To Lis Sladen - My Sarah Jane

Lis Sladen, my Sarah Jane, has died. Well, she’s been dead for over a week now. I’ve been wanting to do a post in her honor since I heard the news, but I’ve hesitated. Why? Well, because I don’t feel that she is my Sarah Jane.

I am primarily a fan of New Who. Slowly I’m getting around to watching the Classics, and have mostly seen episodes with Four. But only a few, and only three of those have featured Sarah Jane: Seeds of Doom, Pyramids of Mars, and The Five Doctors. Many of the tributes to Sarah Jane talk about her character, how important she was to the series, to the fans, what it meant to have a Doctor Who girl who wasn’t going to conform to sexist stereotypes. And it’s all true.

And yet, I feel that I’m preaching to the choir - a more experienced choir - when I say those things. After all, I only met Sarah Jane in School Reunion. We saw her again in The Stolen Earth/Journey’s End. But by then she had her own show, yet the only episode of the Sarah Jane Adventures that I’ve ever seen is The Wedding of Sarah Jane Smith, primarily because Ten was in it. So even in New Who, how can I claim to know Sarah Jane?

Perhaps I can’t. Maybe one day I will. But simply put, there has been so much of Sarah Jane. Since Lis Sladen left in The Hand of Fear she has played Sarah Jane ten times over the years - and that’s not counting SJA. But if I can’t claim to know the impact Sarah Jane had on the show, I do know the impact she had on me.

When I saw her in School Reunion, she was marvelous. Sure, she’d aged, but she didn’t really look it. She had such energy, such determination, such drive - such incredible qualities, in spite of her claim that her life ended when she left the Doctor. One of my favorite things that has been written about New Who is an article by Benjamin Cook, in which he states that RTD’s philosophy is that “the most wonderful thing that can happen to a person is to travel with the Doctor.” Which is absolutely true. There was no time like being a companion, for Sarah Jane and for any other companion. But Ben also claims that “if the greatest thing in the world is to travel with the Doctor, the worst possible fate is to have that taken away from you.” And in reference to the three main companions of RTD’s era, it’s easy to see his point. But at the same time, I believe that in bringing Sarah Jane back, by showing her to be still the real wonderful amazing person that she was when she left in 1976, he proved that wrong. He proved that leaving the TARDIS is not the end of a companion’s life. Despite how much Sarah Jane feels that her life since she left the Doctor has been nothing compared to the time she spent with him, Ten is able to see that she’s wrong. She has missed him, certainly, and missed the life she led. But she is still the same Sarah Jane, still fighting the same fight, if on a smaller scale. Meeting the Doctor again gives her some of the tools she needs to expand her scale, but without her determination and energy to keep going, to keep living, those tools would have been worthless.

In the BBC tribute to Lis Sladen, Anjli Mohindra from SJA said something about how Lis poured so much of herself into Sarah Jane, incorporated so many elements of herself into her character. And we can see just from the projection of her life and her character how very true that is. She showed both through her own life and through Sarah Jane’s life that passion, love for adventure and travel and life don’t have to disappear when you leave your twenties behind. There are dozens of companions who’ve travelled with the Doctor over the years, but how many have been so beloved by fans--and have possessed such a love for the show itself--that they can return thirty-odd years later and gain the love of an entire new generation? Only Lis Sladen did that. She so clearly loved this show and her character and everything they represent about life. She proved that you don’t have to be with the Doctor to have adventures of your own, but also that you can always go back to him. She proved that youthful exuberance can defy age, and time. And I want to look at myself at age sixty-something and be able to say, “Hey, I did that too! I never stopped having adventures or lost my passion in life. I did what Lis Sladen did.”

So rest in peace, our wonderful Sarah Jane. May you continue to be an inspiration to all of us Doctor Who girls forevermore.