Last night the death of Elisabeth Sladen was announced. If you are not a fan of Doctor Who, the name might not mean much to you. It certainly did not mean much to the BBC 10 O’ Clock News. Liz Taylor’s death got three minutes, Liz Sladen’s got less than 10 seconds. Yet for a whole generation of English youngsters, Liz Sladen was more the idol, more the icon than Taylor.
Liz Sladen’s Sarah Jane Smith was the Doctor’s companion. Yes she might have screamed occasionally, but she kept the Time Lord and a legion of monsters – both human and alien – in line. Her only weapons were sharp humour, quick-thinking and a heart as big as anything you would find in a being with a binary vascular system.
As a child, Sarah Jane Smith helped teach me to see the universe with equal measures of awe, bravery and laughter. Her role as a feisty investigative journalist battling for justice, searching out strangeness, made as much of an impression on me as did her absolute loyalty as a companion. That I became a journalist is in a small way down to how Liz Sladen brought the character to life. She made her deeply noble, intensely heroic and eminently loveable
It was not just me she had this effect on. My co-author Matt Adams and a couple of other newspaper editors owe a little of their careers to being smitten with Elisabeth Sladen in the mid-seventies. Matt and I are currently nibbling away on a couple of Doctor Who related books. The dedication of them has suddenly become easier, but an awful lot sadder. I know I am not the only geek last night that shed a few tears for the sad loss of Liz.
On my stag do last year, I got to tell Liz that: “When I was a child, you were the woman I wanted to grow up and marry. Now you are a woman that I hope my daughters grow up to be like.” Liz liked that. She said it was one of the nicest things any fan had ever said to her. Fans were always saying nice things to her. Sarah-Jane Smith was not just the Doctor’s best friend, she was ours.