If Walls Could Talk: Learning from Sarah Jane Smith

M.H. Norris

Britbox has become my new best friend. For some reason, the one place in town that sells copies of Classic Doctor Who has randomly decided not to stock anything Sarah Jane since Christmas and my Amazon budget is only but so much.

But now, I have it all.

In celebration, James, Nicole, and I got together to watch some classic Doctor Who. And since I’d had a rather bad day, I got to pick.

Actually, it’s thanks to Nick Briggs that we ended up picking Death to the Daleks, to watch that afternoon (Stop, Don’t Move–for fans from his podcast). Later I watched K-9 and Company, which was as special as I’d been led to believe.

Where am I going with this?

Actually, I have a bit more foundation to lay before I get to my point. But I do have one.

The first time I met my favorite fictional character, Sarah Jane Smith, was in the tenth Doctor episode “School Reunion.” There’s several ways to watch that episode; and as I’ve noted before, this was something David Tennant noticed in the commentary. He said, depending on how much Doctor Who you watched beforehand, you could see it one of two ways. You could see it as Rose (who sees a friend of the Doctor’s who he’s never mentioned; but this friend is still clearly thinking about him). What does that mean for Rose in the future?

Or, you could see it as the Doctor. He’s seeing an old friend, one that Tennant refers to as “The Doctor’s True Companion” in the forward to Elizabeth Sladen’s autobiography.

I’d argue there’s a third way to watch it; and when I go and revisit my introduction to Sarah Jane Smith, I see it that way.

I see it through Sarah Jane’s eyes. She’s had a time of it lately. Big Finish fills in a little of what she’s been through in the last decade alone and then there’s around 30 years where we only see bits and pieces.

There’s a line that didn’t phase me the first time and then later on would come to annoy me. She sees the Doctor, discovers it’s actually him, and then says that she thought he had died.

It annoyed me because Sarah Jane has quite a few documented cases of meeting the Doctor throughout canon, after leaving him The Hand of Fear. So why did she forget it?

She didn’t.

Like most people. Sarah Jane Smith grows up and changes but there’s traits that stay with her throughout her lifetime.

And this isn’t the first time I’ve mentioned her here, and you all know how I mention her without cause on The Raconteur Roundtable. She’s a character I’ve spent time learning about, but I love how still I learn new things about her.

Characters have levels to them and they change as the character experiences various things. And Sarah Jane is no different.

When Sarah Jane travelled with The Doctor back in the 70s, she was extremely melodramatic. And sometimes, I honestly think she did it for the sake of doing it. At times, it causes me to raise my eyebrow in her general direction; other times I find it incredibly amusing.

But relating it back to “School Reunion”–suddenly that line makes so much more sense. She’s being melodramatic to a Doctor who has a tendency to be a bit melodramatic himself.

One thing I’ve talked a bit about is how I’m working on a series based around Dr. Rosella Tassoni. I’ve contemplated before writing more books on a character but with her, the intention was that I write a character that can support a series.

And that is a bit different of a mindset because she has to grow and change and things are going to happen to her, things I don’t know yet because I haven’t planned quite that far ahead.

Her start is in Midnight, in the All the Petty Myths anthology, which be out soon.

And, like Sarah Jane, I’ll be down the road with her and still see these odd quirks that carry over from her first appearance at Midnight.

Because keep in mind, characters are people and we change. Sometimes I cringe looking back at the antics of my younger self and other times I wonder if my younger self would recognize me if I wandered past her.

Sarah Jane taught me that maybe. Because there are some things we never truly outgrow. Maybe we mellow out a bit (Sarah Jane did become quite a bit less melodramatic as the years went on).

I mentioned ages ago that it’s useful to take your favorite fictional characters and see what you can learn from them. Luckily for me, it seems that Sarah Jane may have more lessons to teach me.