New to Doctor Who or returning after a break? Check out our guides designed to help you find your way!



The Man Who Never Was was the third and final serial of series 5 of The Sarah Jane Adventures. It was written by Gareth Roberts and directed by Joss Agnew. Due to the passing of Elisabeth Sladen, this was the final story of The Sarah Jane Adventures, as it was the last for which production was sufficiently complete. In other noteworthy ways, it contained the first on-screen meeting between Sarah Jane's two adopted children, Luke and Sky, and also enshrined the fan term "Clani" into the show's narrative.


Joseph Serf has launched his new SerfBoard, the must-have computer that no one can resist owning. Everyone wants the brand new device — and why not? What could be so dangerous about a computer?


Part one[]

At the offices of Serf Systems, a cleaner named Adriana Petrescu is working when she hears strange noises coming from a nearby lift; when she goes to investigate, something unseen grabs her and then drags her inside.

At No.13, Bannerman Road, Sarah Jane, Clyde and Rani prepare for the return of Luke, while a nervous Sky worries about meeting her new "brother". Downstairs, Luke checks out his bedroom, only to find that it now belongs to Sky. Heading upstairs, he enjoys a happy reunion with his mum and his two friends, before meeting Sky for the first time. Their first encounter is awkward. Sky feels guilty for taking his room. Luke says he left K9 back at university, busy backing up the entire Bodleian Library. Mr Smith voices his delight.

Sarah Jane tells them the top three journalists in the country are invited to a launch rehearsal for the "SerfBoard", the new must-have computer that is going to be launched that afternoon. Clyde and Rani are oblivious to Sarah Jane's status as one of the three, leaving her slightly offended. Sarah Jane says she will be able to take two guests to the launch: she chose to take Sky and Luke as a "family trip" – much to Clyde and Rani's disappointment.

Later that morning, Sarah Jane, Luke and Sky arrive at Serf Systems. They are asked to complete non-disclosure agreements and meet Lionel Carson, Sarah Jane's former editor and one of her oldest and dearest friends. After exchanging pleasantries, Lionel confesses that he is personally not fond of technology, but came to impress his grandchildren. The gang are joined by public relations officer John Harrison, who shows them to their seats in the main auditorium. As they walk in, Sky tells Luke that she can feel a strange build-up of electricity in the area.

As the rehearsal begins, Harrison introduces Joseph Serf. The handsome, charismatic man himself bounds onto the stage and begins running through his presentation. Each audience member is given a free SerfBoard. Yet something else grabs Sky and Luke's attention: As Joseph is explaining the SerfBoard and its benefits, a small part of his face suddenly turns to pixels and then back to normal.

After the rehearsal ends, the gang head out to the foyer. While Lionel is suddenly enthralled by his new device, Luke and Sky explain what they saw and fill Sarah Jane in on their suspicions. Leaving Luke behind to investigate, she and Sky take the SerfBoard home for analysis.

Joining Clyde and Rani in the attic, Sarah Jane instructs Mr Smith to access Serf Systems' CCTV recordings. As the Xylok computer plays back the rehearsal, Sky locates the point where Serf glitched. Studying the freeze-frame, the gang can clearly see that only Serf is affected by the distortion; the rest of the picture remains undisturbed.

Immediately suspecting alien holographic technology at work, Sarah Jane orders Mr Smith to search the company records. They learn Joseph Serf founded Serf Systems but withdrew from public life several years ago after an almost fatal skiing accident, since then only showing up in publicity photographs and at events. Noticing that in all his appearances Serf is never shown making making physical contact with anything or anyone, Sarah Jane deduces that the real Joseph Serf died in the accident and has long since been replaced by an advanced hologram, allowing an unknown party to take control of the company. The gang consider whether the SerfBoard has any hypnotic properties to encourage buyers. While Mr Smith begins a deep scan of the device, Sarah Jane phones Serf Systems to arrange an interview with Serf. Speaking to Mr Harrison, she drops enough hints about her suspicions to make the PR officer agree to a meeting immediately. Sarah Jane knows she is walking into a trap, but needs to find out what is going on. She heads back to Serf Systems, leaving Rani and Clyde to supervise the SerfBoard.

Clani inspect serfboard

Rani and Clyde inspect the SerfBoard.

Sarah Jane and Sky return to Serf Systems and rejoin Luke, who has had no success with his snooping. Instructing her children to remain out of harm's way, Sarah Jane meets Harrison, who escorts her to Serf's office but then refuses to leave. During the interview, Sarah Jane tries every trick she knows to expose Serf. She notices the businessman politely declines to shake her hand, as according to Harrison: "Mr Serf suffers from an acute peanut allergy." Even though Sarah Jane points out that she hasn't been eating nuts, Harrison says she may have been "in a nutty environment". Serf apologizes: "I can't be too careful." Sarah Jane's deliberately dropped pen is swiftly replaced with another from Harrison. Back at the attic, Mr Smith informs Clyde and Rani the SerfBoard is just a standard laptop outfitted with no alien technology. Still suspicious, the two don protective gear and prepare to activate the device — only to discover that there is nothing alien or dangerous about the computer; despite its attractive name and appearance, it is actually of very poor quality.

Meanwhile, at Serf Systems, Sky tells Luke that she can feel the strange electrical build-up again, coming from below. They take a lift to the basement, but Sky thinks the source lies even further under the building. Figuring out the secret code in the lift, Luke sends them down to the unlabelled sub-basement. While exploring the dark, litter-strewn corridors, Luke and Sky hear Sarah Jane and Serf's voices behind a heavy metal door. Stepping into the room beyond, they find themselves in a strange chamber occupied by short, hooded figures, all wearing welding masks and working frantically at controls labelled with such things as "Eyes", "Arms", "Bum", "Expressions" and "Voice".

Upstairs, Sarah Jane notices that Serf has begun to behave oddly, mispronouncing his words and getting stuck mid-expression. When Sarah Jane deliberately spills her water, the effect is astonishing. Serf rises shakily to his feet and the spot on his arm where the water splashed begins glitching.


Luke and Sky discover Harrison's other secret.

In the control room, the diminutive workers are thrown into a panic as their supervisor, Plark, frantically shouts instructions. Speaking urgently into an earpiece, Harrison orders the supervisor to use "hypno-power". Back in Serf's office, this causes him to act overly charming to Sarah Jane to change her mind. The plucky reporter is having none of it; she has been put under hypnosis by much better foes. After dismissing this attempt, she shoves her hands through Serf's body, disrupting it even further. As the businessman's systems go wild, Harrison pulls out an alien-looking taser-like gun and points it at Sarah Jane. Seeing a monitor screen showing his mum in danger, Luke cries out – immediately alerting the aliens to his and Sky's presence. As the workers close in on the two unwanted intruders, the supervisor throws back his hood and removes his protective mask – revealing a hideous, one-eyed face.

Part two[]

As the diminutive, one-eyed creatures close in on them, Luke and Sky brace themselves for the worst. To their surprise, the supervisor, Plark, implores them to escape. Sky looks at the monitor and is shocked to see the angry Mr Harrison about to shoot Sarah Jane with the alien-looking gun.

Sky leaps for the hologram controls, sending Serf into a frenzy and Harrison's shot flying wild. Sarah Jane runs, only to be captured by a security guard, her sonic lipstick confiscated. Harrison is furious at the apparent failure of his workers and activates a pen-like control device that sends a surge of agonising energy through the collars the creatures wear around their necks. Looking at his monitor, Harrison sees that Luke and Sky are in the control room – the "Light Chamber" – and orders their immediate capture. As an alarm blares out, Plark urges the two kids to run, but they swiftly are captured by guards.

Sarah Jane rejoins the children and then watches in outrage as Harrison punishes Plark with an even stronger surge of painful energy. She protests, but Harrison ignores her, saying he paid good money for the Skullions. Sarah Jane is appalled at hearing the aliens are the survivors of a spaceship that crashed in Central Asia, after which they were sold as slaves on the alien species black market. Harrison doesn't care; his only concerns are making a profit. He intends to activate the hologram Serf's hypnotic power in the upcoming press conference, transmitting it across the world to make everyone watching buy the SerfBoard; he will then make the full profit, and become a very wealthy man. After locking Luke and Sky in one storeroom and Sarah Jane in another, Harrison heads upstairs to prepare for the press launch. Sarah Jane finds herself locked in with Adriana, who explains she met one of the Skullions (whom she refers to as the "Little People") who was trying to escape, only for them both to be captured by guards.

Back at No. 13 Bannerman Road, Clyde and Rani watch a news report on the upcoming launch of the SerfBoard. Worried that their calls to their friends have gone unanswered, Rani comes up with a plan.

Elsewhere, Luke and Sky are given food by Plank, the lead Skullion. Luke offers his bottle of water to the supervisor, but the creature refuses: water is harmful and burning to his kind, who can only drink citrus juice. After Plark leaves, Luke and Sky wonder how they can help free the slaves. Sky has an idea: by using the dog-whistle that Luke uses to call K9, they can send a message to Mr Smith. It works, and Luke rejoices at his smart sister.

In the attic, a suited-and-booted Clyde watches as Rani and Mr Smith complete work on two fake press passes: they are now Trevor and Janet Sharp, two journalists from Twilight Years, a magazine for the over-60s – the real couple having been stranded at the airport due to a "computer malfunction". Mr Smith receives a high-pitched transmission on K9's wavelength, a Morse-code message from Luke: "CLANI GRAB HARRISONS PEN."

Back at Serf Systems, Sarah Jane and Adriana's guard investigates the ruckus they are making – and gets sent sprawling by a jury-rigged tripwire created by Adriana, allowing the two prisoners to escape. In the Light Chamber, Harrison informs the Skullions they are now working for their lives. If the press launch is not a success, they will be killed by the torture pen. When Plark asks for a drink, the cruel businessman sprays his slaves with water, burning them, but not killing them. In the meantime, Luke and Sky are freed by Sarah Jane and Adriana. They are informed of Luke's Morse code message to Mr Smith.

Clani undercover

Clyde and Rani undercover as Trevor and Janet Sharp

In the control room, they see Clyde and Rani on the monitor screen. The two "journalists" meet Lionel Carson, then edge nearer towards Harrison. Disguised as a cleaner, Sarah Jane goes upstairs and uses a corporate phone to contact Mr Smith and gives him an order. Mr Smith sends a message to the planet Skultos, requesting a rescue mission be sent to the roof of Serf Systems to save the Skullions. Clyde and Rani arrive in the main foyer, uncomfortably acting like a married couple. They dismiss suspicion of their young age as a "new company policy". They begin their search for Harrison and soon spot him and the "pen" he uses to shock the Skullions. Rani's attempts to grab the pen fail dismally, but Clyde does better: by bumping into the PR man, he switches the control device for a real pen.

Below, Plark and the others Skullions are overjoyed that their master can no longer shock them. They agree to follow Sarah Jane and Adriana to the roof where the ship will rescue them.

Following Lionel and the rest of the journalists into the auditorium, Clyde and Rani take their seats as the video trailer of Serf plays on the main screen. Harrison appears and reclaims his stolen pen from Clyde posing as Trevor. Seeing that the PR man has his control device back, Sky and Luke drive the hologram themselves. As the audience looks on, Joseph Serf stumbles onto the stage and gives a bizarre presentation.

Furious and confused, Harrison activates his pen. Up on the roof, the Skullions collapse in the worst agony they have ever experienced. Using the hologram's speech and hypno controls, Sky makes Serf compel his audience to grab the pen from Harrison. Lionel leads the rush, and he seizes the device from the astonished PR man and stamps it into pieces. To Harrison's further dismay, Serf orders his guests to go away and tell everyone that the SerfBoard is a sham. Clyde and Rani are amused, but wonder why the founder of Serf Systems would say such a thing. The hologram waves and says, "Hi Clani", and points to the roof, telling them to go up and meet Sarah Jane before shutting off and fading.

However, Harrison overhears. He races ahead of the two, appearing before Sarah Jane, Adriana and the terrified Skullions. Sarah Jane reminds Harrison that she told him she would stop him. Harrison asks what army does she have. Sarah Jane points to the Skullion ship as it arrives above the building. Rani grabs a distracted Harrison's weapon. The gang holds him at bay as a green teleport beam stabs down and envelops the Skullions. As Plark bids goodbye to Sarah Jane and the gang, Harrison rushes forward to grab them, declaring them as his property. Unfortunately for him, he is teleported aboard the ship with the Skullions.

Luke voices the hope that the Skullions will give Harrison a taste of his own medicine and put him to work as Adriana wonders what she will do now that she has lost her job. Eager to help, Sarah Jane recommends that she give UNIT a call and mention who sent her. Some time later, Sarah Jane, Clyde, Rani and Sky watch a news report detailing Joseph Serf's sudden unexplained disappearance. Sarah Jane notes how sad it is that the public will never know what happened to the real Serf. Sky finds her brother in her room putting up a picture that Clyde has drawn: it depicts Sky, with the title "Sky's Room" written on it. Overjoyed, she gives Luke a hug.

As a farewell montage of her past adventures in the series play, Sarah Jane voices over:

"I've seen amazing things out there in space, but strange things can happen wherever you are. I have learned that life on Earth can be an adventure too. In all the universe, I never expected to find a family."

The episode closes over Earth, shown from space, with the caption: "And the story goes on.... forever".


Uncredited Cast[]


General production staff

Script department

Camera and lighting department

Art department

Costume department

Make-up and prosthetics

General post-production staff

Special and visual effects


Not every person who worked on this adventure was credited. The absence of a credit for a position doesn't necessarily mean the job wasn't required. The information above is based solely on observations of the actual end credits of the episodes as broadcast, and does not relay information from IMDB or other sources.


Real world[]

  • When Sky gives Joseph Serf an exaggerated stereotypical American persona, Luke says that she has been watching Toy Story again.




  • The real Janet and Trevor Sharp are stuck at the Orly Airport.
  • John Harrison purchased a group of Skullion slaves who crash landed in Central Asia, they are brought across Europe and then across the Channel to him.


  • Luke tells Sky that he has had seven mobile phones in the last two years, probably due to adversaries crushing them.
  • Clyde says that pot noodle is a major part of Luke's diet.
  • Sarah Jane recommends Adriana get a job with UNIT.

Story notes[]

  • This was the final televised performance for Elisabeth Sladen as Sarah Jane Smith before her death on 19 April 2011. Her final line in the role, given as narration and using archived recordings, was: "In all the universe, I never expected to find a family". This was also the final line of the series as a whole.
  • The character Joseph Serf was named in reference to the actor Patrick McGoohan, who used this name as a pseudonym whilst directing episodes of The Prisoner to conceal the fact that he was involved in a greater capacity on certain episodes than would be expected of him. Coincidentally, guest star Peter Bowles appeared in The Prisoner episode "A, B and C".

Series retirement[]

The story goes on

Only the beginning

The Man Who Never Was was the final episode of The Sarah Jane Adventures, produced along with the preceding series 4 episodes during the same production block that produced series 4 in 2010. Production of the remainder was scheduled for the spring of 2011, but Sladen's sudden illness and death from cancer on 19 April 2011 resulted in the BBC cancelling further production of the series. Russell T Davies respectfully decided to end The Sarah Jane Adventures for good, rather than find someone else to portray her character, which he felt was not a viable choice.

A special epilogue was added to the end of the episode after the death of Elisabeth Sladen. It featured clips from the series, as well as brief clips from TV: Journey's End and The End of Time with David Tennant.

Because only the first half of series 5 had been produced, this episode was slightly altered to provide some amount of closure to the series, much like the Doctor Who story Survival was given a closing monologue in anticipation that the classic series would be cancelled.

The episode and The Sarah Jane Adventures as a whole ends with a farewell montage. The last episode closes to the sound of Sarah Jane's narration (taken from The Lost Boy), over clips of her adventures with the Third, Fourth, Tenth and Eleventh Doctors, as well as her adventures on Bannerman Road. She states: "I've seen amazing things out there in space. But strange things can happen wherever you are. I have learned that life on Earth can be an adventure, too. In all the universe, I never expected to find a family."

In response to Elisabeth Sladen's passing, the first episode of Series 6 of Doctor Who, The Impossible Astronaut, was given a dedication card to open the episode. Sladen had died four days before the story premiered, making the memorial an eleventh-hour addition to the broadcast.

Though The Man Who Never Was was the last television episode of SJA, Farewell, Sarah Jane would later be created as a tribute to Sladen in 2020 to end off the legacy of the show, and would be billed as a final instalment.[1]

The show's sudden retirement also led to the creation of another CBBC series, Wizards vs Aliens, to fill the production gap left by its predecessor. While the show has no in-universe affiliation with the DWU, it shared the majority of its production crew, including Russell T Davies and Phil Ford as co-creators.


to be added

Filming locations[]

ATRIUM Building, University of South Wales, Adam Street, Cardiff - Serf Industries (lobby/theatre)

Production errors[]

If you'd like to talk about narrative problems with this story — like plot holes and things that seem to contradict other stories — please go to this episode's discontinuity discussion.
  • Though Joseph Serf is an intangible simulation that makes no physical contact with anything, when Sarah Jane is interviewing him in his office, Serf's chair wobbles as he sits down.


Home video releases[]

DVD releases[]

  • This story was included in The Sarah Jane Adventures: Season 5 DVD release. (Region 2 release: 6 February 2012)
  • It was also released in the Complete Collection Series 1-5 boxset. (Region 2 release: 6 February 2012)

Blu-ray releases[]

to be added.

External links[]