The Sarah Jane Adventures ended in 2011, with the great Elisabeth Sladen’s death from cancer meaning that the show could not carry on its original fom. The series’ producers, Russell T Davies and Brian Minchin, opted not to carry on the series without her.
Now, Minchin has reflected on the show’s final months, in conversation with Doctor Who Magazine.
“It was doing hugely well on CBBC”, he recalled. “We already had scripts commissioned [for future episodes]. We were ready to go. And CBBC wanted more series after that. We’d been in to have meetings.
“Russell [T Davies] was living in LA, but was fully committed to it. Then Lis [Sladen] rang Russell to tell him the news [that she was struggling with cancer]. It was quite a shock.
“It was … January. We were meant to start filming more Sarah Jane in April or May. When she rang Russell, the main thing she asked was that her cancer was kept a secret. She knew it would be quite quick, so she asked that it wasn’t made public. So I had a situation where we had to stand down the crew, over 100 people, and ask them to keep the reason a secret.
“I think it really is a mark of the love and respect that the crew had for her that the news didn’t get out there at all. It was about ten weeks after that phone call that Lis passed away. It was a really sad time.”
And was there any talk of continuing without Sladen’s Sarah Jane, to wrap up the stories for the young cast’s characters? Minchin touched on that topic too, saying, “we still had some episodes to go out, posthumously, and even though we felt duty-bound to the cast and everyone else to discuss it, our hearts were never in continuing.
“Russell emailed me not so long ago saying, ‘We shouldn’t have stopped, should we?’ He thinks we cancelled the show out of shock. And he’s right. It was such a lovely show, and Lis was fantastic.”
There you have it, then: an interesting what-if for Sarah Jane Adventures fans. I’m sure CBBC would’ve welcomed whatever sort of continuation Davies and Minchin could’ve mustered, and fans may well have appreciated the closure.
But, alas, what’s done is done. The show still stands up as a testament to Sladen’s considerable talents, and that’s plenty to be grateful for.
Doctor Who Magazine is on shelves now.