Wednesday, 20 April 2011

A Tribute to Elizabeth Sladen (1948-2011)

It is with utter disbelief and shock that I sit here and compose this memorial blog to Elizabeth Sladen, only two months after the loss of that other Doctor Who ambassador, Nicholas Courtney. Confirmation of her death followed massive internet speculation on twitter et al, last night, and Whovians, young and old, are stunned. Tributes, led by Russell T Davies, continue to pour in from all over the world. John Barrowman of Torchwood called her the matriarch of Who, and to Tom Baker, she is "Darling Lis". Sladen has also been remembered by Steven Moffat, David Tennant, Finn Jones, Matt Smith, Noel Clarke, Mark Gatiss, Stephen Fry, Nichola Bryant, Colin Baker, Mary Tamm, Murray Gold, Alexander Armstrong, her agent Roger Carey, and the offices of Corrie, Newsround, and the Liverpool Playhouse. The Sun said she was "the greatest Doctor Who girl ever" and most fans would agree.
Liz Sladen was born Elizabeth Trainor in Liverpool, on February 1st 1948. She attended drama school for 2 years after leaving grammar school, then began work at the Playhouse, where she met her future husband, Brian Miller. Sladen's first, uncredited, screen appearance was in the film Ferry Cross the Mersey (1965) as an extra, then she moved to repertory theatre, in productions like Othello. Her first television work was on ITV Playhouse (1968), then 6 episodes of Coronation Street in 1970. She later appeared in Doomwatch, Some Mothers Do 'Ave 'Em, The Bill, and Peak Practice.
When Katy Manning decided to exit Doctor Who in 1973, Z Cars producer Ron Craddock recommended Sladen to his counterpart on Who, Barry Letts. She was cast as journalist Sarah Jane Smith, and her debut story was The Time Warrior, which also introduced her future nemesis, the Sontarans. Sladen stayed with the programme for three and a half seasons alongside Jon Pertwee, then Tom Baker, before leaving in The Hand of Fear. She returned as Sarah Jane in the show's first ever TV spin-off, K9 and Company (1981), then in The Five Doctors, Dimensions in Time (1993), and Downtime (1995). Sladen also featured in The Paradise of Death (for Radio 5), and The Ghosts of N-Space (Radio 2, 1996), opposite Pertwee and Courtney again, and also in 2 series of Sarah Jane Smith for Big Finish audios (2002/2005) with her daughter Sadie.
With the successful revival of the series, Sladen was invited back for School Reunion (2006), with John Leeson who returned to voice K9, and the current TimeLord, Tennant. This led RTD to create the award-winning The Sarah Jane Adventures, which began with a special on New Year's Day, 2007. Four full seasons followed, and the drama remains the most watched show ever on CBBC. Series 2 included Courtney's final TV appearance as the Brigadier, whilst the Doctor also returned, in S3 (Tennant) and S4 (Smith, here with Sarah Jane's predecessor, Jo Grant played again by Manning). Sladen also worked on Doctor Who again, on the S4 finale episodes, and had a cameo in The End of Time, Part 2. It is unclear if the BBC will screen the 3 remaining Sarah Jane stories, but CBBC plan to screen a tribute programme this Saturday.
Phil Collinson and others have noted Sladen's unique ability to enchant and inspire two generations of children, 30 years apart, and that legacy is immense.
Elizabeth Sladen died yesterday after a long and private battle with cancer, and is survived by her actor husband of 42 years, and her actress daughter.

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