In July 2010, an envelope was nudged through my letter box that contained two signed photographs which were later included in a book that I was midway through writing at the time. The book was called Desperately Seeking Susan Foreman and the pictures were from Elisabeth Sladen, whose untimely death was announced yesterday.
Lis will be fondly remembered as Sarah Jane Smith by a generation of mid-70s youngsters and more recently by Doctor Who fans of all ages, after she returned to the series in 2006 as well as starring in her character’s own series of “adventures”. The character of Sarah Jane first featured in the 1973 Jon Pertwee story The Time Warrior, which also marked the debut for the squat – and not very handsome – Sontarans; her last appearance in the regular series was in part 2 of The End of Time (2010), when the Doctor bids a silent farewell to his long-time friend and companion, shortly before regenerating...
Sarah Jane Smith was a journalist by profession, inquisitive, intelligent and more than capable of standing up for herself. As for Lis Sladen, well the warmth of the many tributes would suggest that she was very much loved as a person as well as being well respected as an actress. This is from the current Doctor Who executive producer Steven Moffat... “There are a blessed few who can carry a whole television show on their talent and charisma - but I can’t think of one other who’s done it quite so politely. I once showed my son Joshua an old episode of Doctor Who, in which Lis appeared. ‘But that’s Sarah Jane,’ he said, confused ‘in old Doctor Who... from years ago. How come she always looks exactly the same?’ It's not a comfort today, of course, but children will still be saying that fifty years from now.”
Officially, Elizabeth Claira Heath-Sladen was born in Liverpool on 1st February 1948 (to Tom and Gladys née Trainor). Five minutes research confirms that she was actually born two years earlier, making her youthful looks even more remarkable. She married Brian Miller in 1968 and the couple had one daughter, Sadie, who also became an actress. My thoughts are with both husband and daughter this morning...
Already this year, Nicholas Courtney (the Brigadier) and Michael Gough (the Celestial Toymaker and former husband of Anneke Wills, who played Polly) have passed away. Now we have lost Elisabeth Sladen... far too soon...
On what is a sad day, I will leave the last word to the writer Mark Gatiss, whose short but lovely tribute borrows a quote from The Planet of the Spiders: “A tear, Sarah Jane? Farewell to the wonderful, irreplaceable Lis Sladen. The best.”
All my own work... almost.