|The 1980s called. They said you can keep their bloody|
It’s December 28th, 1981. The Human League are now at number one with “Don’t You Want Me,” with ABBA, Adam and the Ants, and Eurovision winners Bucks Fizz also charting. Kraftwerk are lower in the charts, if you’re into that kind of thing. (I so am.)
Since the Five Faces series wrapped, an inconclusive attempt at an arms reduction treaty between the US and USSR takes place in Geneva, Arthur Scargill becomes president elect of the National Union for Mineworkers, which is likely to end well. Muhammad Ali fights his last fight, the US-supported El Salvadorian army kills 900 civilians, martial law is declared in Poland, the Penlee lifeboat disaster takes place off the coast of Cornwall, and the first test tube baby is born.
While on television we have one the only attempt in the course of the classic series to produce a spin-off: K-9 and Company. This is, perhaps, one of the stories that has most substantially shifted in how we must take it following the new series. Given that Russell T. Davies showed rather conclusively that, in fact, a series following the solo adventures of Sarah Jane Smith can work just fine. The existence of a K-9 centered spinoff is perhaps less of a glowing endorsement (though actually, I’ve never actually met anyone who’s even seen the K-9 series), but the fact of the matter is that K-9 appeared in fully a third of The Sarah Jane Adventures stories.
So like it or not, the fact of the matter is that this concept works. And if we’re going to continue being honest about this story, let’s note that at 8.4 million viewers it beat all of Season 18 of Doctor Who, and furthermore did it during the festive season and with a transmitter out in the northwest that meant it wasn’t seen there. The reason it wasn’t picked up had more to do with changes in leadership at the BBC than with the failure of this production. And so the default take on this story – that it’s a dead end that didn’t work – doesn’t wash. It did work. Just not for until over thirty years after this aired.
All of which said, it’s not hard to reason why the BBC might have been unimpressed with this pilot. While it’s clear today that the basic ideas behind this show work, this specific execution is deeply, deeply flawed – badly enough that it’s in many ways harder to see what convinced Russell T. Davies that there was actually meat on them bones than it is to see why people wrote the idea off for thirty-five years. The problem is that this pilot can’t decide if it’s a straight children’s show or an all-ages Avengers-like show with Sarah Jane and a robot dog.
The bulk of it is written like a quasi-serious adult drama. It’s certainly kid friendly, but it’s not for kids as such. In this regard it’s much like Doctor Who itself is.…