See, we non-Brits didn't get Doctor Who episodes, as a rule, until the Tom Baker era showed up on our screens, at the greedy rate of one-half-hour per weekday, which meant we whipped through his entire seven-year run in something like a year. And us Who fans (go Whovians!) came to learn that there'd been Doctors and companions before, but as far as what we felt, Tom Baker was the origin of the species. And so was Sarah Jane Smith.
The chemistry that Newvians have been feeling for the Doctor and Rose? Yeah. I had that for the Doctor and Sarah. Not every American Who fan did, mind--there were Leela favorers and Romana preferers at every turn (and my favorite episode of all time, actually, is The Deadly Assassin, in which there is no companion), but, yeah, a lot of us adored the ever-so-human Sarah Jane. She was feminine but never squeamish, vulnerable enough to get in danger without being a helpless screamer, and her departure from the Doctor at the end of her run was--though we had nothing to compare it to at the time--different from the tone of most other companions. Companions have left because they fell in love, or found their way home at last, or found a cause to champion. Even died, once in a great while. Sarah is sent home, dismayed to learn the Doctor has received a summons from his homeworld, to which he can't bring Sarah. It's an achy parting, and my reaction was, if she was leaving anyway, Sarah might just as well have stayed with that nice Italian Renaissance prince in the penultimate episode. (Do you know, I just remembered--I wrote that scene. Yup, wrote the Sarah/Giuliano reunion into the end of The Hand of Fear in my diary, just to give myself closure. Oh, the early fanfic we forget.)
This did not fail to resonate with the creators of the show, who even gave Sarah Jane her own short-lived spin-off. Yes, that was what all that K-9 biz was--Sarah's sent a knock-off of one of the Doctor's later companions, a robot dog with a laser in his muzzle. "You didn't forget," she murmurs, realizing whom it's from.
Which is why Sarah Jane's return in the current Doctor Who episode has me and so many of us in squees and tears.
Doctor Who is something of the anti-Highlander, isn't he? The original film version, I mean--Connor MacLeod sees no reason to abandon a loved one as she ages just because he's an immortal and she's human. The Doctor can't hack it, but no one ever said he was perfect, did they. Sean Connery would have called him a sensible lad for it.
I can't get over my joy that the current Doctor Who creators decided to run with this, to continue with their deeper exploration of the Doctor's affectionate side, from which they ran like bunnies in the pre-Modern Who era but are on like white on rice now. God love 'em, they made Doctor Four/Sarah canonical this far forward. You can't feel what that means unless you were there.
"My Sarah Jane." Oh!