Here are my mother’s thoughts and recollections after hearing about the tragic death of Elisabeth Sladen.
Although born and raised in America, I’m very much British-by-descent and brought my sons up on all things English from the earliest age. This included watching late-night Doctor Who on PBS while giving them their last feeding at night as newborns. I also began taping Doctor Who episodes off the TV so we could collect them and watch them as often as we liked. And once they were old enough to communicate their preferences, this was often! We not only started purchasing Doctor Who videotapes (this was before DVDs), we bought as many Doctor Who toys as we could find on the internet [or they could make themselves, such as appropriately shaped wood chips for TARDIS keys, salt and sugar dispensers for Daleks and Mechanoids, and hats and ties for Tom Baker’s hat and scarves].
When my sons, Danny and Ian, were aged 5 and 1-½ respectively, we decided to go to a Doctor Who ‘Visions’ convention in Chicago, IL. This was late November of 1993. We had heard that most of the surviving ‘Doctors’ at that time would be there (although Tom Baker unfortunately bailed out after discovering he wouldn’t get more money than the other actors), as well as several ‘companions.’ One of them was Elisabeth Sladen.
We had a brief but formal exchange with her when she did the standard posing for pictures, but of course there’s no time to truly interact during those crowded scheduled events where they herd people through like cattle. So if that had been the only contact we had with her, I honestly wouldn’t even say I’d met her. But as fate would have it, our flight wasn’t until the morning after the last day, and apparently that was also the case with several of the guests as well, including Elisabeth.
There wasn’t much to do after breakfast and checking out before going to the airport, so we hung out in the beautiful lobby of the Hyatt Regency O’Hare hotel. I remember being quite surprised to see a few actors still there waiting to leave. And one of them happened to be Lis Sladen. I was shocked and a bit in awe when she walked over towards us in the lobby, but she was completely without any airs of superiority or importance. We casually exchanged hello’s and she introduced herself on a first-name basis and asking our names as well. We agreed it had been a wonderful convention, very successful. She talked to me as if we already knew each other, and I was quite surprised and impressed by her down-to-earth nature and unaffected warmth. In fact, I was rather taken aback when she actually asked my advice on her hairstyle: she wanted to know whether I thought it looked better layered, as she had it in “K-9 and Company,” or mainly one length along the bottom, as she had it there at the convention and most of her time on Doctor Who. I candidly told her I felt she looked best with it unlayered and longer all the way round, and she genuinely seemed to appreciate the advice and take it in. Then her daughter, Sadie, happened to walk up, and she introduced me to her as “my new friend, Rebecca.” I really wasn’t expecting that, but it came out in such a matter of fact way that I realized it was just her way.
Before parting, I asked if I could get a candid picture with my eldest son, Danny. She’d been wearing sunglasses for the official pics during the convention, but she removed them that morning to pose crouched down on the floor with Danny on her lap. Magical moment – magical person! I will forever remember her remarkably special interaction with everyone, even people she just met. And it’s worth mentioning that I did notice, over the years, she seemed to take my advice and wore her hair the way I told her suited her best.
Rest in peace, Elisabeth Sladen: we were all so lucky to have had you!