For those children who did not grow up watching horror films in the house or in strict households, there was limited exposure to anything scary on TV.
This led to my, and others’, earliest memories of being scared from a screen by Doctor Who villains and aliens. However, when I say Doctor Who villains I don’t mean of the sort from Christopher Eccelstone or David Tennent.
I mean The Sarah Jane Adventures (SJA).
The Sarah Jane Adventures
Companion, icon, legend. The Sarah Jane Adventures was a spin off from the original Doctor Who that aired on CBBC between 2008-2011. Sarah Jane Smith was one of the longest companions with the third and fourth Doctor. Years later, actress Elizabeth Sladen reprised the role in the classic children’s show with her sonic lipstick and adopted alien son Luke and his friends.
They didn’t tone down the villains in this show. Episodes featured classic aliens such as Slitheen, Sontarans, and Jadoons all of which originally featured in Doctor Who episodes themselves. The Slitheen episodes in particular were terrifying with the classic visual of the alien unzipping its human suit embedded in many children’s heads.
Throughout the four seasons, there were varying levels of fear and horror with Sarah Jane’s arch nemesis The Trickster taking the money for the most traumatising of the villains. He comes back multiple times, with his featureless face and daggered teeth in a black cloak. You always knew it was going to be a good episode when Sarah Jane had to take him down. However, that didn’t necessarily stop the fear when he came onto the screen.
This also gave the most iconic episode The Wedding of Sarah Jane. Sarah Jane was under an evil influence from her engagement ring given to her by a servant of her arch nemesis. When she is about to say I do on her wedding day, the tenth Doctor bursts in to stop the wedding before Sarah Jane is kidnapped by the faceless trickster. David Tennent’s cameo was incredibly exciting as a child and gave credit to the fact that this was more than a children’s show.
However, by far the scariest episode is The Day of the Clown in Series 2. The clown is causing children to disappear and grow stronger off the fear of others. The creepy pied piper of Hamlin reincantaed into a clown is terrifying especially the scene in the hall of mirrors. A lot of people who have very core memories of this episode with Bob the Clown in the dark corners of their rooms for a long time.
It was scary in other capacities, in particular, the episodes What Happened to Sarah Jane in Series 1 and The Temptation of Sarah Jane in Series 2. These two episodes go hand in hand dealing with the topic of changing the past and how that can affect the future, relatively advanced for 4pm on CBBC.
What Happened to Sarah Jane is an incredibly haunting episode. It centred around the idea of what if Sarah Jane died by falling off a pier when she was 13 instead of the original girl who fell. Not only did it mean her existence had been wiped from the face of the earth and everyone had forgotten Sarah Jane, you also had to watch a girl fall off a pier in the episode which was quite harrowing.
They upped the anty the following series with Sarah Jane’s Temptation which had a similar plotline. Sarah Jane is tempted through a rip in time and saves her parents from the car crash they died in when she was a baby. The result of this change in timeline means that London is destroyed in the present day. Therefore Sarah has to go back and reverse her actions essentially killing her parents again. The way that these episodes dealt with death was advanced at the time but also quite scary in their own way.
It’s not “‘just’ a children’s programme”
The production team never intended to water down the Doctor Who-ness in terms of sci-fi horror. The aliens and the plots, despite never quite reaching the level of the weeping angels, were scary in their own right and acted as a beautiful introduction to the genre but also the Doctor Who universe. Speaking on the matter Gareth Roberts one of the members of the team said:
“We’re all determined that this will be a big, full-blooded drama; that nobody should ever think of it as ‘just’ a children’s programme.”
This was still seen as a fully fledged Doctor Who series from the original writers, cinematographers, and producers involved with them even getting David Tennent and Matt Smith into episodes.
SJA proved that children could have their own sci-fi that was scary, tense, and wonderful in its own right. Sadly its time was up too soon due to the unexpected death of Elizabeth Sladen.
With the decline of quality and money in children’s television (Russell T Davies stated that Season 3 of SJA was nearly cancelled three times due to budget cuts in children’s TV) it would be amazing to see another spin-off akin to SJA.
The resurgence of Doctor Who with the 60th anniversary is coming up with a new, fresh take on the Doctor. It would be a perfect time for another spin-off. Maybe River Song, Martha Jones, or Clara Oswold?
Featured image credit: CBBC