Around 4PM this afternoon, Twitter began to explode following a Tweet from former Doctor Who companion Nicola Bryant reporting the death of fellow former companion, Elisabeth Sladen. Tragically, the news has since been confirmed by the BBC.
Sladen, 63, was born in Liverpool, England and appeared in a number of guest roles and bit parts until she debuted as Sarah Jane Smith, companion to the Jon Pertwee’s Third Doctor on popular children’s sci-fi program Doctor Who in 1973. Smith continued in the position through 1976, also serving as companion to Tom Baker’s Fourth Doctor, and would return to the role off and on throughout her career in both film and audio plays. In 2006 she appeared on the revamped Doctor Who alongside David Tennant’s 10th Doctor, eventually spinning off into her own series, The Sarah Jane Adventures, which would run for four years. Sladen would return for the end of the 10th Doctor’s last proper season and in his final adventure, “The End of Time”, as well as working with Matt Smith’s 11th Doctor for a Sarah Jane Adventures story entitled “The Death of The Doctor“. With these appearances, Sladen interacted with more Doctors than any other companion to date.
Outside of Doctor Who, Sladen appeared in a BBC Classics production of Gulliver in Lilliput and as a presenter for two years on children’s program Stepping Stones. She went into a semi-retirement in 1985 after the birth of her daughter, but returned to television a decade later for a stint on Peak Practice, and appeared on BBC schools program Numbertime, which was repeated annually for a decade.
In 1991, she appeared with 6th Doctor Colin Baker in an audio adventure of Baker’s post-Who series, The Stranger.
Previous showrunner for Doctor Who and creator of The Sarah Jane Adventures Russell T. Davies 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’s passing comes suddenly at the age of 63, and she leaves behind a husband, Brian Miller, and a daughter, Sadie. Though a cause has not yet been confirmed, early reports indicate she had been battling cancer for some time. Her series, The Sarah Jane Adventures, was preparing to film a Series 5. It’s unknown what will happen to the series, though it is likely it will either be canceled or repackaged as a series about Sarah’s assistant and former Who companion, the robotic dog K9. Sarah Jane’s son, Luke, could also continue to figure prominently into the series, but no announcements have been made at this time.