Women Who Kick Ass: Sarah Jane Smith
At around 23 years old, investigative journalist Sarah Jane Smith, posing as her aunt, snuck into a top-secret UNIT research facility, where scientists had gone missing. While there, she met UNIT’s unpaid scientific advisor, who she didn’t trust. So, naturally, she stowed away in his spaceship, the TARDIS.
And, oh, the adventures she had. She and The Doctor cut a swath through the Universe, facing the wonders and the horrors of the universe, both in space, and when they came to Earth, working in tandem with UNIT — she later joked that her UNIT file had a higher security clearance than she ever had, not actually being affiliated with them. During her tenure as a companion, she faced some of the most horrific of The Doctor’s enemies — the Daleks, the Cybermen, the Ice Warriors, the Sontarans, the Slitheen, the Master and Davros.
She was something of a feminist, getting angry when The Doctor told her to make his coffee, and sparring with fellow companion Harry Sullivan when he was (unintentionally) showing his old-fashioned and patronizing attitude. She was also wasn’t afraid to pick up a gun when it was necessary, and was rather skilled in Venusian karate.
But, alas, the time came when Sarah Jane and The Doctor had to part ways, when he was summoned back to his home planet. And that was that. Sarah Jane had to return to her own life, back on Earth, the mundane existence of paying bills, buying groceries, and working at a job — the kinds of things that might seem unimpressive and dull to somebody who had traveled through space and time, to somebody that had fallen in love with a Time Lord of Gallifrey.
Though, if you listen to some sources, they might say that Sarah Jane Smith did a lot of interesting things in the years after she and The Doctor parted ways — became involved with a doomsday cult that proclaimed her as the human herald of the apocalypse, went on the first commercial flight to research a comet, developed an amazing supercomputer with a stone that a geologist friend dug up from Krakatoa.
But there came a day, quite by chance, when Sarah Jane ran into The Doctor again. She was older now, and still a journalist, investigating a school that had a proclivity for higher than usual aptitude. And while there, she met a teacher who’d just started that day, going by the name of John Smith, a pseudonym she was familiar with. And it was indeed, him.
That encounter gave her the push and the inspiration needed to realize how much of an adventure life on Earth could be. From her attic in Ealing,London; she and her friend Mr. Smith, often with the assistance of a band of neighborhood kids, researched paranormal activity and parleyed with aliens, both benign and malevolent.
Sarah Jane also played a major role in the Dalek Invasion of 2009, working with Harriet Jones, the disgraced Prime Minister, as well as Captain Jack Harkness and his staff at Torchwood 3. The planet was saved, in part, through her actions, both on Earth and aboard the Dalek Crucible ship. It was during this adventure, while towing the Earth through spacetime, back to its proper place, that she gained the honor of being one of a few humans to pilot a TARDIS, especially as part of a full crew.
Sarah Jane was also a woman of great integrity and personal strength. In her later years, she took a nonviolent stand, preferring to parley whenever possible. She was tempted, a number of times, to abuse her privileges as time-traveler, including the chance to save her parents, who had died when she was an infant. Especially interested in her was a chaotic entity known as The Trickster, who changed time-locked events in order to create chaotic energy. But she persevered through it all, with her extraordinary children, Luke and Sky Smith, and her ‘pupils’, Maria Jackson, Clyde Langer, and Rani Chandra.
She was to them as The Doctor was to her, and their names, like many of those who encountered The Doctor, were well-remembered. None can say how their stories ended, or if they, indeed, ended.
Elisabeth Sladen joined the cast of Doctor Who in 1973, and is one of the most involved and most beloved actors involved with the programme. In various media, she has worked with all but two of The Doctors, and received her own spin-off after appearing in the second season of “New Who”. The Sarah Jane Adventures, slated toward a younger audience, was immediately popular, and was cut short by Lis’s death on 19 April 2011.
N.b. — This is a post I wrote for a blog about women who kick ass — both fictional women and real — about five years ago. It’s an old piece but it’s a goodie, and to this day, Sarah Jane Smith is my favorite of the Doctor’s companions. In today’s political environment, we need to be reminded of freedom fighters, those who kick ass to save the world.
Zach Payne is, to borrow the words of Lin-Manuel Miranda, “a polymath, a pain in the ass, a massive Payne.” He acts, sings poorly, and writes poetry, plays, and young adult fiction.
He’s an assistant at Ninja Writers, where he helps new writers find their voice and their tribe. He was the query intern for Pam Victorio at D4EO, and his novel Somehow You’re Sitting Here was selected for Nevada SCBWI’s 2015–16 Mentor Program. He lives in Reno.