Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Mourning Lis, Farewelling Sarah Jane

Over the past week a number of tributes have been made that not only mourn the passing of actress Elisabeth Sladen but commemorate her most famous role, that of Sarah Jane Smith in the British TV shows Doctor Who and The Sarah Jane Adventures.

Of the tributes I've read, Naomi Alderman's "In Praise of Elisabeth Sladen" is by far the most heartfelt and insightful, with Alderman beautifully articulating what it was that made Sladen's portrayal of Sarah Jane so beloved for over 30 years.

[T]he Doctor and his companions are driven by curiosity – and courage. Elisabeth Sladen excelled in communicating that heart. Her Sarah Jane never lost her slight nerviness, the trembling lip that said maybe she'd prefer the beach-and-cocktails. She wasn't an action hero; she had to make the decision to be brave.

Since Sladen's passing on April 19, three of my previous posts about her and her portrayal of Sarah Jane Smith have been ranked among the most visited at The Wild Reed. They are She's So Lovely (which for several days was the most popular post), Remembering Elisabeth Sladen (currently the most popular post), and The Adventures Continue.

I'm glad people are finding these posts and, hopefully, getting something meaningful from them. I'm sorry, however, that the reason that these particular posts are being so frequently visited is because of Lis' passing. My thoughts and prayers remain with her family and with those she worked with – especially the young people of The Sarah Jane Adventures, Tommy Knight, Yasmin Paige, Daniel Anthony and Anjli Mohindra.

Following, with added images and links, is Naomi Alderman's appreciation of Elisabeth Sladen.


In Praise of Elisabeth Sladen

By Naomi Alderman

The Guardian
April 20, 2011

Elisabeth Sladen – who played probably the best-loved Doctor Who companion ever, Sarah Jane Smith – died on Tuesday. Like so many fans, I'm bereft.

Why was Sarah Jane so important? Doctor Who always had strong female characters, but unlike, for example, Zoe, the astrophysicist who lived on a space station, Smith was an attainable role model. An investigative journalist in modern-day Earth, her first appearance in the 1970s found her relentlessly pursuing a story – and refusing to make the Doctor a coffee. She was strong, funny and determined. And unlike some female companions before her, she didn't constantly trip, twist her ankle and scream "Doctor!"

The genius of Doctor Who is that the TARDIS can travel anywhere in time and space – it can never run out of stories. The weakness is that there's always an escape route – why stay in the apocalyptic wasteland when you could be whisked away to a planet with a beach and cocktails? The answer is mostly character-led: the Doctor and his companions are driven by curiosity – and courage.

Elisabeth Sladen excelled in communicating that heart. Her Sarah Jane never lost her slight nerviness, the trembling lip that said maybe she'd prefer the beach-and-cocktails. She wasn't an action hero; she had to make the decision to be brave.

When Tom Baker's Doctor left her on a suburban street and she strolled off whistling merrily, the audience longed to know what happened next. When she returned in 2006 to Doctor Who, and her own show The Sarah Jane Adventures, we rejoiced – and hoped for many more years.

As I write this, I've just sent back the proofs of my first Doctor Who novel to the BBC. Selfishly, I'm mourning the fact that I'll never be able to write for Elisabeth Sladen. Along with many fans, I'll be donating to a cancer charity today, in her memory.


Another tribute worth sharing is Viv Groskop's "Sarah Jane, I'll Miss You" (The Guardian, April 24, 2011). Following is an excerpt.

. . . As I frantically Googled for more information, I realised the real impact of Sladen's death – on me. The children were happy to accept it and shrug. Sarah Jane the character was more real to them and they know they can see the programme again. Sladen's death was a curiosity: they were just interested to see how the adults around them behaved. They were the same about Michael Jackson (the only other celebrity death they've known anything about). Who was he and why was his death news? Why did he have a brown face and then a white face?

These events were information to be assimilated, not something to mourn over. You might want to save that for real life, perhaps, for people you actually know.

I was the one who was devastated. Sladen was impossibly cool, the Meryl Streep of CBBC. She made watching kids' telly an addictive pleasure. She took a role which demanded ridiculous heights of emotion amid preposterous plots and turned it into something magical and believable.

Her age [63] should not have been surprising – she first played the Doctor's assistant opposite Jon Pertwee in 1973, after all. But what she did with a sonic lipstick took decades off her. (Yes, she carried off a sonic lipstick. This alone deserves an award.)

The children's sensible reaction – interest and respect but nothing more – is a reminder of what we adults really mourn when someone dies: our own mortality. With Sladen gone, I'm trying to mourn something less selfish: the disappearance of one of the only kickass sixty-something women left on TV. That really is worth a weep.

And finally, on Saturday, April 23, CBBC broadcast My Sarah Jane: A Tribute to Elisabeth Sladen, featuring such Doctor Who luminaries as Matt Smith, David Tennant, Russell T Davies, John Barrowman and Katy Manning, along with the young cast of The Sarah Jane Adventures, sharing their thought on Lis and the character of Sarah Jane Smith.

Both parts of this special and, at times, very moving broadcast can be viewed in the players below.

UPDATE: BBC to Screen Final Filmed Episodes of The Sarah Jane Adventures – Simon Brew (Den of Geek, May 4, 2011).

For more on Elisabeth Sladen and Sarah Jane Smith at The Wild Reed, see:
Blast from the Past: Sarah Jane Smith Returns to Doctor Who
What Sarah Jane Did Next
She’s So Lovely
Impossible! . . . It Can’t Be!
She’s Back!
Too Good to Miss
The Adventures Continue
Remembering Elisabeth Sladen
Quote of the Day – April 20, 2011

Recommended Off-site Links:
Greatest Doctor Who Girl Ever – Dan Sales (The Scottish Sun, April 20, 2011).
Elisabeth Sladen Remembered by Doctor Who Stars ContactMusic.com (April 20, 2011).
"Don't Forget Me": A Tribute to Elisabeth Sladen – Kristy Jay (Sarah-Jane.tv, April 20, 2011).
A Tear, Sarah Jane? – Scott Matthewman (The Stage, April 20, 2011).
Remembering Sarah Jane Geeks of Doom (April 20, 2011).

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