When I was twelve, I was introduced to Doctor Who through a 1970s adventure called Death To The Daleks. It starred the Third Doctor, Jon Pertwee, and companion Sarah Jane Smith, played by Elisabeth Sladen. Being my first Doctor and companion, they both kept a special place in my heart, and I’ve now seen most of both their runs during the Classic series. If my LiveJournal post at the time is anything to go by, I was practically bouncing off the walls when I saw the trailer for School Reunion in 2006, partially because Sarah Jane was returning, and also because my little shipper heart was so happy to have a subtextual ship retroactively made canon. Immediately after seeing the episode, I ran off and wrote a whole tonne of Doctor/Sarah fan fiction.
More recently, I found myself spending far too much time watching The Sarah Jane Adventures. It took a little while for me to get into it, what with it being aimed at kids and me being 21, but somewhere around episode five, I found myself being completely sucked in by it. Sarah Jane was such a great character: spunky and fierce, with a “no nonsense” attitude towards alien menaces, but a concerned mother/mother-figure with just as many concerns and anxieties about life as the rest of us. Like most, I was simply waiting for the next series to come out. Filming had already started, and it wasn’t to be too much longer…
This morning, I turned up for work, business as usual. Apart from the usual greetings, my supervisor’s first words to me were, “Have you heard the sad Doctor Who news?” I said no, and this was when she told me that Elisabeth Sladen had passed away overnight (in Australian time). I immediately did a Google search to double-check, and the news was confirmed. Over the course of the day, I found myself continually checking Twitter and reading the tributes posted there, along with news articles and the like. I refused to cry at work, but I did sniffle my way through til home time.Half-way through the morning, I got a text message from a friend saying that she doesn’t cry over celebrity deaths, but Lis Sladen was one of the best. I knew exactly how she was feeling.
Sarah Jane Smith was such a vital part of Doctor Who, and so much of that was due to Lis Sladen’s wonderful portrayal of her. The tributes flooding in from everywhere are a testimony to her influence on the show. People who have been fans for 40 years and those who are only just discovering it have been equally affected.
When Sarah Jane left the show in 1976, her last words to the Doctor were “Don’t forget me.” I don’t think she has anything to worry about.