|"Hello...I'm the Greatest Companion You Will EVER Have."|
1) Ahhhhhh, Sarah Jane Smith. If anyone wants proof of why Elisabeth Sladen is the gold standard of Who Companions, you have just to see this serial. Just as Tom Baker steps in and owns the part of the Doctor instantly a few serials hence, Sladen makes sure we know what Sarah Jane is all about from her first appearance at the scientist's summit. And throughout the serial, Sarah Jane is proactive, taking the point when dealing with Irogron. She's the perfect Doctor Who companion because she can take a major role in stories while complimenting the Doctor, not overshadowing him.
2) I know stories indicate that Jon Pertwee didn't get along with Sladen, but you never see it here. On the contrary, The Doctor seems to have a gleeful admiration for her and entrusts more and more to her as the story progresses. It's as if in Sarah Jane you get both the Ian and the Barbara, the Jamie and the Zoe, the ass-kicker and the smart chick all rolled into one package.
|"My name is Linx. I am 34, and my interests are military|
adventurism, torture and conquest. I am looking for..."
3) And then there's The Sontarans. You can keep your Daleks, your Cybermen, your Ice Warriors...I'll take these guys. Supposedly writer/creator Robert Holmes wrote out an exceptionally long treatise on these aliens, and it certainly shows in this serial. Over the course of four parts we learn loads about the Sontarans--and I love how these guys have an actual cultural outlook and personality. Linx is a monster, but one that has a code of honor and even a rudimentary sense of humor. Yes, they become diminished in future appearances (slightly--very slightly--returned to some form of dignity by Russell T. Davies., although I could do without the short jokes), but for now they're the most brutally formidable of the Who monsters.
Plus...it gives The Doctor an alien race that's strong, but not so super-strong (like the Cybermen) that they can engage him in hand to hand.
4) One of the clever touches to Holmes' script is how Linx honors his promise of giving Irongron 'magical' weapons--but is satisfied with just giving them rifles and a single primitive robot, as if he's willing to do what he says, but never so far that his allies could become a liability to him. It shows how intelligent an enemy Linx is....
5) ...and, to the script's credit, The Doctor responds in kind. This isn't the Doctor of other eras who gleefully cheat by using high tech to squash his foes dwelling in the past; he uses methods more or less consistent with that time and a knowledge of guerilla tactics. Just as with Linx, this speaks volumes of this Doctor's view on the sanctity of time and cultural development.
6) Another cool touch is how Donald Pelmear's Professor Rubeish is set up to be comic relief....but is revealed to be a valued ally who uses his own weaknesses to his advantage, and--like Sarah Jane--takes action against his situation. It doesn't surprise me that The Doctor ends up trusting Rubeish to help enact his final plan.
|You know the story...two aliens, one woman...trouble.|
7) I also appreciate that while there is a gag about Linx claiming Earth for the Sontaran Empire (a plot thread that is picked up with the Sontaran's next appearance in next season's The Sontaran Experiment), this whole serial is motivated by a very simple, very selfish intent--namely, that Linx wants to return to the war with the Rutans. Everything derives from this one need on Linx's part. It's refreshing to see this kind of story in amongst all the 'we're taking over this planet NOW' tales that Doctor Who all too often deals with.
8) Here's the one thing that bothers me about the Sontarans, though...the whole thing about the 'probic vent' in the back always rang wrong. I understand the reason for the vent (it forces Sontarans to face their enemies in battle and never turn their back on them), but it seems a somewhat arbitrary concept...and given that the Sontarans presently are practicing an in vitro form of reproduction, I can't figure out why they didn't breed out this weakness when so many of their opponents sneak up on them and smack 'em on the vent.
9) I find it interesting that Holmes chose to have Alan Rowe's Edward of Essex just accept The Doctor and Sarah Jane at face value, just ascribing their weird clothes and speech to their being sorcerers. It nimbly sidesteps what could have been a time consuming duplication of the 'who are these beings?' thing that we've been through already once with Irongron.
10) I am not entirely sure--other, more learned fans will correct me, I'm sure--but this may be the first serial done under Barry Letts that does not feature stunts by Havoc! It does kinda show, especially with the painful long-shotting of many of the fight scenes to conceal that this isn't Pertwee doing all the chopping and kicking.
Overall...an excellent introduction to an excellent companion, featuring a solid new villain and sober, clever script writing. And on top of that, it apparently is the first serial to namecheck Gallifrey. Downright required viewing.