First Harry, then the Brigadier and now Sarah. The cracks in the universe are eating away at my childhood. Always Sarah of course. None of us called her Sarah Jane when I was a kid.
I didn’t think that any loss from Doctor Who would hit me as hard as Nick Courtney’s. But then I don’t think any of us expected we’d ever lose Lis Sladen. I don’t know anyone who even knew she was ill. Possibly the best companion ever. Certainly a huge part of many childhoods. Just the sound of that unforgettably breathy voice at the start of School Reunion instantly took me back over 30 years
I was going to headline this “Til We Meet Again, Sarah” but thought that it would be a bit too maudlin. Rather than sadness, much better to remember Sarah at her best. The Doctor’s best friend and ours, delivering wisecracking asides across time and space, usually just prior to giving us one of her trademark half-scream-half-whoah shrieks. The unforgettable “or how about chop suey?” nearly made it. In the end though it had to be the line that won my heart for Sarah Jane when she first appeared in 1973.
“Galactic ticket inspectors…(oh I could murder a cup of tea)…you’re serious, aren’t you?”
Even looking back at The Time Warrior today when we tend to view the acting in Old Who as pretty archly theatrical, the naturalism of her mid-sentence aside (was it an ad lib?) is startling for such a young actress. If I’d been old enough to be conscious of such things at the time, that might have been the point when the new actress absolutely sold the new companion to me.
The signs were there right from the start though. A great costume breaking away from the half-hippy-half-girly styles of Jo Grant (this was years before Andy Pandy) into a stylish-cum-professional look.
Even something as simple as her struggling as she was dragged off into Irongron’s castle was a great departure from the past. Pathetic pleading and screaming replaced with “gerroff…GERROFF”.
She went on to form one of the great TARDIS trios with Ian Marter’s Harry and then to star in much of the “golden age” of old Who before leaving us with what is still the most affecting departure scene in the whole of Old and New Who. Forget Rose and Donna and “I don’t want to go”. Sarah’s departure at the end of Hand of Fear was all the more powerful for being so beautifully understated.
None of the whininess which came later in the series. Yes, she’d been shot at and savaged by bug-eyed monsters but she didn’t want to leave the TARDIS. No endless complaining to get back to Heathrow. No plotting with Black Guardians and vampires to save her own skin. We always knew that Sarah would jump in front of a Dalek to save the Doctor. And that’s all we ever needed in those days to be sure that she was the right stuff.
There’ll never be another companion like Sarah for millions of us.
I’m going to come up with a list of Lis/Sarah’s best moments soon. Though it might take me a while to narrow down to 100.
I’ll end with a lovely quote from Steven Moffat today:
“‘Never meet your heroes’ wise people say. They weren’t thinking of Lis Sladen. Sarah Jane Smith was everybody’s hero when I was younger, and as brave and funny and brilliant as people only ever are in stories. But many years later, when I met the real Sarah Jane – Lis Sladen herself – she was exactly as any child ever wanted her to be. Kind and gentle and clever; and a ferociously talented actress, of course, but in that perfectly English unassuming way. There are a blessed few who can carry a whole television show on their talent and charisma – but I can’t think of one other who’s done it quite so politely. I once showed my son Joshua an old episode of Doctor Who, in which Lis appeared. “But that’s Sarah Jane,” he said, confused “In old Doctor Who. From years ago. How come she always looks exactly the same?” It’s not a comfort today, of course, but children will still be saying that fifty years from now.”