It is with a heavy heart that I pay tribute to one of my favorite actresses, and a lovely human being. Elisabeth Sladen, who will best be remembered as Sarah Jane Smith, companion to the 3rd and 4th Doctors on the BBC’s long-running series, Doctor Who, died from cancer at age 63 on Tuesday, April 19, 2011.
As a kid, my friends and I loved to see the fourth Doctor and Sarah Jane go on their boundless journeys through time and space. An attempt to spin her character off into its own series was made in 1981 called “K-9 and Company: A Girl’s Best Friend” (named after another beloved, albeit mechanical, companion – the robot dog K-9), but that ended up being a one shot episode. It wasn’t until 2005 that the brilliant Russell T. Davies, who brought new life to Doctor Who, brought the character of Sarah Jane back where she met the tenth Doctor, played by David Tennant. That episode,
“School Reunion”, garnered Elisabeth the Best Actress award by readers of Doctor Who magazine. It was so exciting to see that Elizabeth still looked great after all these years and still could play Sarah Jane with such energy and enthusiasm. The character had now grown up and had been an investigative journalist, continuing the secret battle on Earth against alien threats.
“School Reunion” was so popular, that Davies launched Elisabeth into a spin-off series geared towards children called “The Sarah Jane Adventures” in 2007, which ran for four seasons (in America we only saw the first two, sadly) and was still in production recently. The show itself was well-crafted, and even though kids were the target audience, it never pulled any punches or came across as cartoony and ridiculous. A new generation, my own kids included, were introduced to a great female role-model, as Elisabeth led the charge with her youthful companions against the forces of darkness. Sarah Jane disliked weapons, and as she learned from the Doctor, she would use her wits to defeat the bad guys.
Born in Liverpool, Elizabeth started out acting in 1960, and appeared on some of England’s most popular shows
including “Coronation Street”, “Z Cars”, and “Public Eye”. Elizabeth was once quoted as saying, “Sometimes good television doesn’t depend on money, it depends on imagination and good people directing, casting and doing the job with talented people. Then you’re forgiven a great deal, I think, if sometimes something doesn’t look quite on the money.” By all accounts, she was the warmest, most sincere person you could meet, and everyone whose lives she touched were the better for it, including those of us who only knew her as audience members.
John Barrowman, who plays Captain Jack Harkness on Doctor Who’s other spin-off series, Torchwood, tweeted, “I loved my time on the Tardis with her. I am proud to have worked with such an icon of the sci-fi world, your Doctor Who family are very sad and will miss you and your beautiful smile. She was a delight. Can’t tell you how sad I am.”
Russell T. Davies said “I absolutely loved Lis. She was funny and cheeky and clever and just simply wonderful. The universe was lucky to have Sarah Jane Smith, the world was lucky to have Lis.”
The world is a much sadder place without Elisabeth Sladen. But we all have our fond memories of watching her as Sarah Jane Smith, and we will always be able to keep her alive in our hearts.