Tuesday, 6 March 2012

Elisabeth Sladen

Ninety-nine out of every hundred people reading this book are going to be dyed in the wool Doctor Who fans. Lis knew this quite well. Which is probably one of the reasons the bulk of the book is taken up documenting the short period of her life working on the show. She's giving the target audience what they want. I'm a hardcore Doctor Who fan myself. I love all her insights and observations about the show. But I would also have liked to read more about the real Elisabeth Sladen behind the Sarah Jane Smith parade. There are glimpses of it of course but not enough. Her parent's history is just a short prelude and her childhood rushes by in a confusingly unchronological blur of Elvis posters and tomboy hi-jinx. Her early career on stage and tv bring more structure to the book as the various productions provide a set of hooks to pin her years on. There are some fascinating insights into the many famous faces she worked with or encountered - names like Michael Crawford, Robert Morley and Alan Ayckbourn. Here she also meets her soon to be husband and apparent soul mate Brian Miller . There is a sort of embarrassed reluctance though to let the reader get under the surface of their relationship, whether in defence of their privacy or insecurity about how much personal detail a fan of a tv show would want - I don't know. There is an opinion, probably accurate, expressed by her daughter, that Lis didn't really fully realise just how much she was loved by the fans of the show.
It's no use denying that most fans of the classic show are pretty hard-core nostalgia junkies. I am one of them so I lapped up all the stories about her time on the show. All the stuff about her love hate relationship with Jon Pertwee are priceless, the utter Doctor Who legend that was Barry Letts, Tom Baker, the lovely but tragic Ian Marter. There are also names that she was less impressed with allowing her grumpier aspects to have a bit of page space. Her time on the show comes to an end and the book almost fast forwards to the finish, stopping briefly to describe some of her later involvements on specials and spin-offs, conventions, missed career opportunities, the birth of her daughter and the eventual resurgence of the show that would lead to The Sarah Jane Adventures.
We live in a media age where it seems that not a day can go by without someone familiar passing away but I can honestly say I have never been shocked so badly as the night I found out we'd lost Lis Sladen. This book was completed only at the last and it has been a sad pleasure to hear her voice in my head again.

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