Portrayed by: Elisabeth Sladen
Tenure: 20 stories (including her two appearances as a Companion in Nu Who- 18 without), from The Time Warrior (Dec, 1973) to The Hand of Fear (Oct, 1976)
Background: Sarah Jane is a journalist sneaking in to UNIT with her virologist aunt’s credentials when she meets the Doctor. She’s eventually caught, but she leaves an impression and ends up replacing the recently-departed Jo Grant as the Companion. After traveling with the Doctor, he drops her off in the wrong city, if not the wrong time, leaving her behind when faced with a summons to Gallifrey. Sarah runs into the Doctor again much later, allowing her to meet Rose and Mickey and get some much-needed closure.
Family/Friends: Sarah Jane’s family and friends are expanded upon tremendously in her recent spinoff series, The Sarah Jane Adventures, but besides the rare mention of her aunt, Sarah Jane’s family remains somewhat of a mystery on Doctor Who. She is, however, extremely close with the Doctor. It’s been theorized, on more than one occasion, that they were in love, though their relationship didn’t build to anything physical (that we saw).
Personality: Sarah Jane is warm, kind, adventurous, funny, and eager. She’s intuitive and smart, curious, and a perfect match for the increasingly alien Doctor. She stands up for herself and can most reliably be spurred to action when other characters underestimate her. She’s a direct reaction to the laid-back Jo Grant and her bold, confident approach ushered in a new subset of fans, those looking for positive, active feminist role models on television. If there’s one trait that most endears viewers to Sarah Jane, it’s her close, loving, and respectful relationship with the Doctor- they truly were best friends despite the species barrier and this dynamic took a while to return to the series.
Special Skills: Journalistic know-how, strong moral center, creativity, determination
Best Stories: Genesis of the Daleks and Pyramids of Mars remain two of the all-time great Doctor Who stories and “School Reunion” gives a rare glimpse into the life of a Companion after traveling with the Doctor and examines the effect he has on those he leaves behind.
Worst Story: The Hand of Fear is rather disappointing, particularly as the character’s farewell story. Sarah Jane spends much of her time possessed, effectively removing her from the narrative and stripping her of her free will.
Highlights of tenure: Bickering, light banter with the Doctor, arguing first for and then, as a more mature adult, against genocide when it comes to the Daleks, rediscovering the TARDIS and the Doctor, trying to one-up Rose with their adventuring stories,
Lowlights of tenure: As her time on the show progressed, Sarah Jane was written to be somewhat less and less independent and empowered, though she remains a fantastic Companion throughout.
– [to Harry] “Call me old girl again and I’ll spit in your eye” The Ark in Space
– “The universe has to move forward. Pain and loss, they define us as much as happiness or love. Whether it’s a world, or a relationship… Everything has its time. And everything ends.” “School Reunion”
Other notes: Sarah Jane is almost universally accepted as the best, most prototypical Companion of the entire series. She was a natural fit to be the classic Companion brought in for “School Reunion” and thanks to the character’s enduring popularity, and Sladen’s seemingly effortless charm, she led a spinoff series not dissimilar in tone from the original approach to the series that became a massive children’s programming hit, The Sarah Jane Adventures.