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Character Manifesto: Sarah Jane Smith

Character Manifesto - Sarah Jane Smith

Fandom: Doctor Who/The Sarah Jane Adventures
Character: Sarah Jane Smith
Pairings Included in Manifesto: Sarah Jane Smith/the Doctor (multiple incarnations), Sarah Jane Smith/Harry Sullivan, Sarah Jane Smith/Brigadier Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart, Sarah Jane Smith/Alan Jackson, Sarah Jane Smith/Jack Harkness



Blurb: How exactly do I explain the awesomeness of Sarah Jane Smith? It's harder than it sounds. No one individual aspect of her character is unique: she's not the only companion to serve with more than one Doctor, not the only one who ever held her own with him, not the only one he gave a gift to, not the only one he described as his best friend, not the only one he was reunited with years after they ceased traveling together, etc. But when you put all those qualities together, a more remarkable picture begins to form.

Who is Sarah Jane Smith? She's a reporter. An investigator. A companion. A fighter. A peacemaker. A feminist. A friend. A lover. A mother. A daughter. A niece. A mentor. A leader. A human being with strength, spirit, will, flaws, foibles, fears, vulnerabilities, and emotions. She's someone who grew and changed enormously over her forty-year history, but remained at the core indomitably the same. She can be biting, sarcastic, self-righteous, stand-offish, whiny, and a bit of a screamer at times, but she's also warm, loving, brave, resourceful, independent, funny and principled. She had an ordinary if somewhat tragic childhood, a few unbelievably extraordinary years of traveling and heroism in her twenties, then had to learn how to go back to being ordinary. When that wasn't enough, she took it upon herself to help defend the Earth, not willing to trust something so important to shoot-first-and-ask-questions-later organizations like UNIT and Torchwood. She adopted a brand-new teenage son in her sixties, and in only a few short years helped him grow into a young man any mother would be proud of. She loved deeply and suffered great losses, but perservered steadfastly no matter what the universe threw at her. She began as a sidekick, but grew into a hero in her own right who fought and won her battles on her own terms. Simply, she is one of the most extraordinary characters ever to come out of the Doctor Who universe.

(A bit of background here, so if you know Sarah Jane's history, feel free to skip the next...three paragraphs.)

Sarah Jane was originally introduced as the third and final companion of the Third Doctor, Jon Pertwee. Meant to be more of a "feminist" than Jo, Sarah was a reporter who bluffed her way into a UNIT investigation into the disappearance of several scientists. Suspicious of the Doctor, she followed him into the TARDIS and thus, unwittingly, back to the Middle Ages. It's ironic that one of what would become the Doctor's most enduring friendships began with outright distrust on Sarah's part. If you look just at the writing, it's easy to see how the character could've been unlikable, but Lis Sladen played her with such spirit and humor that a lot of people found it impossible not to like her. Tom Baker, who would go on to become the longest running and most iconic portrayer of the Doctor to date, in his gorgeous eulogy for Lis credits Sarah's presence at the beginning of his run with being a big part of the reason why he was embraced by the show's audience. When Lis decided to leave the show two years later, Sarah was one of the longest running and most beloved companions in the show's history.

Of course, long-running and beloved often go hand in hand, so that in itself isn't unusual. What makes Sarah Jane more extraordinary is what happened next. Sarah was brought back. A pilot for a potential spin-off, K-9 and Company, was broadcast as a Christmas special in 1981. The series didn't get picked up, but my understanding is it marked the first time that former companions of the Doctor--Sarah and the robot dog, K-9--were brought back outside of the series. They then both returned to the series itself, although K-9 only as a cameo, for the twentieth anniversary special serial, "The Five Doctors." Sarah wasn't the only companion brought back in that serial--the Doctor's granddaughter and first companion, Susan, and the Brigadier returned as well, and Jamie and Zoe had cameos. Nor was she the only companion to return for the garbled twenty-fifth anniversary short, "Dimensions in Time." She had been established as important to the series, but not quite singularly so. When Doctor Who went off the air in the late 80s, books and audios came in to pick up the slack, and Sarah featured prominently in a number of those. She even had her own spin-off audio series, with her own companions and her own adventures that would foreshadow later developments. Again, though, she wasn't the only classic companion to return in either format, long after their television run had ended.

But when Russell T. Davies revived Doctor Who after a nearly twenty year hiatus in 2005, Sarah was the first, and thus far the only character from the classic series to appear in the revival. And her return proved so successful that she was once again offered a spin-off: The Sarah Jane Adventures, a series aimed, incredibly, at the younger end of Doctor Who's demographic. Sarah Jane Smith had conquered a new generation of fans. And it was to that spin-off, not Doctor Who itself, that the only two other classic characters to grace the modern Whoverse--the Brigadier and Jo--returned. When Lis Sladen died unexpectedly of cancer in April this year, only days before the sixth series' premiere, Doctor Who's producers acknowledged her indellible legacy with a dedication and, in the UK, a fifteen minute memorial documentary at the end of the episode. At the time of Lis's death, she had only recently passed Nicholas Courtney (who also passed away in February) as the actor/character who had met the most different incarnations of the Doctor, by meeting the current Doctor, the Eleventh (Matt Smith) in the SJA episode, "The Death of the Doctor."

(Okay, facts over. On with opinions. *g*)

So, okay, Sarah Jane Smith had a long, illustrious history on Doctor Who, that's pretty impressive. But what's harder to quantify is WHY this character, of all of them, kept coming back and doing so successfully. You could attribute it to the fact that she appeared alongside some of the program's most popular Doctors, but there's more to it than that. In my opinion, the quality that made Sarah Jane unique, and uniquely able to fit into any time period of Doctor Who's history, is that she is one of the only characters who treated the Doctor exactly the same no matter what face he wore, and never seemed fazed by the change. Surprised, amused, aggravated, yes, but only briefly: usually within minutes of knowing, she accepted this stranger as the old friend he was and moved on. The only other character who ever handled the Doctor's shape-shifting with similar aplomb was the equally oft-returning Brigadier.

Related to this, and perhaps because of it, Lis/Sarah also had insane amounts of chemistry with any Doctor she met. Her affection for all of them was intense and genuine, as was the Doctor's for her. It's impossible to deny that Sarah and the Doctor loved each other, though fans can and will (of course) debate until doomsday whether that love was platonic or romantic. I fall somewhere in the middle of the debate in that I love them either way, although I lean more towards the latter. Sarah Jane is actually one of the *only* companions I can 'ship with the Doctor, partly because of what I mentioned above about her being one of the only characters to actually treat them all like the same person.

But, since this is a character manifesto, not a 'ship one, I won't spend paragraphs waxing poetic about much "School Reunion" convinced me that the Doctor was every bit as much in love with Sarah Jane as she was with him. Because Sarah doesn't just make sense with the Doctor. She is enormously 'shippable, and is probably one of the most multi-shipped Classic Who characters I've ever seen. Harry Sullivan, who traveled with her and the Fourth Doctor for a while, was obviously smitten with her, as was Jack Harkness decades later. She charmed the Brigadier and Benton, and presumably Yates as well. Maria Jackson's father, Alan, might as well have had "has a thing for sexy, alien-hunting older women" tattooed across his forehead, and Peter Dalton was willing to rewrite history and risk causing the end of the world to have a chance with her. Some fans even 'ship her with Clyde, although for me personally that's a bit too big of an age gap, so you won't find any Sarah/Clyde here. And since this is a het community, I won't even go into the number of female characters she's seduced or been seduced by in fanfic. None of these relationships (except for Peter Dalton, of course) are technically more than friendship and/or flirtation in canon, but that they exist is one more testament to the aforementioned chemistry of Lis/Sarah with oh, every other actor ever.

My own relationship with Sarah Jane? I met her fairly recently: "School Reunion" was the first full story I probably watched with her in it, although I've caught up on a good chunk of her classic stories since then. She made an impression on me for the same reason that many other Classic companions did--because she wasn't the soprano-shrieking damsel in distress I'd been led to believe they all were--but also because there was just something special about her that wasn't always definable. Something that encapsulates all the reasons above, but also exceeds them. She's been one of my top five companions pretty much since that first introduction and doesn't seem likely to get knocked out of that tier any time soon. I've even run her fanlisting for a couple of years now. She's a character who, even with all her flaws, is the kind of role model I'd want a daughter of mine to emulate, if I ever had one.

These are just a sampling of my favorite stories about her. Hope you enjoy them as much as I do. One note: I didn't consciously exclude all of the excellent fic written in response to Lis Sladen's passing. I think I just wanted to celebrate the character's *life* more.

(Stories are listed in alphabetical order because, in many cases, putting them in order of preference would be simply impossible.)




Fic Rec #1: Decisions and Revisions
Pairing: Sarah Jane Smith/the Doctor (multiple incarnations, although primarily Eighth and Tenth)
Author: orbythesea
Link: http://www.whofic.com/viewstory.php?sid=27659
Rating/Warning(s): Teen/character death

Why This Must Be Read: A lot of Doctor/Sarah Jane fanfic has an earlier incarnation of the Doctor coming back into Sarah's life after she met Ten at Deffrey Vale. This starts with that premise, but adds an extra layer of irony and timey-wimeyness by tackling head-on the consequences not only of the Doctor knowing Sarah's future, but of her knowing his. And in so doing, displays Sarah's strength of character beautifully. It's also one of those stories that becomes especially bittersweet with Elisabeth Sladen's passing.




Fic Rec #2: Decree Absolute
Pairing: Sarah Jane Smith/Brigadier Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart
Author: Sleepy_Sheep683
Link: http://www.whofic.com/viewstory.php?sid=22573&warning=Adult
Rating/Warning(s): Adult/none

Why This Must Be Read: When Sarah's departure from the Doctor just happens to coincide with the finalization of the Brigadier's divorce, the common ground brings them together in an unexpected but not unwelcome way. Okay, so this isn't the world's most popular pairing but a friend planted the idea in my mind a while ago and it sort of took root, so you can imagine how happy I was to find a good, solid piece of fic about them. This story takes the very real mutual fondness between the characters to one logical conclusion during a brief interlude of time when it *could* develop that way. You know from the setting that it's not going to be a forever-n-ever-amen kind of relationship, but there's a respect and real love--if not necessarily of a romantic sort--between the characters that keeps it from feeling in any way cheap or demeaning of either of them. Of course, it doesn't hurt that it's also steaming hot, even if not quite as adult-rated as the rating implies.




Fic Rec #3: Fire and Ice
Pairing: Sarah Jane Smith/Alan Jackson
Author: settiai
Link: http://sarahjane-fic.livejournal.com/272640.html
Rating/Warning(s): All ages/none

Why This Must Be Read: Surprisingly, considering that it was probably the most popular pairing for the first season of The Sarah Jane Adventures, there's not a whole lot of Sarah/Alan fanfic out there. It was never canon on the show because Sarah was older (*eyeroll*) but the actors had great chemistry and in some ways Sarah Jane was as much of a mother figure to Maria as Chrissy, so it seems only natural to make that relationship official by pairing Sarah with Alan. This story is set towards the end of season 1, after Alan found out what Sarah and the kids were up to and before the Jacksons moved to the US. Sarah and Alan find themselves under attack and naturally take advantage of the moment to have a heart to heart. It's cute, funny, and pretty much exactly the way you imagine things would develop.




Fic Rec #4: Happily Ever After (With Comments From the Peanut Gallery)
Pairing: Sarah Jane Smith/the Doctor (Fourth)
Author: Daystar Searcher
Link: http://www.whofic.com/viewstory.php?sid=41942
Rating/Warning(s): All ages/none

Why This Must Be Read: On a much lighter note, this is, um, a Sarah/Four story with absolutely no dialogue from either Sarah or the Doctor in it. *g* It's also hilarious. The (AU) premise is that Romana and Leela have combined their efforts to get that silly rule that humans can't go to Gallifrey overturned and brought Sarah to Gallifrey. So naturally they have every right to witness--and provide commentary on--the joyful reunion.




Fic Rec #5: I Will Not Write You Love Poems, for My Ink is Ground from Stars
Pairing: Sarah Jane Smith/the Doctor (Fourth)
Author: Daystar Searcher
Link: http://www.whofic.com/viewstory.php?sid=41878
Rating/Warning(s): All ages/non

Why This Must Be Read: Same author, different tone. This is a lovely, lyrical little vignette which paints a picture of Sarah and the Doctor's relationship as an unconventional courtship. So much beauty in so few words.




Fic Rec #6: A Life Full of Compromises
Pairing: Sarah Jane Smith/Harry Sullivan
Author: paranoidangel
Link: http://www.whofic.com/viewstory.php?sid=29935
Rating/Warning(s): All Ages/none

Why This Must Be Read: Sarah and Harry get married, and that's the beginning of the story, not the end. I'm not really much of a Sarah/Harry fan, I'll admit. Not sure why, they've just never grabbed me the same way that some of the other pairings on this list have. But that said, if I were adamantly against it this fic would've probably changed my mind. It's sweet and bittersweet at the same time and so very *them* that you can't help nodding along and going, "Yes, that's exactly how it happened."




Fic Rec #7: Loves Them All
Pairing: Sarah Jane Smith/the Doctor (Third, with other incarnations implied)
Author: witchofthedesk
Link: http://www.whofic.com/viewstory.php?sid=21985
Rating/Warning(s): All ages/none

Why This Must Be Read: I have a confession to make. While I love Sarah Jane with every incarnation of the Doctor she's met either on screen or in fanfic, a part of me will always love her best with Three. Which is ironic considering I saw her with Four and Ten before I ever got introduced to her earlier stories. I love this story because it's another extremely well done Sarah-meets-an-earlier-Doctor-post-Deffrey-Vale piece, but also because...well, maybe I'm not the only one who favors Three just a little bit. ;-)




Fic Rec #8: Mine Forever
Pairing: Sarah Jane Smith/the Doctor (multiple incarnations), Sarah Jane Smith/Jack Harkness
Author: lilahkat
Link: http://www.whofic.com/viewstory.php?sid=40345
Rating/Warning(s): All ages/none

Why This Must Be Read: Implausible from the start and recently Jossed, but still a really unique and very sweet story. Sarah finds a way to spend forever with the Doctor, with a little help from Jack. To say any more than that would spoil it.




Fic Rec #9: Of Love, Life, and Italian Oranges
Pairing: Sarah Jane Smith/the Doctor (multiple incarnations)
Author: not_only_a_girl
Link: http://not-only-a-girl.livejournal.com/3019.html
Rating/Warning(s):

Why This Must Be Read: Sarah Jane through the eyes of the Doctor, from the beginning to the end and--because this is a time travel show, after all--back to the beginning. Sweet and bittersweet, melancholy and triumphant all at once and so, SO very them.




Fic Rec #10: Solidarity
Pairing: Sarah/the Doctor, Sarah/others
Author: meddow
Link: http://meddow.livejournal.com/59312.html
Rating/Warning(s): no rating given

Why This Must Be Read: Okay, so I admit I might be cheating a little bit with this one. It's not *overtly* Doctor/Sarah Jane, but it is all about Sarah's relationship with the Doctor--specifically after she leaves him and before Deffrey Vale--and the intensity of their connection in it implies, at least to me, something more unique than friendship. Especially considering the other men who are mentioned only briefly, and usually in comparison/contrast to the Doctor.




Fic Rec #11: The Stardust Trail Leading Back to You
Pairing: Sarah/the Doctor (Eighth)
Author: queenofhearts
Link: http://www.whofic.com/viewstory.php?sid=16978
Rating/Warning(s):

Why This Must Be Read: The Doctor runs into Sarah Jane at a fireworks display. I read this story probably not long after it was written and just fell in love with it. And then when I wanted to go back and re-read it several months later, I realized I had forgotten the title! It took some searching, and the help of some friends on Livejournal, but I finally tracked it down again. I'm glad I did, because if I hadn't been able to share this perfect little star, I would've been heartbroken. It's just a moment, captured out of context and out of order, but what a beautiful little moment. Probably my favorite Doctor/Sarah Jane fic of all time, even though it's more UST than romance.




Fic Rec #12: The Still Point
Pairing: Sarah Jane Smith/Alan Jackson
Author: eponymous_rose
Link: http://www.whofic.com/viewstory.php?sid=25041
Rating/Warning(s): All ages/none

Why This Must Be Read: Another Sarah/Alan fic! It's a similar premise to "Fire and Ice" in that it involves the characters bonding over alien invasions and fear for their teenagers, but it's a...quieter story, if that makes any sense. It's about life on earth and life amongst the stars, about danger, aliens, and parenting. But mostly it's about not letting a perfect moment pass you by.




Fic Rec #13: Three Times Under
Pairing: Sarah Jane Smith/Jack Harkness
Author: orbythesea
Link: http://archiveofourown.org/works/193702
Rating/Warning(s):

Why This Must Be Read: Because you can't have a single-character, multi-'ship fanfic list for Doctor Who without Jack Harkness making an appearance! Well...you can, I suppose, but where's the fun in that? ;-) This is another one that I had lost track of for a while, but fortunately I was able to run it down when I started this list. Sarah and Jack's relationship begins because of the Doctor. It ends because of Torchwood and Luke. Everything in between is just as perfectly in character for both, so nothing else really needs to be said.




Fic Rec #14: UNITWOOD
Pairing: Sarah Jane Smith/the Doctor (Fourth), Sarah Jane Smith/others implied, the Doctor/Mike Yates implied
Author: AND
Link: http://www.whofic.com/viewstory.php?sid=27309
Rating/Warning(s):

Why This Must Be Read: Hilarious satire of Torchwood starring the folks from UNIT. Set in a highly irregular alternate universe diverging sometime after "Robot," but what makes it really brilliant is that the characters are still entirely recognizable as themselves. Oh, and because it's a parody of Torchwood there is some implied slash. Sarah's part is small, but significant.




Fic Rec #15: When You Turn to the Subject of Harry
Pairing: Sarah Jane Smith/Harry Sullivan, Sarah Jane Smith/the Doctor (Third)
Author: Daystar Searcher
Link: http://daystarsearcher.livejournal.com/53585.html
Rating/Warning(s): All ages/none

Why This Must Be Read: On a more poignant note, this is Sarah through Harry's eyes during his first days at UNIT. The story is set between the last two scenes of "Planet of the Spiders" (and therefore in a way also between "Planet of the Spiders" and "Robot") and features a Harry who is so delightfully Harry, but even more naive to the world he's just entered than what we saw on screen. It's bittersweet because it's clear almost from the start that Sarah is very much the Doctor's girl, so that Harry can be a friend to her but not much more, no matter how badly he wants it.




Fic Rec #16: Who's Your Dad(dy)?
Pairing: Sarah Jane Smith/the Doctor (Three, Four, Ten), Sarah Jane Smith/Alan Jackson UST
Author: lilahkat
Link: http://www.whofic.com/viewstory.php?sid=42183
Rating/Warning(s): Teen/none

Why This Must Be Read: If there is one thing that Doctor Who has going for it, it is some of the most glorious crackfic in all of fandom. This is another example. I don't want to say too much about it because I don't want to spoil the surprise, but suffice it to say that Sarah's relationship with the Doctor has gotten a lot more complicated in a delightfully absurd way. Alan and Maria, having been out of the country, are also the only ones out of the loop. It's a fun romp, and what better note than that to end my list on?

Tags: !remembered, fandom: doctor who, ship: sarah jane smith/alan jackson, ship: sarah jane smith/brigadier alistai, ship: sarah jane smith/harry sullivan, ship: sarah jane smith/jack harkness, ship: sarah jane smith/the doctor, special: manifesto
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