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Heroes of Who: Elisabeth Sladen

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Patrick Kavanagh-Sproull pays tribute to the late Elisabeth Sladen.

“’S’ is for star” –  Gladys Sladen.

For three days and nights after Elisabeth Sladen left us I cried. It was unusual of me to do so when I didn’t know the actress but her death touched me and I was overwhelmed with sadness. Our world had lost a polymath of acting, a honourable woman and a fantastic companion – Elisabeth Sladen shall never be forgotten.

After her death, Sladen’s autobiography was posthumously released to the public and I managed to give it a read. It was sublime being inside the mind of such a supreme actress; reading her thoughts and worries of becoming the new companion. The book continued all the way from her egress in the Tom Baker era, through her non-Doctor Who related work and finally into the twenty-first century when Elisabeth became Sarah Jane Smith once more. I smiled at reading Sladen’s shock of returning in School Reunion and the joy and gun-shyness of getting her own series: The Sarah Jane Adventures. I perused her jubilation at being reunited with our Brigadier, Nicholas Courtney in Enemy of the Bane. The words she uses to describe her young co-stars in SJA – Anjli Mohindra, Daniel Anthony, Tommy Knight and Yasmin Paige – are ones only a mother, or a female guardian such as Sladen was, would use. Sladen of course had her own family: Sadie (aged 28) and Brian Miller (72) who both accompanied her regularly to Who conventions. Brian even appeared in an episode of The Sarah Jane Adventures: The Mad Woman in the Attic as Harry, the caretaker of an abandoned funfair that Sarah Jane and company explore. Elisabeth did them both proud and we, the fans, will never forget your wonderful wife and mother.

Elisabeth’s passing brought The Sarah Jane Adventures to an unexpected close, and we were left with many questions unanswered. We also have half a series lost and stories like Meet Mr. Smith, a quasi-The Doctor’s Wife episode about Mr. Smith; Sarah’s supercomputer becoming human, will never be seen. Audiences missed The Battle for Bannerman Road, the Series Five finale, a story that would signify the return of Jo Grant, her grandson Santiago, Professor Celeste Rivers and the Shopkeeper. The Shopkeeper to this day remains an anomaly and The Battle for Bannerman Road would have saw us discover his true identity.

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Sarah Jane last saw the Doctor in Death of the Doctor; a story that had her meet up with the Time Lord’s latest incarnation (Matt Smith) and former companion, Jo Grant (Katy Manning). I personally didn’t like the relationship between Sarah and the Eleventh Doctor. Maybe this was because they didn’t share enough onscreen time? Or maybe it was the age difference. When Elisabeth stood next to David Tennant’s Tenth Doctor, he always seemed older and wiser, despite Tennant being biologically younger than Lis. Whereas when Lis and Matt were together in Death of the Doctor, he seemed much junior to her and this was probably down to his incredibly childlike personality.

I thought Elisabeth and David got on so well and their acting together (examples include School Reunion and Journey’s End) was superlative. I now cry every time I watch the end of School Reunion, but then I smile because that’s Sarah Jane, our Sarah Jane going off into the world, fully independent (a contrast from her abrupt leaving in The Hand of Fear) and primed with her sonic lipstick, robot dog and scanner watch she is ready to defend the Earth.

Elisabeth Sladen’s death was one of the saddest events to ever rock the Doctor Who universe. She was such an incredible actress, and I hear woman, it is tragic that she left us so soon. To think of all the wonderful adventures, she and the Bannerman Road Gang could have had. All the times she and the Doctor could have met up and regaled about past exploits. The passing of Elisabeth Sladen occurred too soon but there is nothing that can be done now. All we can do is keep her memory alive by revisiting all her amazing episodes and stories.

I implore you now to watch this wonderful tribute that the BBC created: My Sarah Jane. It is everything that I felt, and a little bit more.

“Don’t forget me” she once said. Oh Sarah Jane… how could we ever?

Step back in time...

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