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Doctor Who Star Sladen Dies Aged 63

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Doctor Who actress Elisabeth Sladen has died of cancer at the age of 63, the BBC has confirmed.

She joined the programme in 1973 and became one of the most popular companions in her role as Sarah Jane Smith. In 2007 she was given her own spin-off series, the Sarah Jane Adventures, which introduced her to a new generation of fans.

Tributes have been pouring in for the Liverpool-born actress, known to her friends and family as Lis.

Russell T Davies, creator of The Sarah Jane Adventures, which won this year's RTS Award for best children's drama, said all those involved in the series had been left "reeling" at news of her death.

He said: "I absolutely loved Lis. She was funny and cheeky and clever and just simply wonderful.

"The universe was lucky to have Sarah Jane Smith; the world was lucky to have Lis."

Sladen starred in Doctor Who alongside Jon Pertwee, the third doctor, and his successor Tom Baker.

She then returned to the series on a number of occasions over the years before her own CBBC show was created, in which she starred as an investigative journalist trying to defend Earth from extraterrestrial threats.

It had not been widely known that she had been suffering from ill health. She died yesterday leaving behind her husband, actor Brian Miller, and daughter Sadie.

Doctor Who lead writer and executive producer Steven Moffat said she was a "ferociously talented actress".

He said: "'Never meet your heroes', wise people say. They weren't thinking of Lis Sladen.

"Sarah Jane Smith was everybody's hero when I was younger, and as brave and funny and brilliant as people only ever are in stories.

"But many years later when I met the real Sarah Jane - Lis Sladen herself - she was exactly as any child ever have wanted her to be. Kind and gentle and clever and a ferociously talented actress, of course, but in that perfectly English unassuming way.

"There are a blessed few who can carry a whole television show on their talent and charisma - but I can't think of one other who's done it quite so politely.

"I once showed my son Joshua an old episode of Doctor Who, in which Lis appeared. 'But that's Sarah Jane,' he said, confused. 'In old Doctor Who. From years ago. How come she always look exactly the same?'

"It's not a comfort today, of course, but children will still be saying that fifty years from now."

CBBC controller Damian Kavanagh said: "I'm deeply saddened and shocked by the news of Lis's untimely death. Lis brought joy, excitement and a sense of wonder to her many fans in her role as Sarah Jane Smith. She was adored by our young audience and I know all of them will miss her as much as I will."

The director of BBC Wales, which makes the Sarah Jane Adventures, now in its fourth series, said the programme could not have been made without Sladen.

Keith Jones said: "The Sarah Jane Adventures has been one of the most successful children's programmes on television in recent years - and without Elisabeth Sladen it would not have happened.

"A brilliant presence on screen and on set, she brought the excitement and energy of the Doctor Who family of programmes, of which we are very proud at BBC Wales, to a whole new generation. She will be missed by all at BBC Wales who worked with her."

Her agent Roger Carey said: "She was not just a client, but a dear friend. She was so positive about life and her natural energy was intoxicating. She couldn't believe her luck when her career was resurrected in her own series."

Sladen had spoken of her excitement at being involved in Doctor Who and the Sarah Jane Adventures in a BBC online interview.

She said of her early days as Sarah Jane: "I hit a lovely time in the series. I hit the time of Pertwee and Baker, and sometimes you can almost taste when something is really working.

"And maybe Sarah was the kind of character that they needed at that time. So she took on the companion that had to be for the series and the companion that they wanted."

On the success of her children's television series, she said: "When you're filming you're in a bubble and you do your work and quite often you forget that people are going to see it later.

"It's quite a shock sometimes. I had no idea the response was going to be this huge. It is an incredible thing that Russell has done to bring this character back to such enjoyment for the viewers. It's such a great standard to set and we are all so pleased to be part of that."

Sladen had been suffering from cancer, BBC entertainment reporter Lizo Mzimba said. It had not been widely known that the actress was in ill health.

He said: "She was one of the most popular Doctor Who companions of all time, and one of the people who managed to do both old Doctor Who and Doctor Who when it came back."

Sladen first starred as Sarah Jane opposite Jon Pertwee. The pair worked together for three seasons, before Pertwee left the show in 1974.

She then became the assistant for Tom Baker. When the show relaunched, she appeared alongside modern-day Doctor Who David Tennant.

In a 2006 interview with the BBC ahead of rejoining Doctor Who, she spoke of her love for the programme, saying: "I think it has lovely layers and I'd defend the programme to anyone.

"I'm very emotionally part of that programme and I think a lot of the people who worked on it are. You used to love going to work every day."

Mr Mzimba said as Sarah Jane, she was "the first companion to achieve star status" and that she had been an obvious choice when the BBC decided to relaunch the series.

In a statement, the BBC said: "It is with much sadness that we can announce Elisabeth Sladen, the much-loved actress best known for her role as Sarah Jane Smith in Doctor Who and CBBC's The Sarah Jane Adventures, passed away this morning. She was 63."

Sladen had been suffering from cancer, the BBC confirmed. She leaves behind a husband, actor Brian Miller, and her daughter Sadie.

Russell T Davies, who created The Sarah Jane Adventures, said: "I absolutely loved Lis. She was funny and cheeky and clever and just simply wonderful.

"The universe was lucky to have Sarah Jane Smith; the world was lucky to have Lis."

Doctor Who's lead writer and executive producer Steven Moffat said: "'Never meet your heroes', wise people say. They weren't thinking of Lis Sladen.

"Sarah Jane Smith was everybody's hero when I was younger, and as brave and funny and brilliant as people only ever are in stories.

"But many years later when I met the real Sarah-Jane - Lis Sladen herself - she was exactly as any child would ever have wanted her to be. Kind and gentle and clever; and a ferociously talented actress, of course, but in that perfectly English unassuming way.

"There are a blessed few who can carry a whole television show on their talent and charisma - but I can't think of one other who's done it quite so politely.

"I once showed my son Joshua an old episode of Doctor Who, in which Lis appeared. 'But that's Sarah Jane', he said, confused. 'In old Doctor Who. From years ago. How come she always look exactly the same?' It's not a comfort today, of course, but children will still be saying that 50 years from now."

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