Elisabeth Sladen (‘The Sarah Jane Adventures’) interview

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The star of CBBC’s The Sarah Jane Adventures, Elisabeth Sladen first played Doctor Who companion Sarah Jane in 1973 and returned to the show this year in the Series 4 finale episodes.

There are two new audio-exclusive Sarah Jane Adventures titles out this week, can you tell us a bit about those?

“There’s one called ‘The Ghost House’ by Steven Cole, who wrote one of last year’s, and there’s ‘The Time Capsule’ by Peter Anghelides. They’re great fun to do, though I only had one day to record them both. I might alter that in future, it’s very harsh! You can’t just do an impersonation of the characters, as it’s all in the first person. I do get a bit tongue-tied in the action sequences when I’m having to quickly alternate between myself, Luke, Clyde, an alien, the milkman…”

With 12 episodes this year, how long did the second series take to film?

“I think I was there for about six months, but I also did the Doctor Who episodes, ‘The Stolen Earth’ and ‘Journey’s End’. I had about ten days in between Doctor Who and The Sarah Jane Adventures. It was great working with the lovely Graeme Harper again. I’d worked with him 30 years ago and so to do 4 episodes of Sarah Jane with him was brilliant. The kids call him “The Harpenter”! It was very nice being asked to do more episodes this year, that made me very happy. And I was so pleased to have the Sontaran story, with Sarah Jane having history with the Sontarans [1975 Doctor Who story ‘The Sontaran Experiment‘]. I think it’s unheard of for a show to have this sort of history with a character, it’s brilliant.”

Will there be a third series of the show?

“They’re writing it now, I believe. I’m very proud of the show, it’ll be lovely to do another series. And it’d be really lovely for the children – not ‘the children’, I mean ‘my co-stars’! Danny [Daniel Anthony who plays Clyde] is 21 now and Anjli [Anjli Mohindra who plays Rani] is 18!”

Do you know if Yasmin Paige [who played Maria in Series 1] will return for the third series?

“I’m not sure, Yasmin moved on to focus on her studies and Anjli’s role has really settled in now – the new family have fitted in seamlessly.”

Do you think that Sarah Jane’s assistants will change if the show continues for another few years, like the companions change in Doctor Who?

“Tommy [Thomas Knight who plays Luke] is sealed I think as Sarah Jane’s adopted son, but yes I think the format completely allows for the show to continue.”

Would you like to do a Christmas special one year?

“Oh wow, that would be amazing, wouldn’t it? I’d never thought about that. With a Christmas tree up in the attic! We filmed a party scene actually, in the first episode of the new series I think, but it wasn’t used. There were balloons everywhere afterwards so I was thinking they’d have to keep the scene or there’d just be mysterious balloons in the background in the attic! But it wasn’t driving the story forward unfortunately.”

What was it like working with Nicholas Courtney again, who played The Brigadier at UNIT in Doctor Who? Can you give any hints about the story that he features in?

“I was so pleased for him to be back. Hmm, I don’t know how much I can give away – it’s a good one, a really good one. Oh that sounds crap! Well, for Sarah Jane to need The Brigadier, it must be a really dangerous situation. UNIT has certainly given him a wonderful pension, I can tell you that! Or maybe he has a very rich wife, he’s certainly doing alright!”

Do you ever get to meet Alexander Armstrong, who does the voice of Mr. Smith?

“No, I’ve never met him! All the ADR is done separately, it’s a shame.”

Bradley Walsh and Russ Abbot have both guest-starred this series, what were they like to work with?

“They were lovely, Bradley Walsh is so funny, he’s such a performer.”

If you could choose any actor to guest star on the show as a villain, who would you choose?

“Oh there’s so many, the mind races! Am I allowed to say David Tennant?”

What’s it like having your own action figure?

“Some of my friends have one on top of their Christmas tree! Actually, it’s in my contract that I’m allowed to have a say on the action figures before they get made and the first three they made look ok. But the latest three make me look like the Wicked Witch Of The West! I was really angry about that, if these things don’t look right then people won’t buy them.”

There’s a signing event at Borders on Oxford Street on Saturday (15th November, 1.30-4pm) – what are those events like? Do you get fans of all ages?

“You do, yes, I was at the Bath Literature Festival recently and the little ones are so enthusiastic. They run up to me screaming “Sarah Jane, Sarah Jane!” and ask me a question, so I answer and then they go “Sarah Jane, Sarah Jane!” and ask me something else. I often answer in character – “I’m afraid The Doctor isn’t here today but I can pass on your message for him” – I don’t think I have the right to spoil it being real for them.”

What was it like filming the Doctor Who Series 4 finale episodes with Thomas Knight?

“Poor Tommy was very cross as he never met a Dalek, he was just stuck in the attic! It was an amazing story, Sarah Jane has so many links with Davros. Michael Wisher was the first Davros [in 1975’s ‘Genesis Of The Daleks’] and after I first did a scene with Julian Bleech, the new Davros, I said to him “you sound just like Davros!”. ‘Genesis Of The Daleks’ is such an iconic story and it was a time when Tom [Tom Baker, as the fourth Doctor], Ian [Ian Marter, as companion Harry Sullivan] and I had started to gel so well together. I really do love it! Oh no, Russell’s turned me into a fan! I never even watch sci-fi! The joy now is doing the DVD commentaries, although unfortunately I’m not anymore due to contractual reasons with 2entertain, we couldn’t come to an agreement.”

How did filming the Doctor Who finale differ from filming The Sarah Jane Adventures?

“Doctor Who is such a different animal, it’s like our big brother. Actually, the Sarah Jane Adventures sound man told me that it’s much harder for him than Doctor Who as there’s so much more dialogue! My dialogue has to be really precise as well, I can’t paraphrase my stuff as it’s explaining the plot!”

Do you think Sarah Jane and any of her assistants will feature in Doctor Who again?

“I don’t know, I didn’t think I’d be coming back after ‘School Reunion’! I thought I’d had a lovely goodbye, but then I came back again! Never say never, definitely.”

This time last year, the newspapers were reporting about all the recent companions coming back for the Series 4 finale. At what point did you know you’d be returning?

“Oh, I knew quite a long time back! People were asking me about it and I had to just go “oh, that’s news to me!”.”

Now that David Tennant has announced he’s leaving Doctor Who next year, who would you like to see as the next Doctor?

“Jason Isaacs is an incredibly talented actor, I think he’d bring real gravitas to it – and he’s also from Liverpool! Or maybe Hellboy! The actor who plays Hellboy [Ron Perlman], it’d be brilliant to have a big Doctor with a bit of muscle! I imagine Steven Moffat has his own plan though, it’s quite exciting! I’d love to work with him, but I really don’t think I’ll be coming back to Doctor Who again now. Bringing people back was more Russell’s thing.”

Apart from Doctor Who and The Sarah Jane Adventures, which other TV shows do you enjoy watching?

“I love The Wire, I have the boxset. It really takes no prisoners, it’s an amazing show. The original CSI in Vegas is so clever too, I love William Petersen who plays the main guy, Grissom. He’d make a really good Doctor actually! He’s in an amazing film called Manhunter. It’s the first Hannibal Lecter film, before Anthony Hopkins did them. It’s probably the scariest film I’ve ever seen!”

Series 1 of The Sarah Jane Adventures will be released on DVD on 10th November 2008 from BBC Worldwide.