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Television - Back In Time

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Actress Elisabeth Sladen was understandably a bit wary of meeting the latest Doctor Who - after all, the one she worked with had sent her back to Earth. STEVE PRATT reports

ELISABETH Sladen didn't know what she'd let herself in for when she was invited out to dinner by Doctor Who executive producer and lead writer Russell T Davies and producer Phil Collinson.

All she knew was that they wanted to talk about Doctor Who.

"My agent didn't know any more than that and I had no idea what I was going along to, " says the actress.

But as one of the Doctor's most popular, indeed most memorable, Tardis travelling companions, she must have had an inkling that a revival of her character was a possibility.

She spent three years in the 1970s as gutsy, intrepid reporter Sarah Jane Smith alongside Jon Pertwee and then Tom Baker's Time Lord.

Now, as a result of that dinner, she gets to star opposite her third Doctor, David Tennant.

She meets up with him and current companion Rose (Billie Piper) while posing undercover to investigate strange happenings at a London school in an episode written by Toby Whithouse that also marks the return of another Who favourite, K9.

Reviving the character of Sarah Jane wasn't an easy decision for Sladen, who returned to her native Liverpool and worked in theatre after leaving the series in 1976.

Following the birth of her daughter in 1985, acting took a back seat to motherhood.

"You have the weight of the old programme on your shoulders, " she says of reprising the role. "I'm representing someone I don't want to let down. I couldn't have done it if I thought that I couldn't look after her, but I had great faith in the production team.

"On the day of the meeting I thought, 'how am I going to turn these people down? The agent's going to go mad with me'. Happily, it was very soon into the introductions that I realised we were thinking about Sarah Jane in exactly the same way. So I decided to throw caution to the wind."

The first day of production was very different to the old days of Doctor Who. "I mean, there were so many people there. It was quite daunting, " says Sladen.

"Ours had been quite low key, but people I hadn't seen for years were there. What was so glorious about the actual set was the fact that the atmosphere of working on the programme generated the same excitement, the same involvement, the same enjoyment and also the same difficulties really.

"On the old programme, it was curtain up at 7.30am in the studio and we worked through until ten at night. If you didn't get every scene in by then to make a programme, you didn't have one.

"They have a hell of a schedule now to get in what they do. There's the same time constraint but the actual way of making it work is totally different."

Since leaving in 1976, Sladen has made a brief return to the role in The Five Doctors, the 20th anniversary programme, as well as a Children In Need special, Dimensions In Time. She also appeared with Jon Pertwee in two Doctor Who radio serials, The Paradise Of Death and The Ghosts Of N-Space in the 1990s.

What she loves about the series is it continues to place relationships at the centre of the story, with the audience responding very much to how the characters behave with each other.

"I spoke to a fan some time ago who told me he was quite isolated when he was young," she recalls.

"But just for half an hour every Saturday, he could sit down and watch someone who was also a loner, who succeeded, who made things work and who wasn't like other people. And it was such enjoyment for him - it meant a lot.

"For children (watching Doctor Who), fear is probably coming into their lives for the first time. But it's good fear, responsible fear."

Sarah Jane made her exit from the series at the end of The Hand Of Fear, when Tom Baker's Doctor was summoned to return to Gallifrey. Unable to take his companion with him, he returned her to Earth.

When Sarah Jane sees the new Doctor, she doesn't realise it's him to start with. "But there's this kind of frisson there, she senses there's something odd, " she says.

"She comes in as her perky, pushy, normal self, but there are all sorts of different emotions going on, 'how amazing that it's you, how bloody awful that you never got in touch with me'. And 'who is this person now that you're going around with in time and space?'.

"There are a lot of questions to be answered and she allows herself to become emasculated a little bit. But she has to get on with the adventure at hand as well as deal with the personal issues, which I think knock her for six."

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  • APA 6th ed.: Pratt, Steve (2006-04-27). Television - Back In Time. The Northern Echo p. 3.
  • MLA 7th ed.: Pratt, Steve. "Television - Back In Time." The Northern Echo [add city] 2006-04-27, 3. Print.
  • Chicago 15th ed.: Pratt, Steve. "Television - Back In Time." The Northern Echo, edition, sec., 2006-04-27
  • Turabian: Pratt, Steve. "Television - Back In Time." The Northern Echo, 2006-04-27, section, 3 edition.
  • Wikipedia (this article): <ref>{{cite news| title=Television - Back In Time | url=http://cuttingsarchive.org/index.php/Television_-_Back_In_Time | work=The Northern Echo | pages=3 | date=2006-04-27 | via=Doctor Who Cuttings Archive | accessdate=17 October 2019 }}</ref>
  • Wikipedia (this page): <ref>{{cite web | title=Television - Back In Time | url=http://cuttingsarchive.org/index.php/Television_-_Back_In_Time | work=Doctor Who Cuttings Archive | accessdate=17 October 2019}}</ref>