Elisabeth Sladen (1980’s)

Here’s Elisabeth Sladen talking about almost  drowning in Wookey Hole, almost being crushed by a collapsing TARDIS, and how she originally planned to play Sarah Jane for just one year.

“Sarah had to be able to stick up for herself. She was pretty forceful, especially at first, then we allowed her to soften and adapt more to the circumstances she was living in. Sarah was not only feminist, she was feminine – a rather happy, forthright girl with a lot of intelligence, and plenty of courage.

“I felt I worked well with Jon – we made a good duo, professionally. He works it all out the whole time but I can’t do that – it’s all instant with me. I try to act for that instinctive quality I like my characters to have. So although we approached it differently, we had a great time and a lot of laughs.

“With the new team we had Philip Hinchcliffe, who was young and enthusiastic, and Tom Baker who was a charming man. Eccentric, yes, but so warm, such a sincere person and a first-rate actor. We worked as a team and it was great. It sounds conceited calling them classic days – but that’s what they were for me. It had the sort of spark you get when everything gels. This applied even to the production team.

“One of the stuntmen – Terry Walsh – was as marvellous guy who stood in for us if the action got too dangerous. With me, as often as not, I had to do my own stunts because of my height – it would have been too obvious otherwise – but he was always there on the sidelines, and it’s to him I practically owe my life. We were shooting down in Wookey Hole for ‘Revenge of the Cybermen’, and they wanted me to do this ridiculous joyride on a sort of speedboat. I was petrified at the thought of being caught in the undercurrent of one of the pools, though everyone assured me that it would be alright. Terry wasn’t satisfied, though, and he stood by the side in a wetsuit in case anything went wrong. Sure enough, I came off and probably wouldn’t be here today if he hadn’t intervened.

“We never got glamorous locations. It was always from one quarry to another. It was just my luck that when I returned for ‘The Five Doctors’, Jon and I ended up once again in a disused quarry, freezing to death. It caused a few laughs for both of us. As we were turning blue, I said ‘Just like old times!’. We just had to grin and bear it.

“I’ll never forget the time the TARDIS collapsed on us! We did have a lot of special effects that had to be done in an amazingly short time, but we did it, and that’s a thing to be proud of. We were under lots of pressure, particularly during Tom’s first year, but we never ran out of time. Minor mistakes were made, and no doubt some of our directors had more grey hair by the end. It used to be worst on the six-parters – in ‘Genesis of the Daleks’, I think it was the last session in the studio and we had about five crucial scenes to do and only fifteen minutes before the plugs were pulled. With an extension and no second takes, we managed it. A remount at that time would have been a nightmare.

“The robot in ‘Robot’ was a beautiful piece of craftsmanship, but it was almost impossible to work with. The actor inside it kept falling over with the most tremendous crashes, and he came near to fainting because of the restrictions the costume imposed on breathing. We had exactly the same problems with the Ice Warriors.

“I was very pleased with ‘Planet of Evil’. It had a lot more to it that some of our more mundane scripts. For once we were in a tropical jungle with all this crazy wildlife around us – totally fantastic, but a marvellous break from what we usually did. Although I loved my time with Jon, the team I remember most fondly had to be Tom, Ian and I. We really did care. There was flexibility – room for improvement – and we all became very close. I loved nearly all my time on ‘Doctor Who’ and I’ve never regretted doing it.

“Originally I’d planned one year. That became two, then three. I got a great deal of satisfaction from making Sarah Jane what she was. Even so, there were boundaries that couldn’t be crossed and I felt I’d really done my best, had my day, and should hand over to somebody else. I felt regret, of course, but I was happy that it was I who took the initative, and not somebody giving me a quiet push – in fact, they asked me how I should go out and I said make it quiet, not over-dramatic. I didn’t want to die or anything like that. So at the end of ‘The Hand of Fear’, I slipped out of the Doctor’s life and back to the theatre.”

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