Out today, a new issue of Doctor Who Magazine. It’s a special tribute issue to the wonderful actress Elisabeth Sladen who played Sarah Jane Smith in Doctor Who and The Sarah Jane Adventures. While the magazine does her proud, I think we’ve had enough special tribute issues now, so could former Doctor Who companions please stop dying for a bit? If you’re a former Doctor Who companion and planning on dying, hold your breath. No, on second thoughts, don’t hold your breath, keep breathing regularly. (And the same applies to former Doctor Whos, producers, writers and script editors.)
Playing a Doctor Who companion can be a thankless task, as the characters are often under-written, existing only to ask questions and get into trouble. I think why Elisabeth Sladen is so highly-regarded is that she worked so hard to make Sarah Jane Smith more than that. Watch any of her episodes and she’s always making interesting, clever acting choices; always attentive and reacting to what’s going on, sometimes playing against lines or delivering them self-mockingly, always adding both a sense of fun and a sense of emotional truth to what’s written on the page. She made Sarah Jane a companion you wanted to spend time with, a companion who you laughed with, and also a companion who you were scared with. I’m always in awe of actors who lift the material they are given, who give two-dimensional characters depth, who seemingly instinctively add humour and life to a part, and Elisabeth Sladen was one of the best.
I started writing this blog with the intention of plugging my comic strip The Child of Time, part three of which nestles unobtrusively between pages 66 and 79 of the magazine. It’s all setting the stage for the fourth and final part and is quite grim and serious.
Elsewhere in the magazine there’s a wonderful review by the erstwhile Gary Gillatt of the recent DVD release Day Of The Daleks. I love this story so much I had to buy the DVD without waiting for it be discounted. It’s more-or-less the first time Doctor Who did a story about time travel, but it’s also about much more than that; the various moral choices and compromises people have to make, whether they are freedom fighters or dictators.
The DVD also includes a bonus special edition of the story, in which some of the special effects have been replaced, some of the more ‘embarrassing’ moments have been removed, and various other perceived deficiencies in the production have been remedied. I realise lots of people like these special editions, and I’m delighted these special editions exist for them, but they’re not for me. It just seems pointless to go back and insert modern special effects when everything else, from the script to the performances to the sets to the costumes to the film stock screams 1970’s. If those things don’t take you out of a story, then why worry about some special effects which were, for the time the programme was made and the resources available to them, at worst serviceable and at best extremely ingenious and technically impressive. (Though I couldn’t help noticing that some of the CSO in the ‘original’ version had been tidied up, which ironically I found more distracting than had it been left uncorrected.)