Elisabeth Sladen: The Autobiography
Elisabeth Sladen
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Buy *Elisabeth Sladen: The Autobiography* by Elisabeth Sladen online

Elisabeth Sladen: The Autobiography
Elisabeth Sladen
Aurum Press
320 pages
December 2011
rated 5 of 5 possible stars

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"Come on Doctor! I can’t miss Gallifrey!!”
A famous quote, but one that becomes more significant for Sarah Jane Smith as assorted bug-eyed monsters, Cybermen, and Daleks chase her across the universe and into circumstances that yet again bring her back from the brink of tragedy and to the Time Lord’s home planet, even after Liz Sladen’s heartbreaking departure from Doctor Who back in 1976.

The passing of Elisabeth Sladen, especially to those of us who grew up with original Sarah Jane era of classic Who, hit very hard. She will be deeply missed but never forgotten. Exceptionally well-written and completely fearless in its depiction of the changes that have come to British television over the past four decades, Liz’s remarkable autobiography is ferociously committed to the legacy of this talented actress and how Doctor Who had such a lasting and profound impact on her career.

Inspired from years working in the trenches as an assistant stage manager at the Liverpool playhouse, and later to bit-parts in Manchester (“a thrilling place to be in the '60s”) and London, Liz reinvents time, giving us a portrait of ambitious, determined young girl whose love of acting and stagecraft endured through the decades, eventually driving her into the capable hands of the modern Who’s first producer, Russell T. Davies. It was Davies who first pitched Liz a part in "School Reunion" and then asked her if she would like her own show, The Sarah Jane Adventures, almost thirty-seven years after the actress stepped inside the TARDIS and had her first alien encounters.

Liz wrote skillfully from a struggling actor’s perspective about the challenges of trying to break into an industry which, in the early 1970s, was considered an “old boy’s club” driven mostly by men. She talks about making her screen debut as an extra in the 1965 film Ferry Cross the Mersey to her first leading role as Desdemona in Othello, before she landed the part of a barmaid in Coronation Street for six episodes. She also talks of her appearances in several other hit TV shows, including Z-Cars, Public Eye, and Some Mothers Do 'Ave 'Em.

But it was her role as feisty, resourceful journalist Sarah Jane in Doctor Who that made her famous. These “WHO years” form the bulk of the book as she describes in a pitch-perfect way her schedule from her first days shooting "The Time Warrior" to her emotional departure three years later in "The Hand of Fear." Liz tells us what it was really like to work with both Jon Pertwee and Tom Baker: Jon was the more physically imposing, patronizing father figure, while Tom was warm and instinctive. Undoubtedly the star of the show but also a dear friend, Tom treated Liz like an equal and freed her up, allowing her to finally have fun with her character.

Funny and witty and filled with sly, irreverent humor, this book is as much about Sarah Jane’s journey as it is Liz’s. Sarah Jane had smarts, guts and resolve, and a humanity that made her always watchable, and we get the sense that she was always much a part of Liz. From the revelation that she and her husband, Brian Miller, were never ones for planning because “that’s the life of an actor” to Time Lords, blue police boxes to the birth of her daughter, Sadie, and the much admired Barry Letts (who originally cast her in the role of Sarah Jane), little did Liz know how much this “work” would change her life.

Before Liz died from cancer in April 2011, she showed us that a woman in her 60s could do much more than just be the sum of her early days onscreen. In his introduction, David Tennant says "there was something truly bewitching about Liz.“ A wonderful complement to a woman who could enchant across the world and across three generations of viewers. Unique, talented, and very special, Liz’s legacy as an accomplished actress remains in her beloved portrayal of Sarah Jane, a character who will endure forever across time and space.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at www.curledup.com. © Michael Leonard, 2012

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