Doctor Who has been so successful for so long, in part, because it is so many different things to different people.
At bottom, however, the show is, for me, about loss and love in the face of that loss, and no character has embodied that particular facet of the Whoniverse so much as Sarah Jane Smith, who was once the Doctor’s companion and afterward lived an extraordinary life on Earth despite having once loved and been left behind, exiled from, and yet retaining access to, the wonders of the universe. It always seemed like a pretty big burden and a terribly beautiful sorrow.
I didn’t really discover how great Sarah Jane is until recently, when I had to watch The Sarah Jane Adventures for an academic article I’ve been working on. But I fell in love and felt strongly then, and feel strongly now, that her character taught a generation of adults how to live after lost love and a generation of kids how to grieve the losses that are an inherent part of life.
Sarah Jane Smith was played with grace and joy, power and subtlety, by Elisabeth Sladen on and off for pretty much the entirety of my life. Sladen passed away today after a battle with cancer.
I never had the pleasure of meeting her and have generally forgone mentioning the passing of celebrities in this journal (something which may seem odd considering my interest in the mourning of fictional characters).
But I loved Sladen’s work. I loved the scripts she had the fortune to bring to life; and the lessons of the stories she enacted taught me stuff, recently, and when I needed it. Her work was perhaps not the heart of the Whoniverse, but for me, her work was certainly its driving resilience and grace.
I’ll miss her performances terribly, but like many fans, take great comfort in the fact that so much of her work was about teaching us how to deal with moments just like this.