Introducing Miss Sarah Jane Smith

Sarah Jane Adventures | SCIFI.COM
We watched the first episode of the new spin-off from the Doctor Who empire, and have already got it set up on TiVo for a season pass. It was like watching an old episode, a classic episode, of Doctor Who, with “The Doctor” gone off somewhere, leaving Sarah Jane in charge. It’s obviously aimed at a younger audience than either Torchwood or the “New Who,” but it’s still well worth watching. This was a 90 minute episode, and it started out with a new family moving into the neighborhood. The “fresh eyes” character in classic Doctor Who episodes used to be the Companions; Sarah Jane Smith was one herself. This time around, Sarah Jane knows unimaginable things, and talks to poetry-writing space fairies in her front garden. Her new neighbor, Maria, moves in across from Sarah Jane’s big, attractively spooky house at Number 13 Bannerman Drive, and things get interesting right away. Maria’s fresh, naturally lovely face radiates wonder, determination, misery, and courage. She’s no fool, and I love to see a young female character portrayed this way.

She’s moving in to the house with her dad; her mom is helping but it’s clear she’s got her own life and in fact her parents are amicably divorced, which is portrayed in a refreshingly positive light. Her mother’s a bit of a ditz, and her dad’s terrific but rather caught up in his own problems. Maria copes with the move and doing a lot of chores, but manages to watch TV while “working,” which seems to be full of ads for some kind of orange soda, made with “organic Bane.” Things start to happen right away.

First of all, there’s the fairy in the garden the first night. During moving day, a chatterbox named Kelsey shows up and makes instant friends with Maria, convincing her to check out the factory where “Bubble Shock!” soda is made. On a free bus, full of free Bubble Shock!, playing a really annoying tune.

Think Slurm, but orange instead of green.

It all takes a number of surprising turns, and some things appear that seem pretty familiar but done up in a slightly less hide-behind-the-couch-its-too-scary way than the other two modern Whovian shows, and the younger Companions gradually coalesce around Sarah Jane during the course of a lot of traditional galumphing up and down corridors being chased by bad guys.

There’s a scene in Sarah Jane’s home, in the room at the top of the house that is obviously her sanctorum, where we get a surprising peek at K-9 being a very good and helpful dog indeed, and a glimpse of “Mr. Smith.” Sarah Jane still dresses like a young adventurer , but one whose fashion sense got rather stuck between 70’s kitsch and middle-aged practicality. She’s rather endearing, and has a real knack for driving while under attack by weirdos.

Yes, it’s derivative. The plot is familiar, but with some unexpected twists that keep it from being too predictable. It’s still a lot of fun, the dialogue is .

It’s got an engaging young cast joining a veteran whose return is most welcome. It’s pretty awesome, in fact, that a middle-aged single woman can be a heroine, but that’s our Miss Sarah Jane Smith. And her young protegé Maria looks like she’d make a fine first-stringer in a couple of years. The kids’ clothes are cute and the production is brightly colored without being “Nicktoony” or dumbed down. Every now and then you spot some little detail – check out the photos and gadgets in the upstairs study – that makes you want to stop everything and shout “Look! It’s… and over there, that’s….”

Yeah, we liked it a lot. Welcome back, Sarah Jane!