The universe has to move forward. Pain and loss, they define us as much as happiness or love. Whether it’s a world or a relationship, everything has its time. And everything ends. – Elisabeth Sladen as Sarah Jane Smith (April 2006).
The big news in entertainment and SF fandom today is the passing of actress Elisabeth Sladen from cancer. Miss Sladen is probably best known the world over as the long-running companion of the nigh-immortal Time Lord in the Doctor Who television series. As Sarah Jane Smith, Elisabeth Sladen portrayed her character in terms that reflected the emerging Women’s Liberation Movement and when the story and producers allowed did more than scream and wait for rescue as was more typical of entertainment of the era.
There are a few reasons that Sarah Jane Smith returned to the series again and again. Her original appearances took place during an era of immense popularity for the show and Elisabeth Sladen as an actress had much to offer. Her story as a companion was perhaps the saddest of the many that crossed paths with The Doctor. Abandoned in the wrong town when the Time Lord was called away on a mission Sarah Jane spent years pining for her previous exciting life, waiting for someone who would possibly never return. Her story continued in the 2006 episode of the revived Doctor Who series where it was revealed that her life had been on hold for over thirty years. She eventually found happiness as her story continued in her own spin-off series.
Since the 5th season of the Sarah Jane Adventures was in the process of being filmed when Sladen passed away the future of the series is in doubt. Undoubtedly the prospect of regeneration is on the table for her character. Anyone associated with the franchises that did not even consider having Sarah Jane regenerate in a similar fashion to The Doctor, allowing a new actress to step into the role should be fired and never be allowed to work in entertainment again. However, my preference would be to let Sarah Jane Smith pass with Elisabeth Sladen. As much as I enjoy any entry to the Who universe being left behind to time is the fate of the companion. The Doctor to his sadness and regret is eternal when his friends are not.
Sarah Jane will probably return eventually, even if it takes another three decades (though the advances in CGI will probably allow her to return, in realistic fashion, much earlier). I doubt that thirty years hence anyone will be excited should Rose return for a Very Special Episode but I would come out from behind the couch to see a Sarah Jane Smith adventure again.