Elisabeth Sladen: 1948-2011
|FEATURES - TV|
Very much missing the woman argued often to be the Doctor's most popular assistant...
Today it is with a heavy heart that all of us at Shadowlocked bid a fond farewell to one of science fiction’s finest, Elisabeth Sladen, who played Sarah Jane Smith in the long-running series Doctor Who. She passed away on April 19, 2011 of cancer. She was 63.
Elisabeth was born in Liverpool, England on February 1, 1948, and took dance lessons at age five, dancing in one performance with the Royal Ballet. In school, she developed a love for acting, and after grammar school, attended two years of drama school. After that, she worked with the Liverpool Playhouse, where she met her future husband, fellow actor Brian Miller. The two were married in 1968, had one daughter, Sadie Miller, and were together until her untimely death yesterday.
While Elisabeth did some film work, she primarily worked in theater and television. It wasn’t until Katy Manning – Jo Grant on Doctor Who – was preparing to leave, that Z-Cars producer Ron Craddock gave a rousing recommendation to Who producer Barry Letts to hire Sladen. She would become Third Doctor Jon Pertwee’s companion in The Time Warrior, and then go on for several series with Tom Baker, finally leaving after The Hand of Fear.
During her time in the TARDIS, Sladen got to go up against Cybermen, meet Davros and see the beginnings of the Daleks. In 1981, she filmed a pilot for a spin-off series, K-9 And Company, whereupon Sarah Jane receives K-9 Mark III (voiced by John Leeson) as a Christmas present from The Doctor. The pilot failed being picked up for series, but Sladen did reprise the role for the 1983 20th Anniversary special The Five Doctors (also featuring K-9 in a brief cameo). Sladen had been critical in later years of the writing of Sarah Jane in classic Who, being a “cardboard cutout”, but spoke highly of how she had been conceived for her introduction into the new series.
After her daughter’s birth in 1985, she went into semi-retirement, doing the occasional television appearance and traveling to the United States for Doctor Who conventions. In 2006, she finally came back to Who in the Tennant episode School Reunion, where she and K-9 meet the Tenth Doctor while investigating strange goings on at a local school. This would lead to a successful spin-off series, The Sarah Jane Adventures, in which she investigated unexplained mysteries with the help of neighborhood children and her adopted son, Luke. She also went on to appear in the season 4 two-part finale and a final cameo in David Tennant’s last episode, The End of Time.
Elisabeth Sladen is survived by her husband and daughter, and will be dearly missed by many Doctor Who fans.
I just want to add that it was my great pleasure to interview Elisabeth Sladen a few years ago. She was the first 'real' interview of very many over the following 3-4 years, and I now know, looking back, even though I was quite petrified at the time, that the interview Gods were smiling on me in making Sladen my first effort in that line. Aside from being professional, she was gentle, warm and extraordinarily down-to-Earth - in contradiction to what one would expect both from a fan-favourite and a galactic traveller! We could have done with a lot more of Liz, but give thanks that we got any.
- Martin Anderson, editor-in-chief, Shadowlocked
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