Doctor Who, subtitles, and Elisabeth Sladen

I love Doctor Who, and like many who have any passing association with this creative, ingenious, deservedly long-running programme, I was shocked and saddened by the news of the passing of Elisabeth Sladen, an amazingly talented actress who brought one of my favourite Doctor Who characters ever to life.

The truth is; I would never have got into Doctor Who without subtitles. Deaf as I am, sentences such as “I’m doing a fold-back on the temporal isometry” and “We’re jumping time tracks in the slipstream!” would have entirely passed me by. And just how do you lip-read a Dalek? Or a Cyberman, for that matter?

Without the subtitles to hook me in, I would never have been bemused by a box that seemed to be bigger on the inside, seen Jon Pertwee vault a table, cloak flying, or seen Tom Baker with his floppy hat, incredibly long scarf and mad grin being chased by (dare I say it, slightly unconvincing) floating sentinels, or seen Sarah Jane Smith rescue the Doctor before promptly declaring that “This isn’t a rescue, it’s a capture!” and having him dragged off by a bunch of locals.

I must have been about eight or nine when I saw those BBC repeats in the early nineties, and whilst those early memories of Doctor Who are hazy, I was hooked. When the new series began, I was all aquiver, and became a hopeless Doctor Who fan once again, having been briefly distracted by Stargate, Farscape and Buffy, and soon discovered the DVDs on Amazon – and everything came with subtitles as standard! I won’t disclose how many Doctor Who DVDs I have now, let’s just say it’s a few.

When Sarah Jane Smith’s return to Doctor Who was announced, I was thrilled that a character who represented some happy childhood memories would be in my favourite show, and I was not disappointed. She argued, fought and ran like she’d never left, but managed a few tender moments in between telling off the Doctor for being such a thoughtless bastard (not a direct quote) and a great catfight with Rose. Elisabeth Sladen played it all perfectly.

She thoroughly deserved her own show, and yes I watched it, and yes I enjoyed reliving some of my childhood with it. I loved seeing “Brigadier Alastair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart, at your service” in it, and Nicholas Courtney (“Chap with the wings there – five rounds, rapid!”) is another sad loss. I have no idea what’s going to happen now, but one thing is for sure – Sarah Jane Smith will not be forgotten.

I’m glad that subtitles gave me the opportunity to appreciate the show and characters as much as anyone else. Elisabeth Sladen, I salute you, and my thoughts go out to all those who knew you.

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