Tuesday, April 19, 2011

RIP - Elisabeth Sladen

Some incredibly sad news today, as word is coming out that Elisabeth Sladen, beloved to Doctor Who fans all over the world for her role as Sarah Jane Smith, has died. She was just 63.

Sladen played Sarah Jane Smith on the classic series from 1973 - 1976 and would return to the role twice in the 1980s. After the series revival, she returned in the 2006 episode School Reunion. Her appearance proved popular, and she soon was starring in her own spin-off series, The Sarah Jane Adventures, aimed at children.

Sladen began acting as a child in school, eventually heading to drama school and beginning her professional career in repertory theatre. By 1971, she was making guest appearances in such television series as Doomwatch and Z-Cars.

In 1973, longtime Doctor Who companion Katy Manning was leaving the series, and producer Barry Letts was scrambling to find a replacement. Sladen was recommended  to Letts by the producer of Z-Cars, and when she auditioned for Letts and current Doctor Jon Pertwee, it was clear she was the best possible choice.

Sladen and Tom Baker
Sladen would appear alongside Pertwee during his final season, and help viewers adjust to the new Doctor as played by Tom Baker. Her remarkable chemistry with Baker, combined with her portrayal of Sarah Jane as an intrepid and resourceful best friend to the Time Lord, completely redefined what the role of the companion could be. As a testament to her popularity in the role, when she left the series in 1976, it was front page news.

Sladen reprised the role in a pilot for a failed TV spin-off called K-9 and Company, and once again in the 1983 anniversary special The Five Doctors. She would reprise the role for charity specials and audio productions, but it was not until 2006 that she again "officially" played the role in Doctor Who proper. That appearance led to her successful spin-off series, The Sarah Jane Adventures, which debuted in 2007, and recently began airing its fourth season.

Sladen remained a popular figure to Doctor Who fans, consistently ranking at or near the top of polls to list fans' favourite companions. It has been revealed that she had been battling cancer for some time, and eventually succumbed to the illness. She is survived by her husband, actor Brian Miller, and her daughter, actress Sadie Miller.
Sladen and current Doctor Matt Smith

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