Goodbye, Sarah Jane Smith

20/04/2011 at 12:18 am (Doctor Who)


Another part of my childhood detached like an iceberg and drifted out of view today.

Elisabeth Sladen passed away at the age of 63. It has been reported that the actor had been suffering from cancer for some time. But being so full of life and energy on screen, it came as a shock to so many. Myself included.

Bringing the character of Sarah Jane Smith to life, Lis – as she was known fondly by those who knew her, and felt like they knew her – became in many ways the ultimate Doctor Who companion. Even if the scripts pushed the suspension of disbelief, Sladen’s performance was always very real.

It was the performance in the Doctor Who story ‘The Brain Of Morbius’ that my eyes were opened to power of playing it absolutely real in even the oddest situations. Sarah Jane has been blinded while helping the Doctor escape (natch). She completely panics, falling apart as she realises that the Doctor will have to take her back to Earth so she can live out her days as a blind flower seller.

Tom Baker’s Doctor helps her to get a grip by threatening to bite her nose, but I absolutely felt her fear. Elisabeth Sladen made cramped studios and quarry pits totally alien environments. Through this portrayal, the alien menaces were truly menacing. And above it all, Sarah Jane Smith was absolutely brave. Even when terrified, she would stand true with the Doctor.

Lis Sladen could portray vulnerability and confidence believably. I can only imagine how tricky it can be to play the part of a Doctor Who companion. There’s a danger of falling between “teatime totty” and “cold fish”. Elisabeth Sladen was a stunning looking woman true, but it was also her warmth that came across on screen. It let you in, and you would love to share the adventures with Sarah Jane and her best friend, the Doctor.

The strength of Elisabeth Sladen’s performance made Sarah Jane as much of the integral backbone of Doctor Who as the TARDIS and the daleks. Bridging both the old and new series, she was one of the catalysts that cemented the pedigree of the new series in the minds of old fans. The episode School Reunion won her many new, younger fans too.

Surprisingly, and disappointingly, Elisabeth Sladen appeared in few other TV roles. Still, the additional spin off series of the Sarah Jane Adventures gave us more of Lis, which was always a pleasure to watch. Appearing with many of the Doctors over the years, from Jon Pertwee and finally with Matt Smith who guested in her show, it proves how much of a mark she made.

Reading the tributes that have been published and posted about Elisabeth Sladen, one thing remained constant; she was always gracious and a pleasure to meet. I really wish I had. Goodbye, Sarah Jane Smith, and farewell, Elisabeth Sladen.

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5 Comments

  1. John said,

    RIP Lis

    Between losing her and the Brigadier this has been a very bad year for Doctor Who

  2. Suzy said,

    A true legend. And the best companion to date. Very sad.

  3. lankyguy said,

    Well said, thank you.

  4. Dave Wood said,

    Lovely tribute, Pete. Was listening to the “Planet of the Spiders” commentary just a few hours before last night’s announcement. So sad and very unexpected. Shocking that three of those fabulous contributors have left us over the last few months.

  5. RIP Elisabeth Sladen (1948 – 2011) « Demon's Run said,

    […] Pocketpete […]

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