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Doctor's Orders Doctor's Orders!

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Time Lord's former assistant gets her own spin-off series

The Sarah Jane Adventures New Year's Day, BBC1, 4.50pm

DOCTOR Who has produced some memorable characters over the years - but few if any captured male hearts in the way that his 1970's assistant Sarah Jane Smith did.

Actress Elisabeth Sladen was the quintessential screaming (but staunchly feminist) Doctor Who companion - the one who beautifully fulfilled the companion's purpose - getting into trouble the Doctor had to get them out of.

Now, after returning to the Doctor 's world in this year 's series with David Tennant for one-off episode School Reunion, Sarah Jane (Elisabeth) is set to further cement her part in the Doctor Who legend with her own series, The Sarah Jane Adventures.

"I wasn't sure about it at first, " Elisabeth admits. "I was thinking, they've used her for School Reunion and there's nowhere else you can really go with that.

"I thought, what can I bring to the character if she came back again? But they started telling me about this spin-off and it was just impressive what they had in mind. I thought, why am I questioning what they're doing? It's a challenge and I've just got to reach for it. How amazing."

The full series, which the producers have created for children's television (fellow spin-off Torchwood is aimed squarely at adults), doesn't start filming until next spring, but Who fans and young viewers alike are getting a taster of what's to come with a one-off episode this Christmas.

The hour-long special sees Sarah Jane forming an unlikely alliance with her 13-year-old neighbour Maria, played by Yasmin Paige, as they take on alien forces at work in Britain.

Their first enemy comes in the form of Samantha Bond, who plays a mysterious factory owner, Ms Wormwood.

"Sarah Jane is still an investigative journalist," Elisabeth says. "She follows a story and sees more in it than other people do. And she has certain things up in her attic she can use, because of her contact with extra-terrestrials and K-9."

Yes, Doctor Who fans will be pleased to hear their favourite robot dog will be making an appearance, albeit briefly.

Whether he'll be in the full series remains to be seen as his creator, Bob Baker, is trying to get a separate children's series - K-9 Adventures - off the ground.

The Sarah Jane Adventures give us a chance to get to know the new Sarah Jane after her brief appearance in School Reunion. It's been 30 years since the Doctor, then played by Tom Baker, dropped her back in the UK. Has she changed much?

"She's not very different to back then, " Elisabeth says of her character, "but she is very different to the Sarah Jane we saw in School Reunion. I open the script and I see Sarah and some weird thing goes off in my head and I know the pose and what to do.

I THOUGHT, she's 30 years older, I can't do that any more. But then I realised that that's still her life. She may be older, but she still feels like that young Sarah Jane."

"It's not exactly a Peter Pan thing, but there's just too much there that's not moved on with responsibilities like family and a mortgage. There's always been something - the Doctor - in the way of that."

And Elisabeth's own love of playing Sarah Jane has not dimmed either. Rather than be frustrated with her inability to shed her association with the character, she's embraced it wholeheartedly.

"Working on the classic series, I loved that time of my life, " she says. "I don't want it to come back, but it was a very special time. I'm very lucky."

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  • APA 6th ed.: (2006-12-30). Doctor's Orders Doctor's Orders!. Evening Times p. 15.
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  • Chicago 15th ed.: "Doctor's Orders Doctor's Orders!." Evening Times, edition, sec., 2006-12-30
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