Nine to Thirteen (1972-1976), where the Brigadier, and the other UNIT personnel, Captain Yates and Sergeant Benton, were reduced to recurring supporting characters, much like the families of Rose Tyler, Martha Jones and Donna Noble in New Who.

The changes in the TARDIS crew reflect, at heart, the changing requirements of the series. The role of companion has had several functions over the years. With a male in the role of the Doctor, a female companion was necessary to widen the programme’s demographic. The companion also can help drive the plot forward, often by getting into a position of danger. The most important role of the companion, at least for the purposes of helping explain the development of the TARDIS crew, is that the companion is someone for the Doctor to talk to in order to explain the plot. However, Hartnell’s Doctor was originally conceived as rather aloof and mysterious,[27] and so two companions were needed, so that they could explain the plot to each other. The initial characterization of Susan, as equally enigmatic, meant that she was not suitable to be one of those companions, and so two additional people were added to the TARDIS crew, Ian and Barbara. When Susan departed she was replaced with another young (and female) character, Vicki, in order to maintain the appeal to the teen demographic that Susan was perceived as bringing. So the TARDIS crew remained at four (another factor was presumably to maintain what appeared to be a winning formula). On the departure of William Russell and Jacqueline Hill, however, the production team evidently decided it was not necessary to replace them with more than a single figure, especially as Vicki was far less mysterious than Susan.

Moreover, the Doctor himself was becoming less remote, and it was therefore more plausible for him to explain the plot directly to the companions. Nevertheless, a male companion remained necessary, since Hartnell was sufficiently old and infirm that physical action sequences were beyond him (and these were presumably deemed inappropriate for the female companion role); a female companion remained necessary to maintain the show’s family demographic. Troughton similarly was not a particularly physical Doctor, so these conditions remained in place, and the pattern of one male and one female companion remained in place until the end of The War Games,[28] except for brief transitional periods, and Season Four from The Highlanders to The Faceless Ones.[29] This latter exception probably came about because of the production team, though considering Jamie as an addition to the TARDIS crew, were uncertain whether he could be kept on, and so did not discard either Ben or Polly. When Fraser Hines was successful in the role, the TARDIS crew was therefore increased.[30] But once Michael Craze and Anneke Wills left the show, in The Faceless Ones, only one companion, Victoria Waterfield, was brought in to replace Ben and Polly, in Evil of the Daleks.

The casting of Jon Pertwee changed this dynamic. Pertwee’s Doctor was much more energetic, and removed the need for a separate male companion (in any case, for much of his run, the various UNIT regulars fulfilled this role). Hence, when the Doctor’s ability to travel in time and space was restored and he was removed from the environment of UNIT, only Jo Grant went with him.

But it should not be inferred from this that the pattern of a two-person TARDIS crew was fixed from Colony in Space onwards. Certainly it held true for the non-UNIT stories of the rest of the Pertwee era, but the first Tom Baker season, Season Twelve (1974-1975), added Harry Sullivan. Ian Marter was brought in to play Sullivan before the casting of Baker, in case the new Doctor was not able to handle physical action.[31] Once it was clear that this would not be an issue, Sullivan was dropped back to the semi-regular status of the other UNIT characters. But Season Fifteen (1977-1978) then saw the addition of the robot dog K9, who remained in the crew from The Invisible Enemy to Warriors’ Gate.[32] It is, however, easy to see K9 as a subsidiary character to the female companions, Leela and Romana, as will be seen later.

When John Nathan-Turner took over as producer with Season Eighteen (1980-1981), he built up the TARDIS crew again, and maintained a larger crew through the Peter Davison era (1982-1984). Though Romana and K9 departed (in Warriors’ Gate), Adric was added before they left (in Full Circle),[33] and subsequently Nyssa and Tegan in Logopolis.[34] Adric was replaced by Turlough, and Nyssa, after a fashion, by Kamelion.[35] Included in here are two more brief periods when the crew of the TARDIS was all male, from the end of Warriors’ Gate until Logopolis, when it was the Doctor and Adric, and the end of Resurrection of the Daleks to Planet of Fire, when it was the Doctor, Turlough and Kamelion (who, though strictly speaking genderless, was characterized as male rather than female).[36]

Nathan-Turner’s principal reason for increasing the TARDIS crew was probably nostalgia for the larger crews of the 1960s, when he had first watched the show.[37] But he seems to have changed his mind, and by the last Davison season, was running down the crew, so that the departures of Tegan, Turlough and Kamelion were matched by one single arrival, that of Peri Brown. Thus the Doctor-plus-girl formula reasserted itself, and was continued with Mel Bush and Ace.

One can therefore see how Doctor-plus-girl can be perceived as a dominant paradigm for the show, having (with hindsight) been established in Season Seven, and then being the formula (with variations) for all but three of the next nineteen.[38] It is not surprising that Davies, a confirmed Pertwee fan,[39] chooses to adopt that paradigm.

The ‘Tin Dog’ theory

“School Reunion” does not wholly ignore the fact that there were sometimes larger crews in the TARDIS. It is addressed in the following dialogue:

MICKEY SMITH: So, what’s the deal with the tin dog?

SARAH JANE: The Doctor likes travelling with an entourage. Sometimes they’re humans, sometimes they’re aliens, and sometimes… they’re tin dogs. What about you? Where do you fit in the picture?

MICKEY: Me? I’m their Man in Havana. I’m the technical support, I’m… Oh, my God. I’m the tin dog.

The idea, then, is that the Doctor has a primary companion, and then other, less important ones. There is some truth in this. It is certainly the case for the additional companions in Davies’ tenure, Adam Mitchell, Jack Harkness, and Mickey Smith himself; even Martha Jones, when she returns to the TARDIS crew for “The Doctor’s Daughter”,[40] is clearly playing second fiddle to Donna.

There are also some companions in the Classic series of whom this could be said. K9, obviously, was a tin dog. Since it was only a prop with John Leeson’s voice, it naturally got less screen time than the flesh-and-blood members of the TARDIS crew.[41] The other TARDIS crew member who was mainly a prop, Kamelion, also could be considered to fit the ‘tin dog’ profile.[42] Harry Sullivan, less knowledgeable about travel in the TARDIS than Sarah Jane Smith, and routinely treated like an idiot,[43] could also be said to fit the pattern. But it is hard to say that any of the male companions of the Hartnell and Troughton years qualify, nor indeed (however much some fans may still hate Adric) those of the Davison years. Indeed, in the Troughton era, if any of the companions could be considered subsidiary, it would be Victoria and Zoe Herriot to Jamie – and even that is a hard case to make.

On leaving the TARDIS

Showing that the Doctor did not necessarily favour female companions to the exclusion of male companions, or treat any companions as less important than others, does not invalidate the idea that he picks them up and then discards them as they age. It merely suggests that his motives for doing so are not necessarily sexual. It may simply be that he likes to be surrounded by young acolytes.

However, a couple of other minor points from the dialogue quoted at the beginning of this chapter can be questioned with reference to the Classic period of the show. Firstly, the Doctor was not always accompanied by beings that aged much faster than he did. Thought the question of whether or not Susan could regenerate has never been settled, because she left the show before that concept was introduced, it would be fair to assume that she could be as long-lived as the Doctor said he was. And Romana was a full Time Lady, with just as much longevity as the Doctor. But one can understand that such exceptions might not come up in the conversation with Rose. Perhaps more significant is the evidence that he does sometimes talk about his previous companions. The Doctor’s mention of Victoria to Sarah Jane in Pyramids of Mars[44] is admittedly prompted by Sarah’s discovery of one of Victoria’s old dresses. But in Timelash Peri recognises Jo Grant, so the Doctor must have shown her a picture and told her who Jo was.[45]

The issue that really needs interrogating is that the Doctor discards his past companions. To do this properly, we need to look at the ways in which his companions left the TARDIS, up to “School Reunion”. For the purposes of this discussion, a companion is generally considered to be someone who travelled in the TARDIS for more than one story. In general, those who only travelled with the Doctor for a single story are omitted, even where they functioned in the dramatic role that would otherwise have been taken by a companion (so, for instance, I do not include Samantha Briggs in The Faceless Ones);[46] though I do admit some exceptions (mentioned below).[47] The companions are listed in the order that they departed the regular TARDIS crew, and any subsequent return to the show is not discussed.

Susan Foreman (Carole Ann Ford): Susan was locked out of the TARDIS by the Doctor on twenty-second century Earth. But this was because the Doctor knew that she had fallen in love with David Campbell, and would be happier remaining on Earth than continuing to travel with him.[48]

Ian Chesterton (William Russell) and Barbara Wright (Jacqueline Hill): Unwilling travellers in the first place, they took the first opportunity they got to travel back to their own time, via a Dalek time machine (The Chase). In the Hartnell and Troughton days, the Doctor had almost no control over where the TARDIS would go next, so many people who accidentally stumbled into the TARDIS remained with the Doctor in the hope that he might be able to return them from when and where they came.

Vicki (Maureen O’Brien): Fell in love with Troilus and stayed with him in the Greek Bronze Age.[49]

Katarina (Adrienne Hill): Sacrificed herself to save the Doctor and Steven.[50]

Sara Kingdom (Jean Marsh): Killed by exposure to the Daleks’ Time Destructor.[51]

Steven Taylor (Peter Purves): Remained on the planet of the Savages and Elders to be their leader.[52]

Dodo Chaplet (Jackie Lane): Something of an accidental traveller, having entered the TARDIS thinking it was a police box, she chose to remain on Earth the first time the Doctor returned to her own time; the TARDIS was still difficult to control, so there was no telling when, or even if, he would ever return there again.[53]

Ben Jackson (Michael Craze) & Polly (Anneke Wills): Like Dodo, they did not quite know what they were getting into when they boarded the TARDIS, and left the first time it returned to their own time.[54]

Victoria Waterfield (Deborah Watling): Stayed on Earth with the Harrises at the end of Fury from the Deep, because she wanted a quieter life than that offered by the Doctor.[55]

Jamie McCrimmon (Frazer Hines) and Zoe Herriot (Wendy Padbury): Sent back to their own time by the Time Lords with no memory of having travelled with the Doctor.[56]

We now come to the case of the personnel of UNIT: Liz Shaw (Caroline John), Brigadier Alastair Lethbridge-Stewart (Nicholas Courtney), Captain Mike Yates and Sergeant John Benton (John Levene). Again, these are often counted as companions,[57] and Liz is never left out of the lists. But Liz and Mike Yates never travelled in the TARDIS (on-screen), and the Brigadier and Sergeant Benton only did once, in The Three Doctors.[58] Liz Shaw did take an active decision to leave UNIT and returned to her research work at Cambridge.[59] Mike Yates was discharged from the army after his involvement with Sir Charles Grover.[60] The Brigadier and Sergeant Benton in a sense were left behind by the Doctor, as when he resumed his travels in time and space, he did not take them with him. But he had not taken them out of their ordinary lives in the way that he had with his previous companions. It was their work lives that brought them into contact with the Doctor, and they carried on with those work lives, at least for a while, after he had moved on. They are therefore not really relevant to this argument.

Jo Grant (Katy Manning): Jo is relevant, as she travelled in the TARDIS. She decided to get married to a Welsh Professor.[61]

Harry Sullivan (Ian Marter): Harry only wanted one short trip, and left as soon as he was back in his own time and space.[62]

Sarah Jane Smith: Sarah was left in Aberdeen[63] by the Doctor when he was summoned back to Gallifrey. She had just had a row with the Doctor and demanded to be taken home, but she did not really mean it.[64]

Leela (Louise Jameson): Fell in love with the Commander of the Chancellery Guard, and stayed on Gallifrey to be with him. K9 Mark I stayed on Gallifrey to look after Leela.[65]

Romana (Mary Tamm and Lalla Ward): Stayed in E-Space to help the Tharills, and right other wrongs that needed righting. Her decision to stay was partly driven by knowledge that if she returned to N-Space she would have been summoned back to Gallifrey, and she did not want to go back. K9 Mark II remained with Romana; his circuits were damaged and would no longer function in N-Space.[66]

Adric (Matthew Waterhouse): Killed trying to stop a Cyberman bomb.[67]

Nyssa (Sarah Sutton): Remained on Terminus to help run it as a hospital.[68]

Tegan Jovanka (Janet Fielding): Left when she was no longer able cope with all the deaths that occurred around the Doctor.[69] However, it is worth noting that, eighteen months before she finally left, the Doctor had abandoned her on Earth[70] – but there is some reason to think that he believed that being returned to Earth was what she wanted, and in any case she met up with him again soon after, and rejoined his crew.[71]

Kamelion: Destroyed by the Doctor at Kamelion’s own bidding, as he had become too unstable.[72]

Turlough (Mark Strickson): Left to lead his people, the Trions.[73]

Peri Brown (Nicola Bryant): According to what was seen on screen, she was killed by Time Lord agents after having her mind taken over. According to the Master (assuming he wasn’t lying), she actually married King Yrcanos. But because the audience never get to see what ‘really’ happened (as opposed to the Valeyard’s tampered-with version), it is unclear if it was her decision to leave the TARDIS crew or not, or whether she was left by the Doctor.[74]

Mel Bush (Bonnie Langford): Stayed on Iceworld with Savalon Glitz, in order to keep him out of trouble.[75]

Ace (Sophie Aldred): The circumstances in which she left the TARDIS are unknown.[76]

Grace Holloway (Daphne Ashbrook) and Chang Lee (Yee Jee Tso): Though these functioned as the companion characters in the 1996 Doctor Who movie, and Grace has official status as a companion, neither had any intention of joining the Doctor on any long term basis, and so he left them in San Francisco at the end of the story.

Adam Mitchell: Dumped back on Earth because he showed himself to be irresponsible and unfitted for travel in time and space (“The Long Game”).[77]

Captain Jack Harkness: Left behind by the Doctor on Satellite Five after being killed and brought back to life (“The Parting of the Ways”).[78]

The two companion departures of New Who in the list above do represent abandonment by the Doctor. But in the case of Adam, that seemed justified, as Adam was attempting to use his travels with the Doctor to enrich himself. And at least at the time of the broadcast of “School Reunion”, one could charitably assume that the Doctor had not been aware that Jack Harkness had been brought back to life by Rose; however, “Utopia”[79] subsequently suggests that the Doctor deliberately chose to avoid returning for Jack.

By contrast, very few of the companions of the Classic series were discarded by the Doctor when they wanted to stay. Indeed, it is worth noting that, especially in the Hartnell and Troughton eras, many companions were at best semi-willing travellers. Those from contemporary Earth had never really intended to travel with the Doctor at all – they stumbled into the TARDIS and were stuck there when the Doctor took off. The others were often being rescued from some situation in which their lives were in danger (e.g. Vicki, Steven, Jamie, Victoria). The first companion to actively seek to travel in the TARDIS was Zoe. From the 1970s onwards, the companion generally deliberately wanted to travel with the Doctor, but even then there remained some inadvertent travellers (e.g. Tegan initially),[80] and rescuees (e.g. Nyssa).

Most companions eventually left of their own volition. The unwilling companions from contemporary Earth stayed with the Doctor in the hope of returning to their own time and place, and departed as soon as possible. Other companions left because they had fallen in love (it could perhaps be argued, once they realized their feelings for the Doctor could not be requited, though presumably this would not apply to Susan). Others went because they found a new role in the universe, helping people in their own right rather than as part of the Doctor’s entourage. Far from the Doctor disposing of his companions, they seem to outgrow him. In a sense, it is slightly insulting to the past companions to suggest that they are dropped at the Doctor’s whim; it deprives them of agency. Also, a Doctor who nurtures young people and then lets them fly when their time has come is more attractive (if paternalistic) than one who discards people when they no longer suit his needs.

Some companions, of course, died. The only ones who were forced to leave were Jamie, Zoe and Sarah Jane, and only in the last case was the Doctor actually responsible.[81] There is also the leaving behind of Tegan in Time-Flight, but the Doctor arguably believed that he was returning the inadvertent traveller back to where she came from, in accordance with her desires.

Looking forward to subsequent departures after “School Reunion”, it is notable that none of these fit into the pattern of abandonment by the Doctor. Mickey stays on alternate world where his long-dead grandmother is still alive (“The Age of Steel”).[82] Martha leaves once it is clear that her feelings towards the Doctor will never be requited (“Last of the Time Lords”).[83] Neither Rose nor Donna want to leave, but nor does the Doctor; both of them leave due to circumstances outside the Doctor’s control (see “Doomsday” and “Journey’s End”).[84]

Why Sarah Jane was left behind

“School Reunion” gives this impression that this is a story that could be told about any companion, but just happens to be told about Sarah Jane Smith. The conclusion one arrives at from a study of the past companions is that this story could only be told of Sarah Jane.

It is certainly the case that the Doctor’s behaviour towards Sarah Jane is strange. He pushes her out of the TARDIS because he cannot take her to Gallifrey – yet he has no problem with taking Leela or Nyssa there.[85] And his ability to operate the TARDIS effectively by this time raises the question of why he does not return for Sarah once his mission in Gallifrey is over. These problems are caused, of course, by Sladen’s desire to be neither killed off nor married off, and not to have here final story be about her leaving.[86] But they are difficult to explain in story terms.

However, a possible suggestion has been advanced to me by Keith Martin:[87]

Given the Doctor’s statements about not wanting to see his companions grow old and die, is it not significant that he normally picks people who will move on? He picks the not-quite-grown (Jo, Nyssa) or sometimes the very-nearly-broken (Ace), people who can learn from him and from what they experience and who will change and then go. In almost all cases, this is what happens. In 2 to 3 years, each companion is able to find their own path in life and leave the TARDIS, thus solving the Doctor’s dilemma for him.

So what happened with Sarah? Why was it her of all people that the Doctor dumped outside the TARDIS and never went back for? That always bothered me in the past and I never thought of an answer until now. It’s because when Sarah grew and changed, she found that the thing she really wanted in life was what she now had. There would never be a man in her life who matched up to the Doctor and there would never be a cause that she felt more strongly about than to travel the universe and defend it from the bad guys and the monsters. Left to herself, she would have stayed forever. And the Doctor couldn’t handle that, so he made the decision without telling her, probably with some weasely excuse that it was for her own good. (Not the only time that the Fourth Doctor failed to understand human beings.)

And now there’s Rose, who shows no signs of wanting anything other than to travel in the TARDIS with the Doctor. And so the immortal’s dilemma comes around to him again.

There are some points in Martin’s statement that I would question; I think, for instance, that he over-estimates the degree to which the Doctor has actually been able to choose his companions over the years. But he does give an explanation of the Doctor’s abandonment of Sarah, one that chimes with what is said in “School Reunion”. The Doctor would leave his companions behind, but most of them have the decency to anticipate him.

What Sarah did next

There remain some oddities about the characterization of Sarah Jane in “School Reunion”. The story told in the episode implies heavily that Sarah has had no contact with the Doctor since he abandoned her in Aberdeen. This ignores both Sarah’s appearance in The Five Doctors, and her earlier receipt of K9 Mark III, complete with message from the Doctor.[88] The former is not hugely problematic; The Five Doctors is so fraught with inconsistencies anyway it is not surprising that production teams might choose to ignore it. The latter is more difficult, because “School Reunion” also sees the return of K9. How did Sarah get K9 without the accompanying message from the Doctor? “School Reunion” is inconsistent in whether or not it accepts the events of K9 and Company.

There is further inconsistency in what the episode invites us to believe Sarah has been doing since the Doctor left her. She says at the end of the episode, “Time I stopped waiting for you and found a life of my own.” This implies that she has done virtually nothing in the last thirty years, a message which is repeated in the first episode of The Sarah Jane Adventures.[89] But that begs the question, if Sarah has been entirely passive since the Doctor left her, what is she doing investigating mysterious goings on at a school? Her words give one impression, but her actions give another. It would have made more sense in the context of the episode and what was known before about Sarah (and provided a richer background for the launch of her own series) to have suggested that what she had been doing was investigating strange phenomena in the hope that sooner or later she would run into the Doctor once again, knowing his ability to turn up where trouble is developing.

That leads to my final comment about the Sarah Jane that we see in “School Reunion” – that she has become a stereotypical spinster figure, defined by the emptiness in her life caused by the lack of a man and children, something she resolves through the adoption of Luke in “Invasion of the Bane”. I watched the show with Sarah Jane in the 1970s, and appreciated the fact that the lead male and female characters were portrayed simply as friends, and nothing more; there was no unresolved sexual tension between them. This was rare enough in a 1970s adventure series,[90] and is if anything less common now.[91] I believe that Sarah Jane Smith, with her independence and competence, was a formative influence in my own inclinations to feminism.[92] So it is a disappointment to see her become someone whose life is considered empty because she was neither a wife not a mother. It seems almost a betrayal of the feminist motives behind Sarah’s creation.

Lilian Edwards has suggested that Davies hits on an emotional truth,[93] and that may well excuse his discarding and cherry-picking of continuity in order to tell that truth. Davies’ Who has certainly been characterized by concerns for what happens to companions after they have left the TARDIS, and for what happens to those whose lives were connected to the companion when the companion departs (see “Aliens of London”).[94] These are issues that Classic Who had generally glossed over.

But what is the emotional truth that Davies wants to convey? That the Doctor inevitably emotionally devastates those women he travels with? Or that the career woman who seems to have it all in her twenties will inevitably find herself wishing for a husband and children by her fifties? There are two dangers here. The first is that ‘emotional truth’ can slip into stereotype and cliché, as has been argued is the case with some of the other women depicted in New Who. The second is that reducing Sarah to this level risks offending the nostalgic, whose picture of Sarah Jane was that she was more than that. This risk is averted by restoring the Sarah Jane Smith that we knew at the end of “School Reunion”, and subsequently bringing her back in The Sarah Jane Adventures.

I do not want to be too negative about “School Reunion”. It is an extremely well-made episode, which among other things made me care about the fate of a character, K9, I had previously considered no more than an irritant. But there remain issues at the heart of the episode that make me uncomfortable. It is therefore interesting that when Donna Noble returns in Series Four, she almost seems to have been modelled on Sarah Jane. She is deliberately looking for trouble spots in the hope of encountering the Doctor (as shown in “Partners in Crime”),[95] as we get the impression from her actions, if not her words, Sarah has been doing. Donna’s relationship with the Doctor is explicitly one of friendship only. She is clear that she wants to stay with the Doctor permanently (“I’m gonna travel with that man forever”, she says in “The Doctor’s Daughter”).[96] She even dresses and has her hair cut a bit like Sarah Jane Smith.

But then, look what happens to her.[97]


[1]               S2E3.

[2]               In New Who the character is consistently called ‘Sarah Jane’. In the Classic show, however, the Doctor and others around her often called her simply ‘Sarah’. “The Wedding of Sarah Jane Smith”, Part Two (The Sarah Jane Adventures, S3E6, 30 October 2009) jokes about this; told by Rani Chandra (Anjli Mohindra) that Sarah Jane doesn’t like being called ‘Sarah’, the Doctor says that she does when he does it. I have not been consistent in this chapter.

[3]               Gary Russell, “Elisabeth Sladen”, Doctor Who Magazine Holiday Special (1992), pp. 10-17, at p. 10.

[4]               The Time Warrior, Part One, 15 December 1973.

[5]               The Hand of Fear, Part Four, 23 October 1976.

[6]               Tegan was companion from 28 February 1981 (Logopolis, Part One) to 15 March 1984 (Resurrection of the Daleks, Part Two), but only appeared in 69 episodes, as opposed to Sarah’s 80; shifting transmission dates and the fact that Tegan arrived at the end of Season Eighteen and left in the middle of Season Twenty-One meant that her less than three seasons equivalent was stretched out over a longer period than Sarah’s three and a third seasons. The status of the UNIT personnel as ‘companions’ will be discussed later. Because the first six seasons broadcast almost all year round, Sladen does not have as many episodes to her name as Frazer Hines (113), in the role of Jamie McCrimmon, another popular companion who was returned to the show some years after his original departure.

[7]               For the background to the creation of Sarah Jane and the casting of Sladen, see David J. Howe, Mark Stammers and Stephen James Walker, Doctor Who: The Seventies (London: Doctor Who Books, 1994), pp. 62-63, and see also David J. Howe and Stephen James Walker, Doctor Who: The Television Companion (London: BBC Books, 1998), p. 254.

[8]               On nostalgia in reference to the return of Sarah Jane, see Ross P. Garner, “That’s Sarah Jane! Intradiegetic Allusions, Embodied Presence and Nostalgia”, in David Mellor and B. Earl (eds.), New Dimensions of Doctor Who: Exploring Space, Time and Television (London: I.B. Tauris, 2010).

[9]               For a far less sympathetic view of The Sarah Jane Adventures, see Abigail Nussbaum, “Progressive Scan: The Sarah Jane Adventures, Season 3”,Vector 263 (Summer 2010), pp. 45-47. Needless to say, I disagree with much of Nussbaum’s article.

[10]            As revealed in an interview for the BBC Breakfast programme, 29 October 2009.

[11]            Russell T. Davies and Benjamin Cook, Doctor Who: The Writer’s Tale (London: BBC Books, 2008), p. 180. See also Matt Hills, The Triumph of a Time Lord: Regenerating Doctor Who in the Twenty-First Century (London: I.B. Tauris, 2010), pp. 26-33, and the discussion by Graham Sleight in this volume.

[12]            Lilian Edwards, The End of Time Sorry Fanzines (Part Two), 2010, p. 16. This aspect of the Doctor’s behaviour has been compared with Stuart Jones in Davies’ earlier series Queer as Folk (1999-2000); see Hills, op. cit., p. 38, citing Neil Lambess, “Errant nonsense”, Time Space Visualiser 73 (2006), pp. 67-69, at pp. 67-68.

[13]            See, e.g., Leslie McMurtry, “I am Vengeance, I am the Night, I am… the Doctor?”, in Anthony S. Burdge, Jessica A. Burke and Kristine Larsen, The Mythological Dimensions of Doctor Who (Crawfordville, FL: Kitsune Books, 2010), pp. 52-64, at p. 56. McMurtry emphasises the tragedy of the Doctor’s condition, rather than the potentially exploitative nature of his actions.

[14]            An Unearthly Child, Episode One, “An Unearthly Child”, 23 November 1963.

[15]            For the actors who played these roles, please see the list of companions later in this chapter.

[16]            The Chase, Episode Six, “The Planet of Decision”, 26 June 1965.

[17]            The Daleks’ Master Plan, Episode Twelve, “The Destruction of Time”, 29 January 1966.

[18]            The Massacre, Episode 4, “Bell of Doom”, 26 February 1966.

[19]            There were two shorter periods in which the Doctor was only accompanied by a male, from the end of The Faceless Ones (Episode Six, 13 May 1967) to the second episode of the next story, The Evil of the Daleks (27 May 1967), and from the end of Fury from the Deep (Episode Six, 20 April 1968) to the beginning of the next story, The Wheel in Space (Episode One, 27 April 1968). In each case the companion was Jamie. Arguably one should discount the first of these, as it did not involve travel in the TARDIS, which was stolen at the end of The Faceless Ones, and not recovered until Episode Seven of the next story.

[20]            The Savages, Episode Four, 28 May 1966.

[21]            The War Machines,Episode One, 25 June 1966.

[22]            The War Machines,Episode Four, 16 July 1966.

[23]            Spearhead from Space, 3 – 24 January 1970.

[24]            And the Master (Roger Delgado).

[25]            The Invasion, 2 November – 21 December 1968.

[26]            Colony in Space, Episode One, 10 April 1971.

[27]            James Chapman, Inside the TARDIS: The Worlds of Doctor Who. A Cultural History (London: I.B. Tauris, 2006), p. 23.

[28]            The War Games, Episode Twelve, 21 June 1969.

[29]            The Highlanders, 17 December 1966 – 7 January 1967; The Faceless Ones, 8 April – 13 May 1967.

[30]            Howe and Walker, op. cit., pp. 112, 114.

[31]            Howe, Stammers and Walker, op. cit., p. 80.

[32]            The Invisible Enemy, 1 – 22 October 1977; Warriors’ Gate, 3 – 24 January 1981.

[33]            Full Circle, 25 October – 15 November 1980.

[34]            Logopolis, 28 February – 21 March 1981. Nyssa first appeared in The Keeper of Traken (31 January – 21 February 1981), but did not depart in the TARDIS at the end of that story.

[35]            Though in neither case immediately. Adric died at the end of Earthshock (Part Four, 16 March 1982), and Turlough did not arrive until Mawdryn Undead (Part One, 1 February 1983), three stories and nearly a year in transmission time later; Nyssa left at the end of Terminus (Part Four, 23 February 1983), and Kamelion joined the crew in The King’s Demons (Part Two, 16 March 1983), two stories later. Kamelion was then neither seen nor mentioned between The King’s Demons, and the story in which he was destroyed, Planet of Fire (23 February – 2 March 1984).

[36]            There is also a brief period between Time-Flight (Part Four, 30 March 1982) and Arc of Infinity (Part One, 3 January 1983) in which Tegan had been left on Earth and the Doctor was accompanied only by Nyssa.

[37]            Similarly, those fans I have spoken to who are keenest to see more people in the TARDIS are those who first watched the show in the Peter Davison years. In this respect is interesting that Steven Moffat, an avowed Davison fan, whilst beginning with a standard Doctor-plus-girl formula, has subsequently built up the role of Rory Williams, so that he is currently joint companion with Amy Pond.

[38]            The 1996 TV movie had two characters fulfilling the companion role, Chang Lee and Grace Holloway. But publicity at the time very much focussed upon Grace, and she alone is in the official BBC list of companions.

[39]            As can be deduced from the homage to Spearhead from Space that opens “Rose”. See also Russell T. Davies, “Spearhead from Space: Back Home”, in The Complete Third Doctor (Doctor Who Magazine Special Edition 2, 2002), p. 15.

[40]            S4E6.

[41]            Moreover, K9 was problematic in production terms. Its short stature meant that it was difficult to get it and the main actors in the same shot, and the actors often had to crouch, it was not as fast as the actors, so they could not run without leaving it behind, and it operated poorly over rough terrain. As a result, writers sometimes took steps to remove K9 from the story at an early stage, such as in Destiny of the Daleks (1 – 22 September 1979), where a rock fall buries the TARDIS with K9 in it, keeping it separated from the rest of the story.

[42]            Again, the prop was problematic, but in this case the writers and production crew chose instead to ignore Kamelion’s existence entirely.

[43]            Most obviously in the Doctor’s famous remark “Harry Sullivan is an imbecile!” in Revenge of the Cybermen (Part Four, 10 May 1975), but also subtly suggested in the Doctor’s line in Robot (Part One, 28 December 1974): “I tell you, Brigadier, the Brontosaurus is large and placid. [enter Harry Sullivan] And stupid!”

[44]            Pyramids of Mars, Part One, 25 October 1975.

[45]            Timelash, Part One, 9 March 1985.

[46]            The Faceless Ones, 8 April – 13 May 1967.

[47]            I also do not consider companions only seen in Virgin New Adventures or BBC Eighth Doctor novels, audio adventures or comics.

[48]            The Dalek Invasion of Earth, Episode Six, “Flashpoint”, 26 December 1964.

[49]            The Myth Makers, Episode Four, “Horse of Destruction”, 6 November 1965.

[50]            The Daleks’ Master Plan, Episode Four, “The Traitors”, 4 December 1965.

[51]            The Daleks’ Master Plan, Episode Twelve, “The Destruction of Time”, 29 January 1966. As Sara Kingdom only appeared in one story, it could be argued that she does not belong in this list, and the BBC indeed omits her from their list of companions (, retrieved on 10 November 2010). However, she did travel in the TARDIS, was with the Doctor for nine episodes (longer than Katarina), and functioned dramatically as the companion (see Howe and Walker, op. cit., p. 78). She is often listed as a companion (e.g. on the Doctor Who TARDIS Index File,, retrieved on 10 November 2010), so she is included for completeness.

[52]            The Savages, Episode Four, 28 May 1966.

[53]            The War Machines,Episode Four, 16 July 1966.

[54]            The Faceless Ones, Episode Six, 13 May 1967.

[55]            Fury from the Deep, Episode Six, 20 April 1968.

[56]            The War Games, Episode Twelve, 21 June 1969.

[57]            Indeed, they are included on the official BBC list, on 10 November 2010).

[58]            The Three Doctors, 30 December 1972 – 20 January 1973. The Brigadier refused a chance to take another trip at the end of Terror of the Zygons (Part Four, 20 September 1975). (I am discounting for this argument the Brigadier’s post-UNIT TARDIS trips, in Mawdryn Undead, 1 – 9 February 1983, and The Five Doctors, 25 November 1983).

[59]            As reported in Terror of the Autons, Episode One, 2 January 1971. It is hinted that this was at least partially because she was fed up of being patronized by the Doctor. As this book went to press, The Sarah Jane Smith Adventures two-part episode “Death of the Doctor” (S4E5/S4E6, 25 – 26 October 2010), written by Russell T. Davies, indicated that Liz Shaw later returned to UNIT.

[60]            Invasion of the Dinosaurs, Part Six, 16 February 1974.

[61]            The Green Death, Episode Six, 23 June 1973.

[62]            Terror of the Zygons, Part Four, 20 September 1975.

[63]            Though it seems unlikely that the leafy suburban street, actually filmed in Thornbury in Gloucestershire (to which the production had gone in order to use the nearby Oldbury Nuclear Power Station), could be in the Granite City.

[64]            The Hand of Fear, Part Four, 23 October 1976.

[65]            The Invasion of Time, Part Six, 11 March 1978.

[66]            Warriors’ Gate, Part Four, 24 January 1981.

[67]            Earthshock, Part Four, 16 March 1982.

[68]            Terminus, Part Four, 23 February 1983.

[69]            Resurrection of the Daleks, Part Two, 15 March 1984.

[70]            Time-Flight, Part Four, 30 March 1982.

[71]            Arc of Infinity, Part One, 3 January 1983, and Part Four, 12 January 1983.

[72]            Planet of Fire, Part Four, 2 March 1984.

[73]            Planet of Fire, Part Four, 2 March 1984.

[74]            The Trial of a Time Lord, Part Eight, 25 October 1986, and Part Thirteen, 6 December 1986.

[75]            Dragonfire, Part Three, 7 December 1987.

[76]            One possibility is examined in the New Adventures novel Love and War (Paul Cornell, London: Virgin Books, 1992), but I am restricting myself to broadcast television episodes. The Sarah Jane Adventures episode “Death of the Doctor” strongly hints that she returned to contemporary Earth, though not how and when.

[77]            S1E7.

[78]            S1E13.

[79]            S3E11.

[80]            Though when she rejoined the crew in Arc of Infinity, she did so of her own volition.

[81]            Arguably Romana was forced to leave when she wanted to stay in the TARDIS, but in this case the Doctor was not responsible, as she was trying to avoid being forced by the Time Lords to return to Gallifrey.

[82]            S2E6.

[83]            S3E13.

[84]            S2E13 and S4E13.

[85]            The Invasion of Time, 4 February – 11 March 1978; Arc of Infinity, 3 – 12 January 1983.

[86]            Andrew Pixley, ‘Fact File: The Hand of Fear’, Doctor Who Magazine Holiday Special(1992), pp. 26-30, at p. 26.

[87]            Personal communication from May 2006.

[88]            K9 and Company, “A Girl’s Best Friend”, 28 December 1981.

[89]            The Sarah Jane Adventures,“Invasion of the Bane”, 1 January 2007 (wri.: Gareth Roberts and Russell T. Davies).

[90]            The only near-contemporary example I can think of outside Doctor Who is the Cathy Gale episodes of The Avengers (1962-1964), where Patrick Macnee and Honor Blackman decided at the beginning to avoid a flirtatious relationship, though this did not prevent the notion of sexual tension being read into the relationship by viewers and written in by writers.

[91]            I had hopes for the re-imagined Battlestar Galactica (2004-2009), where Starbuck was made a woman, but retained a close friendship with Apollo. However, they soon turned to wanting to have, and then having, sex with each other.

[92]            See Antony Keen, “‘There’s nothing “only” about being a girl’: or, how Doctor Who made me a feminist”, in Edwards, op. cit., pp. 13-15.

[93]            Edwards, op. cit., p. 17.

[94]            S1E4.

[95]            S4E1.

[96]            S4E6.

[97]            As discussed in the next chapter.