Articles

A few words about Elisabeth Sladen and Sarah Jane Smith

In Doctor Who on April 20, 2011 by Miche

I feel as if I’ve lost a friend. That’s preposterous and presumptuous of me, because I never met Elisabeth Sladen, and only “know” her through her acting: almost exclusively in the role of Sarah Jane Smith (though she was also delightful as a witty, pretty Lilliputian in a BBC serial derived from Gulliver’s Travels.)

When Lis Sladen arrived in Doctor Who, the stereotype of the “Dr Who girl” or “assistant” was – not entirely fairly – of a miniskirted screamer. As Sarah Jane Smith, Sladen didn’t scream a lot. Instead she did something that I don’t recall anyone else in Who doing so well: she gave a committed and convincing performance of someone who is scared out of her mind but determined NOT to scream. She whimpered, she gulped for air, and she kept on doing whatever it was that had to be done. When the peril is represented by a man in a rubber suit, it’s all the more important for the actor to commit to the emotional reality of the scene. She delivered every time. Sarah Jane Smith was not fearless, but she was courageous. Also determined, curious, loyal…

When Sladen returned to Doctor Who in School Reunion, I would be lying if I said I was on the edge of my seat. I couldn’t sit down at all, so exciting was it to see her back. Older, of course, but there she was again. Still brave, still curious, still capable of demolishing the Doctor with a single word.

“Aberdeen!”

I’m not exactly in the age demographic for The Sarah Jane Adventures, but I watched and enjoyed it anyway. And how fabulous that there should be a kids’ show whose main character was an energetic, independent, smart woman of 60!

Tom Baker wrote: “Sarah Jane dead?  No, impossible!  Impossible.  Only last week I agreed to do six new audio adventures with her for Big Finish Productions.” How cool would that have been? So sad that she’s gone. So sad that never again will Matt Smith, or one of his successors, turn a corner and say, with pleased surprise:

“Hello, Sarah Jane!”

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