The BBC has released a new Doctor Who compilation video, this time of Sarah Jane Smith, the 3rd and 4th Doctor's companion. Many fans consider her not only the best companion in the show's history, but the one who defined the Doctor's companions for all time. This video, frankly, is long overdue.
Sarah Jane Smith, played by the wonderful Elizabeth Sladen with a mischievous twinkle, was a journalist who ends up traveling with the Doctor. Sarah Jane was a journalist and the first feminist companion. She was more of an equal to the Doctor who asked questions rather than an adoring assistant who hung on his every word.
Sarah Jane was there for many of the show's most defining moments. The Ark in Space had the plot of Alien years before Ridley Scott made that movie. It featured one of the first instances of people crawling through an air duct in a thriller before the Aline movies, Die Hard and various Hollywood blockbusters made it a trope. The Pyramids of Mars is considered one of the quintessential Doctor Who stories, with the odd couple comedy of Sarah Jane and the Doctor's banter a defining feature.
She had great chemisty with Tom Baker, the 4th Doctor. Their comedy banter lightened up the grimmer stories. Their relationship defined many fans' image of the Tom Baker era and became the quintessential image for the show for decades. Both Baker and Sladen talked about how happy they were on the show. I often wondered if he was in love with her.
"Doctor Who": The Greatest Companion
Showrunner Russell T. Davies brought back Sarah Jane in his second season of the new show in 2006. Her guest appearance on the new show proved so popular – and Russell T. Davies loved her so much – that he created the spinoff show The Sarah Jane Adventures in 2007. The show was aimed at younger viewers. This was the period of peak Doctor Who. The mothership show anchored the franchise as a family show. Torchwood aimed at a more adult audience with blood, gore, shagging and downbeat situations. The Sarah Jane Adventures represented the more kid-friendly end of the spectrum.
The Sarah Jane Adventures, under Davies, gleefully hit the goofier, cheesier end of the genre, but it still had moments of pathos. Sladen grounded the show with a performance full of subtexts like aging, melancholy and motherhood. She was always the heart of the show, and, Davies believed, the heart of Doctor Who. Sladen didn't treat the scripts with any disdain or condescension. Her performances dug deep.
The Sarah Jane Adventures was hugely popular amongst kids and their parents. It would have continued if Sladen hadn't passed away from cancer in 2011. Fans still remember her fondly. She was the kids' surrogate older sister. Then she became their surrogate mother figure. She would always be The Doctor's Best Companion.