- Elizabeth Sladen & Jon Pertwee © bbc
Yesterday, 19th April 2011, Elizabeth Sladen died at the age of 63 from cancer. Although I’ve never met her, it has upset me. I have watched her work on TV for the whole of my life. I grew up watching her play Sarah Jane Smith on Dr Who in the 1970’s and I was touched every Saturday evening by this wonderful character that she brought to life. I was lucky enough to talk to her via Twitter a few times, and her replies were favourited immediately. I have had to write something……
It’s fair to say that Sarah Jane Smith is my favourite companion, for me she wins hands down over every other, no one else even comes close.
Why? Well, being in the series at a time to appear in some of the best stories ever written for Doctor Who and appearing with two of the best Doctors of all time didn’t do any harm. The stories that feature Sarah Jane would fit happily into anyone’s top ten episodes “The Time Warrior” “Robot“ “The Sontaran Experiment” “Genesis of the Daleks” “The Ark in Space” “Pyramids of Mars” “The Brain of Morbius” “The Hand of Fear”.
But that shouldn’t take anything away from Sarah Jane. She is everything that the ideal companion should be, intelligent, pretty,(very pretty), strong-willed, brave, often the equal of the Doctor. In her first story, “The Time Warrior“, she infiltrates U.N.I.T. and sets out to catch the Doctor, and occasionally she’s ahead of him, as in “Planet of Evil“, where she points out an avenue of escape that the Doctor had completely missed.
It is this period between December 1973, Season Eleven and “The Time Warrior” with Jon Pertwee and October 1976, Season Fourteen and “The Hand of Fear with Tom Baker that is seen as Dr Who’s golden age. Sarah Jane and the 3rd Doctor always made a good team. They were very similar types and the Doctor was very protective of her, they were a delight to watch, but Sarah Jane and the 4th Doctor were fantastic! You can see they both enjoyed working together, they just seemed to understand each other so well. The little jokes and smiles passed between them makes all the story more believable.
But unfortunately all good things come to an end and in 1976 Sarah Jane’s run as the Doctors companion ended in “The Hand of Fear” and I thought that, as companions past, she was gone. However in 1981, Sarah Jane got a well deserved chance of her own spin-off series called “K-9 and Company“. In the pilot episode entitled “A Girl’s Best Friend“, Sarah Jane receives the robot dog K-9 as a present from the Doctor. Unfortunately, despite good ratings, a series did not materialise. The 20th anniversary special “The Five Doctors” in 1983 gave the chance to reprise the role, and again in 1993 for the Children in Need special “Dimensions in Time” and sadly in 1996 Dr Who disappeared from the BBC.
After a long gap Dr Who retuned in 2005 with Christopher Eccleston as the Ninth Doctor, he left after one season, and I was unsure about this ‘New Series Dr Who’. In 2006 David Tennant (The Tenth Doctor) arrived for season 2 and suddenly Sarah Jane was back in an episode called “School Reunion” surely this was real Dr Who again!! Its a great story with a fantastic end, a proper goodbye for Sarah Jane. It was also in 2006, Children’s BBC expressed an interest in producing a Doctor Who spin-off. Their initial idea wasn’t going to fly and Russell T Davies suggested a series based on Sarah Jane Smith
And on 1 January 2007 The Sarah Jane Adventures debuted on BBC One with a 60-minute special, entitled “Invasion of the Bane“. This has now been followed by 4 very successful seasons, The Sarah Jane Adventures has been nominated for a British Academy Children’s Award in 2008 in the Drama category, and once again in 2009 for a BAFTA Cymru, in Children’s Drama.
At the time of her death Elisabeth Sladen was nearing completion of filming season 5 of The Sarah Jane Adventures.
The longevity of the character is due to her continually developing. Sarah Jane is a well rounded character, but it’s more than that, she is interesting. It is something that Elisabeth Sladen pushed for during her time on Doctor Who. It is strongest aspect of Sarah and it is due to the talent of the actress that plays her. Elisabeth Sladen is a delightful person in real life you can just see her enthusiasm in interviews, and its that enthusiasm and the belief that she has in the character that shines through. It is something that she has kept alive since her first appearance in 1973.
Arguably the best companion throughout the series? No! Sarah Jane Smith is simply the best companion the Doctor ever had!
List of appearances
25 stories of Doctor Who over 4 seasons
3 specials, The Five Doctors & Dimensions in Time (a charity special crossover between Doctor Who and EastEnders soap opera) & The End of Time
K-9 and Company “A Girl’s Best Friend”
4 Seasons of The Sarah Jane Adventures
13 audio dramas
4 BBC Audiobooks
27 Short stories
And several comics
Elizabeth Sladen is still with us, She is remembered by her family, her friends, her fans and by her work. Goodbye Sarah Jane Smith.