Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Farewell, True and Faithful Companion

Those of us who are fans of Doctor Who received sad news yesterday--Elisabeth Sladen, best known to us as "Sarah Jane Smith" passed away yesterday.

Sarah Jane Smith was my first companion, as far as I can recall. Back in the dark days of 1981-82, when the only way to get "Who" was through oddly timed reruns on PBS, I was introduced to the series by my college boyfriend.  I had huge secondhand black-and-white TV in my dorm room, and there we watched Tom Baker and his 90 foot long scarf run from scary monsters and even scarier wobbly sets.  There was such a wonderful theatricality to it all--the show seemed to be barely more than filmed theater.  There were hardly any of the special effects or film tricks that had been developed even by then.  Monsters were extras in costumes--some of them were good costumes, many of them weren't, but they were all evidently people in costumes and it was up to the actors and the audience to conspire in the imaginative act that this was somehow believable.

Sarah Jane was the Doctor's companion way back then, a lovely, kind, and smart presence who was absolutely fundamental in making the series work.  After all, if someone as smart and brave as she was could be overwhelmed by what was happening, then it really was scary.  If she got fooled by the Monster of the Week, what chance did I have against such a thing?

Due to things like, oh, class schedules and the whole being in college thing, my viewing was erratic and possibly the local station stopped carrying it.  I did notice that she was replaced by a different actress who I didn't like as well, and the whole thing was wonderful, but kind of in the deep cultural background.

I came late to Russell T. Davies reboot of the Doctor Who franchise, which meant that I could line up the entirety of Davies reign on Netflix and watch the hell out of some fantastic television.  Loved Christopher Eccleston from the first minute, where his first line was "Run."  It was clear Davies knew what he was doing, and I was along for the ride.

And then he brought Sarah Jane back!  And not just "Sarah Jane," but the real, actual Sarah Jane--Elisabeth Sladen's Sarah Jane!  And she was spunky, and wise, and brave, and everything she had been back in the old series.  But David Tennant wasn't Tom Baker, even though they were both The Doctor.

  And in a lovely ans emotionally believable arc, Sarah Jane wrestled with her disappointment that she had been left behind, worked through her jealousy of Rose, recognized that she had a life of her own that was worth living, and said goodbye.

She also saved the world from Krillitanes and was given back her dog--the frankly pathetic attempt at robotics that Sladen convinced us she could love.

She made a couple of other appearances on the show, notably in the glorious party that was the finale of Season 4, flying the TARDIS home with all the beloved companions of the new series.

She also got her own series, a series which has been hovering just below the top of my Netflix queue for months and months.  We saw some of it in that finale--her computer, her son, and K9.  She even got a visit on her own show from Matt Smith, the 11th Doctor, in a two-parter called "Death of the Doctor."

I had no idea she was ill.  The tributes coming from the creative team running Who have been deeply moving.  But I can't help thinking there is a tribute that we will never see.  A bit of background: John Barrowman, who plays Captain Jack Harkness in both "Doctor Who" and "Torchwood" was one of the Companions on that giddy flight at the end of "Journey's End."  And Barrowman, being Barrowman, has a "thing" he (reported) likes to do.

He likes to unzip, and display his "meat and two veg" to unsuspecting actors.  Apparently this is something that the "Torchwood" team is all too familiar with.  And he's managed to do it to everyone, and the emphasis is on everyone.  Except Lis Sladen.  I don't know why.  Maybe she was just too much of a lady for him to pull that sort of nonsense with, or maybe she was smart enough to recognize the warning signs and be absent from the unveilings.  I'll never know.  But I suspect, somewhere, John Barrowman will take a moment and bow his head in her honor.

And then drop trou.

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