Monday, April 25, 2011

The Undiscovered Country

Like everybody, I was completely shocked and a great deal shaken by the news of Elisabeth Sladen's passing last week. Through Doctor Who she's been a part of my life for as long as I can remember; and it's hard imagining a world without her.

Through Doctor Who and the SJA she's always been there. It's no secret that Sarah Jane Smith is my all time favourite companion. I doubt that will ever change. She's such a fantastic character, fleshed out magnificently by Sladen in what I believe to be some of the very best adventures of Doctor Who's initial 26 year run.

When it was announced she would be returning to the series, 30 years after she originally left, I was over the moon. Forget the return of the Cybermen that same year, or rumours of an all out Dalek-Cyberman war during the season finale, it was that little moment in episode three, "School Reunion" that had me most excited of all. Sarah Jane! Back on my telly! In proper Doctor Who.

I cried, you know, during those closing moments of "School Reunion". Not just because those closing scenes outside the TARDIS between Sladen and David Tennant were so brilliantly written, but because, in my gut, I feared that was it: The end of Sarah Jane Smith. The character walked off into the sunset with K9 and I feared we'd never see her again - and it broke my heart.

I needn't have worried. Rumours soon started (and with them, so did this blog) that Sarah Jane was coming back. First, maybe, in Torchwood. Then... Sarah Jane Investigates! Months later, the name was changed, but the spin-off arrived on a New Years Eve afternoon over on BBC One. It was rather good, wasn't it?

In a world where children's television is vanishing fast, thanks in part to television executives who don't understand its importance, The Sarah Jane Adventures is such an important (and iconic) series for its channel, and audience. It's not easy getting intelligent programming onto your children's TV screens. Think yourselves lucky. We've had 4 series worth of absolutely fantastic drama-adventure. No dumbing down, or filmed cheap as chips lowest common denominator.

A lot of people are worried that series 5 won't be broadcast. Don't be. Russell T Davies knows, as does Sladen's family, how much the world loves Sarah Jane Smith. Be patient, and your patience shall be rewarded.

As for what comes next... Some fans want to see the series mark the death of Sarah Jane Smith. I feel this is fundermentally the wrong thing to do. Not because children can't cope with or understand the death of the character (they are intelligent enough to do both) but because... well, it isn't fair. Consider this: the character has been handled by three very different production teams (Barry Letts/Terrance Dicks, Philip Hinchcliffe/Robert Holmes, and Russell T Davies) - is it fair that any one person therefore decides the ultimate fate of the character?

Here's what I think should happen: End the series with the episodes already shot. Have Sarah Jane look up to the sky one last time, surrounded by her children, giving one last fantasticly beautiful speech. Roll credits.

The open-ended conclusion then allows fans to take control of her destiny. You're free to imagine what comes next. Maybe she dies the very next week in a heroic battle against any race of evil. Maybe she continues to live a fantastic life, and dies in bed an old lady in her 90s surrounded by family, friends, and a certain Time Lord. Or perhaps, maybe, she simply lives forever - Sarah Jane Smith immortal, and undefeated.

I quite like the idea of that last one, myself.

Whatever, CBBC's Barney Harwood is right: We should celebrate what a person did, instead of being upset about what a person didn't do. Celebrate Elisabeth Sladen. Buy the DVDs of her classic Doctor Who adventures, or tune into the SJA whenever they're on. Keep those posters of her up on your wall, or on your desktop. Write on the forums, and visit sites like this. Keep the memory going - but most important of all, do it with a smile on your face.

The ultimate tribute to Elisabeth Sladen, then. She isn't gone - and she never will be.

Thanks for reading.
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