On the Life and Death of Elisabeth Sladen

There was a towering man of obsidian, his face covered in black so dark you couldn't see where it ended and the suit began.

But the lighting was dim. The golden man told the obsidian man that when the time came, they let their people end, rather than be ruled by him. In the light, it was difficult to separate costume from actor. British, many of them unsurprisingly trained in the shakespearean manner, used their entire body as if they were on stage.

It cast a raw immediacy on the performance. The dimly lit cheap-foam background faded into the background, as the golden man sonorously intoned, "So now you are King, as was your wish. I salute you from the dead. Hail, Eldrad, King of nothing."
Oh the ragof Eldrad. The Doctor and Sarah stood meekly in the corner. "Is this my reward?!" he screeched, storming menacingly around the room, his figure looming over them. "I CREATED this world It is mine, mine by right!". He moved in the suit, his training making it look as if a mountain shook in anger.

The Doctor gives that childish smile to sarah, beloved companion, and quips about someone having done their work for them. Sarah coquettishly says "I wouldn't want to live down here, and I wouldn't want him as a leader."

Like a player that just gave a dungeon master a terrible idea, and suddenly finds himself the recipient of the dungeon master's rampant glee at his new love; Eldrad grins and looks at Sarah, "Yes, I shall be King. The Earth people. . . . I shall rule them! I shall be their god!"

A chase ensues, and the Doctors flawless plan is 'hide and trip him with my scarf into a bottomless pit.' I wonder if this is the kind of plan seven year old's come up with because they watch Dr. Who, or if all small children have such pure beliefs in good intentions.

Sarah leaves the Doctor almost immediately after. When I was a child, I had difficulties due to some personal afflictions that turned out not to be character flaws and poor willpower but an illness that improves with medication. Sitting on the cold brass floor of the TARDIS, handing the doctor one fisher price sci-fi power tool after another, she cried out "I'm sick of being cold and wet! I'm sick of being shot at, terrorized by bug-eyed monsters" I empathized with her. He was on an adventure, and being on an adventure is hard.

It is, right? We are all on an adventure right now, and someday it ends. I identified with her stress and fear. The Doctor continued as if he did not hear her. He was implacable. Nothing she could say or cry would ever move his stoic indifference. And Sarah said, You know what? Fuck this. I'm out.

That's the worst she could do to hurt the man who couldn't listen. That was the harshest thing she could think to do, was to say, I have to deny my true nature to you, because your indifference to my suffering is too much. The most extreme response becomes the only response. You have to get out. Don't you? For yourself, I think you do.

Rewatching it now, it's clear. Sarah is a young child throwing a tantrum. The Doctor is not a romantic interest (unless perhaps you have a serious Electra complex). He is an indifferent parent. An abusive parent.

But he does love Sarah.

He, of course, unaware of anything she has said, gets a call and has to go home. He can't take her to Gallifrey of course! She returns to the room, carrying a tennis racket and a suitcase in her right hand, and a jacket along with a potted plant in her left. A stuffy lies on the floor.

He then experiences a sharp pang of compunction over how he will break the news to her. He says, without turning to face her, "You're a good girl, sarah." And she yells back, no! It's too late now for any of that. I've got to go! It's because they always apologize. And they really do love you.

When he hears what she said, his face lights up and he turns around. "How did you know?" She flinched. He said, "I can't take you with me, you've got to go."

Her voice cracking she says, "Oh, come on. I can't miss Gallifrey." She can't figure out if he's doing this to hurt her. "Oh, you're playing one of your jokes on me, trying to get me to stay." I don't think he's playing jokes. Even though the subtext is heavy above, it's not that the Doctor is a missing stair or represents an abusive parent. He's a representation of the nature of the universe which generally gives a field completely empty of fucks about how we feel.

He tells her she's home. South Croydon. Hillview road. She awkwardly smiles, standing on the street, accompanied by a pink owl and potted plant. She looks around and sees she's not on Hillview road. She's not even in South Croydon.

So, Sarah is an undefined child. Elisabeth herself even said so, saying "Sarah Jane used to be a bit of a cardboard cut-out" So after raising her daughters, Elisabeth went back to Doctor Who. When her character meets him, years later, she doesn't recognize him. Instead of the doe-eyed ingenue, she's now a tough-as-nails investigator.

When it's time to go, and his identity has been revealed, she confronts him. First thanking him for taking him with her, and then implying that she's single because no one ever measured up. It seems like being taken about and having life-threatening adventures as a child might affect your relationships in your life. That damage done, it leaves Sarah, or Elisabeth Sladen, to fill the role of protector, her own life and happiness denied her, because of her time spent too close to the truths of the universe.

She tells him good-bye, and he makes light, saying "Aww, it's not goodbye.", She says, tears in her eyes, as she looks at him. "Just say it this time, please." and she walks away overwhelmed with the closure she's finally received. He leaves her K-9, their synthetic dog assistant. She's confused, because K-9 had been destroyed. She asks him how he's here. He tells her, he's new, he replaced the damaged and destroyed K-9, that he's a new, upgraded model. She says, finally with closure instead of pain, "He does that."

She returned and played the role for children, this time not as a careless adventurer, but as one who guided children, protecting them as they explored the unknown, with her faithful robotic dog companion.

You know, I had a dog named K-9 growing up. A dalmation. Beautiful dog, happy, impulsive. Dumb as a box of rocks, but wonderful. She would, while we were walking in the woods, run ahead as fast as she could on the shaded asphalt streets that twisted through the wild forest paths, realize we weren't there, and then turn around and bolt back to us, always impatient, always exhausted.

She took the role, not just on the show, but in life, as Sarah Jane, Sarah Jane who became a hero to children, Sarah Jane who survived the Doctor and surpassed him, Sarah Jane who survived the doctor twice, it made it all more devastating when she was struck by cancer in February of 2011 and died several months later. She is missed.

Support and tips mean I don't get evicted. Your support very concretely affects my survival!

Hack & Slash 

2 comments:

  1. Yes.. She is indeed missed by all of her fans, myself included. Thanks for writing this. :-)

    ReplyDelete
  2. This was great and I'm so glad you posted it.

    ReplyDelete

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