British actress Elisabeth Sladen, best known for her longtime role as Sarah Jane Smith on Doctor Who, has died from cancer. She was 63.
Born in Liverpool, Sladen got her start as a stage actress before appearing in small roles on British TV in the early 1970s on shows like police drama Z-Cars and the long-running soap Coronation Street. She joined the cast of Doctor Who in 1973, staying on for four seasons as the companion of the Third and Fourth Doctors, Jon Pertwee and Tom Baker. Her character, Sarah Jane, was a young journalist whose bravery and intelligence reflected the burgeoning spirit of 1970s feminism. Smith's independence and self-reliance made a marked contrast to more stereotypical previous roles for female co-stars on the show, although her curiosity and willingness to stand up to authority frequently got her into trouble. She remained on Doctor Who until 1976, appearing in many of the series' best episodes, including "The Time Warrior," "Genesis Of The Daleks," "Pyramids Of Mars," and "The Seeds Of Doom."
Along with the Brigadier (who also recently passed), Sladen became perhaps the Doctor’s most popular companion in the show's history, returning in the 20th-anniversary special The Five Doctors, several Big Finish audio plays, and the 1981 spinoff K-9 And Company, which never went beyond the pilot stage. She made a more lasting, high-profile return in the series' modern-day reincarnation with Tenth Doctor David Tennant in the episode "School Reunion," which led to a starring role in another, much more successful spinoff, The Sarah Jane Adventures. The show debuted in 2007 and has lasted for four seasons. She appeared in the main series again twice, in the double-episode "The Stolen Earth"/"Journey's End," and a cameo in Tennant's final swan song "The End Of Time." A fifth season of The Sarah Jane Adventures—approximately half of which Sladen had completed filming before her death, according to io9—was due to air in the fall, but has now been postponed. Sladen's autobiography will be published in July.