Doctor Who #866: Goodbye, Sarah Jane Smith Part 1

"They won't kill us till they've scanned us. First indigenous specimens. The fireworks are just scare tactics." "The scare tactics are working."
TECHNICAL SPECS: First aired Nov.15 2010.

IN THIS ONE... A replacement for Sarah Jane shows up on Bannerman Road, just as Sarah contracts a deteriorating brain illness.

REVIEW: We often deal with the kids' anxieties about growing up in some metaphorical way, but once a year, we're given something that's a lot more about Sarah Jane growing old. In Goodbye, Sarah is replaced in every conceivable way by Ruby Anne White, an alien hunter who appears to be a mirrored reflection of her. Ruby has her own sports car, her own sentient computer, her own alien tech, and her own house on Bannerman Road. Like Sarah, she's a no nonsense woman who at first rejects the idea of working with teenagers (or indeed, letting anyone into her life), but eventually adopts them as part of her extended family. Everything's the same, except not. The car is sportier, the computer more portable, the Attic actually a Cellar... and Ruby Anne is an evil alien succubus draining the life out of Sarah.

I believe the story and acting would have been effective enough on their own, but combined with the fact Lis Sladen herself fell ill shortly after this episode aired - and from my perspective, had died before the DVD came out and I ever saw it - it's heartbreaking. I actually find it difficult to watch, though in the best of ways. It's rare enough for a woman her age to have the lead role in an action adventure series, but you'd think the production would steer clear of calling attention to it by focusing on the character's possible deterioration. One wonders if it came too close to home for Lis Sladen as well. So it's brave of several fronts, presenting a Sarah Jane - a character many of us grew up with - with deteriorating motor skills, memory loss and erratic behavior. Remember when she was the girl next door? Now she's a parent or grandparent slipping away before our eyes. We've loved her for more than 35 years, and it's a punch in the gut to have to face up to reality: She's a human being. We've all got a limited time on this Earth, and not all of us will go out with our dignity intact. Sarah at least attempts to, hoping to leave her loved ones behind before she can become a burden. Good idea or not, we may well sigh with relief when Ruby is identified as the culprit. Alien intervention means it'll all turn out for the best in the end. No so with real world problems...

Imagine if this were a re-pilot of the show, with a legit Ruby taking over. Julie Graham is a formidable presence, and might have been up to the task (obviously, one might have preferred another of the Doctor's companions instead). Everything seemed set to make us believe it could happen. At least until about 20 minutes in. Mr. Smith was hitting it off with Mr. White. Rani was taking driving lessons from Ruby. And the Dark Horde (which seems cool enough to warrant another appearance) were on the run. Well, it was too good to be true, wasn't it? Ruby turning out to be evil gets us back into well-worn territory, and in that sense, is a disappointment. But despite my ruminations, who could truly imagine this show without Lis Sladen? Perhaps that's what Goodbye is meant to prove.

REWATCHABILITY: High
- Highly emotional, and while I realize events in the real world since broadcast have something to do with that, it doesn't change that fact.

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