Sarah Jane Smith

Starring: Elisabeth Sladen
Big Finish Productions
RRP 9.99
ISBN 1 903654 92 0, BFPSJSCD01
Available now

Investigative reporter Sarah Jane Smith is running scared. Living under false names, she has few friends and even fewer clues as to those who have destroyed her reputation. Will she find answers in the village of Cloots Coombe...?

Professor Bernice Summerfield was not the first Doctor Who companion to get her own series. Years earlier, Sarah Jane Smith took the lead (excuse the pun) in the pilot episode of K-9 and Company. A TV series never materialised, but nevertheless Sarah and K-9 have since appeared in a number of short stories. Now Big Finish has taken the popular character a stage further, by giving Ms Smith her own series of adventures on CD.

Of course, Elisabeth Sladen is no stranger to audio drama, having played Sarah on vinyl in Doctor Who and the Pescatons and on the radio in Exploration: Earth, The Paradise of Death and The Ghosts of N-Space. She also played Lady Ninan in Big Finish's Professor Bernice Summerfield: Walking to Babylon. Sladen exercises her emotional range further here than she ever got the opportunity to do in Who on television - the drama opens with a moving display of grief on her part.

K-9, however, is conspicuous by his absence. In fact, he is never even mentioned, which is something of an oversight. I doubt Elisabeth Sladen will miss him too much, though - in a recent interview for MJTV's The Actor Speaks series, she said that Sarah should have palmed the metal mutt off on to Brendan! Perhaps that's exactly what Sarah did, because we learn that Brendan is also out of the picture, currently residing in San Francisco. Instead, Sarah is backed-up by a new ensemble of characters, which include the appealingly sarcastic Josh Townsend (Jeremy James) and a sinister bunch of corporate villains.

There's a lot of back-story to establish in this introductory tale. Writer Terrance Dicks gradually (perhaps a little too gradually) explains why Sarah became a recluse and how she survives such an existence. The establishing of such details comes at the expense of the story being able to distinguish itself in its own right. No sooner has the plot started to make sense than it has come to an abrupt end.

So, this is not as impressive a debut as Big Finish's Bernice series enjoyed, but it does show promise for future development.

Richard McGinlay