Elisabeth Sladen (‘The Sarah Jane Adventures’) interview

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Elisabeth Sladen returned to Doctor Who last year as Sarah Jane Smith and can now be seen on CBBC in The Sarah Jane Adventures.

When you did the ‘School Reunion’ episode of Doctor Who episode last year, were you at all scared that playing Sarah Jane again would damage the character?

“I enjoyed my time with Jon [Jon Pertwee] and Tom [Tom Baker] so much, and I imagined it would just be a small thing to unite the old series with the new series, just as a little homage, which I wouldn’t have done as I didn’t want to downgrade the character. But Russell [Russell T Davies, Doctor Who‘s executive producer] and Phil [Phil Collinson, one of Doctor Who‘s producers] came to me with this idea and told me that if I didn’t want to do it then they wouldn’t do the episode. Because I’ve always got letters from fans (not that I get sacks of mail or anything!) asking me where I thought Sarah Jane would be now, I’ve always had in my head an idea of what she was upto, and what Russell and Phil had in mind was such a parallel to what was in my mind.

“So yes, I was a complete pushover after I heard that and we ordered some more wine! I think Russell probably knows the character even better than I do actually. When I did that episode I really just thought that it was lovely closure for Sarah Jane and laid some ghosts for her. The original ending was to be a down ending too, it was very sad. But no, I never thought I’d play her again after that. It’s now so far removed from what I could ever have imagined, I really can’t believe it sometimes.”

Did you re-watch any of your episodes from the 1970s to help you get back into the character?

“I had done purely because of doing the commentaries for the DVDs, but I don’t think I would have done otherwise. It’s such fun doing the commentaries, I hadn’t seen ‘Genesis Of The Daleks’ since it was originally shown. You notice so much when watching it now, as back then it was shown only a few weeks after we’d filmed it. Some of the lighting in ‘Genesis Of The Daleks’ is fantastic, making a quite flat set come to life. It’s great to sit there now and relish all that, and it’s lovely to meet up with people again, you get such deja-vu. At my age you remember the people from back then almost better than the people you know now!”

There’s two new audio-exclusive Sarah Jane Adventures titles out next month, can you tell us a bit about those?

“It’s very different, as they’re not based on any of the TV stories or books, they’re totally encapsulated. They’re read in the first person, which is much harder to do.”

Did you mimic the voices of the show’s other characters when saying their lines?

“Not so much, no, but I did have to differentiate clearly. The kids haven’t heard them yet, so I don’t know what they’ll make of it, I’m seeing them in a couple of weeks and they’ll probably give me stick for it I’m sure!”

How did you find working with your young co-stars on the show?

“They’re genuinely lovely, Tom [Thomas Knight, who plays ‘Luke’] comes over and gives me big hugs in the morning and I get cuddles!”

How come Porsha Lawrence Mavour, who played Kelsey in the pilot episode, didn’t return for the full series?

“Ah yes, she was very good, but I think they just decided it was the wrong dynamic. Clyde’s the total opposite of Luke, they’re poles apart, which I think makes it a lot more interesting, getting him into trouble.”

I’ve heard that when Russell T Davies approached you again after ‘School Reunion’, you originally thought it was about a part in Torchwood – would you like to appear in the show at some point?

“I think now we have to be a bit careful, because of The Sarah Jane Adventures being a CBBC show. But I think it would be great, I love John Barrowman! In Cardiff there’s three sound stages – there’s our one, and then the Doctor Who interiors, and the Torchwood interiors, and I did sneak onto the Torchwood set, though I didn’t want to go into the cells!”

Which classic monster would you like to see appear in the show?

“Ah, it would have to be the Sontarans, although everyone knows about the vent in the back of their neck now! But either them or Davros would be great. My Davros was Michael Wisher who was amazing, he was such an underrated actor. His Davros was so much more than just a mask, it was what he was doing under the mask, and with his hand.”

Were you disappointed that K9 doesn’t feature in The Sarah Jane Adventures series?

“Ah yes, K9’s stuck in a black hole at the moment and unfortunately moves rather slowly! I can understand why he’s not in the series, he’s a very inanimate object, there’s not a lot you can do with him. I think if he was to be in the show he’d definitely have to have an update!”

Who came up with the Sonic Lipstick?

“That was Russell I presume, it’s a brilliant idea. It’s a devil to work though, David (Tennant) certainly has it much easier with the Sonic Screwdriver, he just gets it out and points it. I have to fiddle around with mine, it’s a nightmare. I do cheat sometimes actually and get it ready first!”

Do you get recognised more now since The Sarah Jane Adventures started?

“Yes, definitely, it’s a great joy. I was very worried that all the kids would just be into Grange Hill and really wouldn’t care about some silly old lady running about! But where we film Sarah Jane’s house in Cardiff, the local school bus now does a free tour going past the house and they all wave. The local Brownies walking past to say hello too, it’s lovely. Tom and I went to America in the early 80s, after I’d finished, and as far as they were concerned we were the first Doctor and companion. The fans there were amazing, we were carried across people’s heads! I remember that they had video recorders there, and so would tape the episodes and when we met them they would know every single frame!”

Having seen that reaction, were you ever tempted to return to the show back then?

“John Nathan-Turner asked me to return, back when Tom was still in it, and I wasn’t even tempted, no. I don’t like to repeat myself, and I was worried that we wouldn’t be able to recreate what me and Tom had. That’s why I was unsure about returning for ‘School Reunion’, but then having read Toby’s script I knew it was a new place to go.”

This week the Daily Star reported that Sarah Jane, along with several other former companions, will appear in the Doctor Who Series 4 finale – have you been approached about this?

“Really?! Well, I’d probably be the last to hear about it if it was true, but I think that would be fantastic. It’s news to me though, I’m afraid I don’t read the Daily Star!”

Is there going to be a second series of The Sarah Jane adventures?

“I know that they’re writing it and planning it, yes, but as always with these things they’ve not had the green light yet, but it all looks very hopeful I think. They seem pleased with how it’s done, it’s such a clever format.”

Will all the cast from the current series be returning?

“I hope so, yes, it was so much fun, which is good as it’s three months of the year! Cardiff’s such a beautiful city, and they let me have Freema’s flat, which I must say is lovely! Can I just mention the signing event we’re doing in London in a couple of weeks, as I just have this idea in my head that only two men and a cat will actually turn up!”