‘Defending Earth: The Adventures of Sarah Jane Smith’

❉ We Are Cult reviews the Sarah Jane Smith fanthology raising money for Cancer Research.

“There is a lot of love and energy and enthusiasm seeping through Defending Earth, and some fantastic imagery and decent, solid story ideas.”

Right at this moment, there appears to be a lot of themed, charity Doctor Who anthologies popping up.  Maybe the show being off-air for much of 2019 has prompted people to be creative, or perhaps the host of anthologies out there encourages more artists to create their own, and so on and so forth? Who knows, but in recent times we’ve had anthologies celebrating Ian and Barbara, one dipping into unbound realms, and now this.

Defending Earth is a celebration of all things Sarah Jane Smith.  Curated by M.H. Norris, the anthology contains fifteen stories of varying lengths, covering everything from her childhood and her days travelling with the Doctor, to her spin-off outings with K-9 and Brendan, Josh and Natalie, and the gang at Bannerman Road.

We kickstart things with a rather enthusiastic tribute to both Sladen and Smith, which proves useful if you need help working out what stories fit where in the character’s life, and is a neat introduction to some of the finer points of the spin-off media.

What of the stories themselves? They vary wildly in tone and approach, and the anthology is all the better for this.  Want a post-modern romp in which Sarah Jane watches a stage show based on her own life? No? Then what about a follow-up to Downtime? Or perhaps an encounter with Romana, or crop circles, or the Mandragora Helix? Most every taste is catered for in this collection, and if brevity isn’t your bag then there’s a novella bursting with ideas and historical detail for your second story.

For my money, Sarah Jane in an Exciting Adventure with the Fauxes is probably the highlight here, being consistently enjoyable and mixing as it does a Scooby-Doo-style murder mystery, journalism, 60s pop music and a lot of fun.  But plenty of others have things to recommend, from the rather gorgeous final paragraphs of Sarah Jane, Superstar! to the endearing and sweet image of the Third Doctor giving Luke advice on how to stand up to bullies. (You can just see Jon Pertwee doing it, can’t you?)

Defending Earth has an exhaustive, completionist approach to its subject matter.  I’m going out on a limb here, but I doubt most Who fans recall that Sarah Jane went on to have a daughter and granddaughter according to one short story published in 2004: but perhaps I’m mistaken.  Whatever the case, it’s included here, and on balance I think I’m glad it is.  It shows a thorough and respectful approach to all of Who, irrespective of audience-size or origin.

There is a lot of love and energy and enthusiasm seeping through Defending Earth, and some fantastic imagery and decent, solid story ideas.

More importantly, it serves to remind you how Sarah Jane Smith was the companion that refused to leave: and quite right, too.  A combination of winning performance by Elisabeth Sladen with a character you could believe in, Sarah Jane survived where others floundered, and this anthology continues to proudly wave the flag.

“Don’t forget me,” said Sarah Jane once as a million hearts shattered across the country.  Oh, Elisabeth Sladen.  As if any of us ever could.

❉ Curated by M.H. Norris, ‘Defending Earth: The Adventures of Sarah Jane Smith’ is available here: https://defendingearth.bigcartel.com/

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