Wed, 27 April 2011
Elisabeth Claira Heath Sladen (1 February 1946 – 19 April 2011) was an English actress best known for her role as Sarah Jane Smith in the British television series Doctor Who. She appeared as a regular from 1973 to 1976, opposite both Jon Pertwee and Tom Baker, and reprised the role many times in subsequent decades, both on Doctor Who and its spin-off The Sarah Jane Adventures.
 Early life
Sladen was the only child of Tom Sladen, who fought in World War I and served in the Home Guard during World War II. Her mother Gladys' maiden name was Trainor, which is a Northern Irish name commonly seen in Liverpool.
Sladen developed an interest in performing at an early age, beginning dance lessons when she was five, and dancing in one production with the Royal Ballet. She was a primary school contemporary of future politician Edwina Currie (née Cohen), appearing in at least one school production with her; and a grammar school contemporary of Peter Goldsmith, the future Attorney-General, when both attended Quarry Bank School (now Calderstones School).
 Early career
After attending drama school for two years, Sladen began work at the Liverpool Playhouse repertory company as an assistant stage manager. Her first stage appearance was as a corpse. However, she was scolded for giggling on stage, thanks to a young actor, Brian Miller, whispering the words, "Respiration nil, Aston Villa two" in her ear while he was playing a doctor. Sladen was so good as an assistant stage manager that she did not get many acting roles, a problem she solved by deliberately making mistakes on several occasions. This got her told off again, but she started to get more on-stage roles.
Sladen made her first, uncredited, screen appearance in 1965 in the film Ferry Cross the Mersey as an extra.
Sladen eventually moved into weekly repertory work, travelling around to various locations in England. Sladen and Miller, now married, moved to Manchester, spending three years there. She appeared in numerous roles, most notably as Desdemona in Othello, her first appearance as a leading lady. She also got the odd part on Leeds Radio and Granada Television, eventually appearing as a barmaid in 1970 in six episodes of the long-running soap opera Coronation Street. In 1971, Sladen was in two episodes of Z-Cars. Then, in 1972, she was appearing in a play that moved down to London, and they had to move along with it. Her first television role in London was as a terrorist in an episode of Doomwatch. This was followed by guest roles in Z-Cars (again), Public Eye, Some Mothers Do 'Ave 'Em and Special Branch.
 Sarah Jane Smith
In 1973, Doctor Who actress Katy Manning, who was playing the Third Doctor's assistant Jo Grant opposite Jon Pertwee, was leaving the series. Producer Barry Letts was growing increasingly desperate in his search for a replacement, when Z-Cars producer Ron Craddock gave Sladen an enthusiastic recommendation.
Sladen arrived at the audition not knowing it was for the new companion role, and was amazed at Letts's thoroughness. She was introduced to Pertwee, whom she found intimidating at the time. As she chatted with Letts and Pertwee, each time she turned to look at one of them the other would signal a thumbs-up. She was offered and accepted the part of investigative journalist Sarah Jane Smith.
She stayed on Doctor Who for three and a half seasons, alongside Pertwee as the Third Doctor and Tom Baker as the Fourth, receiving both popular and critical acclaim for her role as Sarah Jane. When she left the series, in the 1976 serial The Hand of Fear, it made front page news, where previously only a change of Doctors had received such attention. In October, 2009, Sladen paid tribute to her boss and friend, Barry Letts, after he died. She said Letts was her closest friend on Doctor Who.
Sladen returned to the character of Sarah Jane Smith on numerous occasions. In 1981, new Doctor Who producer John Nathan-Turner asked her to return to the series to ease the transition between Tom Baker and new Doctor Peter Davison. She declined but accepted his second offer of doing a pilot for a spin-off series called K-9 and Company, co-starring K-9, the popular robot dog from Doctor Who. However, the pilot was not picked up for a series. Two years later Sladen appeared in the 20th anniversary special The Five Doctors.
She reprised the role in the 1993 Children in Need special Dimensions in Time, and in the 1995 independently produced video Downtime alongside former co-star Nicholas Courtney as Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart and Deborah Watling as Victoria Waterfield. This was her last on-screen appearance as Sarah Jane Smith for some time.
Sladen played Sarah Jane in several audio plays. Two of them were produced for BBC Radio, The Paradise of Death (Radio 5, 1993), and The Ghosts of N-Space (Radio 2, 1996), together with Jon Pertwee and Nicholas Courtney. Big Finish Productions has also produced two series of Sarah Jane Smith audio adventures set in the present day, released in 2002 and 2006. Her daughter Sadie has also appeared in the audios.
In later years, Sladen had also participated re-visiting a few classic Doctor Who serials on DVD in doing audio commentaries and interviews (in the stories she starred in), but as of 2008 she stated in an interview that she was no longer doing them due to "contractual reasons with 2entertain".
Following the successful revival of Doctor Who in 2005, Sladen guest starred as Sarah Jane in "School Reunion", an episode of the 2006 series, along with John Leeson, who returned as the voice of the robot dog K-9, and David Tennant as the Tenth Doctor. Sladen was ever faithful to the character and worked a lot of the characterisation herself, in the lead-up to the broadcast of "School Reunion" she was quoted in The Daily Mirror as saying: "Sarah Jane used to be a bit of a cardboard cut-out. Each week it used to be, 'Yes Doctor, no Doctor', and you had to flesh your character out in your mind — because if you didn't, no one else would." She also spoke favourably of the characterisation in the new series.
Following her successful appearance in the series, Sladen later starred in The Sarah Jane Adventures, a Doctor Who spin-off focusing on Sarah Jane, produced by BBC Wales for CBBC and created by Russell T Davies. A 60-minute special aired on New Year's Day 2007, with a 10-episode series commencing broadcast in September 2007. The programme was nominated for a prestigious Royal Television Society award and was recommissioned for a second 12-episode series which was broadcast in late 2008. The third series was broadcast in Autumn 2009, and again achieved audience ratings well in excess of the usual average figures for the time slot (sometimes even double). A fourth season began airing in October 2010.
Sladen also read two original audio stories for The Sarah Jane Adventures, which were released in November 2007 on CD: The Glittering Storm by Stephen Cole and The Thirteenth Stone by Justin Richards. This was the first time that BBC Audiobooks have commissioned new content for exclusive release on audio. Two new audio stories ("Ghost House" and "Time Capsule") were released in November 2008, both read again by Sladen.
Sladen appeared in the final two episodes of Doctor Who’s 2008 series (season 4) finale "The Stolen Earth" and "Journey's End" and was credited in the title sequence of both episodes. Her final appearance in Doctor Who was a cameo in the concluding part of "The End of Time", Tennant's last episode as the Doctor.
 Other work
After Doctor Who, Sladen returned to Liverpool with her husband and performed in a series of plays. This included a two-hander with Miller in Moonie and his Caravans. Notable appearances following that include a two-year stint as a presenter for the children's programme Stepping Stones, a lead role with Miller playing her husband in ITV drama Send In The Girls, a BBC Play For Today, a role as a stand-up comic's spouse in Take My Wife, and a small part in the movie Silver Dream Racer as a bank secretary in 1980, only her second motion picture appearance. In 1981, former Doctor Who producer Barry Letts cast her as the female lead in the BBC Classics production of Gulliver in Lilliput.
She continued to appear in various advertisements and in another Letts production, Alice in Wonderland (playing the Dormouse), as well as attending conventions in the United States. After the birth of her daughter Sadie Miller in 1985, Sladen went into semi-retirement, placing her family first, but finding time for the occasional television appearance. In 1995, she played Dr Pat Hewer in 4 episodes of Peak Practice. In 1996, she played Sophie in Faith in the Future, and appeared in 15 episodes of the BBC schools programme Numbertime, which was repeated annually for around ten years. This was her last television acting appearance until the 2006 Doctor Who episode "School Reunion".
In 1991, she starred as Alexa opposite Colin Baker in The Stranger audio adventure The Last Mission for BBV Audio. Sladen also appeared in a Bernice Summerfield audio drama, Kate Orman's Walking to Babylon.
 Personal life
Sladen married actor Brian Miller in 1968 in Liverpool; the marriage lasted until her death. Their daughter, Sadie Miller, appeared with her in the range of Sarah Jane Smith audio plays by Big Finish Productions. As a child, Sadie appeared alongside Sladen in the 1996 documentary, Thirty Years in the TARDIS, wearing a replica of the Andy Pandy overalls Sladen wore in The Hand of Fear.
Sladen died early on 19 April 2011, after having cancer for several months. The first episode of series six of the revived version of Doctor Who "The Impossible Astronaut" aired on the Saturday following Sladen's death. The episode started with a screen announcing that it was dedicated to the memory of Elisabeth Sladen. Straight after 'Doctor Who', a special tribute called 'My Sarah Jane: A Tribute to Elisabeth Sladen' was aired on CBBC. Sladen had also been interested in being involved in the Doctor Who Fourth Doctor Big Finish series.