It is with great sadness that we have to report that the actress Elisabeth Sladen
- forever known to us as the Doctor's best friend, Sarah Jane Smith
- has died.
Born in Liverpool in February 1948, Sladen was cast as intrepid journalist Sarah Jane by producer Barry Letts
in 1973, making her debut in The Time Warrior
, and appeared alongside Jon Pertwee
as the Third Doctor throughout his final season in the role. Smith was present when the Doctor regenerated into his Fourth incarnation in Planet of the Spiders
, and Sladen's partnership with Pertwee's successor Tom Baker
went on to become one of the most iconic Doctor-companion partnerships in Doctor Who
's long history.
Despite choosing to leave the programme in 1976, with an emotional departure scene at the conclusion of the serial The Hand of Fear
, Smith later stated in interviews that although she had left Sarah Jane, "Sarah Jane never left me". Although she declined producer John Nathan-Turner
's offer to come back as Sarah to bridge the changeover between the Fourth and Fifth Doctors, she returned to the role for the 1981 pilot programme K9 and Company
and for a guest appearance in the 1983 20th anniversary celebration The Five Doctors
, and continued to appear in radio and audio stories, documentaries and at fan conventions across the following two decades.
With the return of Doctor Who
to television in 2005, however, Sladen unexpectedly found herself back on BBC One screens when she made a guest appearance in the 2006 episode School Reunion
, where Sarah was emotionally reunited with the Doctor, now played by David Tennant
. The character, and Sladen's performance, proved to be as popular as ever, if not more so, and the following year she was given a starring role in her own spin-off series, The Sarah Jane Adventures
. This won Sladen and her character a whole new legion of fans, both young and old, and continued the adventures of unquestionably one of Doctor Who
's most popular characters.