On the Passing of Doctor Who’s Elisabeth Sladen

Posted on April 21, 2011

I remember my first episodes of Doctor Who so well. I was about seven when I learned the trick of turning the antenna. On good days, if you pointed in the right direction, you could pick-up the Orlando station in addition to normal local stations.

One Sunday afternoon, I did the usual rotary move (by hand as we couldn’t afford one of the fancy mechanical turners) and found the strangest thing. It caught my attention straight away. In brilliantly clear black and white (once again all we could afford in the mid-’70s) I caught a riff of a bizarre theme, slightly like a theremin. The first scene I ever saw was with the crazy-curled coif of Jon Pertwee’s opera cloak-clad Doctor and Elisabeth Sladen as Sarah Jane Smith.

For more than three years (1973-1976), whether it was Pertwee, or Tom Baker and his never-unending scarf, Sarah Jane was always there, steadfast and unflinching as she ran around the various BBC gravel-pits that served as stand-in alien planets. For many Doctor Who fans, Sarah Jane was the ultimate companion. Being cute didn’t hurt either.

But, Sarah Jane wasn’t your typical sex object. In the age of women’s liberation, she was an independent women who survived by her wits. It was often her role to play the rational foil to the Doctor’s off the planet nuttiness. For that, she became more than just a companion. For a generation of sci-fi obsessed geeks, she became an icon.

That might have been enough, but the story doesn’t end there. In the years after 1976, Sladen made various guest appearances, most notably in several episodes of the re-revived series. There was such a positive reaction to these appearances that she was asked to star in a Doctor Who universe spin-off called The Sarah Jane Adventures. Looking nothing like a 60-something (she looked great), she introduced a whole new generation of sci-fi lovers to the character of Sarah Jane Smith, intrepid reporter and time-traveler. At the time I am writing these, my teen daughters (and yes they are sci-fi geeks too) will not have awoken to the news of Sladen’s passing. When they do, they will be greatly saddened by the passing of someone who gave so many hours of brilliant entertainment. It is now small measure of her acting achievement that I will always hope in my heart of hearts my daughters grow up to be just a little like the unstoppable, unshakable Sarah Jane.

Rest in peace, Elisabeth Sladen (1948-2011).

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Review of The Borgias – “Lucrezia’s Wedding”

Posted on April 20, 2011

The Borgias seems to have found its footing in the kindred souls of Cesare and Lucrezia. You could even call it their miseducation. Cesare has been systematically turned into an evil minion of his father over the first three episodes. It might be important to remember the historic Cesare was only 18 when he became a cardinal. Lucrezia on the other hand enters the episode a child of 14 and leaves as something else. A victim (I doubt, she is Rodrigo’s daughter), or no doubt a newly empowered monster.

The wedding finds the various members of the family falling more and more into debauchery for debaucheries sake. Jeremy Irons is particularly good making the audience squirm as decked in popish garb he lecherously paws his young mistress, Giulia Farnese.

I think it also important to notice that the costuming in this series finally reached the level that was seen in the Tudors. Vanozza dei Cattanei’s dress was amazing. However, the centerpiece of any wedding is the wedding dress. Lucrezia’s gold and white dress was nothing short of amazing. As in The Tudors, the costuming means more than just simple dress. When the young Lucrezia runs to her father the Pope to plead for her mother’s attendance at her wedding, bits of the put-together dress fall off. Like leaves on a tree, she is shedding her innocence.

With five more episodes to go, The Borgias promises a lot before the probable death of Rodrigo later this season. Showtime may yet have a big hit out of this one. Oh yeah, and I am starting a pool to see how long it takes for Sforza to start pushing-up daisies.

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