It was with great sadness that I read of the passing a few weeks back of another cornerstone of my televisual childhood in the shape of Elisabeth Sladen, who so wonderfully played the role of Sarah Jane Smith in the mid 1970s alongside Jon Pertwee and then Tom Baker in Doctor Who. At the age of just 65 (but looking much, much younger) it seems that she has gone too soon and while it appears that she had been unwell for some time it wasn’t generally known and the news arrived out of the blue in very unwelcome fashion.
I’ve seen the term “big sister” bandied around a few times already on the internet by fans who are sharing their sadness at her passing but it’s no less fitting in repetition. For a generation of young boys and girls she really was our big sister once a week on Saturday tea-times as she and the Doctor battled Daleks, Cyberman, Sontarans, Ice Warriors and Zygons on our behalf. There’s something quite unique, even to this day, about the appeal of Doctor Who to young children who delight in the cosy warmth of tea time thrills and being frightened and she was there to hold our hands each step of the way.
The fact that Elisabeth Sladen’s death was reported as a scrolling piece of text across the bottom of the BBC’s news channel is testimony not only to how well she was loved by a generation of people who grew up watching her in the 1970s but also to the fact that she was loved all over again by a new wave of children in the 21st century as the star of the spin-off series The Sarah Jane Adventures. Her return to Doctor Who for the 2006 episode School Reunion was a tear-jerking affair dealing with the emotional battles of ex-companions of the Doctor having to deal with the normality of life on Earth after their travels in the TARDIS have ended, and the fact that they age and get older while the Doctor regenerates and even appears to get younger looking. I found it hard enough to view without shedding a tear even at the time of broadcast. Now I will find it near impossible.
A number of fan video compilations have sprung up You Tube in tribute to Sladen and the character of Sarah Jane but I’ve linked below to the pick of the bunch which mixes appropriately reflective dialogue from both Doctor Who and The Sarah Jane Adventures with footage of her from 1973 to 2010. Undoubtedly the finest of all the Doctor’s companions she will be much missed by those who grew up with her long ago and those who are still growing up today.