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Recap / The Sarah Jane Adventures S4 E5-6 "Death of the Doctor"

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UNIT comes to Sarah Jane's house to inform her of the Doctor's death. Also known as The one in which Sarah Jane is right about everything... and does some fangirl squeeing. Also known as the one where ol' Uncle Rusty gets to write for Matt Smith.

Featuring the Eleventh Doctor and old-school companion Jo Grant, with a long-time fanboy providing a script stuffed to bursting with Continuity Nods. Oh, boy, BIG SPOILER coming up. Let's just say when Sarah Jane thinks that something is wrong, she is correct.

We start with a webcam chat between Luke and the gang. Luke casually refers to someone he's met at uni as his "best mate ever", and gives Clyde a few seconds to get rather adorably jealous before letting him off the hook. Mr Smith interrupts to warn them all that UNIT is converging on the house, with all the subtlety that well, a bunch of gun-toting, beret-wearing soldiers standing around in the middle of Ealing, can have. At least the Brigadier has subtlety when it comes to arriving somewhere — as does the Doctor, on occasions. As you can probably tell by the title, they've got bad news.

Sarah Jane (COUGH, BIG SUPER MASSIVE SPOILER, correctly, COUGH, END OF BIG SUPER MASSIVE SPOILER) refuses to believe it, even after seeing a message from the Shansheeth, a species of humanoid vultures whose hat is undertaking across the galaxy. Since the Doctor's home planet is long since gone, they'll be holding the funeral on Earth, working together with UNIT - given the Doctor's... fondness... for the planet, it's a pretty smart idea. Sarah Jane decides to go, but still isn't convinced.

Rani gets a nice moment with her Dad, while Clyde's hand keeps crackling with the same energy he absorbed from the TARDIS when he met the Doctor. He keeps it between himself and Rani, not wanting Sarah Jane to worry (or UNIT to quarantine him). They're taken to a capital-B Base, complete with a rocket built with the help of the Groske (blue, non-mischievous Graske) to launch the Doctor into space after the funeral. One of the Groske keeps mentioning that Clyde smells - er, of time - and that it means "he's coming".

UNIT's refusal to open the Doctor's coffin sparks Sarah Jane's interest (COUGH, BIG SUPER MASSIVE SPOILER, she's right! COUGH, END OF BIG SUPER MASSIVE SPOILER), until they mention that he was very badly hurt. She starts to consider that maybe he really is dead, and since he's probably regenerated again, she wouldn't even recognise him. The funeral is less than crowded - most of the guests are old soldiers, as the Doctor's companions don't tend to hang around in groups. Liz Shaw is on the UNIT Moonbase (Clyde's running out of reactions for stuff like that) and The Brigadier is stranded in Peru again. He must really like it there - not that we blame him; Peru is full of really interesting stuff (including, but not limited to, the start of the Amazon, Machu Picchu, several mountains, Condors, the Inti Raymi Festival, white water rafting and the Lost City of Choquequirao. This is the Whoniverse - at least one of them probably has aliens in it, probably why he's there.)

The Shansheeth play soothing music and encourage the guests to fill their minds with memories of the departed. Everyone starts having flashbacks: the kids can only remember the Tenth Doctor, while Sarah Jane's memory goes back to Four and Three. The Shansheeth keep encouraging them to remember, and start to seem rather insistent...

At which point the melancholy of the funeral is interrupted by Jo Jones, nee Grant, who briefly mimics her original arrival by breaking something - in this case, her vase of flowers. Classic Who fans, who have been holding their breath, breathe a sigh of relief as she proceeds to gush over just about everything and everyone - just as wonderful and ditzy and carefree as we previously remembered. Sarah Jane, despite never having met her, doesn't take long to work out this is her predecessor, and they hit it off like a house on fire, sharing stories of their lives with and after the Doctor. Sarah Jane admits it took her a while to get used to a normal life again, while Jo has never stopped running, spending the last few decades exploring and protesting everywhere (including handcuffing herself to Robert Mugabe), not to mention having seven kids and twelve grandkids (with number thirteen on the way). She's still caught off-guard when Sarah mentions that she's met the Doctor recently: she never saw him again after leaving the TARDIS.

Santiago, one of Jo's grandkids, introduces himself to Clyde and Rani (and seems commendably unfazed by the giant space vultures - then again, they're pretty tame after Sycorax, Cyberman and Dalek invasions). His parents have been following in Jo's footsteps, and they spend so much time globetrotting he doesn't even go to school. When they hear what his journey was like, they're a bit humbled to admit they came from Ealing.

Sarah Jane and Jo bond some more while the kids go exploring. Unsurprisingly, one trip through the air vents to the Shansheeth's chamber reveals the whole thing to be a trap: the funeral has been staged to lure the Doctor's companions, whose memories they need for something. Unfortunately for the kids, Clyde's artron energy acts up again, giving them away ("Shuffle for your life!").

They meet up with Jo and Sarah Jane, who get the I Knew It! moment they've been waiting for: if the Shansheeth are lying, the Doctor's still alive (high-five!)

Clyde (with Matt Smith's voice): Of course I'm still alive, Jo, I would have thought that was obvious, keep up.

Wait, what? Turns out the Doctor's been trying to lock onto Clyde's residual artron energy so the two of them can swap places across light years. A couple of false starts later, the Eleventh Doctor is introducing his new self to Sarah Jane and Jo. Jo's a little surprised - she knew he could change his face, but into a baby's? The Doctor quips back that from his point of view, it's like someone baked her. Santiago has to remind everyone that, oh yeah, they still have to worry about the homicidal space vultures.

The Doctor marches forward, justifiably miffed at them for telling people that he's dead. The lead Shansheeth admits that the death notice was released a little too soon, though he can rectify this...immediately! *ZAP*

The Shansheeth's victory is denied when Clyde and the Doctor switch places again, the artron energy disrupting the beam long enough for the good guys to run and find a secure room. The Doctor takes Sarah Jane and Jo with him on his next bounce, and shuts down the machine so he can get it running properly while they deal with their first trip off-world in a long while (yes, it's another BBC Quarry, they're used to that).

The Doctor explains that this is an old battlefield he was exploring when the Shansheeth stole the TARDIS: fortunately, there was enough debris for him to cobble together the teleportation device. He also brings up Amy and Rory, whom he affectionately refers to as "Mr and Mrs Pond", who are on a honeymoon planet...which isn't what you'd think - it's not a planet for a honeymoon, it's a planet on a honeymoon, it married an asteroid. Hearing that he's traveling with a married couple gets Jo's interest, as she only left the Doctor so she could get married. She also admits how much she's missed him (despite loving her life). The Doctor admits that "looking back" like that isn't something he's capable of, but proves he hasn't forgotten her by bringing up some of the adventures she's had on her own. Also, he apparently looked in on all his previous companions the last time he was dying, not just the RTD ones (how long did Ten put off regenerating for?)....and he was so proud.

With Sarah Jane and Jo's help, he gets the device working properly, allowing them to zap back to Earth without needing someone else to take their place in the battlefield. The Groske who provided the foreshadowing earlier has helped the kids find a safe place in the air vents, but doesn't have much of a plan besides "sit it out and eat pizza", as the Shansheeth are a little too scary for his liking. Santiago is amazed that Clyde and Rani thought his life was exciting, and admits to being a little depressed at how little time he and his parents have to see each other. The UNIT traitor and the Shansheeth grab Jo and Sarah, diverting the Doctor's attention by overheating the Groske's safe hole. The Doctor gets the kids and Groske to safety, but the Shansheeth have already plugged the ex-companions into their machine, which is using their memories to create a duplicate TARDIS key. With the power to alter time, they can abolish death, putting an end to the loss they've spent their lives witnessing. The Doctor's been in that situation... it's not a good position to go in to!

The Doctor's response? Encourage Jo and Sarah to give the machine all of their memories, everything they've done in space and on Earth, which proves a bit too much for it handle. They break free and hide in the "coffin" as the machine overloads with a very large booming boom of boomy boominess, taking the Shansheeth and their accomplice with it, though the TARDIS survives the explosion, once again, without obtaining any (more) scratches - she's making a rather unfortunate habit of this; first Mars, then Ten's regeneration, now this...

Mr Smith explains that the Shansheeth tribe they encountered were a rogue element and the Wide Wing of the High Shansheeth Nest sends apologies. With the situation resolved, Jo innocently brings up the Time Lords to Eleven, calls everyone gorgeous, tells Sarah Jane to find a man, and, with Santiago, departs telling the taxi man "Now, wait a minute. Hold on Mr Taxi. I've got the directions in Norwegian" and Sarah Jane reminisces on past companions in a moment where RTD goes "fuck it" and throws them all in. As to be expected - the Doctor only takes the best after all - they're doing fabulous stuff.


  • A God Am I: The Claw Shansheeth plan to use time travel to prevent every death. Even in his... scariest moments... the Doctor has never attempted this. Probably for good reason.
  • Air-Vent Passageway: "That takes me back..."
    • Oddly enough, though the characters say you can't turn around in the vents, there seems to be plenty of room.
  • The Alleged Car: Once again, the TARDIS goes through another explosion and comes out no worse for wear.
  • Arbitrary Skepticism:
    • Sarah Jane initially didn't buy the existence of the Shansheeth, a vulture-like alien race that claimed to be the undertakers of the universe. This was at least in part due to her refusal to believe the Shansheeth's report that the Doctor was dead. Turns out the race actually does existnote  but the Doctor is very much alive!
    • Rani doesn't believe the Doctor is himself with a new face after meeting the Tenth Doctor in The Wedding of Sarah Jane Smith and needs a few moments to get used to the concept.
  • Armed with Canon: RTD deliberately establishes Liz as alive and Jo as Happily Married, contradicting their fates in the novels.
  • BBC Quarry: The Doctor is trapped on a planet that was also filmed in a rock quarry.
  • Berserk Button: It's actually scary to wonder who the Doctor is more pissed off at; the Shansheeth for stealing his TARDIS, Screwdriver and faking his death, Jo for thinking she's stupid, or himself for allowing her to think she was dumb.
  • Big Good: The Doctor jokes that if the day ever comes when he does die, the universe itself might just shiver. Then brushes it off with a laugh.
  • Black Site: UNIT Base 5, visibly located on top of Mount Snowdon (the highest mountain in Wales and the focal point of a national park, no less), is incredibly eye-grabbing. UNIT Moonbase, manages to evade prying eyes by being on the Moon.
  • Character Aged with the Actor: Lampshaded when, after Jo expresses surprise that (from her point of view) the Doctor had changed his face "into a baby's", he shoots back that she looked like someone baked her.
  • Chekhov's Gun: "The coffin was the trap, the coffin was the solution. That's so neat I could write a thesis..."
  • Continuity Nod: The fates of several companions, including the long-wondered closure for Ace. She became a charity worker.
    • Sophie Aldred, meanwhile, complained that it's only in-character if said charity is a front for UNIT. Knowing her — it probably (read "probably" as almost definitely) is. She seems to have come 'round, though, given that in both the novel she wrote and the audio dramas she's acted in, A Charitable Earth is definitely a real charity.
    • Jo and Sarah Jane both reminisce about going to Peladon and seeing Aggedor, and Metebelis III is mentioned. Jo also mentions her adventure on Karfel, a nod to the notorious unseen adventure given a "Continuity Nod" in "Timelash".
    • When Clyde, Rani and Santiago find their way to the Groske's home in the ventilation ducts, there is a Jubilee pizza box lying around, a shout out to Torchwood and in turn the Big Finish audio play Jubilee.
    • When Rani reminds Sarah Jane of their past encounter with the Mona Lisa, the Doctor responds with, "what do you mean The Mona Lisa?" The Doctor had previously dealt with the Mona Lisa himself in "City of Death".
    • The Doctor refers to Sarah Jane and Jo as Smith and Jones.
    • Once again, technology and the Doctor do not mix. Also, people with GUNS and the Doctor do not mix. Period. Unless it's Martha... she's the exception. And Sarah Jane too. Or the ol' Brig himself.
    • The Doctor forgets Rory's name... and also calls them by his affectionately fluffy fanboy name of The Ponds.
    • Once again, the TARDIS survives being directly inside a very big explosion. This is becoming a habit for her.
    • Yet again, the Doctor's inability to say no to finding out what happened on a battlefield gets him in trouble...
  • Continuity Porn: The episode is hardcore fetish Continuity Porn despite being not actually a Doctor Who episode. (And it's in a kids' show, ironically.) It's two half-hour episodes consisting almost entirely of references to classic Who, with former character Jo Grant brought back to star alongside Sarah Jane Smith 37 1/2 years since she last played the Doctor's onscreen companion. This culminated in Russell T Davies stopping the action dead just before the closing credits to allow Sarah Jane to fill us in on what some of the classic companions were doing, including Ian, Barbara, Harry, Tegan, and Ace. The target audience had no idea who these people were — but fans of the classic series did.
  • Crazy Is Cool: invoked Jo's entire life, according to the Doctor. Things like sailing down the Yangtze River in a tea-chest are the reason which is even when he tried to find her, even the TARDIS could barely track her down. Yes, the TARDIS — who can see everything that is occurring all at the same time! — could not track this woman down!
  • Defied Trope: RTD specifically set out to avoid the gratuitous death and misery that many of the 1989-2005 Doctor Who Expanded Universe sub-continuities tended to pile on former companions. While Jo did miss the Doctor, this didn't stop her from having a fulfilling and extremely busy life. Every other companion mentioned has kept busy with important work of their own.
  • Explain, Explain... Oh, Crap!: After the Doctor swaps places with Clyde, Rani demands to know what the former did with the latter. The Doctor casually starts to explain that since he is now where Clyde used to be, Clyde is now where he used to be, and then has this reaction when he realizes that he basically dumped Clyde on a desolate planet far away from Earth.
  • Fan Boy: Even after all this time, we're not sure who was squeeing the most during this episode; Sarah Jane or Jo (who both give several actual squees in the episode) or the Doctor.
  • Five Stages of Grief: Rani's dad discusses the first stage; denial towards his daughter and Clyde that Sarah Jane is in the possibility she is just dealing with this, comparing this to what their mom was like after their grandfather died. However, the reason Sarah Jane is denying this is because she feels like the Doctor is not dead.
  • Foreshadowing: The whole episode foreshadows the Doctor's apparent death in "The Impossible Astronaut" and Series 6 in general.
    • It also foreshadows the "X of the Doctor" Tetralogy, which also deal with regenerations and the actual death of the Eleventh Doctor.
  • For the Evulz: The Shansheeth want to make a TARDIS key by ripping it from Jo and Sarah Jane's memories, despite the fact that the Doctor would be perfectly happy to give them the real one (Justified as Karim is smart enough to know that if the Doctor gets in, they're screwed anyway).
  • Fun with Acronyms: According to Sarah Jane, an ex-companion named Dorothy started the "A Charitable Earth" foundation.
  • Genius Loci: The honeymoon planet.
  • Happily Married: Jo and Cliff are still together, and Ian and Barbara apparently tied the knot some time after leaving the Doctor, as well as Ben and Polly by implication.
  • Idiot Ball: The Shansheeth are trying to break into the TARDIS to use her to change time and save everyone who died to remove all heartache from the universe... yet they have forgotten two big things - the TARDIS is incredibly temperamental and won't do as they say - she barely does what The Doctor says most of the time, though he doesn't really care or mind as they're always on the same page regardless - and the TARDIS can prevent her doors from opening, even with the key, so their plan would still fail anyway because the TARDIS would prevent it.
    • In fairness to the birds they might be unaware of both things. What's less forgivable is the Shansheeth leader banging on the door of the TARDIS as the explosion is building up rather than, say, opening the door to the room which he does have the key to.
    • Karim knows enough about the Doctor to predict how he'll react in certain situations. But since she knows so much about the Doctor, she ought to know what happens to anyone who tries to steal the TARDIS or mess with the companions.
  • Jumped at the Call: Jo and Sarah Jane, when they realize the danger they're in.
    Sarah Jane: I think there's something wrong.
    Jo: Wrong? As in — you mean "just like the old days" sort of wrong?
    Sarah Jane: [excited] Exactly!
    Jo: Oh, groovy! [they run off giddily, hand in hand]
  • Lame Pun Reaction: "Or they'll find relations with Santiago will get a little Chile." Even Clyde's ashamed of himself for making the joke.
  • Locked Out of the Loop: The Doctor is confused when Rani mentions the Mona Lisa, since he knows she wasn’t there for that one.
  • Meaningful Echo:
    • Thematically, in "School Reunion" Sarah Jane was at first jealous of Rose as if she was the Doctor's favourite. This time, Jo is at first jealous of Sarah Jane as if she was the Doctor's favourite.
    • The Shansheeth's plan to use time travel to avert death? The Doctor tried this in "The Waters of Mars" and oh boy, did that backfire, but even HE has never tried to avert all death.
  • Mood Whiplash: Very briefly. Jo makes a joke about not being able to keep up with the Doctor and getting him into trouble with the other Time Lords.
    Eleven:...Yeah, I'd probably better go.
  • Mythology Gag:
    • As mentioned above, RTD pointedly contradicts the Doctor Who New Adventures novel Eternity Weeps, which was set in 2003 and killed off Liz. However he does put her on a UNIT moonbase, which was where she died in that novel.
    • The gag of Jo misplacing her glasses is a nod to the famous story about Manning forgetting her glasses to her audition, so she had trouble reading the script.
  • Never Mess with Granny: Sarah Jane and Jo (who is an actual grandmother by this point) have plenty of adventure left in them.
  • No Endor Holocaust: We get a single-character version of this by making it clear that Barbara Wright is still alive off-screen, contradicting the common dark fanon that gave her the real-life early death from cancer of her actor Jacqueline Hill, and blamed it on her irradiation on Skaro.
  • Non-Answer: Sarah asks if the regeneration hurt, and if the Doctor's previous incarnation (whom she last saw during The End of Time on his pre-regeneration farewell tour) was OK in the end. The Doctor admits it always hurts, but doesn't actually answer the second part.
    The Doctor: What do you mean, "the Mona Lisa"!?
  • Offscreen Moment of Awesome: Plenty for Jo, who's been living a life full of adventure ever since she left the Doctor.
  • Painful Transformation: When Sarah asks if his last regeneration hurt, the Doctor replies that it always hurts. Also a Continuity Nod to the novelization of The Power of the Daleks, where it's revealed that the Doctor can actually feel his bones reshaping during the process.
  • Reports of My Death Were Greatly Exaggerated: To say the Doctor is fairly displeased with the Shansheeth when he finds out what they have been saying about him is... putting it lightly.
    The Doctor: Have you been telling people I'm dead?
  • Sadistic Choice: Karim forces the Doctor to choose between saving Sarah Jane and Jo, who have been captured by Shansheeth, or the children, who are trapped in a ventilator shaft that is overheating. He saves the children, mainly because Sarah Jane and Jo can handle themselves in a dangerous situation - they're full grown, slightly elderly, adults.
  • Saved by the Coffin: Galactic undertakers try to steal the Doctor's TARDIS by faking evidence of the Doctor's death so that two of his former companions will come to the funeral, where their memories can be harnessed to create a key to the TARDIS. The Doctor shows up and gets the companions to remember all of their adventures, overloading the memory capturing machine which, naturally, starts counting down towards blowing up. The companions survive by hiding in the lead-lined coffin created for the Doctor.
  • So Proud of You: The Doctor tells Jo that just before his previous regeneration, he went back and visited every single companion. He rounds it off with this line:
    And I was so... proud.
  • Suspiciously Similar Substitute: Santiago fills what would normally be Luke's role.
  • They Would Cut You Up: Clyde, realising he's got Artron energy flowing through him in the middle of a UNIT base, fears the same might happen.
  • Thousand-Yard Stare: The Doctor briefly sports one when Jo jokes that joining him again would likely get him in trouble with the Time Lords.
  • Wake Up, Go to School, Save the World: Discussed.
Rani: (to Santiago) Yeah, we've been to parallel times, dream dimensions, limbo, and then we go home for tea.
Clyde: Yeah, we see all of this and then my Mum's like, "What'd you do today?", and I'm like, "Not much."
Rani: "Went to the library."
Clyde: "Played a bit of footy."
Rani: "Stayed behind after drama club."
Clyde: Oh yeah, and I, uh, fought off a platoon of Judoon in my spare time.
  • Well-Intentioned Extremist: The Shansheeth of the Claw tribe have seen so much grief and loss that they want to use the TARDIS to prevent death. Sarah Jane disagrees - remember her speech to the Doctor back in "School Reunion" ("Everything has its time, and everything ends"). This seems, by the time of his regeneration, to be something that Eleven has accepted.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: Dodo and Victoria are unmentioned in the ending scene. As is Grace Holloway in the televised version, because of rights issues, but she at least gets a mention in the novelisation.