Doctor Who Cuttings Archive

Look Who's Back

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Between December 1973 and October 1977 Elisabeth Sladen put up with an awful lot.

She was shot at, hypnotised, savaged by bug-eyed monsters, prodded by Cybermen, terrified by Daleks, tortured by a Sontaran and roared at by dinosaurs.

And all for a BBC wage...

But then that comes with the territory when you go travelling with a Time Lord.

"To be in that environment for so long was an absolute joy," she remembers fondly.

"But I had such a ball doing it, it was a great time.

"As an actress I suppose the hardest part was finding something different in it every week."

That was a challenge facing actors every week since November 1963 when Dr Who first aired.

Original Dr William Hartnell was a crotchety old man accompanied by two teachers and his grandaughter on travels through time and space.

The formula proved a hit with audiences who adored, and recoiled from, villainous pepperpots The Daleks - the Dr's arch enemy.

Week after week millions of children hid behind sofas terrified of the various evil menaces trying to kill the Dr and, often, take over the universe.

Four years on, Hartnell decided he had had enough and threw in the towel.

Rather than let the popular show die, the producers came up with a cunning idea. They allowed the mysterious character to "regenerate" into a new person so the adventures, and more importantly the series, could continue.

By the time Elisabeth arrived on Dr Who the show was ten years old, popular all around the world and Venusian karate chopping dandy Jon Pertwee was the Dr at the Tardis' helm.

Brought in to replace Pertwee's former companion Jo Grant, a tea-making dolly bird who was enormously popular with fans, Elisabeth was cast as Sarah Jane Smith.

Her character was a reporter whose snooping earned her a trip to Mediaeval England where the Dr battled with a particularly ugly intergalactic scourge known as a Sontaran.

Buddying up with her new friend the Dr saw the young Ms Smith come face to face with the Dr's dreaded foe the Daleks, the giant spiders of Metebelis and even time travelling dinosaurs.

But in 1974 she faced a new challenge when Dr Who regenerated and Jon Pertwee became Tom Baker.

It did not take long before the new Doctor's peculiar approach, and a string of classically themed stories, saw the show's ratings climb.

The sassy no-nonsense Sarah Jane rapidly became one of the most popular characters on TV and the perfect foil to Tom Baker's lunatic, and wonderfully novel, take on the time traveller.

"At the time we just knew that something was working," she says.

"That's how we were getting 18 million viewers a week.

"I was spoiled a bit with the scripts that the writers gave to me because they were wonderful. And we got wonderful guest stars every week and they would come in and tell us how they were excited to be working on Dr Who.

"At the time I remember we got quite a lot of flak from Mary Whitehouse about the amount of violence in the programme.

"But the producers just gave us a blueprint for what they wanted and we delivered. I'm very, very proud of what we did."

For Elisabeth the good times in the Tardis came to an end in 1977.

Her farewell scene remains in fans' eyes as one of Dr Who's saddest moments.

But the goodbye scene, where Sarah-Jane was dropped off in an anonymous Hillview Road, did not work out quite as producers expected.

"I decided that when I was going I would go when things were on a high," says Elisabeth.

"But I remember when we saw the parting scene we threw it out. It was so careful and understated.

"I felt the scene didn't really touch the areas that the character would raise when she left. Our writers at the time were very good. They would let us rewrite bits and pieces of scripts.

"In Dr Who characters tended to be married off or go off romantically, but I didn't want that. When I watch something I like, I like to be surprised, if I like the surprise is immaterial.

"So I asked for a Dr Who story where I said I'm tired of being shot at. And what we ended up with was really nice."

After Dr Who Elisabeth went back to work in the theatre, and soon after was signed up for a children's series and a sitcom.

Her time was packed and she also squeezed in radio dramas and Alan Ayckbourn plays.

The non-stop regime lasted until 1984 when she gave birth to daughter Sadie.

After that she returned to work and performed in an adaptation of Gulliver's Travels by former Dr Who producer Barry Letts.

But it was not long before her past caught up with her as Dr Who reared its head once more.

By the late Seventies Who mania had struck the UK again as millions of people tuned in every week.

Dr Who fever also gripped America as it aired on the nation's only free channel.

As the mania took hold, fan-organised conventions and conferences took off and old Dr Who hands were in demand - especially after the BBC called time on the Dr and cancelled the world's longest running science fiction series in 1989.

"When I left Dr Who was when America discovered it so I went on a tour across the states that was hysterical," she says.

"That was comforting for me because it meant I could carry on with the programme, without actually doing it.

"But I made sure I never did conventions in this country because I felt it would be bad manners to the girl who was the current assistant.

"When the big American conventions came to an end we had larger events here, then the videos started coming out so Dr Who never left me."

Indeed to this day Elisabeth is a star turn at conventions up and down the country.

Including at Dimensions on Tyne, the North-east's very own Dr Who convention, which is being held in Stockton at the Swallow Hotel next month.

"I really love the convention at Stockton. It's a lovely hotel, the people organising it are really nice and work so hard and I get to hear people say how good I was!

"There is a circuit of people who do them and it's great to meet everyone because no matter when you worked on Who the pressures were the same.

"We all went through the same highs and lows, all had to go through the grinder to pull it out of the bag. We all knew what the others went through.

"I still get letters from fans. Not sackfuls but it means that the show is always going to be part of my consciousness.

"Every day Dr Who is a small part of your day. It's still there, and that's nice."

  • Tickets for Dimensions on Tyne 2003 are priced at pounds 35 and pounds 55 for adults, and pounds 15 and pounds 25 for children under 14.

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  • APA 6th ed.: Pardo, Matthew (2003-08-25). Look Who's Back. Evening Gazette p. 7.
  • MLA 7th ed.: Pardo, Matthew. "Look Who's Back." Evening Gazette [add city] 2003-08-25, 7. Print.
  • Chicago 15th ed.: Pardo, Matthew. "Look Who's Back." Evening Gazette, edition, sec., 2003-08-25
  • Turabian: Pardo, Matthew. "Look Who's Back." Evening Gazette, 2003-08-25, section, 7 edition.
  • Wikipedia (this article): <ref>{{cite news| title=Look Who's Back | url= | work=Evening Gazette | pages=7 | date=2003-08-25 | via=Doctor Who Cuttings Archive | accessdate=14 July 2024 }}</ref>
  • Wikipedia (this page): <ref>{{cite web | title=Look Who's Back | url= | work=Doctor Who Cuttings Archive | accessdate=14 July 2024}}</ref>