I have to be truthful. I was absolutely devastated when hearing the news yesterday that Elisabeth Sladen had passed away. We reported her death here at Geeks of Doom, and tributes from around the world began pouring in on the internet in memory of her. The Australian ABC invited fans to share their Sarah Jane memories on their Facebook page; and the BBC created a Sarah Jane playlist on YouTube. Fantastic artwork, such as the beautiful design above by DalekBigBoy from the Gallifrey Base forums, also began sprouting around the web– through other avenues as well, such as Twitter and social news sites.
I can’t help but reflect more on Elisabeth Sladen — since it’s important, in my view, to highlight (especially to newer fans), that she was more than just a companion to us oldies and dinosaurs. She was a defining person during our early years, so her death is felt so much closer to the heart for us.
When I was growing up in Australia, one of the prevalent factors from younger days was my obsession with Doctor Who. I was a geek even back then, “knee high to a grasshopper” as one would say down under. Peter Davison was my Doctor, but thanks to the ABC repeating episodes from the eras of the Third and Fourth Doctors, Jon Pertwee and Tom Baker were also my Doctors. It was through the show I became preoccupied with all things “wibbly wobbly timey wimey.”
And of course, the companions were vital characters from the time traveling adventures of the Doctor. While I identify three Doctors as my first Doctors, I really only had one first companion:
Sarah Jane Smith.
Sarah Jane was full of compassion and joy through her experiences with the Doctor. Elisabeth Sladen’s performance truly brought children (such as it was for me back in the day) into her outlook, and we experienced the victories and the fear through her. When we closed our eyes in fear of Davros through his debut in Genesis of the Daleks, it was in reaction to Sarah Jane’s revulsion and distress.
And when she pleaded with the Doctor to finish the Daleks, we agreed with her — but together, the audience with Sarah Jane, both learned from the Doctor the principled and ethical dilemma of being the sole person of making such a decision.
Sarah Jane helped bring milieu and understanding to us kids way back when we were being introduced to the universe of the Time Lord. As she learned the worth of defending what is right, and the awe-inspiring beauty and importance of everything surrounding us, we did too. That is what makes her possibly one of the most memorable companions from the Doctor Who universe.
Elisabeth Sladen’s death is not just a sad moment for fans. For many of us, she was like a teacher to us (as was the Doctor), helping us cultivate our own moral foundation based on the choices she and the Doctor made in the show. It was more than just a science fiction show for us early fans. It was an experience for us to see that there is so much wonderful stuff out there in the world (and indeed, up into the skies and beyond).
Looking back, I’m thrilled and happy she returned to Doctor Who, and eventually had her own spin-off, The Sarah Jane Adventures. Through Sladen, a new generation of very young Doctor Who fans are now experiencing the same learning voyage we did.
And that is something that will never die. Elisabeth Sladen has left a magnificent and delightful legacy, and she will never be forgotten by the fans that hold her close to their hearts.
In closing, I leave you with Tom Baker’s reflection on Lis Sladen, as he wrote in his memorial post:
Sarah Jane dead? No, impossible! Impossible. Only last week I agreed to do six new audio adventures with her for Big Finish Productions. She can’t be dead. But she is: she died yesterday morning. Cancer. I had no idea she was ill; she was so private, never wanted any fuss, and now, gone. A terrible blow to her friends and a shattering blow for all those fans of the programme whose lives were touched every Saturday evening by her lovely heroic character, Sarah-Jane Smith. … Those sweet memories of happy days with Lis Sladen, the lovely, witty, kind and so talented Lis Sladen. I am consoled by the memories. I was there, I knew her, she was good to me and I shall always be grateful, and I shall miss her.