Elisabeth Sladen died today.  Unless you’re a fan of British sci-fi, you probably don’t know that name.  But she was, along with Tom Baker and Ian Marter, an iconic part of my childhood.

Elisabeth Sladen played Sarah Jane Smith on Doctor Who and its spinoff The Sarah Jane Adventures.  She was the one constant in the tumultuous period at the end of the Third Doctor’s time and the beginning of the Fourth Doctor’s oh so long reign.  As good as she was playing up against Jon Pertwee, she & Ian Marter positively glowed alongside Tom Baker.  Tom Baker’s first series is one of the balls-out best full series of Doctor Who.

Jon Pertwee was always my favorite Doctor, but Elisabeth Sladen’s Sarah Jane Smith was always my favorite companion on the show.

I’m so glad I had the opportunity to meet both of them at a Doctor Who convention in Chicago in the early ’80s.  I distinctly remember having to push myself to work up the courage to tell her how beautiful I thought she was, since I knew I’d never have another chance to do so.  Here I was, a starstruck crush-ridden teenager telling her that.  She seemed touched, though … little did I know she had literally just gotten off a long trans-Atlantic flight and came straight to the theatre.  She felt tired, she felt worn out, she felt anything but beautiful … until I said those words and her wonderful smile lit up her face.

I still have the picture of her and Tom Baker that she signed.  Time has not been kind to it.  They used felt-tip pens rather than Sharpies to sign their autographs there, so the ink is slowly deteriorating along with the photo.  But I can still make it out: “To Robert Love Elisabeth Sladen.”  That was an amazingly happy day for me.

From what I see online, Doctor Who fandom is stunned.  She kept her battle with cancer out of the publicity machine.  With Nicholas Courtney, a lot of us knew he was ill.  With Lis, few of us did.

I’ve yet to watch all of her Sarah Jane Adventures episodes, so at least I have that to look forward to.  The BBC commissioned a fifth series of that, but I’m not sure how far the production got before her death.  Interestingly enough, what was the title of the final story of the fourth series?  “Goodbye, Sarah Jane Smith.”

There’s not enough beer in my world right now …..

The BBC’s announcement.

Digital Spy’s obituary.