Respectful Insolence

Goodbye, Sarah Jane Smith…

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I just learned something that will sadden the heart of any Doctor Who fan. Elizabeth Sladen, who played longtime companion of the Doctor Sarah Jane Smith, has died of cancer:

Doctor Who star Elisabeth Sladen, who was also in spin-off series The Sarah Jane Adventures, has died aged 63.

Sladen appeared as Doctor Who assistant Sarah Jane Smith in the BBC television sci-fi series between 1973 and 1976, opposite Jon Pertwee and Tom Baker.

The Liverpool-born actress appeared in four series from 2007 of The Sarah Jane Adventures on children’s channel CBBC.

Sladen had been battling cancer for some time and leaves actor husband Brian Miller and daughter Sadie.

Sarah Jane Smith was always my favorite Who companion. (In fact, back in the 1980s I had a bit of a crush on her.) I didn’t watch her latest show on a regular basis, as it was aimed a bit too directly at children for me–a little too shiny and bouncy, if you know what I mean–although some of the stories I did see were quite good. I did see enough of it that I was surprised at this news. I never had a clue that she was so ill, although I did think she looked a bit haggard a couple of times that I saw her on TV recently. I also can’t help but find it morbidly ironic that the last story of The Sarah Jane Adventures that aired last fall was entitled Goodbye, Sarah Jane Smith. Unfortunately, unlike the case in the last episode of her TV show aired thus far, this time Sarah Jane won’t be coming back.

She will be missed.

ADDENDUM: A sadly effective tribute to Elisabeth Sladen.

Comments

  1. #1 Travis
    April 20, 2011

    Makes me sad as well. I always liked her when I was a kid, growing up watching Tom Baker as Doctor Who. I had not heard that she had cancer until I saw the story on the BBC. I was pretty young so I did not have much of a crush but that photo makes me wish I was a little older and might have had one.

  2. #2 Pinko Punko
    April 20, 2011

    When my public TV station started showing Dr. Who repeats in the 80s, they started with Tom Baker, and when I first watched it was Sarah Jane. She was great. I’ve only watched one season of Tennant and when they had Elisabeth Sladen on to reprise Sarah Jane, it was one of the top moments of the series. Very sad.

  3. #3 ZenMonkey
    April 20, 2011

    Pinko, that episode is called School Reunion and based on its trending on Twitter, I think a whole lot of people are going to be watching it tonight — including me. I’m actually somewhat surprised by how sad her death has made me. As a kid I watched exclusively 4th and 5th Doctors and of course I loved her then. I didn’t know she had cancer; she was so beautiful and awesome in that reboot episode I was hoping and even expecting she’d turn up again. I can’t even imagine how hard this must be for her husband of 42 years.

  4. #4 Roadstergal
    April 20, 2011

    RIP, from a long-time geek. :(

  5. #5 Kochanski
    April 20, 2011

    So sad, first the Brigadier and now Sarah Jane. Too many, too soon. This one hit me like a punch in the stomach, though. Sigh

  6. #6 dedicated lurker
    April 20, 2011

    I’m going to rewatch all her episodes. I didn’t even know she was sick.

    It’s strange how people we don’t know can have such an effect on us.

  7. #7 Badger3k
    April 20, 2011

    Deeply depressed. First Dr Who crush was Jo Grant, but then along came Sarah… When they brought her back in the new series, I got choked up. Sad to hear about this, and I wish the best for the family.

  8. #8 JG
    April 20, 2011

    Indeed surprising how sad losing a tv friend can make you!

  9. #9 The Science Pundit
    April 20, 2011

    That’s terrible! I had no idea that she was ill. :,-(

  10. #10 Lynn Wilhelm
    April 20, 2011

    So sad. Started watching Dr. Who with Tom Baker. Loved him and I thought Sarah Jane was great.

  11. #11 David N. Andrews M. Ed., C. P. S. E.
    April 20, 2011

    :(

    *sigh*

  12. #12 misshum22
    April 20, 2011

    She was my favorite companion, too – tie between her and Romana #1 (Key to Time series). My husband woke me up at 2AM to tell me she died. :(

  13. #13 Britgeekgrrl
    April 20, 2011

    I’ve been absolutely gutted by the news.

    Sarah Jane Smith is a wonderful character and Lis Sladen was a lovely person.

  14. #14 Rudi Tapper
    April 20, 2011

    Sad, sad news.

  15. #15 Graham
    April 20, 2011

    So much of what I wanted to say has already been said, so I’ll just say that this is very sad news.

  16. #16 Calli Arcale
    April 20, 2011

    It’s very sad indeed. I’ve been following the Sarah Jane Adventures, and I’m wondering how they’ll handle this, with part of Season Five in the can already. The rest of the crew may not have even known she was sick, apart from perhaps her costars and the producers, because she was a very private and *humble* person. She would not have wanted any fuss made over her.

    Well, we’re all going to fuss over her now, because we all miss her terribly. Most of us never met her in person, and only met her through Sarah Jane Smith, consistently voted the most popular companion. Very sad, and my deepest condolences to her family. 63 is too young.

  17. #17 Lancelot Gobbo
    April 20, 2011

    I was a Katy Manning fan in my day. I still think Jon Pertwee the best doctor, and he had the pleasure of working with both of these fine companions.

  18. #18 Anton P. Nym
    April 20, 2011

    John Kovalic over on “Dork Tower” did a wonderfully effective cartoon to mark her passing:

    http://www.dorktower.com/images/comics/DorkTower942.gif

    (May cause sniffles and misting up; viewer discretion advised.)

    Thank you for the wonderful memories, Elisabeth, and good bye.

    — Steve

  19. #19 NoAstronomer
    April 20, 2011

    I grew up in England and I was in my early teens during the period Elisabeth was on Doctor Who. I also had a huge crush on Sarah Jane.

    I’ll be a little sad, but I’ll remember her fondly.

  20. #20 Scottynuke
    April 20, 2011

    Sniffles indeed, Anton P. Nym…

    *SIGHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH* :-(

  21. #21 Thom Denick
    April 20, 2011

    One of my favorite episodes on the new Who was the return of Sarah Jane and K-9. You can watch it on Amazon for .99, it’s called “School Reunion”: http://www.amazon.com/Doctor-Who-Complete-David-Tennant/dp/B000JBWWP6/ref=sr_1_4?ie=UTF8&qid=1303317075&sr=8-4

  22. #22 Calli Arcale
    April 20, 2011

    It’s funny, but people have been saying she was *their* companion. I don’t know that that’s said about any other companion. Instead, they talk about who was their Doctor. Sarah Jane didn’t overshadow the 3rd Doctor or the 4th Doctor (who could?), any more than the Brigadier did. But together they made television magic.

    I remember watching an interview with her on “30 Years in the TARDIS”, a documentary which was one of the very few official Who things produced in that period (during the long hiatus after Sylvester McCoy’s tenure). She talked about how your job as a companion and an actor is to *believe* in the alien perils that you face. Because it doesn’t matter that it’s just a big wobbly pile of rubber, or nothing at all where a strange glow will be added on later — what matters is whether or not *you* believe it’s scary, because if you believe it is, so will the audience.

    That was her amazing gift. She did that better than anybody. The Sarah Jane Adventures started out a bit campy — almost panto. They could’ve been no more serious than Mighty Morphin Power Rangers meets Scooby Doo, but they had an ace up their sleeve — they had Lis Sladen, who can believe anything if it helps the story. She completely sold it, every time. From being menaced by a virtually immobile wall of green rubber on “The Seeds of Death” to convincingly falling down a not-particularly-steep slope in “The Five Doctors”, she had to have been a director’s dream come true.

    Boys had crushes on Sarah Jane. Girls wanted to be Sarah Jane. It was through her performances that Doctor Who became real for me, and I will always remember her fondly. She was strong without being obnoxious, tough without losing her femininity, and always filled with a sense of wonder, the cornerstone of all the best science fiction. And Sarah Jane will live on, as fictional characters always do.

  23. #23 Calli Arcale
    April 20, 2011

    Oh, and another must-read: Tom Baker’s tribute to her, on his blog. Eloquent, as he always is, and full of anecdotes about Elizabeth Sladen. Though he was preparing to do some audio adventures with her (and had just signed the contract), he had no idea she was ill either. Apparently she kept it to just a very small circle of her closest friends and relatives. Which, apparently, is just like her. He clearly respected her greatly, so this is a good read.

    http://www.tom-baker.co.uk/pages/content/index.asp?PageID=159

  24. #24 dedicated lurker
    April 20, 2011

    Thank you for the link, Calli. That is wonderful.

    I wasn’t alive yet when Sarah Jane was on Who, but she’s still memorable to me.

  25. #25 Calli Arcale
    April 20, 2011

    I’m going around fansites today, reading about this story, and . . . y’know, it’s amazing, but Series Six premiers on Saturday, and it’s possibly the most hotly anticipated season premier in the history of the show, and yet nobody’s talking about it today. Three days to go, and suddenly it just isn’t that important. Oh, it’ll be good, we’ll all watch it, we’ll have a great time, we’ll remember it for ages.

    But today it’s not important. I don’t think even the death of Jon Pertwee got this much emotion rolling, and though people were sad when Nicholas Courtney (her costar for a season!) passed, it wasn’t like this. Some of it is her youth, of course. 63 is not really considered old anymore, and honestly, she didn’t look a day over 50, at least not once makeup had finished with her. Pertwee and Courtney, however, were quite old and largely retired from acting when they passed. Courtney had come out of retirement for one last appearance on the Sarah Jane Adventures, which turned out to be his final performance, using a cane because he was already quite ill by that time. So it was not quite so surprising to the world. Sladen was too young, and still very active.

    Doctor Who returns on Saturday and a spokeswoman for the show said that “something suitable is being planned” as a tribute to the late actress.
    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/entertainment-arts-13137674

  26. #26 Ghostndamachine
    April 20, 2011

    She will be missed by everyone that has watched her on Dr.Wo or on her spin-off.My condolences to her family.

  27. #27 usagi
    April 20, 2011

    @21 Calli, thank you.

    You never forget your first Doctor. Turns out you never forget your first Companion either. Sarah Jane was the greatest of them.

  28. #28 Burtie
    April 20, 2011

    Calli – me and my girlfriend were girls who grew up wanting to be like Sarah-Jane, and into women who were thrilled to bits when Lis got her own spin-off. Her scenes with Katy Manning in the last series of SJA, hiding from space vultures in a giant coffin and being unable to climb out due to fits of giggles… they’re beautiful funny moments that now seem too sad for words.

    The Brig’s death was sad, but we both wept buckets last night for a true lady, dignified, kind and professional to the end, who inspired a generation of young women in DW and enchanted a new generation in SJA.

    Someone shared a story last night, about how Lis would walk round the set of SJA on hot days making sure the cameramen, extras and runners had bottles of water to drink. A truly lovely person. My heart goes out to her family.

    Great. Britain has lost a star, but she will live forever in the Whoniverse like the legend that she is.

  29. #29 Lynn Wilhelm
    April 20, 2011

    Thank you too, Callie.
    It was lovely reading what Tom had to say about Lis. Sadly, I haven’t seen SJA here in the States, but I did love it when she returned to Dr Who. K-9 too.

    Oh, and thanks for the K-9 cartoon. So sweet.

  30. #30 Dan Weber
    April 20, 2011

    The SJA are on Netflix. I don’t think “Instant Watch” but my family is working our way through them.

  31. #31 20toedCletus
    April 20, 2011

    I absolutely love “The Sarah Jane Adventures” Sure they were aimed at preteens, but they were well written and well acted and better than anything devised for children had they been produced in the US. Elisabeth Sladen will be greatly missed. She could be understatedly silly at times. Sarah Jane was a fantastic character. Now I have to go re watch her getting splattered with exploding Slitheen innards and be glad that she graced us with her presence.

  32. #32 dreamer
    April 20, 2011

    make K9 a regular on the Dr Who again.

    It would keep her memory alive.

  33. #33 Calli Arcale
    April 21, 2011

    Yes, it would! Ironically, though, K9 and Sarah Jane Smith only appeared together twice on Doctor Who — very briefly in “The Five Doctors” (essentially a K9 cameo) and again in “School Reunion”. The character of Sarah Jane Smith first met K9 Mk III when a large and mysterious package arrived for her in “K9 and Company,” the first (and unsuccessful) attempt to spin off a Sarah Jane/K9 series.

  34. #34 Baccu
    April 25, 2011

    Sarah Jane was and well always be the best companion of Dr. Who, Rose was good but Sarah was and well always be the Queen. She well Be missed

  35. #35 Thomas Seagrave
    April 27, 2011

    Hi Sarah Jane Smith
    I well Missing you Verry Verry much
    Lots Of Love
    From
    Thomas Seagrave
    xxxx

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