sladen

1946-2011

There are some things you never quite get over. Some of them are deeply personal to you, and others had absolutely no relation to you whatsoever. The death of Lis Sladen is one of the latter. I never knew the woman, am not particularly well-versed in classic Doctor Who, but there is something about her that I love. After reading this book, I think I’ve sort of worked it out.

Lis Sladen is most famous for her role in Doctor Who as journalist and feminist Sarah Jane Smith, a role she actually only played for three years. I’ll admit that my main reason for reading this book was for the insider scoop on what it was like to work on the show, both in the seventies and in the noughties revival. She is, of course, the only (human) assistant to have appeared in both.

The book, of course, is not only about Doctor Who, although that does take up the majority of it. Lis discusses her previous work in the theatre, both behind and in front of the curtain, her marriage to Brian Miller, and the work she fell into after leaving Who.

I have never been hugely into biographies, although if I do read them, I only will read ones written by the people themselves. You never know what has been embellished, second-guessed or entirely made up by someone who wasn’t actually present at the time. Most of the autobiographies I have read have been from comedians – Peter Kay, Dawn French, Stephen Fry … I’ve got Miranda Hart’s sitting on the shelf awaiting reading – so it was interesting to read one that wasn’t going to be explicitly funny.

Lis writes with the most amazing warmth. On television, she seems such a nice person, although I know she’s acting. However, whenever I caught her in an interview, she seemed humble, warm and genuine. Her writing spills over with all of those qualities. While not afraid to discuss the people she didn’t like so much (there’s many a director or producer she didn’t get on with), she does it magnanimously, on a couple of occasions going so far as to not mention the person’s name, lest she offend someone. She says it wouldn’t be fair.

sladen 2

My calm, collected, and I think wholly measured reaction to her death back in April 2011.

Perhaps the most interesting parts are, naturally, her relationships with the three Doctors she is most famous for working with: Jon Pertwee (3rd), Tom Baker (4th) and David Tennant (10th). Regarding Tennant, she says what most people already assumed – he is kind and sweet and “like an electrical storm”. Jon was the Doctor when she joined and their relationship flip-flops over the years, occasionally close as anything, yet occasionally distant and difficult. She candidly discusses a time when he slapped her – she gave back as good as she got – and another when, after her daughter was born, they didn’t speak for eight years.

She appears to have got on best with Tom, although states that they had little in common and rarely if ever saw one another outside of work. Lis is also surprisingly candid about her interest, or lack thereof, in the series, although she never denies that without it, her life would have been entirely different. She writes with a rare warmth and I would love to have been able to meet her. Her death was too sudden, and she was too young. The book was published after her death.

If you want to get a feel for what making television was like in the seventies, then this is a fascinating insight into that world. And if you are a Whovian of any degree, then this book is worth a go just to learn a few more secrets from the Whoniverse.

Sarah Jane Smith. The Doctor’s one true companion.

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