Actress Elizabeth Sladen, best known as Doctor Who companion Sarah Jane Smith from 1973 to 1976, has died of cancer today. She was previously filming what would be the fifth series of her Doctor Who spin-off The Sarah Jane Adventures when she had taken ill and filming had to be postponed. She lead an amazing life as an actress: she not only starred in a hit television series, but she was brought back to that series decades later with her own show to boot along side it.
In the fandom of Doctor Who,one of common threads of controversy (and comedy) is who was the greatest actor to play The Doctor. A not-so-common, and perhaps harder to pin-point. is who was the best Doctor/Companion in the show's history. Since I lived some of the original series and also the new series, this is always a bit of a challenge for me. Also problematic for me to choose is the fact that many of the episodes completing the show's history have yet to be released on DVD or are currently missing.
Yet, if you were to sit me down and ask me off-hand, I would probably saw the combination of Elizabeth Sladen and Tom Baker was the best the show ever had. Although Sladen had started out in the later-half of the Jon Pertwee era, she grew into her own when Baker joined the show. He was a maniac, but loveable and she was the Doctor's aggressive yet feminine sidekick.
The writers in the classic series loved their chemistry, but they never made them an official couple. It was an unrequited love, one that you often had to sneak in small waves without the overcooked melancholy that perhaps the new series has too much of. Then again, this is a newer generation with newer expectations for the show than that of the previous generation.
However much the dynamic of the Doctor/Companion relationship has changed, Elizabeth Sladen's contribution to the series was the inspired turning point in the show's history. The companion now is no longer just a walking and talking exposition point, but an actual human character that the audience could connect with. After all, science fiction is nothing without the human element.
In tribute, I play two clips.
The first is that of Elizabeth Sladen and Tom Baker's final scene together in her final adventure "The Hand Of Fear". The second is a video compilation of their time together (and of Sladen's time with Pertwee a bit).