Steve Goble

Choose life. (Deuteronomy 30:19)

For the past three years, I've managed to avoid most of the hype surrounding the big Doctor Who revival, and have written here of how the episodes have struck me on their own merits.

I guess I've really had two questions in mind:

a. Were they good Doctor Who?

b. Were they good TV programmes in their own right?

Although the first question has come to bear occasionally, I have actually composed these reviews almost entirely on the basis of the second one. And very often the writing on the shows has not stood up very well, in my opinion. If a story doesn't work, then it doesn't work, regardless of whether or not they did 'in the good old days'.

Today I'm satisfied that spin-off show The Sarah Jane Adventures has vindicated my arguments. This is a series that has stood up both as a part of the huge pre-existing Doctor Who mythos, and as an isolated series in its own right.

1. When I reviewed the first episode of new Doctor Who, I said it shouldn't have been so keen to recast the lead actor. Do you know what people say to that? They say that nobody remembers Paul McGann, so nobody would have watched it with him still in the title role.

The Sarah Jane Adventures retained Lis Sladen in the main role from 30 years ago, and people - including children considerably younger than 30 - watched. Why didn't we switch-off when her name came up in the credits? Because most people - again including children - aren't that shallow after all. Are you?

2. I've said that if the new show was going to be based around earth every week, there should be a reason for it within the storyline. Sarah Jane lives on Earth. Easy. I still don't know why the new Doctor Who series didn't use a similar reason.

3. I've said that the characters should remember the events of episodes week-to-week, or if not, then there should be an explanation why. I remember most of what has happened in my life week-to-week, as well as what has happened in the TV shows I watch. So do you. Sarah Jane's scripts have both of these issues mostly covered.

4. I've repeatedly said that characters shouldn't state information that has not yet been revealed to them in the story. Again, mostly avoided here.

5. And lastly, I've maintained that the show shouldn't be so ashamed of referencing its own mythology. Even faced with being part of children's programming, and appealing to kids born years after the original show ended, The Sarah Jane Adventures treats them with respect, because believe it or not, kids today actually do know that TV existed long before they did.

I feel that this is an appropriate moment to point out that I have never in my entire life ever, even once, heard of anybody deciding not to watch a show because it contained continuity. Soaps, serials, historicals, romances, the news, sport, reality TV shows... well, they'd be nowhere without it. I really don't know why so many Doctor Who fans repeatedly insist that the rest of the public wouldn't understand it.

The first series of this spin-off has had its faults, but most of it (ie. not Revenge Of The Slitheen) has been written with so much intelligence that it's a joy to see kids today being assumed to have brains. This series has featured single parenthood, OAPs with Altzheimer's Disease, and child abduction, but never have any of these things been clumsily pointed-at as an 'issue'. They're just a part of life, unfortunately.

The best example of this must be the solid portrayal of Maria's divorced parents. I don't like to cite instances here for fear of over-simplifying how well I reckon this has been done, but the unspoken tolerance of all parties concerned speaks volumes about having to get through such a god-awful home-life. Thank goodness they've avoided making the characters clunkily put these attitudes into words.

For me, The Sarah Jane Adventures proves that there's really no excuse for the current dumbed-down worlds of Doctor Who and Torchwood.

This series should be going out on Saturday nights instead.

Individual Story Reviews:

Invasion Of The Bane
Revenge Of The Slitheen
Eye Of The Gorgon
Warriors Of Kudlak
Whatever Happened To Sarah Jane?
The Lost Boy

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