Wednesday, April 20, 2011

The Late Great Elisabeth Sladen

Elisabeth Sladen, best known for playing the most famous and best loved companion The Doctor on Doctor Who ever had, Sarah Jane Smith, passed yesterday, 20 April 2011 at the age of 63. The cause was cancer.

Elisabeth Sladen was born on 1 February 1948 in Liverpool. She attended Sunday School in Penny Lane. She attended dramas school, then joined the Liverpool Playhouse, working her way up from stagehand to playing roles on stage. She travelled a good deal for repertory, playing everywhere from Scarborough to London.

Miss Sladen made her film debut in an uncredited role in Ferry Across the Mersey (1965). She made her television debut in an episode of ITV Playhouse in 1968. The next few years she guest starred on such shows as Coronation Street, Doomwatch, and Z-Cars. It was in 1974 that she was cast as Sarah Jane Smith on Doctor Who opposite the third Doctor, Jon Pertwee. Prior to Sarah Jane, The Doctor's female companions would simply scream in abject horror at Daleks, Cybermen, or whatever other extraterrestrial threat they encountered.  This was not the case with Sarah Jane Smith, a strong willed reporter who was nearly every bit The Doctor's equal. In the end Elisabeth Sladen would remain on Doctor Who for three and a half years, serving with the fourth Doctor, Tom Baker, as well.

Following her time on Dr. Who, Miss Sladen would guest star on Send in the Girls, the Doctor Who episode "The Five Doctors (in 1980)," In Loving Memory, Play For Today, Dempsey and MakepieceThe Bill, and Men of the World. She appeared in the failed Dr. Who pilot K-9 and Company: A Girl's Best Friend in 1981. She was a regular on the series Take My Wife and Peak Practice.

It was in 2006 that Elisabeth Sladen returned to Doctor Who as Sarah Jane Smith, guest starring opposite David Tenant as The Doctor. She would return as Sarah Jane to the series four more times, the last being in 2010. Her popularity was great enough that she became the first of any of The Doctor's companions to receive her own series, The Sarah Jane Adventures which ran from 2007 to 2010.

Short of Diana Rigg as Emma Peel, I rather suspect that more little British boys had crushes on Elisaeth Sladen as Sarah Jane Smith than any other female British television character. There was good reason for this. Unlike The Doctor's previous companions, Sarah Jane was an independent, strong willed woman who could think for herself. She was not content to follow The Doctor's orders and she was quite capable on her own. This was greatly helped by Elisabeth Sladen's talent, who brought to the role a depth never before seen in The Doctor's previous companions. In the end it would make Sarah Jane Smith the best loved of The Doctor's companions. She appeared with more incarnations of The Doctor than any other companion (six in total) and was the only companion to received her own series. In The Sarah Jane Adventures she was the central hero, and fans loved her even more for it. There can be no doubt that The Doctor will have more companions, but none will ever be as loved as Sarah Jane. And no actress will play a companion so capably as Elisabeth Sladen did.


A.W. McQueen said...

Thank you for posting your memories of Elisabeth. I adored her growing up.

I remember quite recently watching the new Dr. Who and I was thinking how fabulous she still was even in the later years.

Toby O'B said...

Thanks, Merc. It's probably the death of a celebrity this year that moved me the most. So unexpected!

And thanks for confirming that she appeared with more incarnations of the Doctor than anyone else. I thought that was right, but was too lazy to do the research. It's a record I'm sure won't be broken.....