01 January, 2012

Review: The Autobiography by Elisabeth Sladen

This is a far better book than it needed to be. Isn't that the hallmark of Elisabeth Sladen's career? Without her careful attention, would Sarah Jane Smith have been the icon she became? Of course, Sladen was far more than just Sarah Jane Smith. She was a wife, a mother, a theater actress and a woman with a serious work ethic. In that order.

Sladen preserves her private life in what is largely a career memoir, but when she does dip into her personal situation it is to illustrate a career moment. Given a choice between her family or herself, Sladen chooses her family. It answers the question of why she wasn't a larger star in her post Doctor Who years and it also answers how she and her husband were able to manage a two actor marriage. Elisabeth Sladen, for all her career regrets, lived a life that placed the personal above the professional. I respect her even more for putting her humanity above her ambition.

The Autobiography is so clearly in Sladen's voice that the fan in me felt the loss all over again when I closed the book. Even when telling of her frustrations and personal conflicts Sladen looked for a brighter side of things. The joke is always on her, the buck always stops at her desk. She is not one to ignore professional conflict, neither is she one to belittle the person with whom she conflicted. Sladen follows every bitter memory with a tasty one. The result is the reader feeling as though they have spent an afternoon with her, hearing her actor tales firsthand. Sladen reveals that she, like many of us, thought Eccleston ended his Doctor Who run too soon. Perhaps he was the wiser man, as one who has watched several leave the role Sladen knew that the drop from star to mortal is stunning. The show is the star and the actors merely participants.

I don't know how a reader who is not a fan of Doctor Who would respond to this book. Although Sladen discusses her early days and her post Who days it is largely a story of her days as Sarah Jane Smith. Sladen understands where her core fans reside and she meets them there. From her frustration with the BBC's failure to properly monetize in America to her appreciation for Whovian loyalty, Sladen knows the audience for this book. When she began, she had no idea she was ill. I wonder if she would have changed it? Would the sharp feelings be further muted? Perhaps it is for the best that Sladen set the manuscript in a drawer, forgotten, and let her family decide to bring it to market. As the book ends and the afterword begins, Elisabeth Sladen (like Sarah Jane Smith) is looking forward to her next adventure. Neither of them will be forgotten.


  1. Initially I was like 'Who is Elisabeth Sladen?' and then I read Sarah Jane and clicked! I didn't realize she had passed away early last year :(

  2. Sorry to break it to you! I just told my children this month, I was afraid the new DVD set would mention it.