When I was a kid I loved Doctor Who. In fact my whole family loved it. One of my happiest memories is of a Saturday afternoon in the late 70s when my mum and grandma were chatting about how much they were looking forward to that evening’s episode. While I sat on the floor reading the Beano, thinking how cool it would be if the Doctor could have an adventure with the Bash Street Kids. I was a peculiar child.
Back in the 70s, being a Doctor Who fan was compulsory. The show was very much at its zenith and regularly pulled in twenty million viewers- a figure only dreamed of by modern channel executives. It helped that the man at the TARDIS controls was Tom Baker. Next year I celebrate my 40th birthday and in my life so far I have never met another human being who can in any way compare to him. He is big, booming and utterly fascinating to watch. In short he is the perfect alien time traveller.
Of course the perfect alien time traveller needs the perfect companion and luckily one had already been provided in the shape of Elisabeth Sladen as Sarah Jane Smith. She was funny, clever, and feisty and happily for me the BBC regularly repeated her stories in the months between the newer Romanas and Leela series. She was my favourite because she looked nice. As a child you don’t have a concept of a series so companions changing regularly was just like the presenters on Playschool taking it in turns. So I had no idea that when I was watching it in 1978 that Sarah Jane had already been dropped off in Croydon/Aberdeen and returned to her old life as a reporter.
[In this space I am ignoring K9 and Company]
Then in 2005 I read on the BBC website that she was coming back! She would be appearing in an episode with David Tennant’s Doctor. This was the best news ever and remember having a big old drink to celebrate and woke up the next day with a horrible hangover. Eventually the hangover cleared up and I sat down to watch her new episode. It was called School Reunion and I cried. I cried when I heard her voice, I cried when she met the Doctor, I blubbed when K9 appeared and sobbed when he was lost.
It was a cracking episode, which re-established Sarah Jane Smith as the queen of Doctor Who companions and not long afterwards the BBC gave her a series on CBBC. The budget was more modest than Doctor Who’s but it had a good heart and at times very much resembled “classic” Who. It goes without saying that children fell in love with her, just like their parents had and in some cases grandparents.
It was all fantastic, until last night.
At first I didn’t believe it. “Impossible,” I thought. “It must be a horrible Twitter joke. She’s was just too young, too lovely and too talented. No, it’s a prank. There’s nothing on the BBC news site, they would surely be the first to report it? In a few minutes her agent will issue a statement saying that it was a stupid hoax. Yes, that’s definitely what will happen.”
But it didn’t.
There is little else to say, other than she was brilliant, utterly brilliant and I’m glad she had a chance to enchant an entirely new generation of children before she said goodbye.
We will not forget her.