The Temptation of Sarah Jane Smith

Posted in Episode by - March 06, 2022
The Temptation of Sarah Jane Smith

Aired 17 – 24 November 2008


The Doctor once stated that “You can always judge a man by the quality of his enemies,’ and Sarah Jane has quickly amassed an impressive array of foes during her investigations from Bannermen Road. Without question, the most impressive and impactful so far has been the Trickster, an extra-dimensional being who strikes bargains with individuals in order to draw power from the chaos he has created in order to fully enter this world. Having been foiled by Sarah Jane and her friends previously, the Trickster returns with an even more personal plight for the intrepid reporter in Gareth Roberts’s ‘The Temptation of Sarah Jane Smith,’ presenting her with the opportunity to meet and save the parents she never knew.

For a character who has been in the public consciousness for so long, ‘The Temptation of Sarah Jane Smith’ impressively builds upon Sarah Jane’s backstory and allows Elisabeth Sladen an extensive amount of truly emotional material to explore. For all of Sarah Jane’s incredible qualities, she is terrible at hiding her emotions, and although she implicitly understands just how dangerous it is to walk into your own past, she can hardly resist the opportunity to see the parents that the aunt who raised her after they drove off without her and suffered a fatal accident with a tractor assured her were the very best. Naturally, the appearance of this time fissure is anything but innocent and harmless, and seeing Sarah Jane who is so often presented as the flawless heroine serving as a guiding light for her young companions make a mistake by giving into her personal desires after being alone and so career-driven for so long is a fascinating sequence that makes her all the more relatable and grounded in humanity and reality.

In a remarkably short time in 1951, Christopher Pizzey and Rosanna Lavelle make an incredible impact as Sarah Jane’s parents, Eddie and Barbara, and the love and kindness they exude hint at where Sarah Jane’s own strengths and determination come from while also hinting at just how differently her life may have turned out if surrounded by such love. Of course, this bevy of thoughts and emotions becomes too much for Sarah Jane to handle, and with Luke acting as something of a voice of reason after initially encouraging his mother to see her own parents after everything he has missed out on himself, the monumental sacrifice she knows must occur to set time straight is all the more resonant and gut-wrenching with her present. Sarah Jane has had incredible character moments in nearly every episode, but this weighted visit into a past she never expected to know anything about allows Elisabeth Sladen to give arguably her strongest performance to date and she masterfully explores such intimate and profound emotions.

Despite a strong character arc and a chilling performance from Paul Marc Davis as the Trickster who is in his element manipulating Sarah Jane’s deepest thoughts and emotions, ‘The Temptation of Sarah Jane Smith’ as a whole follows a well-trodden path. In fact Doctor Who’s own “Father’s Day” dabbled in similar territory as Rose had the opportunity to save her own father’s life within her own past, similarly yielding disastrous consequences. In that sense, the shot of a fallen Big Ben amidst a muted and barren landscape back in the present is a familiar type of shorthand to show a totally destroyed world, but both this vision of hopelessness as well as the more serene 1950s are brought to life impressively with deft direction that completely sells the intimacy and immense scope of this story’s various parts. Most impressively, though, is just how well-rounded the supporting characters are throughout, and even the comical Graske is given a tragic backstory at the hands of the Trickster that makes the entire affair in the present even more poignant. This is a tale that is unafraid to at least comment on racism and sexism in the past, further grounding a very emotional tale in very real and present politics and social norms and making for a very mature viewing experience for this programme’s intended younger audience. This is another strong outing for this series that continues to excel no matter who is in focus, and the Trickster again proves to be the perfect vehicle through which to explore Sarah Jane, whether it be her own thoughts and emotions or her effect on others and the world around her.

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