Brian A. Terranova provides a summary review of the gripping second run of Sarah Jane Smith audio adventures from Big Finish…
Created for a single Doctor Who adventure called The Invisible Enemy in 1977, K-9 became so popular that he stayed with the series as a companion until 1981. His popularity grew so much that the BBC thought it natural to make a spin off series staring the metal mutt in the title role. K-9 and Company aired in 1981 yet despite their belief in the tin dogs ability to attract viewers, the BBC decided that he needed a human partner.
Sarah Jane Smith, – played by Elizabeth Sladen – one of the most beloved companions to the Doctor the series had ever seen, was brought in as K-9’s side kick (sort of) despite the two never meeting on screen during their stints on Doctor Who. Success was far from assured, however and although the show was called K-9 and Company, it was Sarah Jane who was the star with K-9 as her sidekick. Sadly the show did not continue beyond the quirky pilot.
This brings us to 21 years later when Big Finish Productions, who saw the potential in a series of adventures staring Sarah Jane Smith and K-9, brought us the Sarah Jane Smith Series in 2002.
This time, however, K-9 was not to join the cast or Sarah in her adventures. This was not for lack of trying, the rights had been tied up elsewhere so the use of the positronic pup was off limits, though he does get a mention of sorts which ties in very nicely with the later Sarah Jane Adventures TV series – so keep an ear out.
Big Finish’s version of Sarah Jane draws from her past, referring to characters from the K-9 and Company adventure, but on the whole the Sarah Jane Smith series does not dwell on the past and instead refers to it as one might recall a group of old friends or a memorable incident.
So what do you do with a team that’s lost its members? Rather than carry on with a lone Sarah Jane Smith, Big Finish built a new one.
On audio, Sarah is joined by over protective but well meaning Josh Townsend (Jeremy James) and the brilliant computer guru Natalie Redfern – played by Lis Sladen’s real-life daughter Sadie Miller.
No longer saddled with a robot dog that had a knack for running into doors and spending a week trying to roll over a drinking straw (no matter how much we love that dog we have to face facts) and yet to become the mother of an alien teenage boy, stories for Sarah Jane Smith could finally be what they should: smart, mystery filled, and believable.
Sure she may be a veteran of fighting alien threats, but this means that she is doing what she does best – investigating, deducing and hopping into action to save the day. To be honest once you hear Elizabeth Sladen in action you could really believe that she could do this stuff in real life herself. This series really stays true to the character and where she would be in her life all these years later.
Of her two companions Natalie (or Nat) acts not only as a friend, but as the tool and resource that K-9 might have otherwise provided. A much needed character to help move the story along much faster, Sadie Miller also brings her to life quite nicely, easily pulling off the caring friend and the encyclopedic computer geek without sounding like she is only there to spout out usual information.
Jeremy James’ Josh provides the muscle and fills the “protective brother” role for the team. He’s got a bit of a shadowy past, which lends itself well to the needs of the team. When Sarah and Nat are at a loss, Josh may have a means to find what they need. But there is a bit more to Josh then he lets on, which just adds to the series attraction.
There are a few surprises along the way for Sarah Jane as well as the fans of Doctor Who, but even though there may be link to Doctor Who itself, I find that anyone can pick up these adventures with no knowledge of the character and find them interesting and entertaining. In fact, they may fit the radio medium a bit more aptly than Doctor Who itself, being reminiscent of old time radio mysteries.
If you do happen to be a fan of Doctor Who – and let’s face it most listening would be – keep an eye out for Tom Chadbon playing Will Sullivan, the younger step brother to another former Doctor Who companion and friend of Sarah Jane Smith, Harry Sullivan. Since Ian Marter – the actor who portrayed Harry on TV – very sadly passed away in 1986, a reunion between the two characters was never going to happen.
Chadbon plays the character perfectly; he’s different enough from Marter to not come across as a cheap knock off and charming enough to be just as likeable. A mysterious and unheard of step brother is bound to offer intrigue and mystery. Of course, in the Sarah Jane Smith series not everything is as it seems – what secrets follow Will Sullivan and what do they mean for Sarah Jane Smith?
The character of Sarah Jane Smith is so appealing and likeable that it is no surprise that she was asked back to Doctor Who in 2006. While this was a great treat for fans and viewers that watched the show as kids in the 1970s, this much awaited and anticipated return to the series took its toll on the Big Finish Sarah Jane Smith stories.
Series Two of the Sarah Jane Smith series ends with a cliffhanger that not only left you on the edge of your seat, but it also knocked you straight off and onto the floor. Not wanting to tread on the feet of nuWho or The Sarah Jane Adventures, the Big Finish team decided to give Sarah Jane a break; all of which means that those of us listening to the Big Finish series would be left with no resolution to this cliffhanger.
While we have no escape for Sarah from “the cliffhanger of doom”, this should not deter anyone from listening to the series if your interest is piqued. With 9 full adventures to explore there is plenty to listen to and enjoy. And while I wish the Sarah Jane Adventures TV series well, it can’t last forever, which means that Big Finish will hopefully one day let us off the hook.
Sarah Jane Smith, as far as this reviewer is concerned, is one of Big Finish’s many triumphs.
Although with Elizabeth Sladen as the wonderful alien-battling journalist, how could it not be?