Elisabeth Sladen (1948 - 2011)
The Comic Guru was saddened and shocked to hear about the passing away of Elisabeth Sladen yesterday, having battled cancer for some time.
Famous for playing Doctor Who companion Sarah Jane Smith, the character has been a firm favourite among fans ever since she appeared in 1973 - renowned for her strong personality and inquisitive nature.
Born February 1948 in Liverpool, Sladen began her career as an assistant stage manager at the Liverpool playhouse. Her first role on stage was playing a corpse, and she made her screen debut in the 1965 film Ferry Cross the Mersey as an extra.
She landed her breakthrough television role in 1970, appearing as Anita Reynolds in Coronation Street. Smaller roles were to follow in popular shows like Doomwatch, Z Cars and Some Mothers Do 'Ave 'Em.
In 1973, Sladen was cast in what would become her defining role as the replacement companion for third Doctor Jon Pertwee. Following in the footsteps of popular companion Jo Grant (Katy Manning), Sladen was to hit the ground running as investigative journalist Sarah Jane Smith in her debut story The Time Warrior, and over the next three years would see her popularity soar as she became part of what is arguably known as the "golden years" of Doctor Who alongside fourth Doctor Tom Baker - an era including the story frequently appearing top of fan polls, Genesis of the Daleks.
Despite choosing to leave the programme in 1976, with an emotional departure scene at the conclusion of the serial The Hand of Fear, Sladen later stated in interviews that although she had left Sarah Jane, "Sarah Jane never left me". Although she declined producer John Nathan-Turner's offer to come back as support for the Fourth Doctor's regeneration, she did return to the role for the 1981 pilot 'K9 and Company' alongside the Doctor's robotic canine.
Sladen was re-united with Jon Pertwee in the 1983 20th anniversary celebration The Five Doctors, and again during the 1990s for the two radio stories The Paradise of Death and The Ghosts of N-Space, written and produced by the person who originally cast her, Barry Letts - the two would also be joined by another popular Doctor Who legend in the form of Nicholas Courtney as the Brigadier.
Outside of Doctor Who, Elisabeth continued to work in theatre and television, often alongside her husband Brian; roles included Josie Hall in Take My Wife, a small role in the film Silver Dream Racer, and as Lady Flimnap in a production of Gulliver in Lilliput, followed a few years later in his production of Alice in Wonderland as the Cheshire Cat. However, with the birth of her daughter Sadie in 1985, she chose to focus more on her family.
However, Sarah would never be far from her life, with the actress continuing to be a popular guest at Doctor Who conventions, and also featuring in a series of audio adventures from Big Finish. Then, in 2005, a discussion with the revived Doctor Who's head writer and long-term fan of hers, Russell T Davies, led to a guest appearance in the second series adventure School Reunion, which re-united Sarah (and K9!) with the Doctor in his most recent incarnation (David Tennant).
The character, and Sladen's performance, proved to be as popular as ever, if not more so, and led to her own starring role in spin-off series, The Sarah Jane Adventures; the CBBC series continued on from her re-introduction in Doctor Who as an independent investigator of alien activity - now joined by her own assistants as well as her faithful K9 - and winning a whole new legion of fans, both young and old. It is also a testament to the strength of the show that it has been graced by the appearance of the both the Brigadier (Nicholas Courtney), and the Doctor himself in both his Tenth incarnation in The Wedding of Sarah Jane Smith (David Tennant's final performance as the Doctor), and Eleventh in the form of Matt Smith in Death of the Doctor - where Sladen was also to come 'full circle' by performing with the actress she 'replaced' way back in 1973, Katy Manning, aka Jo Jones né Grant.
I met her many times at conventions and personal appearances throughout my life and with the recent sad loss of Nicholas Courtney to the same pernicious disease, the world seems a little emptier now.
Elisabeth will be sorely missed, and will be fondly remembered by all Who fans.
Sources: www.doctorwhonews.net, www.bbc.co.uk/news