In Memoriam - Elisabeth Sladen, 1948-2011

2011-04-11

(Originally posted on LiveJournal)

Elisabeth Sladen, who portrayed Sarah Jane Smith in Doctor Who’s old and new series, and in spin-off The Sarah Jane Adventures, passed away today at 63. The BBC News website, among others, includes what details there are and testimonials from former co-workers.

Like many Americans, I first saw Doctor Who in the Tom Baker years, starting with the 1974 serials. Sarah Jane Smith was his companion in those first two years, and (as I found out later) in the last year of John Pertwee before him. The character, and actress, struck a fine balance between the “scream queen” stereotype typical of previous companions and the plucky, courageous assistant overdone to various degrees by Leela, Romana, and Rose. She also made overalls look good.

Strangers affect our lives in unpredictable ways, and their loss sometimes strikes as hard, or harder, than the loss of family. Learning of Sladen’s passing shook me, as Satoshi Kon‘s did last year, because it was so unexpected. When someone dies of old age, or after a long illness, it’s sad but not unexpected; in this day and age, celebrities under 30 die with appalling frequency, with reporters lamenting what might have been. Sladen (and Kon) left behind a substantial body of work, and showed every indication of continuing on. SJA’s next season was scheduled to air later this year, although whether it was already in the can or about to start filming I have no idea.

A lot of articles quote Sara Jane’s/Elisabeth Sladen’s line from “School Reunion”, the Doctor Who episode that re-introduced her to a new generation: “Everything has its time. And everything ends.” We have no time machines; we travel to the future a second per second. We have no choice but to remember, and move on.