The Doctor Who world, as well as British television, were rocked yesterday by the news that Elisabeth Sladen had passed away.
Sladen played Sarah Jane Smith, one of the most popular Doctor Who companions ever. She was loved by millions of Who fans around the world. For many of us, she was the first companion we were familiar with, much as Tom Baker was our first Doctor.
Sarah was my first companion, and yes, I admired her good looks (I was 12 when I first discovered the show, keep in mind). But I also admired the intelligence she was written with, for the most part. The role of the companion in the old Doctor Who series was mainly to look good and to be the Doctor's sounding board, taking the audience's place by asking "What is that, Doctor?" so he could explain what was going on. Somehow, Sarah rose above that. She had a mind of her own, and she very rarely screamed. When she did, you knew it was something scream-worthy, too. Towards the end of her tenure, the writers got away from this a bit, and I think that might be why she left.
Companions came and went, but very often I compared them to Sarah to see if they stacked up. While there were good companions after Sarah, none of them ultimately reached Sarah's high level.
I tried to find a couple of videos to post on here, but they were all too long or they were tribute videos and not actually videos of her on Doctor Who. But in that search, I saw the love that she engendered in fans. There are so many fan-made tributes, some of them put up yesterday after news of her death broke. Others have been made over the years. We Who fans have cherished her memory even as the Doctor moved on.
She was so popular that the producer of the new Doctor Who series, Russell T. Davies, decided to bring her back in a marvelous episode (at least as far as Sarah and the Doctor goes, as the story itself was a bit weak) called "School Reunion."
Just as beautiful now as she was back in the mid-70s, the Who fanbase loved it. They always say that you can't go home again. While that's true, that doesn't mean you can't revisit the past and take the best things about it, modify them slightly, and come up with something else wonderful.
Sarah's return was so popular that Davies decided to create another show for her, called The Sarah Jane Adventures. This was more of a children's show, but it definitely had plenty of older adults watching, those fans who just wanted to see more of Sarah Jane.
There was always some doubt about whether this show would return for a 5th season. Perhaps that was because of Sladen's health problems? I don't know.
I do know that it's fitting for the last episode ever to be named "Good-bye, Sarah Jane Smith".
I hope Ms. Sladen knew how much love we Who fans had for her. I like to think she did.
This is my favourite picture from the new Who series. I cried during this entire scene in "School Reunion."
At the end of her final episode back in 1976, she tells the Doctor "don't forget me."
Like we ever could.
Rest in peace, Sarah Jane.
Rest in peace, Elisabeth Sladen.
You will be missed.