At 2:30 on 26th November I attended the official launch of Elisabeth Sladen: The Autobiography. A select few who purchased a ticket for the Doctor Who Experience, currently housed at Kensington’s Olympia II, between 12:30-2:00 were offered a free ticket and invited to both celebrate the publication of the book and the memory of this much-loved actress, Elisabeth Sladen. I’ve visited the Doctor Who Experience twice before, but still very much enjoyed it the third time around.
After a brief wander around the fantastic exhibition we took our seats in the minute, dimly-lit, and somewhat balmy screening room, alongside the Face of Boe, as well as a Pig Slave and a Scarecrow [I think!] We then watched a short tribute to Sarah Jane. The homage included clips from Elisabeth’s first storyThe Time Warrior, Planet of the Spiders, Robot, The Mask of Mandragora, her two returns to the show in 25th Anniversary special The Five Doctors and the 2006 episode School Reunion.
TV Choice magazine’s Ben Lawrence was there to interview Doctor Who writer and script editor Terrance Dicks, the fourth Doctor himself, Tom Baker and Elisabeth’s daughter, Sadie Miller, who all came to share their fond memories of Elisabeth.
Terrance told us of his involvement with creating the character of Sarah Jane, reminding us that each companion grows out of the last. In Elisabeth’s case this was from Katy Manning’s Jo Grant. While Jo was a sassy, girlish foil for the Doctor as “someone to pass you your test tubes and tell you how brilliant you are,” Sarah Jane was created not as an “assistant” but as an independent female with a career as a journalist. He shared that he would always remember the way that Lis would call him, “Terránce.”
Tom then went on to share with us the massive amount of gratitude he feels he owes to Elisabeth Sladen, who guided him through the early days of his time on the show by helping him form a kind of comic/jokey persona to counteract his self-admitted self-doubt. He told us that in the time he spent with Elisabeth he changed and has remained that way ever since. That juncture with Elisabeth gave him a new lease on life, of enjoyment and confidence, which is why, he says, he stayed on the show as long as he did. He admitted to being devastated when Elisabeth decided to leave the show, due to the fact that she believed she would not be wanted when Barry Letts announced his leaving and Phillip Hinchcliffe and a new regime were to take over. Tom also shared the irony that Hinchcliffe later stated that he was actually very happy with their partnership as Doctor and Companion.
Sadie, who, along with her father wrote a beautiful coda to the book, spoke more about Elisabeth Sladen herself, as Sadie’s mother and not just as her character Sarah Jane. Quite understandably she didn’t share too much with us, as her mother’s passing is still quite fresh. She said she was yet to watch the recently aired episodes of the Fifth Series of The Sarah Jane Adventures, wanting to save them to watch on a special day and enjoy as an undiscovered part of her mother’s work. She also showed us the necklace that originally belonged to Liza Minnelli, who gave it to Katy Manning who imparted it to Elisabeth [while they worked on Death of the Doctor] who in turn gave it to Sadie.
Afterwards Terrance and Sadie, joined by her father and Elisabeth’s husband Brian Miller kindly stayed behind to sign copies of the book, with Tom having pre-signed some in advance.
I sadly never had the honour of meeting Elisabeth Sladen, but I find it amazing and wonderful that someone who myself, and millions of others alike, never met can have had such a profound effect on ones life.
Elisabeth Sladen: The Autobiography has a foreword by David Tennant and is published by Aurum Press. It’s available now RRP £18.99 and I highly recommend it.