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The Original Sarah Jane Smith

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Saber
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« on: January 12, 2012, 06:16:12 pm »

Doctor Who News has reported this...


The answer to one of Doctor Who's oldest mysteries has been provided on the DVD release of Invasion of the Dinosaurs.

It has long been known that Elisabeth Sladen was not the first choice of actress to play the role of Sarah Jane Smith. For years the identity of the original actress has remained a close secret, known only to members of the production team.

However, the production notes on the new DVD release, compiled by David Brunt, have revealed that the actress first selected to play the role was April Walker. Brunt discovered the name on a stray memo from the BBC files, informing the BBC Finance department to pay the actress when each of the eleventh season stories went into studio.

Walker had a similar pedigree to Sladen at the time Sarah Jane was cast, with small roles in a number of television series including Crossroads, Dad's Army and The Onedin Line.

Walker was cast in 1973 as the Doctor's assistant by then-producer Barry Letts, who was looking for a replacement for Katy Manning, who had left the series at the end of the previous season. Contracts were signed but when Walker met the current Doctor, Jon Pertwee, it became apparent there was a lack of chemistry between the two. Although the pair had worked together on stage about five years previously and got on quite well, she was not the sort of actress Pertwee wanted to play the companion. He felt she was too tall, busty and too much of a dominant performer. Not the sort of tiny girl he could "protect" as the Doctor.

For actors to be replaced after they have been cast is not common, but not unknown. Sometimes the face just doesn't fit and however good the actor is, the production team realise that a replacement is necessary. Letts took the decision to recast the part and eventually selected Sladen, this time with approval from Pertwee. To take the decision to recast the role was a very difficult one for Letts and one he never discussed in public. Walker was paid in full for the Eleventh season.

Following her brief encounter with the Doctor, Walker has gone on to have a long career with over 40 appearances listed on the Internet Movie Database. She is perhaps most well known for playing Jean in the 1975 Fawlty Towers episode The Wedding Party. She also had roles in Anna Karenina, The Two Ronnies, Wyatt's Watchdogs and Minder.
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« Reply #1 on: January 12, 2012, 06:18:35 pm »

This was mentioned briefly in Lis Sladens autobiography but she wasn't named. Interesting to have a face and name thrown in, though I wonder how the actress feels about having it revealed. At least she was paid though.
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« Reply #2 on: January 13, 2012, 12:26:50 pm »

It's so odd to think of anyone else playing Sarah Jane, now. Especially someone who looks so different.
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« Reply #3 on: January 13, 2012, 04:35:25 pm »

This is probably me being petty, but I can't help thinking that if I was in her shoes I would probably be pretty gutted. She may be totally happy with her lot, but when you think of the adoration for Sarah Jane and the fact that she was still very popular with her own show, right up until 2011, it must be hard to think that it could have been you, you know? It's not like she just didn't get the audition. The role was hers and then was taken away. That's not the fault of Lis of course and I'm not saying this woman is bitter about it or anything, but there must be an element of 'what if'. That said though, Sarah Janes success was as much due to Lis' portrayal as anything else and with anyone else in the role she may just have ended up being like any other companion. I guess you never know.
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« Reply #4 on: January 14, 2012, 01:31:07 am »

I'd agree with your last point.  If anyone else had played Sarah Jane, even an excellent actress, there's no reason to assume she'd have become as iconic as she did.
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« Reply #5 on: January 14, 2012, 01:43:57 pm »

This is really interesting - and there is a surprising amount of precedent for this. You only have to look at the runners and riders for the part of the fourth Doctor. If Graham Crowden had been willing to sign a three year contract then we wouldn't have had Tom Baker! (Interestingly enough, Clint Eastwood was the second choice to play Dirty Harry with Frank Sinatra the preferred choice and Jack Lord, the original Steve MacGarret in Hawaii-5-O was originally selected to play Captain Kirk. Only when he started demanding lots of money was he replaced by William Shatner).

It's an interesting one as they actually went as far as signing contracts, it also shows how much luck plays a part in any actors career. What I will say, is thank goodness fate turned out that way it did. However talented Ms Walker was, I cannot imagine anyone else as Sarah Jane. Lis Sladen was just amazing and fate worked in our favour.

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« Reply #6 on: January 15, 2012, 01:39:18 am »

I believe Humphrey Bogart was the third choice for Casablanca  Shocked
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« Reply #7 on: January 15, 2012, 01:50:31 pm »

I didn't even know that Lis wasn't the first choice. The other woman may have been excellent, but I am glad we got what we did. The reasoning behind it seems a bit iffy, mind. You wouldn't get away with letting someone go these days for being busty or not 'tiny' enough.
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« Reply #8 on: January 27, 2012, 05:29:20 am »

I'm with the DoctorDonna here. My knowledge of the classic Who actors outside of the show is ashamedly nonexistent. But wow just imagine how the show would be if not for all these lucky accidents.
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