There still aren't that many female leads in science fiction, especially when it comes to women over the age of 30. But times, they are a-changing. Leave it to the BBC to give us a Doctor Who spin-off starring a gorgeous, 60 year-old actress. Unmarried with no children, Sarah Jane Smith is the furthest thing from an old maid or a tragic spinster. Played by Elisabeth Sladen, Sarah Jane was a travelling companion of the third and fourth incarnation of the Doctor in the 70's. Sladen reappeared briefly as Sarah Jane in the second season of the new series, and the fan response was so positive that she was given her own spin-off. Aimed more at children and young adults, The Sarah Jane Adventures follows the investigative journalist and a rag tag crew of neighborhood kids, as they uncover alien conspiracies. Although it's aimed at a younger demographic, the writing is sharp and the characters well-drawn, making the series a welcome addition to the SciFi Channel's Friday night line-up.
It's especially refreshing to watch Sarah Jane mentor her young neighbor Maria. Although we're seeing more strong female characters in sci-fi every year, mentor characters are still predominately male. Sarah Jane turns that norm on its head, without any soapbox posturing. The kids themselves are a solid bunch, engaging in extra-terrestrial detective work, while still acting their age. They can be insensitive or immature, but regularly show themselves to be brave, clever and resourceful. The show itself isn't as emotional or frightening as Doctor Who can be, but it's light, fresh and fun. And with its half hour running time, it's a tasty appetizer to whet your palette for the hour-long Doctor Who episodes that follow.
Fun facts: Elisabeth Sladen has played Sarah Jane Smith on Doctor Who in 18 different stories spanning four seasons.
Sladen is married to British actor Brian Miller, who has provided the voices for the Daleks.