This is an interview I wrote as part of my day job on the Liverpool Echo – for the record, Lis (as I called her, once she said I could) was lovely and charming, and sounded just like Sarah Jane, right up to the point where she said ‘Fucking hell!’ and I nearly dropped the phone. Hope you like it.
ELISABETH Sladen suddenly stopped mid sentence.
“Oooh, I’ve got to get a call on my mobile – do you mind if I get it?”
Mind? Of course not – after all, this is Elisabeth Sladen, the Liverpool-born actress and Doctor Who icon who returns in a new series of the Sarah Jane Adventures on Monday.
How could we mind?
For someone who has helped save the world countless times, the call could have been about anything. Had there been a Dalek invasion? Trouble with a Judoon platoon? Maybe even a call from the Doctor himself?
“It was my dentist,” she explained (I was close). “It’s difficult trying to get an appointment isn’t it? Shall we carry on?”
For someone so closely associated with the fantastical, it was strange to hear Elisabeth Sladen discuss such mundane matters.
But through the course of our conversation it became clear how down to earth she was, an attitude she attributed to growing up in Liverpool.
Elisabeth was born in 1948 and grew up around Sefton Park. A graduate of the Elliot Clarke school, later she worked behind the scenes at the Liverpool Playhouse where she met her husband, the actor Brian Miller.
Although the couple now live down South, Elisabeth said she is very proud of her Scouse roots.
“I think everyone who comes from Liverpool is proud to say so, because the city has such energy and life about it” she said. “I even listen to Tom O’Connor albums because I love the Scouse accent so much!
“My mum and dad were from Liverpool of course, so I had a massive extended family with lots of cousins.
“I can remember running around Sefton and Calderstones Park and feeling so safe with my friends.
“We were forever visiting people around town, but as I had never known any different, I thought that everywhere I went, people were pleased to see me!”
Family ties aside, that is something Elisabeth must be used to by now given the popularity of the character she is most closely associated with, Doctor Who companion Sarah Jane Smith.
She first appeared in Who in 1973 alongside Jon Pertwee and later Tom Baker.
Although she left the show in 1976, the character’s appeal was such that when Doctor Who was relaunched in 2005, Russell T Davies brought Sarah Jane back.
A one-off episode quickly became a spin-off series, which has returned for its fourth season next week. So what can we expect this time around?
Elisabeth said: “I really think this series is the best one yet, and I’m not just saying that.
“We are lucky in that everyone who works on the show doesn’t see it as a job – we all love it so much and I think that shows on screen.
“Luke heads off to University this time, we have some old adversaries returning like the Androvax, and some new monsters too. I think one called The Nightmare Man is the scariest - we had to shoot an alternative ending to that episode in case it was a bit too scary.”
Elisabeth added: “We have also had Russell T Davies all to ourselves this time. Previously he was so busy with Doctor Who, but now he was able to write a two-part story which is a real treat.”
That story, tantalisingly entitled Death of the Doctor, meant Liz got to work alongside the 11th version of the Time Lord – her fourth – played by Matt Smith.
“I’ve known quite a few Doctors now,” she laughed, “and found myself thinking ‘so that’s what Jon and Tom and David look like nowadays’!
“All the Doctors I’ve worked alongside have their differences in approach which is always interesting to see. Underneath it all, they are still the same Doctor to me though.
“This time with Matt was absolutely amazing. He is a tremendous actor, very intuitive and dynamic and clever, all at the same time.
“Everyone was excited when he came on set and he enjoyed himself too, which pleased me no end.”
Elisabeth said she was just as delighted with the success of the Sarah Jane Adventures, but admitted it could all have been so different if she had chosen not to return when she was asked four years ago.
“I didn’t know if it was right to bring Sarah Jane back and would have been happy for her to stay were she was, in the 1970s with Jon and Tom’s Doctors,” she explained. “I didn’t want to taint the character with a cameo appearance or anything like that.
“I went for lunch with Russell and Phil Collinson, the producer. They were such boys! They explained the story of School Reunion and how Sarah Jane would return to me, which I identified with straight away.
“At the same time Russell said they wouldn’t do it with anyone else and they were taking a big chance, which was flattering but nervewracking too.
“The story was such a gift though, so well written by Toby Whithouse, and everything that has followed from then on has been tremendous too. I still can’t quite believe it sometimes.”
So having brought Sarah Jane back to life, will Elisabeth be bringing her back to Liverpool any time soon?
“There are no plans, but I’d love to do that,” she said, “and I want to come back myself too.
“I think the last time I was there was when Richard Branson launched the Pendolino train. I was crying as we came into Lime Street, because that was where I left from years ago.
“Then we were in the reception at the Empire and he asked ‘what can I do for Liverpool?’ Well, no-one said anything until the lady who ran the Duck tours asked if he could change the train times to coincide with her bus route, in a thick Scouse accent!
“I thought that was so perfectly Liverpool, with all the bigwigs saying nothing while she had her say, and I think some of that attitude is in Sarah Jane too.
“If we managed to come back, it would be fantastic to go to St George’s Hall – I love that building – as well as Rodney Street. I bumped into Brian Epstein there once, when all The Beatles stuff was going on.
“My husband and I had our wedding reception on Penny Lane, so that would be good, and I’d love to go to Anfield to do something with Liverpool FC.”
“Definitely. I used to go to the games and met the Liverpool players once, a long time ago. I remember a man in front of my friend and I at Anfield asking if we were shouting for the game or the ‘fellas’?
“We always look for the results now and I’m hoping they will overcome the trouble they have at the moment.”
Does that mean Sarah Jane Smith is a closet Liverpool fan?
“I think she could be.”
- Sarah Jane Adventures Season 403 The Vault of Secrets Part 1 Report (lifetheuniverseandcombom.blogspot.com)
- Death of the Doctor prompts speculation (gallifreynewsbase.blogspot.com)
- SJA Storyteller, Time Lords are immortal – official, BFI Screening, plus more news, blogs and reviews (tardisnewsroom.blogspot.com)