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The Forgotten Sci-Fi Series You Can Binge On HBO Max

If you're a fan of sci-fi — and specifically, you love the type of family-friendly yet fantastical fare that "Doctor Who" dishes up — there's a forgotten British series on HBO Max that you may love. "The Sarah Jane Adventures," which aired on Children's BBC from 2007-2011, isn't necessarily going to appear on your Home screen when you log into the streaming service. Nevertheless, it's well worth looking up and watching, despite a dearth of the time travel that's so important to its origin story.

The show features one of the fan-favorite classic companions from "Doctor Who," journalist Sarah Jane Smith, who traveled with both the Third Doctor (Jon Pertwee) and the Fourth Doctor (Tom Baker) back in the 1970s. Actress Elisabeth Sladen played that gutsy companion role in classic "Who," the new series, and in "The Sarah Jane Adventures" right up until her death in 2011 at the age of 65, from cancer. The Guardian has called the series a "fitting tribute" to the actress. "But at the centre of the show has always been Elisabeth Sladen. It's a poignant thought that for certain kids, she was their Doctor," the publication noted. 

The show was nearly canceled due to lack of funding three times, but persevered despite it all until Sladen's death. It won a Royal Television Society Award for Best Children's Drama in 2010 and a Best Children's Television Script Award from the Writers' Guild of Great Britain in 2012 and was nominated for numerous other honors. 

The show featured an ensemble cast of teenagers helping Sarah Jane out

Sladen headlined the show, but the other stars in "The Sarah Jane Adventures" were teenagers caught up in her mission. They included Tommy Knight as Luke Smith, Sarah Jane's son, whom she adopted at the end of the first episode but who went off to college at the start of Season 4. Luke continued to appear until the end of the series and also showed up in the 2020 tribute, "Farewell, Sarah Jane," which reunited cast members and provided a bit of closure for fans. 

The TV series also included Daniel Anthony as Clyde Langer, who starts out as a 14-year-old friend. Yasmin Paige starred as Maria Jackson in the first season, but Maria left for America with her father. Anjli Mohindra then came on as Rani Chandra, who moves into Maria's old house across the street from the Smiths. During the last season, Sinead Michael joined the cast as another child adopted by Sarah, Sky. And in addition to the kids, Sarah Jane had the assistance of an advanced computer, Mr. Smith, voiced by Alexander Armstrong, and the Doctor's robot dog, K-9, played by John Leeson — although it's widely believed that rights issues limited his appearances in the show (and in other "Doctor Who"-related properties).

Basically, Sarah Jane acted as a mentor to these students — she was still a passionate journalist, doing what she could to better the world, but with a maternal touch suited to her different position in life at this point in time.

Sarah Jane and her youthful cohorts protected the Earth from aliens, and also dealt with real issues

"The Sarah Jane Adventures" was well known for dealing with real-world issues in a smart and non-patronizing way, including loss, Alzheimer's, and homelessness — but in an accepting atmosphere that welcomed explanation and exploration. "Maybe it's safe fear, but it's done in a way that people can understand. It's caring for people, and doing your best, and having the right motive, but it's also fun, and it's about having adventures," Sladen told Australia's The Age, as reported by Digital Spy.

Naturally, aliens and monsters were also involved. The show's Slitheen — those obese, farting green aliens in human suits from Raxacoricofallapatorius — showed up, as did the soldier-clones called Sontarans and those rhyming legal enforcers, the Judoon. However, the show also had its own lineup of unique extraterrestrials, including the early antagonist The Bane, the time-bending Trickster (Paul Marc Davis), the shape-changing Veil, and the Nightmare Man (Julian Bleach) from another dimension.

And of course, a couple of iterations of the Doctor appeared, too — both the 10th Doctor (David Tennant) and the 11th Doctor (Matt Smith) made cameos. The second season episode of "Doctor Who," called "High School Reunion," brought Sarah Jane back into the Doctor's orbit and kick-started "The Sarah Jane Adventures." Later, Tennant appeared in the third season of "Sarah Jane Adventures" in the episode "The Wedding of Sarah Jane Smith." Matt Smith — and fellow classic companion Katy Manning as Jo Grant — appears in the "Sarah Jane" double-episode "Death of the Doctor" from the fourth season. All episodes of "The Sarah Jane Adventures" and the new "Doctor Who" can be binged on HBO Max today.