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You are in: Norfolk > Entertainment > Arts, Film & Culture > Film, TV & Animation > Doctor Who: Elisabeth Sladen talks

The Doctor and Sarah Jane Smith are reunited

The Doctor and Sarah Jane are reunited

Doctor Who: Elisabeth Sladen talks

Lis Sladen, aka Sarah Jane Smith, has been the doyen of the Doctor's companions for more than 30 years. As Lis makes her series comeback alongside David Tennant, she spoke in depth to BBC Norfolk about life with the Doctors past and present.

Doctor Who is back on BBC ONE, with David Tennant comfortably wearing the shoes of the well-travelled renegade Timelord.

Martin Barber interviews Lis Sladen

The new series marks the return of some old enemies in the Cybermen, along with some old friends.

Sarah Jane Smith, still the all-time favourite companion of the Doctor, is back on our screens in the episode School Reunion to be broadcast on Saturday 29 April, 2006.

For actress Elisbeth Sladen, the programme marks her return more than 30 years since she first stepped into the TARDIS.

Travelling with the Doctor

Lis joined the iconic series in 1973 in an episode called The Time Warrier, playing opposite Jon Pertwee's Doctor.

She stayed with the classic series for three seasons, going on more than a dozen adventures through time and space.

In 1974 Jon left the show, to be replaced by Tom Baker as the Doctor. Despite the Doctor's new look, the adventures remained just as scary as Sarah Jane encountered Daleks, Cybermen and Eygyptian-style mummies.

Lis Sladen and Tom Baker in Genesis Of The Daleks

The Doctor decides the Daleks future

April marks a double Doctor whammy for Elisabeth Sladen.

Not only does she reprise her role in the TV show, but it's also the month that Genesis Of The Daleks is released on DVD, an episode which is voted as the number one story ever by readers Doctor Who magazine.

Earlier this month, Lis came to Norwich for a DVD launch event at the Norwich Puppet Theatre, organised by the science fiction store Kulture Shock.

While in the city, she spoke exclusively to Martin Barber about working with David Tennant, Sarah Jane's relationship with Rose and her fond memories of her time in the TARDIS.

Here you can read highlights of what was said, but click on the links to watch the full interview.

MB: Why do you think, of all the companions, you're still voted as one of the most popular in the entire series?

LS: I really don't know. I hit a lovely time in the series. I hit the time of Pertwee and Baker... and sometimes you can almost taste when something is really working.

And maybe Sarah was the kind of character that they needed at that time. So she took on the companion that had to be for the series and the companion that they wanted.

MB: You're back in the new series, which is something like Sarah Jane's 20th adventure with the Doctor – how did it all happen?

LS: The agent rang up, I think he was more excited than I was, and said 'Russell T Davies and Phil Collinson want to take you for a meal and talk to you about an episode of Doctor Who'.

Elisabeth Sladen at the Norwich Puppet Theatre

Elisabeth Sladen talks to BBC Norfolk

I'd seen one or two of the new series… I knew the people who are now making it watched the series when they were growing up and that they had a love for it.

I got there and they started to talk about the character and what they thought about the character and where she would actually be now, so many years later. 

A scene had already been written and all of a sudden I realised this would be an episode where I'd have an integral part so we ordered more wine, became a very rowdy table, and I said, 'Yes, ok'. [she laughs]

MB: You've worked with many of the Doctors, but what's it like working with David Tennant?

LS: I knew that David was a big fan of the series. Before we did the read through he gave me this big cuddle.

On the very first day we did some running scenes and he can't half run. I'm in heels, he's in trainers!

At the very end of the day we did a very important scene where she meets him and recognises him for the very first time.

To me it's very important that the Doctor is alien. You think he's on your wavelength and he's not.

He's a guy with two hearts and he travels in time and space, and the way that you think he'll react to something – is the thing that was very clever with Tom’s performance – in a very intimate moment he could be very angry, he does the juxtaposed position.

David Tennant as the Doctor in School Reunion

The Doctor for a new generation

I noticed that David would do that too. He can change on a coin can David.

MB: It's a really interesting piece of casting – what do you think David brings to the role of the Doctor?

LS: I think he brings a whole new generation.

There's a youth culture which is different with the forming of this Doctor Who that is far more for a culture which has been brought up with today’s television. He's a very cool Doctor.

MB: Was the first day on set emotional?

LS: I just wanted to go in and do the work, I had so many flowers in the trailer I thought I'd died! [she laughs] It really was not very low key.

There's a lovely scene on the first day where David and I did this amazing run and James [the director] and the crew were laughing a shouting 'This is pure Doctor Who, this is one for the trailer'. I loved that bit, absolutely loved it.

MB: This month also marks the release of the Genesis Of The Daleks to DVD. Why do you think it's held up as one of the best ever stories in the series?

LS: It's really tightly written and you've got David Malone as your director. From the beginning shot it is so good for what we had to work with at the time.

I think Genesis Of The Daleks is a tribute to Doctor Who and our time in it. I'm really so proud to have been part of it.

And as the series as a whole…

Totally. I really loved all of it. That programme is just so slight – it had a very simple little theme at the heart of it, which you can expand to all areas.

I think it has lovely layers and I'd defend the programme to anyone. I'm very emotionally part of that programme and I think a lot of the people who worked on it are. You used to love going to work every day.

Michael Wisher as Davros in Genesis Of The Daleks

Scene from Genesis Of The Daleks

MB: Can you remember your first encounter with a Dalek?

LS: I do love the Daleks. I've not seen anything to surpass them in that iconic kind of way. I think the first time I saw them was out on filming for Death To The Daleks.

I was having a bit of a problem that day with the wind and the sand and the make-up and everything going everywhere and John grabbed me out of make-up with the cape still on me and said 'Watch this, it’s the funniest thing ever'.

The Daleks are in a sandpit and they don't go on sand, so they're on railway lines.

They start to gather momentum with these people inside as they start rolling down the hill and turn a corner with a weeeeeee and they fall. It's just like dominoes going down.

You get over the laughs, but that was my first big thing with the Daleks trying to stop them going over on the sand.

MB: And what does the future have in store for Sarah Jane - will she be back?

LS: I knew what they wanted and I think she's been used for what they wanted. It's nice to do something and let it stand, leave them wanting.

I think it's the last time that you'll see her in the new series, but not the last time you'll have seen Sarah Jane – I hope not.

Elisabeth Sladen stars as Sarah Jane Smith in Doctor Who: School Reunion, to be screened on Saturday 29 April at 1920 BST on BBC ONE.

Doctor Who - A Midsummer Invasion takes places in Holt on Sunday 25 June, 2006. Call 01263 711102 for more information.

Credit: BBC DVD for images from Genesis Of The Daleks

last updated: 04/02/2008 at 18:40
created: 22/08/2006

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