Elisabeth Sladen, 1948 – 2011

So that’s it then. The shadows have lengthened, the world seems -all of a sudden- to be a slightly shabbier place. Time to turn out the lights on another part of yesterday.

Elisabeth Sladen wasn’t really Sarah Jane Smith, of course. Lis Sladen married in 1968 at the age of 20, and had a daughter in 1985, and played other parts, although I don’t think I ever saw a single one of them. Not because I avoided anything else she was in, but because the parts were usually so fleeting, or off my radar. That was her fate, for better or for worse, to be so tied to one role. Did she feel that to be a blessing or a curse, I wonder? Maybe both, at different times.

Because to tens, even hundreds of thousands of people, maybe more than that, she was the girl who burst onto our screens in 1973 and for three years tried to do more than look cute and scream when the monsters entered. And my God, how she succeeded. I always felt that a scriptwriter with sufficient balls would have had her lean back and drop-kick the monster in the nuts. From 1973 to 1976, when she left, as far as my teenage self was concerned, she was The One.

So much so that for a year -in protest- I stopped watching Doctor Who when she went, and when I did -grudgingly- start watching it again, I suddenly noticed how rubbish the effects were, and I never forgave the girl with the loincloth, and the increasingly pretty-but-vacuous successors for usurping her. It was almost a relief when the Beeb killed the increasingly crappy series off in 1989. Maybe that lingering sense of betrayal is why I’m so damned impatient with the old guard. The BBC had already killed it for me, thirteen years earlier, and all they were doing in 1989 was applying the bullet instead of the slow death.

But of course, the truth was, the truth my teenage self couldn’t see, was that Lis Sladen had a life, wanted a family and a career. I hope she got everything she longed for. I’m sure she did.

I really expected the worst when the show came back, but RTD surprised and delighted me. And when she returned in 2006, he gave a belated rationale to why she had to go. Finally…closure. And her return was proof that sometimes –not very often– but sometimes we do get a second chance.

Then, joy of joys, a grown up SJ with kids, because it would have felt wrong for her virtual life to have been so empty, even if (as I’m sure) her real one was so rich.

I’d like to have met her, to ask if she ever resented having this strange dual life,  a virtual half-life to go with the real one, but I also know that it would have probably broken the spell.

So goodbye, Lis Sladen, who wasn’t Sarah Jane, and sympathies to her family, who are the ones who have really lost someone, and someone real at that. At least we still have the re-runs.

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• April 20th, 2011 • Posted in General • Comments: 0