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Feature: The Sarah Jane Adventures
A new year, a new Doctor Who spin-off! For the second time, Sarah Jane goes it alone; producer Susie Liggat tells us more…
The Sarah Jane Adventures seemed to come out of nowhere. Ever since her one-off appearance in Doctor Who’s School Reunion there were rumours that Elisabeth Sladen would get her own show. An uncorroborated report in the BBC staff magazine Ariel added fuel to the fire, and then suddenly – all at once – an hour-long pilot for the spin-off was into production, shooting during October for transmission on BBC1 on New Year’s Day.
“It has been an absolute whirlwind,” admits producer Susie Liggat. “We knew we were going to make it but we didn’t get a script until quite late on, and then it was like driving from zero to 60 very rapidly. But Russell T Davies and Gareth Roberts are such accomplished writers that you feel like you’re in safe hands – you know you’re going to be driving a Ferrari.”
A break of two months between shooting and transmission might sound a luxury, but for a Science Fiction show it’s nothing – particularly when CG is involved. “It was all very tight,” Liggat admits. “It’s been an exercise in scheduling really. Our creatures are being done by The Mill, and it takes a long time to make them as cool and as sexy as they are.”
Doctor Who fans with a keen eye and a good memory may recall Liggat’s name from Season Two. She’s credited as Assistant Director on some episodes, a duty she carried out before assuming the duties as producer.
“That was kind of a deal we had,” she reveals. “I’d worked with Julie [Gardner] and Russell on Casanova, so I’d known them for a while, and I’ve been in the film business as an exec producer. They phoned me up last year and the deal was I’d help out on Doctor Who, but knowing that they wanted me to go straight on and set up The Sarah Jane Adventures.”
While the spin-off is being made for Children’s BBC, it is being approached with the same verve and enthusiasm as Doctor Who and Torchwood. “Full blooded” was Davies’s first note for the show, and Liggat reveals it is being made with a generous budget, part-funded by the drama department. For Davies this is familiar territory, because his career actually began in Children’s TV – most notably with the superb Science Fiction serials Dark Season and Century Falls.
“Russell was very keen to be involved in children’s television again and place the programme back in the CBBC world,” says Liggat. “Doctor Who has quite an audience crossover, in that the audience is now ages three to 83, and if that is the middle ground, and Torchwood is the darker end of the spectrum, we are obviously the lighter one in the family. It is a bit more exciting, and a bit more tangible for kids because our heroes are kids.”
by David Richardson
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