Monday 20 April 2020

Doctor Who Lockdown: "Farewell, Sarah Jane Smith"

This one brought tears to my eyes. With the lockdown fan rewatch of "The Stolen Earth" and "Journey's End" coincided with the ninth anniversary of the death of Elisabeth Sladen. So Russell T. Davies gave us a brand new short story about her funeral, some undisclosed time after the end of The Sarah Jane Adventures.

I can't begin to cover how much this means to us as Doctor Who fans. Liz Sladen was probably the single most beloved companion actor in the classic series, and bringing her back in the revived series made her beloved by a whole new generation of fans. A kid who started watching SJA when they were five would be eighteen now. Even the new kids have grown up now.

Part of me wants these characters to carry on forever after their actors have passed away, and there's no reason they shouldn't. There can still be endless stories set in years past for Sarah Jane (and years future, this is a time travel show).  But giving the character an end like this, and a heartfelt send-off, is a beautiful way to pay tribute to not only the impact of the character but the actor behind them.

Jacob Dudman is as excellent as ever in his reading (is that his studio? Does he have that at his home?) just like he was in RTD's last video story. But what really sets this apart is the inclusion of other actors paying tribute. Katy Manning and Mina Anwar appeared alongside Sladen during SJA, while Sophie Aldred would have made an appearance in the fifth season had it been completed. It's nice to know that their story together still "happened" in the Whoniverse.

It's a pity Yasmin Paige doesn't appear as Maria, but Daniel Anthony and Tommy Knight are back as Clyde and Luke, and blimey, it's like they haven't aged. The beautiful Anjli Mohindra appeared on Doctor Who itself this year as the Skithra Queen, but it's wonderful to have her appear without the latex. There's no mistaking the emotion they show here, it's so moving.

The story itself is slight, of course, but it's there to hang the emotions on. When Katy Manning appeared as Jo back on SJA, RTD couldn't help but throw around new fates for every companion he could had time to mention. He does the same here, dropping little snippets of character development and new adventures. Luke's married to Sanjay - his best friend mentioned in the series who would have been revealed as his boyfriend had it not been cancelled - and it turns out Nyssa and Tegan are a couple, because of course they are. I can't wait to hear how Big Finish try to twist their continuity to fit that in. He even drops a mention of Grace Holloway in there.

It's a pity the Doctor doesn't make an appearance. I can understand why, but a little cameo could have worked. Could Tom Baker have not phoned one in? (Has anyone checked on him, by the way? Is he OK?) It's still utterly beautiful though. I'm not ashamed to say I shed a tear (Suz bawled her eyes out).

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