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Obituary: Elisabeth Sladen

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Elisabeth Sladen 2009

© Rex Features

Elisabeth Claira Heath Sladen was born in Liverpool on February 1, 1948. A natural performer, Sladen took dance lessons at an early age and was part of a production with the Royal Ballet. After completing grammar school, she turned her attentions to acting and attended a local drama school for two years. Work as an assistant stage manager at the Liverpool Playhouse repertory company followed, and it was here that Sladen first met her future husband, Brian Miller.

After a first uncredited screen appearance in the 1965 film musical Ferry Cross the Mersey, Sladen combined weekly repertory theatre work with occasional television and radio roles, including a six-episode stint as a barmaid in Coronation Street. Further television work followed, including parts in Z-Cars, Doomwatch and Some Mothers Do 'Ave 'Em.

In 1973, Doctor Who producer Barry Letts was searching for a new actress to play The Doctor's companion, to replace the departing Katy Manning. After a recommendation from Z-Cars producer Ron Craddock, Letts met with Sladen and eventually cast her as investigate journalist Sarah Jane Smith. She made her first appearance as the character later that year in four-part adventure 'The Time Warrior'.

Elisabeth Sladen 1974
Sladen would eventually remain with Doctor Who for three years, appearing alongside both Third Doctor Jon Pertwee and his successor Tom Baker. Her time on the show opposite both actors is fondly remembered by fans as a golden era of the series. Sladen's final regular appearance on the show was in 1976 story 'The Hand of Fear'. Though the actress turned down an offer from then-producer John Nathan-Turner to return to Doctor Who full-time in 1981, she did appear in spinoff pilot K-9 and Company. The project did not go to series, but Sladen would play Sarah Jane again two years later in Doctor Who's 20th anniversary special 'The Five Doctors'. She also reprised the role for 1993 Children In Need special 'Dimensions In Time' and the 1995 independent video feature Downtime.

Following her initial Doctor Who run, Sladen returned to Liverpool with her husband. She continued to work in the theatre and also appeared as a presenter on the children's series Stepping Stones. Other notables roles around this time included an appearance alongside her spouse Miller in ITV drama Send In The Girls and another small film role in 1980's Silver Dream Racer. In 1981, the actress also reunited with her Doctor Who colleague Barry Letts for a BBC production of the classic tale Gulliver in Lilliput.

Sarah and the Eleventh Doctor in Sarah Jane Adventures
Sladen went into semi-retirement following the birth of her daughter Sadie Miller in 1985. However, she still made occasional television appearances, including a recurring role on ITV medical drama Peak Practice and a guest stint on sitcom Faith in the Future. Her role in BBC schools programme Numbertime was to be her final television acting appearance until her spectacular return to Doctor Who in 2006. Thirty years after leaving the series for the first time, Sladen reprised her role as Sarah Jane Smith in the episode 'School Reunion', starring alongside Tenth Doctor David Tennant. She would appear again in the two-part fourth series finale 'The Stolen Earth' and 'Journey's End' and also made a brief cameo in Tennant's Who swansong 'The End of Time'.

When the return of Sarah Jane proved popular with long-term fans and new viewers alike, Sladen was approached to star in a new spinoff series, The Sarah Jane Adventures. Created by then Doctor Who showrunner Russell T. Davies, the CBBC series first aired as a 60-minute special on New Year's Day 2007. Four full series followed and the show proved a hit with both audiences and critics, most recently winning the award for 'Children's Drama' at the Royal Television Society Programme Awards. Sladen appeared alongside the newest Doctor, Matt Smith, in the most recent series, and a fifth run was in the works at the time of her death. The actress had been battling cancer and is survived by her husband of 43 years, Brian Miller, and daughter Sadie.

> Elisabeth Sladen dies, aged 63
> Gallery: Elisabeth Sladen 1948-2011
> Reaction: Elisabeth Sladen 1948-2011
> Read our 2006 interview with Elisabeth Sladen
> Read our 2008 interview with Elisabeth Sladen
> Read our 2009 interview with Elisabeth Sladen

Watch Elisabeth Sladen's first appearance in Doctor Who below:

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