01/02/2012. Contributed by Sue Davies
pub: Audio Go/BBC. 12 CDs 795 minute autobiography. Price: CD: GBP10.60 (UK), Download: GBP 9.84 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-4458-7826-3). read by: Caroline John and Sadie Miller.
check out website: www.audiogo.com
‘Elisabeth Sladen: The Autobiography’ was a posthumous publication and this audio version is read by previous Doctor Who companion, Caroline John. In many ways, she has the perfect voice for this. At once familiar to us as another companion to Jon Pertwee’s Doctor, she also steps back and allows the voice of the author to shine through her and shine it does in a book that Sladen was not so keen on producing. Her voice is as strong and clear here as ever it was.
The story of Elisabeth Sladen’s life is fascinating from start to finish in a way celebrity biographies rarely are. Perhaps because she did not see herself as a celebrity but as a jobbing actress who just happened to spend a few years in one of the most enduring programmes on British television. More than that, of course, she reprised her role and enhanced the character of the Tenth Doctor in ‘School Reunion’ The icing on the cake was the ‘Sarah Jane Adventures’, one version in audio and then the popular TV show instigated by Russell T Davies, fan and then close friend.
How we all would have preferred to have the actress with or without the autobiography but if there is a legacy then this is an inspirational story of ambition, love and friendship that comes through her simple retelling of her professional life. Much is not present here. There is only a very basic outline of her personal life which is her choice. Her professional story and some of the added value of her relationships with people she met along the way is a bonus.
Sladen pulls no punches and is honest about breaks in friendships, slights and other problems. She is not bitter, though, and comes over as an optimistic and loving person which those who knew her would confirm.
I don’t read a lot of biographies but this one offers all the wonderful anecdotes and memories of a life well-lived. She tells her stories, warts and all with no rancour or regrets. She rolls out her life like an exotic tale of the Whoniverse. Although she started on the stage, the choice of Elisabeth Sladen as the new companion Sarah Jane Smith was in the end a life-changing experience which no one could have foreseen. She was the perfect role model for a teen-age girl in the 1970s and as she matured and returned as the serene Sarah Jane, she struck a new cord in me with a teen-age girl of my own. Times have changed and now it is no longer her job to play second fiddle to an alien but runs her own team as the ultimate loving matriarch.
A substantial part of this memoir covers Lis Sladen’s time as Doctor Who companion. She is frank about her relationship with Jon Pertwee and the changes when Tom Baker arrived to make the role his own. It is full of little nuggets of her memories including some near death experiences and her pondering on the lack of health and safety at the BBC in those days. I’ll never feel the same about Wookey Hole after hearing about Lis’ peculiar and downright dangerous experiences there.
The epilogue is the heart-rending last tribute from her husband Brian and her daughter, Sadie. It is a beautiful coda to a unique experience which we are lucky enough to have as a memory of the life and times of Sarah Jane Smith and of Elisabeth Sladen.
This is a life well-lived and a lesson to grab what you’ve got and make the most of it. Most of all, love and be loved. Lis might not have wanted this autobiography to be published but she always underestimated her appeal and influence. She’s a positive role model for people. A daughter, wife, mum, friend, actress, star and a little bit of all of us thanks to the power of television.
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