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18 March 2015

Will Brooks’ 50 Year Diary - watching Doctor Who one episode a day from the very start...

Day 807: The Death of the Doctor

Dear diary,

Has there ever been more of a love letter to 'classic' Doctor Who in the 21st century programme than The Death of the Doctor. I mean, for starters, it's part of an entire spin off created around 1970s companion Sarah Jane Smith, features the inclusion of the current Doctor, and the return of Jo Grant, and it's filled with references and clips to pretty much every story from Terror of the Autons to The Hand of Fear. As if that wasn’t enough, the final scene gives us a wonderful glimpse into the lives of some other former companions, going right back to Ian and Barbara and thievery beginning. There’s something a little bit magical about that.

The real highlight of this story for me has to be the interaction between Sarah Jane and Jo Grant (now Jones). Oh, they’re a riot from their very first greeting to the moment Jo leaves Bannerman Road. They simply work together, and the vast majority of my notes for these episodes pertain to little moments the two of them share. Both so utterly in character, and both wonderful together. It’s such a shame we didn’t get the chance to see them share the screen again.

I’m not entirely sure, though, that Matt’s Doctor really fits here. Oh, he certainly suits the environment of a show aimed more firmly to children, and his twirly, kinetic Doctor really fits nicely in that respect, but he simply feels a little bit out of place. During the third series, when David Tennant put in an appearance, it simply felt right that the Doctor should rock up and park the TARDIS in Sarah Jane’s attic. This was the Doctor who’d met Sarah Jane during School Reunion, and inspired her to carry on the good fight after all these years. He’d cropped up again when the Earth got moved, and on that occasion he got the chance to interact with Luke, too. In all, Tennant felt like a part of this world very nicely.

Smith, on the other hand, feels out of place. We’ve never seen him interacting with these characters before, so whereas Sarah Jane can be re-introduced to the Doctor’s world by dropping her into one of the Doctor’s adventures, it simply doesn’t quite gel for the Doctor to be reintroduced to her world by dropping in on hers. Smith himself doesn’t seem all that comfortable with the appearance, either, and there are some moments - most noticeably when the other characters piece together who he is - where he simply doesn’t seem to know what he’s doing with his performance, and is left looking a little bit lost.

It also doesn’t help that in many ways, The Sarah Jane Adventures feels like a hangover from a bygone era. It made sense to see into Sarah’s adventures when she was popping up in Doctor Who from time to time, and when this show was running alongside the parent series and Torchwood, it felt like there was one big, shared universe all working together rather nicely. Now, though, with the next series of Torchwood sent off to America and being largely unrecognisable from what had come before, and with only a handful more Sarah Jane Adventures to come because of Lis Sladen’s untimely death, this series no longer feels right within the world of Doctor Who.

This is the last excursion into the world of spin-offery that I’ll be taking as a part of The 50 Year Diary, so it’s somewhat fitting that it’s something which celebrates lots of things I loved so long ago, and a bit of a shame that it also feels a little off-key.

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