"Those who have experienced Paris have advantage over those who have not. We are the ones who have glimpsed a little bit of heaven, down here on earth." - Deirdre Kelly

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Au Revoir, Sarah Jane

Elisabeth Claira Heath Sladen
Born: 1 February 1948 - Died: 19 April 2011

"Now wait a minute. 
There's nothing 'only' about being a girl."
- Sarah Jane Smith, Dr. Who.

I'm brushing away tears as I write this post. On Tuesday I lost a beloved childhood friend and mentor. An amazing woman whom I never had the honor to meet, but a person who touched my life nonetheless.

Sarah Jane Smith - 21st Century

In the mid-70s, I was in grammer school. That, combined with the fact that my mom and dad worked full-time, meant that our 8:30 p.m. bedtime was firm - the fam had to be up and out early. But there was one, and only one, exception to this rule. Every Sunday night, at 10 p.m. on PBS, we gathered around our television  to watch Doctor Who. At one point, PBS moved Doctor Who to Saturday mornings - like at 8:30 a.m. We'd all get up early, and have a family 'picnic' breakfast on the floor and watch our beloved show.

Sarah Jane Smith and the Doctor (Jon Pertwee) mid-1970s
Ms. Sladen's first episode - "The Time Warrior"

In the shortest version I can come up with, Doctor Who (1963 to the present) is a BBC child/adult sci-fi series about an alien/Time Lord from Gallifrey (with the ability to regenerate, 11 to date), called the Doctor. The Doctor travels through space and time in a space ship that looks like a British blue police call box called a T.A.R.D.I.S. - Time And Relative Dimensions In Space (it's bigger on the inside than on the outside). Being able to travel through time and space, and regenerate, means that the Doctor gets into all kinds of fantabulous adventures. Oh, and his favorite planet (in any time) is Earth. The Doctor always travels with a companion(s)/assistant(s) - primarily from his favortie planet (29 and counting). Perhaps the most fan-favorite-companion of them all is Elisabeth Sladen (a.k.a. Sarah Jane Smith).

On a side note: I strongly encourage you to give Dr. Who a try. Though I like 21st century Dr. Who, I'm an unabashed traditionalist. I collect (dvds) and most love the earliest Doctor Who (William Hartnell to Tom Baker/ 1963 to 1981). Just click on the first season of Bevis and Duncan's Dr. Who Guide, and take it from there (you can get the dvds at Amazon).

"What was that you said about women?"

Watching Dr. Who was one of the brightest spots of my girlhood - colorful, exciting, full of adventure, smart, historical, sci-fi, fantasy, traveling worlds and through time, wonderfully nasty bad guys, heroes and heroines, the coolest aliens and creatures, interesting cultures (domestic and alien), fascinating plots, social commentary and some really great fashion ;-) And Sarah Jane Smith was the absolute absolute!

Sarah Jane Smith and the Doctor (Tom Baker) - early 1980s

Sarah Jane Smith is a free-lance investigative reporter who's main aim in life is to uncover secret government plots, conspiracies, corporate bad doings, and write exposes about them. She's determined, smart, savvy, and fearless. When she first meets the Doctor, she knows that there's something 'odd' about him and she's determined to get to the bottom of it. Of course, moments after they meet they're thrown into an exciting time-traveling adventure and all sorts of wondefulness ensues! But throughout her 3 1/2 year long tenure (with Pertwee and Baker) Sarah Jane was not merely a sidekick or screaming ninny. She was a strong, independent woman. She was free. She was the Doctor's equal - standing toe to toe.

The Sarah Jane Adventures

"I wasn't about to write women's stuff,
unless it was from a feminist angle. That was still quite controversial..."
(source: Sarah Jane Smith's 'official' biography,

The 1970s was one of the major eras of the Women's Movement and Sarah Jane Smith's character was the show's writer's explicit intention to infuse Doctor Who with some feminist flava. In hindsight, some critics and fans alike snicker at their early attempts. Declaring those attempts as "faintly painful politicking" and "stereotypical feminist moment[s]." But this cynical view, nearly 40 years later, totally misses the point. Sarah Jane Smith was not trying to be polite or be a nice girl. Nor was she trying to be politickally correct. She was a strong independent woman, pushing her way into a world where good girls weren't welcome. She kicked ass and made no apologies for doing so, and she was brilliant.

"I was there, I knew her, she was good to me 
and I shall always be grateful. I shall miss her" 
- Tom Baker, 20 April 2011

More importantly Sarah Jane Smith was exactly what little 1970s girls like me needed. We didn't want or need subtlety - which wasn't Dr. Who's style anyway. Besides, I was 8 years old and, for 8 year olds, subtlety is totally over rated We wanted to see her take on the bad guys and put them in their place. We wanted her to keep the Doctor on his toes. Sarah Jane was as flamboyant, quirky, interesting and fun as the Doctor. She had her say and did her thang - and her fanbase was nearly as large as the Doctor's, it still is.  I loved everything about Sarah Jane Smith. I wanted to be Sarah Jane Smith. And so does my daughter ;-)

On Tuesday 19 April 2011, Elisabeth Sladen died from Pancreatic Cancer. Her illness was sudden, in fact this week she was supposed to begin filming her 6th season of her Dr. Who spinoff: The Sarah Jane Adventures. Apparently the time between her diagnosis and her death was very very short. Ms. Sladen is survived by her husband of 43 years - Brian Miller, their daughter - Sadie, and millions of fans. Doctor Who fans are 50 years deep and live on every continent. The web outpouring of shock and grief over her sudden passing is amazing, poignant, and beautiful. Elisabeth Sladen is well loved, will always be loved, and will be dearly missed. Sarah Jane you'll always be our Time Lady...

Sarah, no time is a good time for goodbye."

Vivre! Rire! Aimer!




  1. Oh, yes. This is very much my story, too (though without parents who ever understood Who). Growing up in the 70s and loving Sarah's avoidance of being a Nice Girl...even if I never understood WHY I loved that about her. Loving Sarah Jane, introducing my daughter to her and sharing this world...it's been a joy. It is a further joy, even through the sorrow of losing Lis and Sarah Jane so very much too early, to find others who were so touched and moved and shaped in such similar ways. Thank you for a lovely post.

  2. Amy,

    Please excuse me for taking so long to reply - somehow I missed this.I cannot tell you enough how wonderful it is to hear from a fellow time traveller. You've inspired me...I think that it's high time for another Sarah Jane post!

    Have a wonderful New Year!




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