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Sarah Jane Who?: Checking out "Doctor Who" Spin-off "The Sarah Jane Adventures"

If there's one word for Doctor Who spin-off The Sarah Jane Adventures, it's... cute.

The Sarah Jane Adventures launched Friday night on Sci Fi with a 90-minute installment and I was curious to see how the Doctor Who formula (alien plots are counteracted by human or human-and-Time Lord pairs) would be applied to this new series.

After all, Torchwood modified the familiar Doctor Who story by injecting it with heaps of darkness and sexuality. In Torchwood, there are never any happy endings, no one ever gets a day off or a holiday to the other side of the universe, and the would-be saviors of humanity are forced to focus on work rather than the significant relationships in their lives.

The Sarah Jane Adventures takes the opposite tack, bringing a lightness and youth to the war against alien invaders and simplifying the plots significantly. I realize that I am not within the ideal demographic for this British series but I can't help but shake my head at Sci Fi's decision to program this at 8 pm on a Friday evening. Yes, it's perhaps a fitting lead in to Doctor Who (which launches this week with "Voyage of the Damned"), but it seems more suitable for an early Saturday morning slot.

The Sarah Jane Adventures stars Elisabeth Sladen (Doctor Who) as the titular Sarah Jane, a headstrong former companion of The Doctor who has kept up her war against the aliens as an investigative journalist, using some high-tech gadgetry (i.e., her sonic lipstick and a wristwatch that detects alien life) and her wits to stem the tide of invasion. She's also desperately lonely; after her love affair with The Doctor, she realized that no man would ever compare and she's left to her own devices in a big, creepy house that she shares with robotic dog K-9.

Her solitude is interrupted, in the first episode "Invasion of the Bane," when plucky teen Maria Jackson (Yasmin Paige) and her father move into the house next door. Soon enough, Maria catches Sarah Jane communing with an alien being. What starts off as innocent curiosity turns into something bigger as Maria finds herself enmeshed in an alien plot to control the Earth's population via an orange soda called Bubble Shock and Sarah Jane comes face to face with a young boy called the Archetype (Tommy Knight), a blank slate created by the Bane to test the soda factory's visitors and absorb their essences.

Naturally, following the destruction of the factory, Sarah Jane is forced to adopt the Archetype--whom she and Maria name Luke--and Sarah Jane mocks up some forged adoption documents with the help of her computer Mr. Smith. A bond is formed between Sarah Jane, Maria, and Luke and these three join forces to investigate all manner of alien threats in the future... as long as Maria is back before curfew.

The result is all really endearing and charming, if a little cutesy for anyone old enough to drive. Still, other than the irritatingly shrill Kelsey (Maria's chavvy school chum who, fortunately, won't be appearing in the series again), it's still pretty harmless fun. It may lack the moral complexity of Torchwood or the narrative skill of Doctor Who, but it's an agreeable addition to the Doctor Who oeuvre, aided by Elisabeth Sladen, who wins you over with her innate charm and adorable smile, and teen actors/adorable moppets Paige and Knight.

If I had any wee ones at home, The Sarah Jane Adventures is a series I'd happily watch with them. But, if you're not enchanted by the series' educational charms, you might be under the influence of the Bane... or just old enough to want a little more grit and less soda bubbles in your storytelling.

The Sarah Jane Adventures airs on Friday evenings at 8 pm on Sci Fi.

What's On Tonight

8 pm: Big Bang Theory/How I Met Your Mother (CBS); Deal or No Deal (NBC; 8-10 pm); Gossip Girl (CW); Dancing With the Stars (ABC; 8-9:30 pm); House (FOX)

9 pm: Two and a Half Men/Rules of Engagement (CBS); One Tree Hill (CW); Samantha Who? (ABC; 9:30-10 pm); New Amsterdam (FOX);

10 pm: CSI Miami (CBS); Medium (NBC); The Bachelor: London Calling (ABC)

What I'll Be Watching

8 pm: Gossip Girl.

It's another chance to catch up on the teen soap. On tonight's repeat episode ("A Thin Line Between Chuck and Nate"), Serena is spied buying a home pregnancy test and Gossip Girl reports this scoop before all of the facts are checked. Oops.

8 pm: Bones.

Support scripted television! FOX's procedural series Bones returns tonight with new episodes. On tonight's installment ("Man in the Mud"), Brennan and Booth are on the trail of a killer after a motorcycle racer's remains are discovered in a national park.


joy said…
I would agree with the overall cuteness of the show. Granted, I’m not the demo either, but since I’ve been known to sit through hours of Disney Channel, I would have thought SJA would have appealed more.

Obviously, I’ll still watch it, if only in hopes that a crossover is somewhere in the offing. Obvi, Sarah Jane and I are of like minds.
If I were 12 this would be my favorite show. While a little too simple for adult Doctor Who fans, it does not talk down to the younger set and makes for an excellent diversion for anyone under 15.

The whimsical storylines may have me tuning in once in awhile but, for now, I think I'll stick with the darker forces of Doctor Who and Torchwood.
Karin L. said…
I'm one of those crazy "Doctor Who" fans who's been watching the show for 20 years. Of the current "Doctor Who" offerings, "The Sarah Jane Adventures" is by far my favorite! The tone and pacing reminds me more of the original "Doctor Who" series. I am so thrilled that Sci-Fi picked it up.
Anonymous said…
In UK, "Invasion of the Bane" aired at the very beginning of last of year as a one of special and then the series followed at the end of September. For this reason, the special is a bit of a hazy memory for those us that watched it as it aired. My memory is that I was reasonably pleased after the special but it was the series that really won my round.

Dropping Kelsey certainly helped (and her replacement is much better); but, also, Luke establishes himself properly as a character and Maria and her parents grow into their roles as well. Also, the 30 minute episodic format (2 episodes per story) tightens up the plotting and gives more focus to the stories. There's also a bit more darkness in the series than there was in the special.

I'd say it's worth giving the show a chance, even if you're not sure at the moment. It's only on for 6 weeks and is a direct lead-in to Doctor Who, so it shouldn't be too hard to add it to your Friday night viewing.

If I was to recommend one story it would be "Whatever Happened to Sarah Jane", the penultimate story (ie episodes 7 and 8).

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