Elisabeth Sladen: Actress who came to fame as Dr Who's assistant and later had her own spin-off series

As Sarah Jane Smith, the titular Time Lord's assistant in Doctor Who, Elisabeth Sladen played one of the sci-fi programme's longest-running characters, who was voted the Doctor's most popular companion by fans, gained cult status – and was catapulted to her own spin-off series, The Sarah Jane Adventures.

The actress joined Jon Pertwee, the third Doctor, in 1973 as an investigative reporter infiltrating a top-secret research facility and sneaking aboard the Tardis. This led her to help him, as well as the United Nations Intelligence Taskforce, led by Brigadier Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart (Nicholas Courtney), in various adventures. Staying until 1976, accompanying both Pertwee and the next reincarnation of the Time Lord, played by Tom Baker, Sladen was seen battling against some of Doctor Who's most infamous enemies, the Daleks, the Cybermen and the Sontarans.

She was cast in the same role for the pilot programme K-9 and Company, a 1981 Christmas special that teamed Sladen with her own companion, a new incarnation of the robot dog K-9. Although the BBC decided against turning it into a series, Sladen reprised Sarah Jane in The Five Doctors, a 1983 adventure celebrating the programme's 20th anniversary.

The following decade, after Doctor Who had been axed, the character's cult status was confirmed with an appearance in the 1993 Children in Need special Doctor Who: Dimensions in Time. Sladen also acted Sarah Jane in various radio and audio dramas, as well as the 1995 video spin-off Downtime.

Then, in 2006, a year after the original programme's revival by the writer Russell T Davies, she was brought back for the "School Reunion" story and took part in a further four Doctor Who adventures over the next four years.

In the meantime, Davies created the CBBC channel's series The Sarah Jane Adventures (2007-10) for Sladen, whose character covertly investigates alien activity from her Ealing manor house, aided by her supercomputer Mr Smith (voiced by AlexanderArmstrong). A fifth series was uncompleted at the time of the actress's death from cancer.

"She's still a journalist, she's still very forthright, very go-getting, very inquisitive," enthused Sladen on her return to the role in the 21st century. "It's still very upbeat and fighting monsters, and doing good in the world."

Born in Liverpool in 1946, Sladen excelled at dancing as a child and even performed as a mouse with the Royal Ballet. However, after leaving her local grammar school, she decided on acting as a career, attended the city's Shelagh Elliot-Clarke School of Drama, then joined Liverpool Playhouse as an assistant stage manager.

When she made her stage début as a corpse in a 1966 production of The Physicists, another actor, Brian Miller, kept giving her the giggles with his whispered comments. Two years later, they married and eventually moved to Manchester.

Sladen had already made her screen début, as an extra, in the 1965 film Ferry Cross the Mersey, starring Gerry and the Pacemakers. Her first television appearance was as a hotel maid in the ITV play If Only the Trains Come (1968), based on a Chekhov story. She followed it two years later with a short run in Coronation Street as Anita Reynolds, a barmaid at the Rovers Return's rival, the Flying Horse, who had a relationship with Len Fairclough, even though the firebrand builder had gone to school with her father.

Moving to London in 1972, Sladen continued to appear on television, in programmes such as Z -Cars (two roles, 1971, 1972), Doomwatch (1972), Some Mothers Do 'Ave 'Em (1973) and Special Branch (1973). After Doctor Who brought her public recognition, she returned to Liverpool and starred as Josie in the Granada Television sitcom Take My Wife (1978-79), with Duggie Brown as her husband, Harvey Hall, a comedian on the Northern club circuit – like the actor himself.

There were also appearances in a television production of Gulliver in Lilliput (1982, as Lady Flimnap), an episode of Dempsey and Makepeace (1985) and the film Silver Dream Racer (1980, as a bank secretary), and Sladen was a presenter of the first four series of the pre-school programme Stepping Stones (1977-80).

She then went into semi-retirement to bring up her daughter, Sadie, who was born in 1985, although she appeared on television again in Alice in Wonderland (1986) and an episode of The Bill (1989), and had a short run in Peak Practice (1996). Sladen was also in commercials, made a handful of comeback appearances as Sarah Jane and accepted invitations to Doctor Who conventions – before the chance of a more high-profile return came.

Her husband, a prolific television actor, provided Dalek voices in 1984 and 1988 episodes of Doctor Who, and later had a role in a 2009 Sarah Jane Adventures story. Their daughter, Sadie, has taken several screen acting roles and played Natalie Redfern in the audio series Sarah Jane Smith (2002-06).

Anthony Hayward

Elizabeth Claira Heath Sladen (Elisabeth Sladen), actress: born Liverpool 1 February 1946; married 1968 Brian Miller (one daughter); died Southall ,London 19 April 2011.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Life and Style
Fans line up at the AVNs, straining to capture a photo of their favourite star
life Tim Walker asks how much longer it can flesh out an existence
Life and Style
Every minute of every day, Twitter is awash with anger as we seek to let these organisations know precisely what we think of them
techWhen it comes to vitriol, no one on attracts our ire more than big businesses offering bad service
News
Professor David Nutt wants to change the way gravely ill patients are treated in Britain
people Why does a former Government tsar believe that mind-altering drugs have a place on prescription?
News
Norway’s ‘The Nordland Line – Minute by Minute, Season by Season’ continues the trend of slow TV
television
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Arts and Entertainment
art
Sport
Jonny Evans has pleaded not guilty to an FA charge for spitting at Papiss Cisse
football
Life and Style
Kate Moss will make a cameo appearance in David Walliams' The Boy in the Dress
fashion
News
The image released by the Salvation Army, using 'The Dress'
news
Sport
Liverpool defender Kolo Toure
football Defender could make history in the FA Cup, but African Cup of Nations win means he's already content
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Technical Presales Consultant - London - £65,000 OTE.

£65000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Technical Presales Engineer - central London ...

Recruitment Genius: Physiotherapist / Sports Therapist

£20000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Physiotherapist / Sports Ther...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive / Advisor

£8 - £9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Sales Executives / Advisors are required...

Recruitment Genius: Warehouse Operative

£14000 - £15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity has arisen for a...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans campaign: Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after £300,000 gift from Lloyds Bank

Homeless Veterans campaign

Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after huge gift from Lloyds Bank
Flight MH370 a year on: Lost without a trace – but the search goes on

Lost without a trace

But, a year on, the search continues for Flight MH370
Germany's spymasters left red-faced after thieves break into brand new secret service HQ and steal taps

Germany's spy HQ springs a leak

Thieves break into new €1.5bn complex... to steal taps
International Women's Day 2015: Celebrating the whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Simone de Beauvoir's seminal feminist polemic, 'The Second Sex', has been published in short-form for International Women's Day
Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Why would I want to employ someone I’d be happy to have as my boss, asks Simon Kelner
Confessions of a planespotter: With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent

Confessions of a planespotter

With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent. Sam Masters explains the appeal
Russia's gulag museum 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities

Russia's gulag museum

Ministry of Culture-run site 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities
The big fresh food con: Alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay

The big fresh food con

Joanna Blythman reveals the alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay
Virginia Ironside was my landlady: What is it like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7?

Virginia Ironside was my landlady

Tim Willis reveals what it's like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7
Paris Fashion Week 2015: The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp

Paris Fashion Week 2015

The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp
8 best workout DVDs

8 best workout DVDs

If your 'New Year new you' regime hasn’t lasted beyond February, why not try working out from home?
Paul Scholes column: I don't believe Jonny Evans was spitting at Papiss Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible

Paul Scholes column

I don't believe Evans was spitting at Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible
Miguel Layun interview: From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

Miguel Layun is a star in Mexico where he was criticised for leaving to join Watford. But he says he sees the bigger picture
Frank Warren column: Amir Khan ready to meet winner of Floyd Mayweather v Manny Pacquiao

Khan ready to meet winner of Mayweather v Pacquiao

The Bolton fighter is unlikely to take on Kell Brook with two superstar opponents on the horizon, says Frank Warren
War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable