Not too long ago BBC confirmed reports that Elisabeth Sladen, the actress that was perhaps the most well known of the “Doctor Who” companions, had died.
Both friends and fans will certainly miss her.
Growing up in the nineties, I never had the opportunity to watch “Doctor Who” during its initial transmission and instead my first experience with the 900-year old Time Lord came from Saturday morning television. Where other channels were showing cartoons, UK Gold would broadcast and omnibus comprising of 1 or 2 complete episodes from the long-running BBC series.
It was a fun ride, but my attention in the series was always entirely dependent on the actor playing The Doctor. With each inevitable regeneration, my enjoyment of the series would change one way or another. It was always about The Doctor and never his assistants.
I saw the companions as people following The Doctor on his wild adventures, getting into all sorts of scrapes and needing the time traveling hero to rescue them. For a child, here is some comfort in the idea that if things get too tough, time travel will change the odds.
Sarah Jane was different.
She was a companion that you knew was on an adventure of her own, traveling both with Jon Pertwee and Tom Baker. Sarah Jane was the first time that the companions seemed just as interesting as The Doctor and Sladen brought a level of emotional resonance and gravitas to the series that it was lacking.
So you can imagine my elation when it was announced that Sladen would be returning to “Doctor Who” once again, this time partnering with David Tennant.
And “School Reunion” did not disappoint by any manner of means and Sladen simply stepped back into the shoes she left vacant in 1983. That episode was about the emotional impact that traveling with the Doctor can have on a mere human being and Sladen was the perfect choice out of all of the companions to return.
The moment when she first locks eyes on the Tardis in the school basement, followed by Tennant’s echoic greeting, “Hello Sarah Jane,” was certainly a goose bump moment.
I was always somewhat baffled by BBC’s decision to showcase Sladen in a CBeebies spin-off series. Not out of any concerns over the level of talent that the series would offer but because I always saw Sladen as too talented for children’s television.
For me, I always expected “The Sarah Jane Adventures” to be a more mellow series maybe even a mystery show similar to “Hetty Wainthropp Investigates” or the never materialized “Ripper.”
But that was not BBC’s plan.
What helped me accept the series was something Russell T. Davies once said as “Doctor Who” was revived back in 2005. During the flurry of press surrounding the return of the series, Davies explained that if you give children solid entertainment when they are young then they will grow up expecting nothing but the best from television. And for that he was spot on, especially when it came to Elisabeth Sladen and “The Sarah Jane Adventures.”
Clearly meant for a younger audience than “Doctor Who,” Sladen brought a level of sophistication to a series that could not have worked with any other companion.
And now, with news of Sladen’s passing, Davies has again said it best with, “The universe was lucky to have Sarah Jane Smith; the world was lucky to have Lis.”