Elisabeth Sladen: An appreciation of the 'Doctor Who' actress

Elisabeth-Sladen

Image Credit: Dave M. Benett/Getty Images

Whenever Doctor Who fans gather together, it usually doesn’t take long before the question arises over the identity of the best “Doctor” of all-time. Far less often do followers of the BBC sci-fi show debate the identity of the best Doctor’s “companion.” Why? Largely because — with all due respect to Billie Piper, Karen Gillan, Nicola Bryant, Katy Manning et. al. — it is widely agreed that the best ever actor to play Watson to the Doctor’s Holmes was Elisabeth Sladen, who portrayed investigative reporter Sarah Jane Smith on the show, and who died earlier today.

The actress joined Doctor Who in 1973 and had the good fortune to appear opposite two excellent Doctors: Jon Pertwee and Tom Baker. But Sladen more than held her own as she battled Daleks, Cybermen, and other alien adversaries. The character of the plucky Sarah Jane proved so lastingly popular with fans that, thirty years after originally departing the TARDIS in 1976, the actress returned to the role to front the spin-off show The Sarah Jane Adventures.

However, it is was that initial onscreen farewell between Sarah Jane and Tom Baker’s Doctor which came to mind when I heard of Sladen’s death. I’ve embedded the sequence below. If you can watch it without getting something in your eye then you are a stronger person — or a lesser Whovian — than I.

Read more:
‘Doctor Who’ actress Elisabeth Sladen dies at age 63
Matt Smith previews the new season of ‘Doctor Who': ‘We learn so much about the characters’

Comments (89 total) Add your comment
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  • Chris

    Nice post. She will be missed.

  • bill

    I admit, I have never seen Doctor Who, but I am quite aware of it and I respect and admire the show’s longevity and fanbase. I mean, wow. Decades, in one form or another. Wow. Elisabeth Sladen was a part of a marvelous history of what is clearly a legendary show. May she rest in peace. My sympathy goes out to her friends, family, cast members, and the millions of Doctor Who fans all over the world. And yes, that clip made me tear up.

    • tad

      That was really nice.

    • Zeba

      What a lovely thing to say. Thank you.

  • Amanda

    Hard to explain how sad this is. She and Baker were so sweet and fun together. Really ideal for such a spooky and magical and frequently ridiculous children’s space adventure show. And by all accounts she was just as kind and funny and good as you’d hope she would be.

    • J.

      It wasn’t a “children’s” space adventure show.

      • fish eye no miko

        DW has always been marketed as a kid’s, show, actually. It might not seem that way, but it has.

      • therealeverton

        Pretty much yes. Comissioned as a way to “teach” kids about science, history and new words. Doesn’t mean it was “juvinille” and all that but it was always a kids’ show.

      • Ed

        “Doctor Who” isn’t a “kids’ show” per se, but it is a “family show” — which I’d call anything that is definitely kid-friendly but meant to engage older viewers too.

      • Rush

        In the UK it’s called pre-watershed, which is equivalent to the 7pm – 9pm “family” prime-time timeslot in the US.

      • artfrankmiami

        It was originally meant to be a children’s show when it started and that’s why there was never any money (ark in space bubble wrap monster). Only in the 70’s did you see it start to grow up with it’s audience.

  • Steph

    This is such sad news. I had no idea she had been battling cancer.
    I never saw The Sarah Jane Adventures, but that didn’t stop me from loving the character. Without a doubt, Sarah Jane is a lasting and legendary character in the Dr. Who universe. All due to the wonderful actress who played this character.

  • CraigB

    Sarah Jane Smith was in the first episode of Doctor Who I watch over 20 years ago. I fell in love with her by the end of the episode. She has always been my favorite. When she left Doctor Who I cried. Once again I cry for you. Sarah Jane Smith/Elisabeth Sladen you will always be loved and truly missed by all of us. My prayers are with you and your family.

    • artfrankmiami

      Me, too. I went on a trip when they premiered the Robot episode in miami in 79. I came back in time for Ark in Space and was forever smitten. She was as beautiful and delightful in person as her character was on the show.

  • therealeverton

    This is so sad, I have no idea how I’ll tell my daughters in the morning, they love The Sarah Jane Adventures and will be devasted.

    I Have memories of seeing her in repeats ofg Tom Baker’s Who and loved her with David Tennent’s (Her third “great” Dr. She even got to have a Sarah Jane Adventures story with “potential” great Dr Matt Smith. She’ll be missed and we’ll be sorry we don’t get to see more of her.

    R.I.P

  • Jenn

    So sad to hear of her passing; her character is such a big part of my child as is Doctor Who

  • topazbean

    Blimey, with that accent South Croydon was a lot posher in the ’70s than it is now.

    This really is a huge shock – but I’m glad that she’s gone out on such an enormous high, bringing joy to masses of children with The Sarah Jane Adventures.

  • Debra

    I watched a few scattered episodes here and there, but my favorite interactions were her with David Tennant in “School Reunion”. To me, one of the best episodes EVER. At the end, where he says “Goodbye, My Sarah Jane” I will always remember.

    I do so hope the show pays homage to her as it should.

    • stickittotheman

      Great post! Sarah Jane will be missed.

  • Michelle

    *sniff* Sarah Jane is beloved by all generations of Who fans. I wonder how the Doctor will find out about “his” Sarah Jane’s passing?

    • angelwhiteraven

      I got teary watching that scene. I hope they do something on the show to acknowledge her passing.

  • Tammy

    I haven’t stopped crying since I heard. Sarah Jane was, is and will always be my favorite companion. I so wanted to meet Lis and now I’ll never have that chance. No one’s ever going to forget you, Lis. RIP.

  • Ben

    It’s arguable that she was the best companion ever, but certainly one of the best. She will be missed.

    • Rod

      Of course it’s arguable, as is anything. But when the British public was polled on the question (not fans, but the mainstream public) they remembered and loved Sarah the best. Now is not the time to be pedantic, but to appreciate one of the players that helped make Doctor Who as compelling a series as it has been for generations. Sarah was a companion for all of us.

  • Silk Spectre

    This is so sad. I always loved how strong and resilient and lasting Sarah Jane was. She could always hold her own against the Doctor. RIP Elisabeth.

  • frank

    If you have never seen the Sarah jane Adventures, then check it out. It reminds so much of the old tom baker episodes. I had no idea she was sick. Rest in Peace,. she was the best of the companions.

  • John

    Oh, no!! This is so sad. I loved her as Sarah Jane and she was a great actress and lovely person.

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