We’re back, with another Doctor Who charity anthology review! Today we’re continuing our tour of the Sarah Jane Smith anthology, Defending Earth. You can catch up on previous entries via the links at the bottom of this post. Today we’re continuing with the “Investigations” portion of Sarah Jane’s life, with the eighth entry of the anthology: Little Girl Lost, by Tina Marie DeLucia. Let’s get started!
As always, there will be spoilers ahead! You can find my reason for this in the first entry of this series, linked below. As well, you can find links at the end to purchase the anthology, and to learn about and support the charity which the anthology supports, the Cancer Research Institute.
The year is 1995, late in the year, and Sarah Jane Smith and now-retired Brigadier Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart have recently survived a battle with the Great Intelligence at the now-defunct New World University. The University is no more, and the Great Intelligence has departed; but what became of his instrument, the Doctor’s former companion, Victoria Waterfield? Sarah Jane doesn’t know; but what she does know is that she is seeing visions of Victoria everywhere, and they are increasing in both frequency and intensity. And more, in these visions, Victoria is clearly in distress.
Something must be done—but Sarah, despite her visions, is not willing to do it. As it turns out, though, someone else is…because the Brigadier is also having visions of Victoria Waterfield. He would give anything to be able to spend his retirement in peace, pushing his newfound grandson on the swings and gardening with his wife, Doris; but he can’t do that as long as the matter of Victoria remains unresolved. And so, he takes a page from Sarah Jane’s book, and begins to investigate. He finds many oddities—notably, that there is now mention of the woman before 1968, a year in which she should already have been a teenager. As well, he is unaware of it, but his own memories of Victoria—whom he met long ago, long before the incident at New World—have fled him. When he reaches the end of his investigatory skills, he turns to Sarah Jane for help.
Sarah wants nothing to do with Victoria; but the Brigadier appeals to her professional pride, and at last persuades her to meet. Over tea, they compare notes, and form a plan. Gradually they realize that Victoria, like them, has traveled with the Doctor, in her case from the year 1850 to 1968, where she then remained until now. Sarah also realizes there are holes in the Brigadier’s memory, though she cannot say why. Sarah is still unwilling to find her, until the Brigadier insists; he feels that they did wrong by Victoria in not helping her after the fall of New World, and moreover, they are some of the few in the world who can possibly understand her experiences. At last Sarah relents, and commits to helping him find her—and as it turns out, she does have an idea of where to start.
Elsewhere, Victoria Waterfield is alone. She wrestles with the guilt of what she did at New World University—of the way she was used by the Great Intelligence. Her pain is intense, and at last she tears apart the image of the woman she was during that time, cutting her hair, and even breaking the mirrors in her flat, hurting herself in the process. She even decides to hide her name, calling herself Victoria Harris, the surname of the adoptive parents who took her in after the Doctor.
Not coincidentally, it is the Harrises that Sarah Jane and the Brigadier seek out. They find Maggie Harris, Victoria’s adoptive mother, alone in her home, and at length persuade her to answer their questions. They tell her of their own involvement with the Doctor, and reluctantly—but gratefully—she tells them of how Victoria came to them, many years ago. However, during her university days, Victoria left them, returning to Tibet, and they believed her dead in the years since. Maggie’s husband has never given up, and is still searching for her—though, his investigations have currently landed him in the hospital with a broken hip. In the end, she is unable to help them; but they are able to give her some hope, and promise to bring Victoria home if they can.
However, after they leave the Harris home, the Brigadier has an idea. What if Victoria isn’t using her own name? What if she is using the surname of her parents? It’s astounding that neither of them thought of it before—but here they are.
“Harris” being a more common name, this search takes longer—but at last, they find her. She is pale and drawn when they meet her at the door of her tiny flat, and there are bandages on her fingers, and her hair is cut raggedly. She is angry that they have come, but after much pleading, she allows them five minutes to make their case—and then throws them out. However, before leaving, the Brigadier writes a note: “13 Bannerman Road. When You’re Ready. L-S.” Victoria crumples it in fury—how could they understand her suffering? No one could! And yet, quietly, she mulls it over, and then accepts one of their suggestions. She picks up the phone, and calls Maggie Harris.
Weeks later, the Brigadier pays Sarah Jane a visit at Bannerman Road. Sarah is sulking at their failure, though the Brigadier insists that Victoria is within her rights to ignore them. Sarah insists that it’s not that; rather, it’s anger that the Great Intelligence used Victoria’s pain as an entrance point. The Brigadier concedes the point, having realized that his own memories were manipulated by the Intelligence to keep him from properly responding to Victoria at New World. He reflects that perhaps some of those who have known the Doctor can’t be saved—but, they can always try. After all, there are others—the Chestertons, Liz Shaw, Jo Grant…even if Victoria Waterfield remains lost.
They are interrupted by the doorbell. Sarah goes to answer, expecting rowdy neighborhood children—but what she finds is Victoria Waterfield, looking much healthier and of better mind. Sarah invites her in, and over tea and biscuits, this unlikely trio at last gets a chance to talk over the things they have endured—not least of all, this once-little girl, no longer lost.
I apologize for the delay in posting this review. I intended to post yesterday; but this entry took me to a corner of the Whoniverse with which I was not familiar, that of the various independent video spinoffs. Specifically, this story builds upon Downtime, a 1995 Marc Platt-penned video (and also novelization) that involved the Brigadier, Sarah Jane, and Victoria Waterfield—and that gave us the first appearance of Kate Lethbridge-Stewart, who has since been incorporated into the revived series, giving Downtime an extra degree of legitimacy, perhaps. I have yet to watch Downtime–and in fact, if anyone knows a legitimate streaming source available in the US, please let me know—and so some research was required. Unlike the previous stories in the “Investigations” section of the anthology, Little Girl Lost isn’t a separate story set within the time period of a licensed work; it builds directly on the events of Downtime.
So, a quick synopsis: Downtime establishes that Victoria never fully escaped the influence of the Great Intelligence after the events of The Web of Fear. Pulled back under the Intelligence’s control, she returned to England and established New World University, an organization ostensibly offering guidance to troubled youths. However, in truth it serves to enslave and brainwash its students, using them in the Intelligence’s plan to infect the Internet (which may not have been called by that name here, but the description fits) and thus conquer the world. (Incidentally, I see echoes of this in the NuWho story, The Bells of St. John…though it’s perhaps a much more useful idea in the age of WiFi!) The Brigadier and Sarah Jane free Victoria and bring down the University…but in the end, Victoria disappears.
This is where Little Girl Lost picks up, some weeks or perhaps months later. It’s the story of Victoria’s redemption—but not from her own actions; rather, from her own guilt. Moreover, it’s a redemption of sorts for Sarah Jane and the Brigadier, who are also living with the fallout of the events at New World—and in the broader sense, with the fallout of being a friend of the Doctor.
That theme—of how life goes on when the Doctor leaves—will be revisited several times in NuWho, first by Sarah Jane herself in School Reunion, and later by Amy and Rory in various stories, and even to some degree by Clara Oswald and Bill Potts. Life with the Doctor may be glorious, but in the end, there are always pieces to be picked up (for those that survive, anyway, though none of the Doctor’s deceased companions are mentioned here).
I couldn’t shake the impression that this story is actually about the Brigadier. Sarah Jane may have been the hook for the story—after all, it’s a Sarah Jane anthology—and Victoria may have been the goal; but it’s the Brigadier who provides the driving force for everything that happens here. He pushes Sarah to investigate; he pushes Victoria to come into the fold. We get to see a side of him that we rarely see: the sentimental, caring side. We see it first in his thoughts about his family, including the recently-reconciled Kate and her son, Gordy; we see it in the way he speaks of the Doctor’s former companions as a sort of family. He’s gentle toward Maggie Harris, and toward Victoria. He’s thoughtful and quietly persuasive toward Sarah. It’s a far cry from the bombastic-but-formal Brigadier of older days; but it rounds out his character nicely, and gives him new depth. I’ve said numerous times that the Brig is one of my favorite characters, and it pleases me to see him get such a good treatment here.
Overall, it’s a somber, bittersweet story, but with a hopeful ending. We’ve had humor and meta-humor and excitement and action; and just as the portrayal of the Brigadier balances his character, this story brings balance to the anthology. It’s fitting, I think, that it is the center story of the anthology (in numbers, that is; it’s number eight of fifteen); it exists at the point of balance in more ways than one. Well done, Tina Marie DeLucia.
Next time: We join Scarlett Ward for The Insterstellar & The Improbable! See you there.
Defending Earth: An Unofficial Sarah Jane Smith Charity Collection is edited by M.H. Norris, and is produced in support of the Cancer Research Institute, researching the immune system as a weapon in the battle against cancers of all types. You can find the Cancer Research Institute here, and you can purchase the anthology here. The anthology is currently available in ebook formats, and is available for preorder in a print edition.