I’ve just watched the 1981 pilot to the series featuring Elisabeth Sladen and John Leeson as Sarah Jane Smith and K9! It wasn’t bad actually. I’m a little sad that the series never went beyond this episode.
So now I’m picturing this alternate universe where K9 and Company got picked up to series and we got to see seasons worth of Sarah Jane having fabulous 1980s adventures, building up a whole network of friends and allies and contacts and enemies, her faithful tin hound always at her side. Aunt Lavinia would drop in now and then, and Brendan would visit in school holidays, and Ian Marter would’ve been a very special guest star from time to time, with Sarah roping Harry in on her escapades whenever he’s available, and he’d bring with him tantalising hints about what he’s been up to in between, on missions variously with NATO and MI5 and back at UNIT or even just with the Navy, and they’d be the perfect best friends, getting into scrapes and enjoying wacky hijinks and commiserating one another on their disastrous love lives, always flirting with the idea of, but never quite actually, getting together, and it would’ve been funny and dramatic and silly and touching by turns…
Sometimes I get a little upset when I think about Sarah Jane’s personal history with tractors.
Gareth Roberts knows his Classic Who, but I wonder whether he knew exactly what he was doing when he wrote “The Temptation of Sarah Jane Smith” and established that Sarah Jane’s parents were killed when their car hit a stalled tractor in the middle of the road.
Because in “Planet of the Spiders,” Sarah Jane and Mike Yates are driving to the meditation retreat when they are almost run over by a hallucinatory tractor. They have to swerve off the road to avoid it. Which means Sarah Jane was almost killed the same way her parents were, and that must have rattled her quite a bit.
AND THEN in K-9 and Company, Sarah Jane is speeding down country roads in search of Brendan when how should her enemies attempt to stop her meddling? Why, by running her off the road with ANOTHER TRACTOR. That’s THREE DEADLY TRACTORS scattered throughout her life. And those are only the ones we know about! It would be funny if it weren’t distressing. (It is a little funny.)
I can only imagine that Sarah Jane eventually moved out of the country and into Ealing to avoid more encounters with this particular instrument of her personal trauma. The tractors, clearly, were out to get her.
Sladen was interested in ballet and theatre from childhood, and began to appear on stage in the mid-1960s, although more often as a stage manager at this time. She moved to London in 1970 and an appearance in the police drama Z-Cars led to her being selected for a part in Doctor Who.
She stayed as a regular cast member alongside Pertwee and Baker until
1976. She subsequently starred in other roles on both television and
radio, before semi-retiring to bring up a family in the mid-1980s.
She returned to the public eye in the 2000s with more Doctor Who related appearances, which culminated in taking a regular lead role in The Sarah Jane Adventures. The show earned the Royal Television Society
2010 award for Best Children’s Drama. She also made regular guest
appearances on the main television series, and provided voice-over
commentaries for its releases to DVD.
Sladen died of cancer on 19 April 2011. Her death made national and
international news headlines, and major television stations and
newspapers paid her tribute.