Liz Sladen: "Don't forget me"
|FEATURES - TV|
The end of 'The Hand Of Fear' was always moving, but never more so than today...
Liz Sladen says goodbye to Tom Baker's Doctor at the end of The Hand Of Fear:
Elisabeth Sladen, Doctor Who's very own plucky Metropolitan journalist and all-time great companion, has passed away at the age of 63.
Born in Liverpool on February 1st 1948, Elisabeth's performing roots started at a very young age, with a keen interest in dancing and one appearance with the Royal Ballet. Drama school beckoned after this, and by the early 1960s, she was working at the Liverpool Playhouse repertory company - where she met her husband Brian Miller (Dugdale from Snakedance).
Liz's first on-screen work was as an uncredited extra in Gerry And The Pacemakers film, Ferry Cross The Mersey in 1965. By the early 1970s, she was starting to gain roles in popular TV series such as Coronation Street, Doomwatch and Z Cars. She nearly won the role of Betty in popular sitcom Some Mothers Do 'Ave 'Em, losing out to Michele Dotrice, but did end up playing the harassed shopkeeper Judy in the 1973 episode The Hospital Visit.
However, in the same year, an opportunity arose that would change Elisabeth's career forever. With the departure of Katy Manning as popular companion Jo Grant, producer Barry Letts was looking for a replacement. Following a successful audition with Stephen Thorne, and enthusiastic receptions from Letts and a thumbs-aloft Jon Pertwee, Sladen won the role of Sarah Jane Smith. She would play the role from 1973 to 1976.
Even today, Sarah Jane is a regular presence in the upper echelons of top Doctor Who companions. That's testimony to Elisabeth's consistently excellent performances. She managed to bring a natural, relaxed feel to the part, and just as importantly, she established a great rapport with her fellow actors. She worked well with Jon Pertwee's Doctor, and blossomed further when working with Tom Baker.
There's that great chemistry between the two that you couldn't bottle in a million years. Elisabeth managed to work in total harmony with Tom's Doctor, whether the two were quoting the works of Shakespeare on Zeta Minor, having minor spats about shoes and forced landings on the planet Karn, or laughing in the freezing climes of Antarctica. Just as important is the 12th season, when she would also be teamed with Ian Marter as Harry Sullivan. The trio of The Doctor, Sarah Jane and Harry is fondly remembered to this day, and Elisabeth played a key part in this with her infectious deliveries and warm-hearted chemistry with the other two leads.
Elisabeth managed to turn Sarah Jane from a cipher into a totally believable companion. On paper, the character's nothing startlingly original – in her first season, she was prone to rather obvious soapboxing and feminist rants, but interestingly, Sarah Jane still comes across as totally likeable and trustworthy. Take the scene, for example, in The Monster Of Peladon, when she's telling Thalira about the joys of Women's Lib. Read the speech to yourself and it sounds a bit hokey – listen to Lis deliver it, and she turns it into something that's far more believable and genuine. And there's the key to Sarah Jane's enduring popularity – Elisabeth always played the character with great sincerity and genuine warmth.
Little wonder then that she'd be selected for several returns to the show after she left in The Hand Of Fear. Sladen had continued to work in other TV shows such as kiddies' favourite, Stepping Stones, sitcom Take My Wife (playing opposite Duggie Brown) or the female lead in Gulliver In Lilliput (helmed by Barry Letts). In the 1980s though, she would return to the world of Doctor Who, playing Sarah Jane in 1981's K9 And Company and then in the anniversary tale, The Five Doctors in 1983. Following the birth of her daughter Sadie in 1985, Sladen put acting on the back-burner for a time, although she made appearances in Peak Practice and Faith In The Future.
But as comebacks go, Elisabeth scored the jackpot in the mid-noughties. Following a hugely successful appearance as Sarah Jane in Doctor Who's revitalised second season in School Reunion (with a turn that combines the old charm of before and an element of wistful poignancy), Russell T Davies saw the potential for a spin-off show. And as a result, Sladen landed her very own starring role in The Sarah Jane Adventures, a programme that not only proved hugely popular with kids but with adults too. Elisabeth continued to impress with a string of fantastic performances, and was recently teamed up with both Katy Manning as Jo and Matt Smith as The Doctor in The Death Of The Doctor.
Elisabeth also continued her association with Doctor Who in other formats with interviews, convention appearances and contributions to DVD commentaries and documentaries. As her character says in The Death Of The Doctor, the Doctor's companions will always live on. One small crumb of comfort from Sladen's untimely death is that the character of Sarah Jane Smith will always live on through past adventures which can be enjoyed time and time again – and that's a result of a hugely talented actress who turned what could have been a cipher into a three-dimensional and believable character.
Goodbye, my Sarah Jane.
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