Customer Review

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The "s" is for "star", 5 Jun. 2012
This review is from: Elisabeth Sladen: The Autobiography (BBC Audiobooks) (Audio CD)
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It's taken me a while to get around to reviewing this, partly because of the duration - 12 discs and a total running time of 13 hours for your money - but also a degree of trepidation. Did I really want to listen to this? Would experiencing the life story of the much-missed Lis Sladen make me feel too sad? Would it be strange hearing her words being read by an earlier Liz from "Doctor Who" (Caroline John, who played Liz Shaw opposite Jon Pertwee)?

Well, it is an emotional experience, especially at the beginning and the end. David Tennant's admiration for Sladen, which he describes in his foreword, is as palpable as her admiration for him when she opens her narrative with a flash-forward to working on the "Wedding of Sarah Jane" storyline of "The Sarah Jane Adventures". Her regrets over the passing of so many of her former colleagues, including co-stars Ian Marter and Jon Pertwee, and producers John Nathan-Turner and Barry Letts, are as poignant as my feelings as I type this review.

I found it much easier going once I was past the introductory matter and Sladen ventures back to her earliest memories, of her family and her childhood. She recalls her first steps into acting (including being sick on a young Edwina Currie!) before progressing to her early professional career, working alongside such personalities as Warren Clarke, Alan Ayckbourn, Robert Morley and Michael Crawford, as well as meeting her husband-to-be Brian Miller (who provides a moving postscript). Lis didn't get on well with everyone she worked with, but she never comes across as bitchy or unfair in her assessments of them. She shows a level of empathy in each case, often theorising that she or they were not having a good day at the time.

The author keeps mentioning the world of "Doctor Who" from time to time during those opening chapters, usually via early encounters with personnel who would later work with her on the show. I'm not sure whether this is intended to keep her audience of "Who" fans engaged (she needn't have worried on that score), or simply because the programme was so important to her. Possibly it's a bit of both, though her mention of Freema Agyeman playing two different characters in quick succession, in reference to Sladen doing much the same thing in "Z-Cars", did strike me as somewhat shoehorned in.

In any case, we get to her role as Sarah Jane Smith in "Doctor Who" by the end of Disc 3, starting with her most unusual audition. The making of each "Who" serial is covered in depth. Her recollections range from familiar anecdotes (nearly drowning in Wookey Hole while making "Revenge of the Cybermen") to more surprising revelations (her early unease working with Jon Pertwee on "The Time Warrior"), but they are enthralling throughout.

As other reviewers have pointed out, the coverage of "The Sarah Jane Adventures" is less detailed, and there's no mention at all of her work on Big Finish's "Sarah Jane Smith" series. Perhaps her memories of those productions were less potent than those of the heady early days of her career.

It's a pity that Sladen did not live long enough to read out her own autobiography, especially since she specifically mentions her love of audio work. However, having Caroline John narrate the book isn't off-putting at all, as it turns out. John's measured tones make a splendid conduit for her successor's words, and I frequently forgot that I was not being addressed by Sladen herself.

At least Lis was able to give us these words before she was taken from us, far too soon.

Good for you, Sarah Jane Smith.
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R. C. McGinlay
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Location: Ilford, Essex

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