It is difficult to quantify exactly why Elisabeth Sladen became such an iconic companion. As Sarah Jane Smith, she was strong, independent, smart, funny, beautiful and more than a match for the two Doctors with whom she travelled.
Her popularity is beyond question. During the "classic era" she reprised the role of Sarah Jane twice. Once, in 'The Five Doctors', and again, in the unsuccessful, and perhaps unfairly maligned 'K9 and Company', a story for which I must confess a certain fondness, due, in no small part, to Lis Sladen's performance.
In 1993, she reprised the role once again, in the Children in Need special 'Dimensions in Time', and again, in the 1995 story 'Downtime', reunited, this time, with the superb Nicholas Courtney.
Between 1996 and 1997, Sarah Jane appeared alongside the Third Doctor in two BBC produced audio plays, 'The Paradise of Death' and 'Ghosts of N Space'.
One could be forgiven for thinking at this point, the character would never been seen again. Not so. Courtesy of Big Finish, Lis achieved something no other companion had done; her own, full length spin off series, which ran over two seasons, to critical acclaim.
In 2006, to the sheer delight of many fans, myself included, she appeared alongside the Tenth Doctor in 'School Reunion'. I remember a chill running down my spine, a giddy thrill, when she first saw The Tardis and realised that, after so many years, The Doctor had entered her life once more.
So successful and well received was her appearance, that Lis Sladen was given her own series, the aptly named 'Sarah Jane Adventures'. In an age where asinine tv characters grace our screens on a daily basis, it was remarkable that a lady in her 60's was so readily accepted and loved by a whole new generation of children, and embraced, once again, by a loyal army of fans, many of whom grew up with Sarah Jane as 'their companion'. It is a testament to Lis that 'SJA' ran for five seasons. Her chemistry with the young cast was evident, both on and off screen, in particular with Tommy Knight, who, as Luke, was to become her son.
Sarah and Luke appeared in 'The Stolen Earth' and 'Journeys End' in which she, once again, faced Davros and the Daleks. In an exceptionally emotive scene, the prospect that she may lose her son to Daleks, Sarah seemed more real, more vulnerable than we were accustomed to seeing. As always, the scene was played perfectly by Lis. Her final appearance in Doctor Who came in 2010 when the Tenth Doctor bade his farewells.
In the 'Sarah Jane Adventures', guest appearances were made by The Brigadier, the Tenth and Eleventh Doctors, and, in a stroke of genius, her predecessor, Jo Grant. All guest stars in HER show.
On April 19th 2011, we were all shocked to learn that Elisabeth, at the age of 65, had passed away. A devastating loss to millions, who had adored this wonderful lady & her endearing portrayal of Sarah Jane. I cried. I suspect many tears were shed by people who's lives she had touched. She had, for many of us, almost become a part of our families. She was certainly a part of the Who family, and will remain so forever.
Today would have.. No, SHOULD have been Elisabeth's 69th birthday. Today we celebrate her life, and while she is no longer with us, we still wish her a happy birthday. Quite right, too. We will forever love her; we will forever miss her. And we will always be eternally grateful that we were able to call her 'Our Sarah Jane'..
1st February 1946 - 19th April 2011
Sarah Jane Smith
15th December 1973 - Forever