Doctor Who #1019: Farewell, Sarah Jane

"He’s got two hearts - imagine them both breaking."
TECHNICAL SPECS: Released on YouTube 19 April 2020.

IN THIS ONE... Friends convene for Sarah Jane Smith's funeral.

REVIEW: I've been putting off writing this review because my first viewing completely destroyed me, and just preparing for a second made me well up in anticipation. Written by Russell T Davies for the twin occasions of The Stolen Earth/Journey's End global watching party and the anniversary of Lis Sladen's passing, it is a loving and touching tribute to the woman, and the character that made her famous. I was a big fan of The Sarah Jane Adventures, which I feel has been ignored by too many Whovians as juvenile, and this provides closure for a series that, like Ms. Sladen's life, was cut short too soon. Of all celebrity deaths, I felt hers the sharpest, for reasons and details I don't want to go into, but even with the limited means offered by the quarantine, Farewell packed a punch. It's emotional, and yes, even a bit cloying and sappy, but that's very much in keeping with RTD's time on the franchise, and no matter who shows up, filming themselves from home on their phones, you know they're thinking of her, not some fictional character, and it's gut-wrenching (especially Mina Anwar was Gita, who seems the most vulnerable).

Full disclosure here, I wrote this first part before clicking PLAY, and I already need to take a break.

The first feeling is perhaps disappointment when the 13-minute minisode appears to be an audiobook. Big Finish regular Jacob Dudman does a dramatic reading of the story, using his most serene and sensitive storybook voice, and we get to stare at him in his little sound-proof studio. Here you were expecting the kids from the show to come back in some kind of Zoom call or something, but no. It's a Big Finish "Short Trip". Not that that's a bad thing--and then, Jo Grant is on the screen, followed by several other friends from the franchise, and yes, eventually the kids from Bannerman Road (all except Season 1's Maria, which is too bad, but she rates a mention), and we get to find out what happened to them. Jo did appear in SJA, but the one surprise is Ace, who never did, something of a stand-in for all the past companions presumably on Earth in 2020, paying tribute to the one who may have been the "best among us". That is to say, in person, because the narration drops in many recognizable names, often with RTD's impish notions as to their final fates (such as making Tegan and Nyssa a couple) and not really caring about what happened either on screen or in expanded universe media. I suppose it's all in good fun (just like similar mentions in SJA's Death of the Doctor, with the forever young Ian and Barbara, etc.), but it's going to drive some fans crazy. While we have so many heroes assembled, there's room for a few quick, but evocative lines about an epic adventure, facing off against the Trickster (it's a rule, he MUST appear if "Sarah Jane" is in the episode tite).

The one person who does not appear at the funeral is the Doctor - so far as they know, I like to think they were just never updated on the Jodie situation and that she was there. To Sarah Jane's assembled friends, this makes sense, but Rani gets the last word (with a beautiful performance from Anjli Mohindra) and imagines the adventures never ending, and the Doctor pulling off one last rescue. She even does a bit of a Tennant/Smith impression there. Russell T Davies gives us hope, and indeed, even if Sarah Jane Smith has passed from our world, her funeral is a celebration of a life well-lived, not without sadness, but filled with happy memories. And Farewell ends like a proper "series finale", with endings, but also the promise of future stories, not just for Sarah, but for Bannerman Road, and indeed, for all past companions of the Doctor, and of his proxies', like Sarah's adventurous kids.

REWATCHABILITY: High - A poignant tribute to Elisabeth Sladen and a remarkably effective finale for a show that never got to have one. I hope this gets some hold-outs to finally watch the totality of the Sarah Jane Adventures.


Tim Knight said...

One of the purest, and most beautiful, pieces of Doctor Who in a long while, even thinking about it now makes me well up.


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