It’s hard to explain to anyone who wasn’t alive for a good stretch of the original Doctor Who series and then “wilderness years” where the character was represented only in print and audio form, but the current state of the Doctor Who universe – three thriving (and, more to the point, usually consistently enjoyable) series running more or less simultaneously is a marvel. A decent line of Doctor Who action figures which not only brings the new series characters to our toy shelves but is veering dangerously close to producing all ten (soon to be eleven) Doctors is even more of a marvel; that both of the spinoff series have action figure lines compatible with the Doctor Who toys is practically an embarrassment of riches.
But sooner or later, luck runs out. That was the case with Character Options’ short-lived line of action figures based on the younger-skewing spinoff, The Sarah Jane Adventures. Almost immediately after the one-hour pilot episode premiered, Character had a figure of Sarah with a translucent alien glimpsed in the pilot, complete with a small lighting apparatus to make that character “glow”.
Hot on the heels of the first season‘s broadcast in late 2007, Character issued a trio of figure two-packs under the Sarah Jane Adventures brand; each two-pack consisted of Sarah and an episode-specific enemy. Sarah’s wardrobe is episode specific (more or less – read on) as well. In addition to being released by Character (makers of the Doctor Who figures), the Sarah Jane Adventures figures are in exactly the same scale, offering some interesting mix-and-match possibilities.
The first set, from the first season premiere (Revenge Of The Slitheen), pairs Sarah with a child Slitheen. It’s positively cute compared to its hissing/growling/screaming adult counterpart from the Doctor Who figure line. Sarah’s wardrobe almost resembles some of her more youthful looks from her stint in 1970s Doctor Who, so in addition to reuniting the Slitheen family, I tend to pair this edition of Sarah with the fourth Doctor on my display shelf.
The second set takes the same figure of Sarah and adds an overcoat and a purse (it’s interesting to note that all three iterations of the character are wearing the same pants and boots). The other character in the second two-pack is the hulking, insectoid General Kudlak from Warriors Of Kudlak; the detail in that character’s scuplt is every bit as impressive as just about any Doctor Who alien figure you could name.
Sarah finally sports a different top for the third set, based on Whatever Happened To Sarah Jane? This set is the one coveted by most fans for two reasons: it finally gives us the Graske – a pesky, pint-sized, tentacle-headed menace who’s been disrupting the Who universe since Christmas 2005’s interactive game Attack Of The Graske – in action figure form, and the outfit worn by Sarah here is the same as she wore in the fourth Doctor Who season finale, The Stolen Earth / Journey’s End. Both of those are good selling points. The Graske is a great sculpt, and it even features a practical holster which really does hold his little gun.
With such great figures, and the seemingly inherent promise of figures such as Luke, Maria, Clyde, Rani, and maybe even the elderly Brigadier, whatever happened to Sarah Jane’s action figure line?
The answer may well lie in the marketing and packaging of the Sarah Jane Adventures toys. The packaging, for one thing, is heavy on colors that one expects to find on items aimed at girls; it also emulates the 360-degree window packaging that isn’t uncommon for girls’ dolls. As a collector, I appreciated the packaging design (and then opened my sets anyway), but again, it’s an odd move – although a gutsy one – to aim a range of toys at girls, when those toys come in a format much more frequently associated with boys’ toys. Most girls’ toys don’t include an alien communicator or a futuristic weaopn as accessories. Some retailers put the Sarah Jane figures alongside the Doctor Who figures; others stocked them in the girls’ section where they promptly languished in obscurity. (In the US, where the show’s first season was shown nearly a year late and then promptly hasn’t been heard from again, the Sarah/Slitheen two-pack was actually repackaged as a Doctor Who product.)
Was the intention to make the Sarah Jane Adventures figures a sneaky introduction to the Doctor Who line for girls? If so, it failed by quite a margin, with some UK retailers remaindered the figures at fire-sale prices fairly quickly. (I was able to pick up all three sets from a UK collector for a grand total of $30 shipped – compare that to the asking price of at least $12 a figure for anything in the Doctor Who line, whether you’re dealing with a US or UK retailer). It was made clear fairly early on that collectors shouldn’t expect more figures from this series.