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Elizabeth Sandifer

Elizabeth Sandifer created Eruditorum Press. She’s not really sure why she did that, and she apologizes for the inconvenience. She currently writes Last War in Albion, a history of the magical war between Alan Moore and Grant Morrison. She used to write TARDIS Eruditorum, a history of Britain told through the lens of a ropey sci-fi series. She also wrote Neoreaction a Basilisk, writes comics these days, and has ADHD so will probably just randomly write some other shit sooner or later. Support Elizabeth on Patreon.


  1. Spacewarp
    August 30, 2013 @ 1:55 am

    On the button as always. SJA is often lazily lumped in with Torchwood as "a Doctor Who spinoff" when it's far and away a different beast. If anything it's status as a spin-off is almost irrelevant to the reasons for it's success. Similar to the way Doctor Who 2005 revitalized Family Telly, SJA has probably done the same for Kids TV. I'm sure "Wizards Vs Aliens" would never have been made if it weren't for the success of SJA, and that's not just because of RTD. In the same way that SF changed almost overnight after Star Wars, CTV changed after SJA.

    Oh and as for "…even if I’ve not actually watched, erm, virtually any of it…" Man you really should!

    Definitely not all of them (as yes, they are for children), but there are a few stories that transcend their Kids TV status and become something both poignant and beautiful. Oddly enough the four episodes with "Sarah Jane" in the title, the one with "the Doctor" in the title, and special mention must go to "The Empty Planet" and "The Curse of Clyde Langer" which both show what a good little actor Daniel Anthony is. I strongly recommend you give those the time of day. The rest quite frankly are enjoyable but derivative runarounds.

    IMO of course!


  2. John Callaghan
    August 30, 2013 @ 2:20 am

    A friend of mine classifies Doctor Who fans as either Torchwood People or Sarah Jane people; everyone likes Who, but no-one likes all three. While I'm sure there are people out there who do manage that somehow, I'm definitely in the SJA camp (pun intended). It's worthy but jolly and daft, whereas Torchwood seems terribly ordinary and dull to me, like Dr. Who with all the fun taken out (although I acknowledge that it's popular, so fair enough).


  3. Lewis Christian
    August 30, 2013 @ 2:21 am

    I'm rather hoping Phil watches all of them (in order, when the time comes) to complete this blog and also to see just how wonderful SJA really is. I fully agree with you, Spacewarp – some of the SJA stories actually manage to feel more "adult" than Torchwood manages, which says a lot. It's actually quite weird, but good-weird, that here we have a "children's spin-off"… with a lead character who's 50+ and which tackles homelessness, death, growing up, isolation, rejection, relationships… it's very daring and also very, very brilliant.


  4. Lewis Christian
    August 30, 2013 @ 2:21 am

    (Minor comment: Typo with the spelling of Elisabeth.)


  5. Daibhid C
    August 30, 2013 @ 2:37 am

    I kind of like Torchwood, but I'd definitely rather watch SJA. Although I'd only watch Invasion of the Bane specifically if I could fastforward through every scene with Kelsey in it…


  6. Spacewarp
    August 30, 2013 @ 2:41 am

    Actually I may have been a bit disingenuous with my "runarounds" quip. There's a helluva lot more to like about SJA than those stories I mentioned. Unlike Torchwood it quite unashamedly wears its connection to Doctor Who on it's sleeve, and whenever it uses a Who monster goes out of its way to explore the funny side.

    The Judoon in the Police Patrol Car ("Have Nice Day"), "The Last Sontaran" (the precursor to the fantastically comic Strax), and of course the Slitheen, who seem to work better in SJA (probably because the fart jokes are now pitched to the correct audience!).


  7. David Thiel
    August 30, 2013 @ 3:14 am

    I'm also in the SJA camp. While there were times during which I was acutely aware that I was watching kids' TV (I'm looking at you, "Mona Lisa's Revenge"), all in all I enjoyed the series.

    It was great to Lis Sladen back on the screen, even if one did have to squint a bit to imagine her as she was back in the day.

    Even better was the extent to which she was allowed to be a quasi-Doctor, with access to just enough technology (hello, sonic lipstick!) to prove a credible threat to would-be invaders.

    There were times that it played like "Sarah Jane vs. the Leftover Alien Costume from Doctor Who," but still it was fun to watch her deal with Slitheen, Sontarans and Judoon. (The Slitheen worked especially well here.) Notably, they never imported a Dalek, presumably because even one RTD-era Dalek would've turned Bannerman Road into a blazing hellscape.

    The one thing that bugged me about SJA wasn't the show's own fault: that it provided the sole modern-day outing for the Brigadier. Despite UNIT's many appearances in nuWho and even Torchwood, the Brig never received anything more than namechecks that must've been baffling to an audience unfamiliar with classic Who. So, as nice as it was to see Sarah and Alistair reunited, it bugs me that Nicholas Courtney never got to appear alongside David Tennant.


  8. Lewis Christian
    August 30, 2013 @ 3:19 am

    To its credit though, The Wedding of Sarah Jane was originally scripted to include the Brigadier. Unfortunately Nick's health meant he couldn't take part – so the intention was there, at least, for him to return and meet the Tenth Doctor.

    Also notably, RTD states that if he'd had the budget, a whole host of former companions would've returned in Death of the Doctor. And he'd also planned the return of Ace, which would've also included a short-and-sweet flashback to the time Seven left Ace (newly filmed).

    This all contributes to the magic of SJA, I feel. It incorporates a lot of classic elements (honestly, there are a good few flashbacks to the classic series and Jon and Tom) whilst handling them really well. They never take you out of the story much, and they never feel in the way. Everything's carefully crafted.


  9. Lewis Christian
    August 30, 2013 @ 3:22 am

    There are a few "romps"/"runarounds", but that doesn't mean they're in any way bad or less successful than those which tackle major issues or have more epic storylines. And I feel every story has something of merit, something properly great or magical.

    I also agree about the Doctor Who monsters. I like that the Sontaran comes about after the events of The Poison Sky, I like that the Slitheen appearances tie into their DW appearances, I like that the Trickster mentions "the Gate" and the Key to Time, etc. Unlike Torchwood which tip-toes the "we're part of Doctor Who" line, SJA fully goes for it and it's all the better for it.

    (It's even more special if watched in order, alongside Doctor Who due to all the ties and mentions etc.)


  10. Lewis Christian
    August 30, 2013 @ 3:25 am

    "This is often called the pilot, which, in fact, it wasn’t…"

    A little surprised there's no nod back to K9 & Company which actually serves as a SJA-pilot… except for it being made many years earlier and definitely nowhere near as good as SJA. But it has the key elements – Sarah with K9, Sarah as the lead role, mentions of the Doctor, etc.


  11. The Lord of Ábrocen Landmearca
    August 30, 2013 @ 3:53 am

    SJA has some fantastic and emotional episodes, but I found myself getting really frustrated by the end of its run with the rut it had fallen into.

    Plot "There's some kind of mystery, what could-"
    Plot: " BUt what-"
    SJ: "Aliens! It's aliens>" Weird, high pitched keening "Alieeeeennnnnnsssss" Runs off in a rage.

    It's not that I have a problem with aliens; far from it. My problem was that Sarah Jane simply stopped being able to comprehend an answer that wasn't aliens. It was always aliens. Her son is acting strangely? Aliens. Garbage pick-up was late? Aliens. It's Tuesday? Aliens.

    Even tough she was always correct (given the nature of the show), it made her seem like a crazy person. Aliens should not be the logical shave of Occam's Razor, and it made SJ seem like a lousy journalist because she instantly jumped to a conclusion sight-unseen.


  12. Toby Brown
    August 30, 2013 @ 4:07 am

    It's such a good children's show that me and my mum (who doesn't watch Doctor Who itself) caught the first few episodes with my much younger cousin, and then ended up watching the rest on our own. Not only are the more 'adult' (for want of a better word) episodes such as all the '…Sarah Jane' episodes genuinely brilliant, being emotional and character based while still clearly being tv aimed at children, but even the more generic runaround episodes feel somewhat more justified than the episodes aimed at children that Phil identifies, being flagged as a children's show from the start, and actually just being very well written and executed.


  13. Toby Brown
    August 30, 2013 @ 4:10 am

    Also, this probably doesn't belong attached to this episode, but I'm not sure whether it would necessarily be brought up later since I don't know how common knowledge this is so…
    CBBC and RTD had actually decided that were the show to continue, Luke would have had a boyfriend, which just shows how utterly perfect this show is. Not only would it have done so so much for helping children understand how being gay is normal (I can't imagine how much easier coming out would have been for me had a popular tv character made it clear that sometimes boys just like boys earlier in my childhood), but also that I imagine SJA would actually treat the issue of sexuality with more tact and thought than the supposedly more 'adult' Torchwood ever did with it's "Everyone's bi! Everyone's having sex with everyone! Sex alien! Sex!" attitude, since the only route SJA could really go with it would be "Hi mum, this is my boyfriend" then optional discussion about it then "Well that's delightful" and moving on with it.


  14. Mark Patterson
    August 30, 2013 @ 4:12 am

    I'd agree with your shortlist of highlight stories, with the small but significant addition of 'The Madwoman in the Attic' which goes to places one wouldn't ever expect from a children's show, even a very good and grownup-friendly one like this, and does so beautifully. It even manages to give the impression that its author may actually have read the original work from which the title is lifted.


  15. Seeing_I
    August 30, 2013 @ 4:23 am

    Yes, yes, a hundred times less. On its own terms, SJA was more successful than Torchwood by a mile and often beat Doctor Who at its own game as well. All the episodes mentioned here are just super. I really, unequivocally love this series. "Invasion of the Bane" is actually one of the least successful entries, to be honest. "Whatever Happened to Sarah Jane Smith?" is my pick for the absolute pinnacle of the series.


  16. Seeing_I
    August 30, 2013 @ 4:24 am

    Nah, sorry, your friend is wrong – I love all three shows and for different reasons.


  17. Seeing_I
    August 30, 2013 @ 4:29 am

    To be fair, they did lampshade this a bit in "Wedding" when the kids were convinced that aliens were behind Sarah's odd behavior, when it was just that she'd found romance (and, um, aliens).


  18. Seeing_I
    August 30, 2013 @ 4:32 am

    I totally agree Toby. The saddest part is that we lost Liz, of course, but I really hate that we didn't get that "Luke is gay" storyline. (Plus he's grown up into QUITE a cutie, so that doesn't hurt. Mmm, cute English genius with a robot dog, yes please.)


  19. Spacewarp
    August 30, 2013 @ 4:40 am

    Yeah I kind of know what you mean, but firstly in a 25 minute show there simply isn't enough time to mention all the mundane possibilities before concluding that it might be aliens again (especially since we know it's an SF/Fantasy show, so it quite obviously will be aliens).

    More importantly suggesting the ordinary first is the role of a companion, and in an episode of Doctor Who it's OK for a bit of skepticism on Sarah's part. She can play the Scully card against the Doctor's superior knowledge (which we know will ultimately prove her skepticism wrong).

    But in SJA she's essentially playing the Doctor role, and dramatically she has to jump to the (correct) alien conclusion immediately, leaving her companions Clyde & Rani/Maria to suggest that perhaps the explanation for Luke's odd behaviour is not alien possession but hormones, or Mr Smith's mysterious power fluctuations might just be down to the Electricity Board.

    After all, how many episodes of Doctor Who have we seen where the Doctor immediately goes for the most fantastical explanation first?


  20. Spacewarp
    August 30, 2013 @ 4:46 am

    If you'd told me in 1988, when Clause 28 became law that only 20 years later the BBC would have seriously considered a gay teenage character in a prime children's TV show, I'd never have believe you. Shows how far we've come (and how backward Russia is).


  21. Galadriel
    August 30, 2013 @ 5:36 am

    I absolutely adore Sarah Jane Adventures and continue to be amazed at how complete the episodes are. "Mature" or "adult" aren't the correct terms, because of the automatic association with sex, but they tell stories about very significant topics without dumbing down to children at all.
    It does point back to Classics in format, but I also appreciate the less-intense moments. Which is not to say the show doesn't have its terrifying or cliffhanger moments, but in the end, you know it will end well.


  22. Galadriel
    August 30, 2013 @ 5:47 am

    Also, the lack of SJA fans in the United States is partially due to the fact that only the first season aired (on SyFy) here, whereas Torchwood aired on BBCA and became a joint production with Starz for season four. Yes, DVDS are available, but the release was often delayed.
    Personally, I would love to see PBS acquire rights to air it on Saturday nights alongside DW reruns.


  23. Triturus
    August 30, 2013 @ 5:49 am


    Also, would anyone in their wildest dreams have believed in 1988 that one day a Conservative-led government would legislate for gay marriage?


  24. Lewis Christian
    August 30, 2013 @ 6:54 am

    Random comment:

    I was thinking further about ties SJA has with Doctor Who, in relation to formula and format and this sprung to mind: "The X of Sarah Jane Smith" became a series-recurring title (by Gareth Roberts) and, each time, the Trickster appeared.

    In a way, it was his own "X of the Daleks" – ultimately, you knew who'd be behind the story.

    And then Series 4 flips it on his head and we have "Goodbye, Sarah Jane Smith" again by Roberts… and this time the Trickster doesn't appear. It's sneaky, and I was never too sure how I felt. I watched the story on broadcast waiting for him to appear and then, ultimately, I felt two things. I was happy because it was a sneaky twist and it was unexpected that he didn't show up, but then I was miffed because I felt like I'd been promised something which never quite happened.

    It's kind of like having "Return of the Daleks", only for it to be a story featuring Adipose and Midshipman Frame – and no Daleks in sight.

    (Also sad because as much as I love that we have a "Trickster Trilogy", I always wanted one final hoorah for Sarah Jane vs her main nemesis. Let's be honest – he's the biggie. Sontarans return, Slitheen return… but the Trickster is Sarah Jane's biggest foe. He's the Daleks of the SJA World. And it's also perhaps a shame he never crossed over into the world of DW, though there's a case to be made for him being The Black Guardian of sorts.)


  25. Elizabeth Sandifer
    August 30, 2013 @ 6:55 am

    I will be doing all of them, yes.


  26. Elizabeth Sandifer
    August 30, 2013 @ 6:56 am

    Well, the insect thing in Turn Left is said to be part of the Trickster's Brigade, so it's not a complete lack of crossover.


  27. Matthew Celestis
    August 30, 2013 @ 7:18 am

    I hope all you progressive people will be voting Conservative in the next election!


  28. sorrywehurtyourfield
    August 30, 2013 @ 8:01 am

    There's a significant resemblance between him and the Shadow from The Armageddon Factor, making me wonder if he could be another one of the Black Guardian's minions. After all, he's familiar with the events of Armageddon Factor in Wedding of Sarah Jane Smith…


  29. David Thiel
    August 30, 2013 @ 8:22 am

    Sure, but my point was that I was disappointed that the Brig never appeared in the parent series. He was defined solely by his absence. Was that also due to ill health?

    The weird thing is that now we've got a recurring character who is explicitly the daughter of someone whom the nuWho audience never met. (Unless they watched either the classic show or the spin-off, neither of which can be assumed.)


  30. David Thiel
    August 30, 2013 @ 8:38 am

    While I think it would've been great if a gay character had been introduced, I don't think it would've been ideal to have it be Luke. If you're making the case that "being gay is normal," perhaps the character who was grown in a vat by space octopi isn't your best choice. (Though it would certainly argue for "nature" over "nurture.")


  31. eternaly relyneat
    August 30, 2013 @ 8:41 am

    It must be said, there is a magical inexplicable thing -something like a direct transmission of optimism and joy- that evenTorchwood almost comes close to once or twice actually and Doctor Who manages to touch on it lightly pretty regularly… anyway, a handful of stories from the latter seasons of SJA absolutely nail it better than either of the above. It really is more Doctor Who than Doctor Who is sometimes, in the best possible way. I.E. Worth sitting through all 4 seasons, I promise.


  32. Wm Keith
    August 30, 2013 @ 9:46 am

    For CBeebies viewers, he's also reminiscent of The Numbertaker from Numberjacks.


  33. Lewis Christian
    August 30, 2013 @ 9:58 am

    Yeah, I fired off on a tangent there! But at least there was an intention to pair Tennant's Doctor up with the Brig, even if in a spin-off. (Though, had Nick been well, I do wonder if they'd brought him into DW at some point. RTD has stated, IIRC, he regrets not bringing him back when he had the chance.)


  34. Lewis Christian
    August 30, 2013 @ 10:01 am

    However, Luke's story is that he "becomes" "normal". So to then make him gay would only serve to say, "normal people can be bi/gay too".


  35. Seeing_I
    August 30, 2013 @ 11:23 am

    I don't think the point of making Luke gay is so much "normal people are gay, too" but "people you like and care about are gay, too."


  36. jane
    August 30, 2013 @ 11:51 am

    I've only seen a few. Whatever Happened to Sarah Jane? and Death of the Doctor are particularly noteworthy for their esoteric themes. Especially the latter. I mean, it's right in the wheelhouse of Moffat's Who, especially that grand coffin escape.


  37. Wm Keith
    August 30, 2013 @ 12:48 pm

    Triturus, you might equally ask who in 1804 would have predicted that Wellesley and Peel would lead a Tory government into Catholic enfranchisement. (But you might also point to the poverty maintained and created by each government's economic policies.)


  38. Triturus
    August 30, 2013 @ 2:48 pm

    Wm Keith

    Well, obviously. To quote that alternative-universe Great Intelligence / 8th Doctor buddy movie Withnail & I, even a stopped clock tells the right time twice a day. Doesn't stop it being horrendously wrong for the most part.


  39. Ross
    August 30, 2013 @ 3:57 pm

    Hm. Reflecting a bit, it seems like whenever they want to do a story with a message of the form "You can X" or "It's okay if you X" or "Here's why you shouldn't X", they give it to Maria or Rani, and whenever they want to do a story with a message of the form "Here's a problem you might have yourself, and here's how to deal with it if you have a friend who does", they give it to Clyde. And when they want to do a story with a message of "Here's a problem you won't have yourself, but someone who you love might," that's when they give it to Luke. So Maria gets "How to deal with your parents divorcing," and Rani gets "Here's why you shouldn't drive your friends away", but Clyde's story about his father isn't "Here's how to deal with an abusive parent" but "Here's what to do if you have a friend with an abusive parent." And Luke has to cope with going off to college — which is something that wouldn't be a factor for the target audience, but might be a factor for their older siblings.

    More broadly, Maria/Rani tend to do things, Clyde tends to have things done to him and Luke tends to "be" things (That is, his plots tend to always relate back to him being "just inherently different")


  40. BerserkRL
    August 31, 2013 @ 12:45 am

    no-one likes all three. While I'm sure there are people out there who do manage that somehow

    Hand goes up.


  41. Tallifer
    August 31, 2013 @ 12:51 am

    Perfect television, and perfect Doctor Who. This show embraced humour and wide-eyed wonder, such that I relive my youth each time I watch it. I think Clyde and Rani are my two favourite modern companions.


  42. BerserkRL
    August 31, 2013 @ 12:51 am

    Worth sitting through all 4 seasons

    Well, 5. Well, 4 and a half. And a lizard.


  43. Lewis Christian
    August 31, 2013 @ 2:18 am

    Well, the insect thing in Turn Left is said to be part of the Trickster's Brigade, so it's not a complete lack of crossover.

    True, and there's a namecheck to the Trickster in Miracle Day too somewhere!


  44. Clay Hickman
    August 31, 2013 @ 5:21 am

    There was a big Trickster-related Arc built into Series 5, but as the latter half was never made the references to it in the episodes we do have were snipped out before broadcast.

    Even so, the big Trickster-y season finale would have come from Russell, not Gareth, as
    Gar and I were writing a story called 'Meet Mr Smith' for the second half of S5.

    Also, DW links-wise, the original idea for 'Secrets of the Stars' was that the energy force was the Mandragora Helix, and first Gary Russell, then Gar and I worked for a while on a story where the Metebelis III giant spiders returned, but we just couldn't make it work. We even storylined a prospective Christmas episode where we saw Aunt Lavinia in flashback, so 'K9 & Company' did get it's due! Actually, I think there was a line about Brendan in 'Wedding' which was cut. It's in Gareth's novelisation, along with a version of some of the Brigadier material which was lost.

    There was a great DWM special not that long ago which went through all the unmade SJA stories so it's worth seeking out to see what might have been.

    Anyhow, it's very cheering to see all the love for SJA and Lis on here from you guys. Can't wait to see what Phil makes of it all…



  45. Seeing_I
    August 31, 2013 @ 5:49 am

    Hey Clay, lovely to see you here, and I just want to vote, if there's any voting to be done, for a spin-off line of continuing SJA novels!


  46. Seeing_I
    August 31, 2013 @ 5:50 am

    That's very apt, Ross! Never thought of it that way.


  47. Lewis Christian
    August 31, 2013 @ 4:04 pm

    Echoing Seeing_I above: great to see you here, Clay!

    I've read the SJA DWM Special and it's full of wonderful snippets and treats. I'd love for them to be realised in novel or scriptbook form some day. (I know The Thirteenth Floor has been adapted as a Wizards vs Aliens story, but I still wouldn't mind seeing the original version with Sarah and co.) Such a shame Lis never got to complete Series 5 – it's horribly cut short, though at least the series has 3 great stories to finish Lis' story on.


  48. Seeing_I
    September 1, 2013 @ 4:27 am

    Of course, we all know there are some books-on-CD stories out there, but I would love to see proper ongoing novel series (especially as books tend to be cheaper than CDs). I feel like there's a lot of love and longing out there, not only for Liz and her crew, but for the warm, witty and humane RTD era which has a lot of qualities the current few series have lacked.


  49. John Callaghan
    September 2, 2013 @ 1:28 am

    And in her defence, I blame aliens for Tuesdays as well.


  50. William Silvia
    October 9, 2013 @ 8:25 pm

    I actually think "School Reunion" serves as the pilot to this particular series…


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