We already said goodbye to Elisabeth Sladen, one of Doctor Who's greatest stars, back in April. But with today's final episode of the Sarah Jane Adventures, we're having to say goodbye to Sarah Jane Smith, the character she played since 1973.
The above video, from the very end of the episode, is her final send-off.
I'll be honest, I knew I was going to be kind of emotional watching the final installment of the Sarah Jane Adventures, but I didn't expect it to hit me quite so hard. Lis Sladen brought so much warmth and humanity to the character of Sarah Jane Smith — making her the perfect counterpart for the cantankerous Jon Pertwee and the moody Tom Baker back in the 1970s. But as an older woman, she becomes this amazing mentor figure to a bunch of younger people, and that same warmth translates into this incredible generosity. Watching the end of "The Man Who Wasn't There," I really feel as though I've lost a friend, even though I never met Sladen in person.
"The Man Who Wasn't There" clearly wasn't intended to be a series finale — it's a random standalone adventure — but it does showcase Sarah Jane at her absolute best. She's at her funniest and her most whimsical in this story, even as Sarah Jane's gang of young people is at its absolute biggest and most scene-stealing. Sarah Jane has two kids now, plus Clyde and Rani, and then they also team up with a random cleaning girl... and yet, it never feels like there are too many characters running around, because Sladen's amazing presence anchors everything.
It doesn't hurt that "The Man Who Wasn't There" is a very good story, drenched in irony and silliness. (Although the timing is not great, since it's basically a satire on the recently departed Steve Jobs.) There's a tech mogul named Joseph Serf, who's Steve Jobs in all but name, and he's unveiling his new version of the iPad, called the Serf Board. But it turns out that Joseph Serf is actually a hologram, operated by a group of poor one-eyed aliens, who are kept prisoner and tortured — yes, just like FoxConn workers. Writer Gareth Roberts, who's frequently one of the funniest writers in the Who franchise, milks this situation for all the pathos and all the ludicrous humor you can cram into 42 minutes.
Ordinarily, the hilarious but ill-timed Steve Jobs satire — featuring the worst product launch in history! — would be the thing you'd most want to talk about in this two-parter. But not now. Now, all I can even think about is the fact that Lis Sladen gives one of the best performances of her career — despite the fact that she probably died not too long after filming this.
We start off being reminded of something that the writers of the Sarah Jane Adventures only intermittently remembered — that Sarah Jane is one of the top journalists in the country. Sarah Jane scoffs: "What do you think pays for all this? Taking in washing?" And it's lovely to see Sarah Jane in her element: barging in, asking obnoxious questions, flirting with her former editor, and rubbing it in the sleazy press rep Mr. Harrison's face that she knows Joseph Serf is a hologram. (Nice shout-out to Doctor Who and the Giant Robot with the "I know they know I know they know.") And then Joseph Serf trains his fearsome hypno power on Sarah Jane, right around the time we're due for a cliffhanger... and Sarah Jane is like, "excuse me? Tom Baker used to hypnotize me every week. I'm so not going to be hypnotized by a holographic CEO."
It gets even better in part two, honestly — Sarah Jane is a force of nature, channeling outrage worthy of the Doctor himself at the idea of buying and selling alien slaves, and keeping them chained up and abused. She's absolutely horrified, and more to the point pissed off. And then she meets the cleaning girl, who's just as upset as she is, and her faith in humanity is all restored. And then she hatches an "oldie but goodie" escape plan, making an escape from a storage room seem about as fun as anybody ever has. (And later, she casually puts the ailing U.N.I.T. back on the right track, because she's Sarah Jane Smith and she can do that.)
And yes, Sarah Jane has "gifted kids" — because she's the one who's inspired them. Just like she inspired all of us.
Here's the whole thing, as uploaded to YouTube by the amazing DoctorShannon: