Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Elisabeth Sladen - gone but never forgotten

Last night I heard the sad news that Elisabeth Sladen passed away after a battle with cancer.  I did not know her personally but, along with thousands of other Doctor Who fans, I thought of her as a friend.  Lis played the role of Sarah Jane Smith for three and a half seasons alongside the late Jon Pertwee and Tom Baker, becoming one of the most popular companions to the infamous Time Lord.

A stronger female character than some of her predecessors, the rapport between Lis and the lead actors she worked with could be seen on screen in every scene they played together and created some of the most emotional scenes Doctor Who ever had.  Sarah Jane Smith was, to all intents and purposes, a personal friend to every Doctor Who fan and, by extension, so was Lis Sladen.

The popularity of her character was such that she returned to play the role in the only spin-off from the ‘classic’ series, K9 and Company, although the hoped for series never actually came to fruition but that was not the last fans would see of Sarah Jane as she made an appearance in the twentieth anniversary story, The Five Doctors, in 1983.  Even then, Lis would return to the role in her own series of audio adventures, Sarah Jane Smith, for Big Finish before returning to the small screen for appearances in the new Doctor Who and finally being given a series of her own, The Sarah Jane Adventures.

During the period between her regular appearances in the ‘classic’ series and her return in the new series of Doctor Who, Lis returned to Liverpool to take up work in the theatre and raise a family, a brave decision at a time when she was a very in-demand television actress but one she never regretted.  Her return to Doctor Who came as a pleasant surprise that resurrected her television career and Lis became a role model for a new generation of children, a gift I hope they appreciate.

My own personal memories of Lis are of the first time I met her at a Doctor Who signing in London.  I had no idea that signings happened or that there were so many fans as I seemed to be the only Doctor Who fan I knew so I turned up to my first ever signing, half an hour after the start of the event, to find a mile-long queue of fans.  The signing continued well after it was supposed to have finished but Lis had insisted that everyone who had come would go away with an autograph and that they did.  She managed to smile through the whole event, remaining cheerful and friendly, and making sure that all the fans had a good time.  It was thanks to Lis’ wonderful attitude that I became a regular attendee at signings, hoping to see her at any conventions I managed to afford to get to and, thanks to her wonderful portrayal in the series, kept me able to handle my depression as well as I did.

Lis Sladen was a wonderful, enthusiastic, warm and engaging actress and an equally wonderful person who will be sadly missed by all her ‘friends’ in the Doctor Who fan community.  The Universe will be a little less bright from now on.

Rest In Peace, Lis.

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