Tuesday, 26 April 2011
Elisabeth Sladen 1946 - 2011
Fresh on the heels of Nicholas Courtney’s death came the news of Elisabeth Sladen’s passing.
I was sipping virtual cider in my silly Coffee Bar on Gallifrey Base when a friend posted the shocking news. And in that one word, shocking, rests the difference between these two keenly felt departures. Over the years, and especially in recent months, Fandom had started to prepare itself for the increasingly inevitable loss of Nicholas Courtney. When the news broke, while sad, there was a feeling of, “it’s happened,’ and a level headed period of mourning began. With Elisabeth Sladen, the news came like a bolt from the blue. Only months before we’d seen her defend the Earth from her attic in Ealing in the 4th series of SJA… and we were already starting to look forward to the 5th series. In any case, this was Elisabeth Sladen – the woman who defined what a Doctor Who companion should be TEN years after the role was created, the woman who came back to bridge the ‘gap’ between Classic and New Who… the woman who in one career stole the hearts of so many generations of fans. Of children.
This was… Sarah Jane Smith!
She couldn’t be dead.
Sadly, she was.
In my life I have lived through the passing of so many Who stars. Patrick Troughton, Jon Pertwee, Jacqueline Hill, Verity Lambert, Anthony Ainley, John Nathan Turner, Barry Letts, Ian Marter… the list goes on. However, this one hit home hard – and, if I’m being honest, has all the hallmarks of a genuine grieving process. But it’s not a selfish grief, and I’m not just missing the lady herself. I’m lamenting the countless childhoods from the 1970s and the 2000/2010s now united in missing THEIR Sarah Jane… and those in the future who, although they will get to know her through DVD/BD, will never have Sarah in their lives in the way that we have had.
I was lucky enough to meet her on a number of occasions, but two really stand out. At a Watchers’ event in Sheffield she told me off for smoking – and I very nearly quit… hey, wouldn’t you if Sarah Jane told you to? Then, at a gathering in Manchester’s FAB café I grabbed the questioning microphone and struggled to get across my compliment to her. For months people from Classic Who had been saying the new companions had better dialogue to work with… Gripping the mike tight I (hopefully not rudely) cut through something similar from Elisabeth stating, “You didn’t need the dialogue… You acted around it… between it. You were the original Rose!”
Rose was particularly popular at the time, and the room appeared to appreciate the sentiment.
I think Elisabeth did, too, as she signed my DVD, “The original Rose!”
To close, it came as no surprise that the recent CBBC tribute ended with the scene it did. Yes, the Hand of Fear freeze frame would have been nice, but it HAD to be that scene from School Reunion.
When Tennant’s Doctor caves in and says, ‘Goodbye… MY Sarah Jane…’ it is the most unique use of a personal pronoun ever. Although claiming her as his, in his delivery he allowed us to use his exclamation of that line as our own address to her… to tell her in that embrace that she was not only his but that she was also my …your… OUR Sarah Jane.
And she always will be.