Although the new Doctor Who season has been highly anticipated, fans of the long running sci-fi show are in mourning today, as the news came out that Elisabeth Sladen, known for her role as Sarah Jane Smith in Classic Doctor Who, died today at the age of 63. Lizo Mzimba from the BBC has reported that Sladen has been dealing with cancer for some time now.
Sladen made her debut as Sarah Jane Smith in Doctor Who in 1973, starring alongside Third Doctor Jon Pertwee as his new companion. Her first episode was The Time Warrior, which saw her and the Doctor face off against the evil Sontarans. She continued working with Doctor Who for three years, and stayed on when Tom Baker took over as the Fourth Doctor.
Sladen and Baker developed an electric chemistry on-screen that was well received by fans across the world – and developed a dynamic relationship within the show that would rival that of Baker’s later connection with Lalla Ward‘s Romana.
Sladen’s performance of Sarah Jane Smith became an essential element of the Doctor Who mythos that she was asked to return to the show numerous times. Her first reprisal was in a one-shot pilot episode for K-9 And Company, and then she later appeared in the 1983 anniversary special The Five Doctors.
However, Sladen’s most memorable reprisal of the Sarah Jane role would come during the resurgence of Doctor Who, with the Tenth Doctor David Tennant episode School Reunion. The episode saw Sarah Jane and K-9 join forces with The Doctor, Rose and Mickey, to combat a new alien threat that were using the cognitive abilities of school children for their own gain.
School Reunion was extremely well received by viewers, so much so that she became the star of her own spin-off show on the CBBC network called The Sarah Jane Adventures. The series has been highly successful in the UK, developing into four seasons. The BBC had commissioned a fifth series for 2011 of The Sarah Jane Adventures, and half of the season had been filmed during production of Series 4. It’s unclear at this point whether the BBC will be pushing forward with the filmed portions of Series 5 as a final farewell to Elisabeth Sladen, or whether plans will now be closed down for the series.
Outside of Doctor Who, Sladen has appeared in Othello, Coronation Street, Z-Cars, and recently performed as Mrs. Darling in a panto production of Peter Pan at the Theatre Royal Windsor.
Her legacy in Doctor Who will live on in the hearts of fans forever, but she will be very much missed.