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Last Updated: Thursday, 20 November, 2003, 17:41 GMT
The life of a Doctor's assistant

By Caroline Westbrook
BBC News Online

Elisabeth Sladen as Sarah-Jane in Doctor Who
Sladen as she looked when she starred in the show
Actress Elisabeth Sladen, gutsy sidekick Sarah Jane Smith on TV series Doctor Who, was voted most popular Doctor Who assistant in a recent magazine poll.

Sladen, now 55, admits to being "delighted" that viewers of the show remember her so fondly.

"I have very supportive followers, they like my character - she's never really gone away from me.


"I think it was a good time to be involved with the show. If you look at the writers I had, the producers, the Doctors, it just worked."

As Sarah-Jane, Sladen was on the show during the Jon Pertwee/Tom Baker era, from 1973-1976, when Dr Who was a staple of Saturday teatime viewing.

Her character, a journalist, was renowned for being inquisitive and stronger than some of the Doctor's other assistants.

"The idea was to try and make her this inquisitive person that was supposed to allegedly stand up for herself," Sladen says.

Elisabeth Sladen with Tom Baker as Doctor Who
Sladen starred with several 'Doctors' including Tom Baker

"That said, you have a format and you don't buck it too much because without it you don't have Doctor Who. It's what you do within that format that's the exciting bit."

Sladen describes working on Doctor as "like being part of a family", and makes no secret of her enthusiasm for the programme.

"The Doctor is a wonderful character - William Hartnell, who played him first was amazing. To have someone so grumpy as a hero and to actually catch on - the early episodes still stand the test of time."


After her time in the Tardis, Sladen returned to her native Liverpool where she worked in theatre, and since then has been combining acting with motherhood (her daughter Sadie was born in 1985).

She returned to Doctor Who for the 1983 special The Five Doctors, which reunited many of the original cast members, and also starred in K-9 And Company, a spin-off series featuring the Doctor's robotic companion, which never made it past the pilot stage.

"The limitations were not the fault of anything except the budget," she says of her four-legged co-star. "I had great affection for the animal."
K-9, Doctor Who's robotic companion
K-9 appeared with Sladen in the spin-off K-9 And Company

But despite the fond memories and her obvious love for the character, Sladen admits she would be reluctant to be a part of the new series, currently being planned for 2005.

"It would depend an awful lot on what it was and who wrote it. The thing is, it's so lovely to have been a part of something like that, but unless there was going to be some sort of progression of the character, I would rather not do it."

And while rumours fly about who might be stepping into the Timelord's shoes, Sladen remains non-committal.

"I'm sure they have better ideas than I do as to who should play him," she says "but I think someone who isn't as well known to the public - and they have to have that largesse of character like Jon and Tom had.

"I think it has to be someone with a bit of character."


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