Elisabeth Sladen dies aged 63

Published Wednesday, 20 April 2011
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Actor who starred in Doctor Who and spin-off series The Sarah Jane Adventures has died of cancer

The actor Elisabeth Sladen best known for her role as Doctor Who's time travelling companion, has died of cancer, aged 63. Sladen played many roles over the years, but was defined by her portrayal of tough-talking journalist Sarah Jane Smith in the BBC series, and later went on to star in her own spin-off programme, The Sarah Jane Adventures.

Former producer Russell T Davies, who revived her character, said: "I absolutely loved Lis. She was funny and cheeky and clever and just simply wonderful. The universe was lucky to have Sarah Jane Smith and the world was lucky to have Lis."

Current producer Steven Moffat said: "Never meet your heroes, wise people say. They weren't thinking of Lis Sladen."

Sladen is widely regarded as the most beloved companion in the show's 58-year-history, appearing alongside five Doctors in both the old and new versions of Doctor Who.

Her character was introduced in 1973 alongsider Jon Pertwee's Doctor as a feminist antidote to the traditional "Who girl" who asks dumb questions and screams a lot. Sladen ran with the role and helped pioneer a new genre of female hero in British drama, the feisty yet vulnerable female. She stayed with the show for two years after Tom Baker replaced Pertwee, and returned for the the 20th anniversary reunion show The Five Doctors and a short-lived spin-off, K-9 and Company.

But while after that, Sladen thought her time with Doctor Who was done, that was not to be the case. When Russell T Davies relaunched Doctor Who, Sladen was top of the list of old friends to return, and was reunited with David Tennant's Doctor in the 2006 story. Sladen was initially apprehensive. But on reading Toby Whithouse's script for School Reunion, in which Sarah Jane was reunited with David Tennant's tenth Doctor, she was convinced.

In the script, the formerly-heroic Sarah Jane had lived out her thirties, forties and fifties as a lonely single woman, no man ever being able to live up to what happened to her when she worked with the man in the blue box. She returned again in the 2008 series finale The Stolen Earth/Journey's End, and made a cameo in Tennant's final story The End Of Time.

But as it transpired, even Doctor Who was not enough for the legend of Sarah Jane Smith. The popularity of the episode resulted in her being given her own series, The Sarah Jane Adventures, in which Sarah Jane guided a band of local children (including her own, adopted clone son) in their own series of weapon-free alien defeat. Matt Smith's eleventh Doctor made a guest appearance in last year's story Death Of The Doctor, which earned unprecedented critical acclaim for a CBBC show, and is responsible for launching the career of hotly-tipped Submarine actor Yasmin Paige.

guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media 2011
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