Wednesday, April 20, 2011
Goodbye Sarah Jane
I can't remember the first time I met Elisabeth Sladen. I mean, over the years I've met many, many people from the worlds of Doctor Who, both the actors and behind the scenes technicians, and it's hard to pin down when you first meet someone. The first Doctor Who convention was in 1977, and at that time the companion was the lovely Louise Jameson, and she and Tom Baker came to that inaugural gathering in a Battersea church hall and enthralled those who were there. But Lis ... I'm wracking my brain but I can't remember her attending a UK con at all in the seventies or eighties - at least I have no photographs of her attending any of them. So I couldn't have met her then. When Keith Barnfather and Reeltime Pictures made the independent drama Downtime, although I was involved (I played one of the Yeti!) the days I was on set were not the ones that Lis was on set so I didn't meet her then ... The reason that this is so puzzling to me is that despite the fact I can't remember when I met her, she knew who I was. I know we met at one of the Gallifrey conventions in LA a few years back, when it was at Van Nuys and rained all the time. She was lovely and charming, perhaps a little put out by all the people there, and the rain ... always the rain ... but surely that can't have been the first time I met her? I know she was gracious enough to speak to me for the book I wrote for Virgin on the Companions - I probably still have the tape of that somewhere in a cupboard - but that was a phone interview as I recall ... And yet ... I was at one of those Memorabilia fairs in Birmingham a few years ago. A friend wanted to get some signatures and so we decided to drive up there and see what it was all about. It was packed and busy with people and costumes ... mental. While wandering around I saw that Lis was signing in one of the booths - I think she was being sponsored to be there by a retailer - and in one lull in her never-ending queue, I approached and said Hi. She looked up at me and the most beautiful smile cracked her face. 'David!' she said. 'How lovely to see you again!' and we chatted about how she was doing and so on for a minute or two before the people behind me started to mutter. So I bade my farewells and wandered away. I think my memory must be breaking away like icebergs these days. Great chunks of my life drifting away ... I must have met her before ... But then I think Elisabeth Sladen was one of those rare people ... someone who makes you *feel* that you know her through her warmth and friendliness. She obviously knew me and remembered me from whatever passing nod we had enjoyed in the past, and yet she greeted me as an old friend, a familiar face. And that meant so much! As I mentioned, I've met so many people. Some have become close friends, some I know well enough to call up and chat, some I see at the occasional convention and we have a nice natter about stuff, catching up. But many have met so many people over the years, and it all starts to blur. When I was a kid, growing up with Doctor Who, my main eras were the Troughton and Pertwee years. I still love Troughton's era with a passion and have listened to the soundtracks and watched the videos so often ... but then, with 1971 I turned 10, and it was the Pertwee era that I remember watching. I remember missing episodes too due to holidays. This was when I started to collect the books ... the magazines ... the ephemera ... this was my formation as a fan and collector. I recall getting the Radio Times 10th Anniversary Special and seeing for the first time, the preview of the next season - the show's 11th. With a new companion who looked modern and funky. New monsters - a spacesuited Sontaran (whatever that was), dinosaurs and spiders (I hate spiders and so this show held a special fascination for me). Within moments of appearing on screen Lis made the part of Sarah Jane Smith her own. She was real and natural, a proper woman - not all girly like Jo could be - but someone capable who could manage quite fine on her own thank you very much. She was great! The greatness continued into Tom Baker's era, with shows like 'The Ark in Space', 'The Sontaran Experiment' and 'Pyramids of Mars' cementing her brilliance in my mind. I never fancied her ... I think I was a little too young ... but she was like an older sister, someone you could depend on, and she loved the Doctor with a passion that was plain to see. When she left at the end of 'The Hand of Fear' it was a sad time ... the Doctor called to Gallifrey and he couldn't/wouldn't take her with him - how times have changed - and so Sarah was consigned to a roadway anywhere but where she should have been ... And an era passed. Then, thanks to the tenacity of Russell T Davies, she was back ... an episode with David Tennant and it was as though she had never been away ... and then her own series, The Sarah Jane Adventures, with more monsters to fight and wrongs to right. Here she had her own companions, a likable bunch of kids who looked up to her in the same way as I had looked up to Sarah when she was kicking the ass of anti-matter monsters and Kraals. But the great wheel turns, and times change. The past we love stays as a memory, and the people we know and love, whether we have met them in person or not, move on and up and away. I was privileged to have met Lis. She was happy and friendly and had time for everyone, and she remembered my name. You can't ask more from your childhood heroes.