Same Software, Different Case

A comparison of “Father’s Day” and “The Temptation of Sarah Jane Smith”


I am currently forcing my husband to watch The Sarah Jane Adventures–okay, I’m not forcing him, I promise he wanted to! The Sarah Jane Adventures, or SJA, is a spin-off series of Doctor Who that follows former companion Sarah Jane Smith who has grown up since her life with the Doctor and has a life of her own. While the show was made for kids (yes, even more than Doctor Who was made for kids), it’s enjoyable, engaging, and emotional for people of any age to watch. If you don’t believe me, just ask the countless number of loving fans who still go on about this show ten years after it ended!

I am one of such fans. I binged SJA during finals week one year at college because it came up on my Prime recommendations and I thought, “Why not?” I didn’t know anything about the show other than it was related to Who, but I was instantly blown away by how much heart the show had. Each character was so beautifully cast and developed throughout the show, the relationships between all of the characters were wonderfully written, and Elisabeth Sladen (AKA Sarah Jane Smith) was a star. In fact, I loved the show so much that I bought a region-free DVD player just so I could buy a boxset of the entire show and watch it, as they don’t sell it in the U.S. Now, as I’m rewatching the entire show, I’m loving it just as much as I did the first time!

One thing that really struck me in this rewatch was the serial “The Temptation of Sarah Jane Smith,” which sees the second occurrence of Sarah Jane’s arch-nemesis in the series, the Trickster (personally, one of my favourite Who baddies). It’s definitely one of the most notable serials, as it sees Sarah Jane being tempted to change the death of her parents when she was a baby. If you’ve watched Doctor Who, that brief summary may be familiar, as it’s nearly identical to the premise of “Father’s Day” in Series 1 of the new series.

But as I watched “Temptation” this time, I wondered why those two episodes seemed to hit so much harder than “Father’s Day.” The two stories are eerily similar, but for whatever reason, “Temptation” feels more tragic to me. So, of course, whenever I have a question about storytelling, I delve into it and make a blog post. This is only a brief analysis of the episodes, and maybe one day I’ll go deeper into this topic, but for now, here we go!

Similar or Identical?

First off, let’s talk about the many similarities between these two stories. Both see a character going back in time to save their parent(s) from dying when they were a baby. The whole universe starts getting ripped apart because of the paradox, and in the end, the parent(s) who was/were supposed to die decide to put time back on its course by sacrificing themselves. Yeah. They’re that similar! Same story, different setting. (Or, as we say in the Who world, “same software, different case.”)

Of course, there are differences (the setting, the main characters, the bad guys, etc.), but we can all agree that the story is pretty much the same. So why do I feel like one is more impactful than the other?

Consequences

One of the reasons why I think “Temptation” is more emotional than “Father’s Day” is because instead of Reapers flying around and destroying people as the consequence of Rose’s actions, in “Temptation,” we actually get to see what the messed up future would look like following Sarah Jane’s choice as seen through the eyes of two of the main characters of SJA, Clyde and Rani. Rani even sees her mother as a slave and is obviously really shaken up about it! So instead of having a nebulous, “Oh, this is a paradox and it’s ripping the universe apart,” we have, “This decision will change the entire future of the human race and turn Earth into a wasteland.”

All in all, the consequences in “Temptation” are much more personal because they’re experienced by Clyde and Rani. The Reapers eating people is more of a shock factor than anything, especially because no familiar characters are wiped out until towards the very end of the episode. Being able to actually see the real consequences and how they affect characters we love makes things much more shocking and emotional!

One Parent vs. Two

One obvious difference is while Rose only loses her dad in “Father’s Day” (which is still awful), Sarah Jane loses both of her parents in “Temptation,” meaning she’s left as an orphan (and on the side of the road, no less!). Sarah Jane is also much older than Rose, so she’s had to live a whole life without her parents. Both of these things contribute to making the audience really feel for Sarah Jane’s loss.

Characters

Continuing that last train of thought, I think that the biggest reason why “Temptation” impacts me more than “Father’s Day” is simply because of the difference in characters. Sarah Jane is the “Doctor” of her series, as she is the leader, the oldest, and the one who knows the most about space and aliens. Seeing her make the mistake of trying to save her parents is even more shocking than Rose’s choice, because Sarah Jane knows all about time and paradoxes, and she knows the harm they can do!

It also makes it much more impactful in the end, as Sarah Jane, who normally tries to hide her emotions and put a brave face on everything, can’t let her parents go. Seeing her in such an emotional state really gets to the audience because she is, in this case, the “Doctor” figure, the one who always solves the problem. Sarah Jane also has much more history in the show than Rose, so longtime fans will really feel their heartstrings tugged.

Conclusion

Now, let me get this straight. I love both of these stories, and I think they’re both brilliant in their own right! However, feeling more of an emotional tug at the end of “Temptation” got me thinking about how I can better reach my audience emotionally with my storytelling. In this case, I think that the context of the stories was everything. These two stories both did exactly what they were meant to do in their respective series, and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with how they did “Father’s Day!” I’ve simply concluded that the nature of Sarah Jane’s character, along with a couple of other contributing factors, just makes for a more impactful narrative with this story.

And so the rewatch continues, and you may hear more from me about SJA as I continue my quest to find out what makes good stories tick!

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