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Casting News via Time Vortex

New Doctor Who Companion, Sarah Jane Smith, to be played by Fawlty Towers’ APRIL WALKER!

Or so the headlines might have read back in 1973.

The secret is out…..according to SFX magazine.  Word has it that several days into rehearsals April Walker was dropped and a new Sarah Jane sought. Elizabeth Sladen apparently knew who the mystery actress was but kept the secret for over 35 years.  Good for her.   

“April Walker, apparently – not a household name, but an actress with a very heavily-populated CV including guest roles in everything from Dad’s Army and Terry And June to Judge John Deed and Waking The Dead. Here’s a clip of her playing Jean Wilson in the Fawlty Towers episode “The Wedding Party” (4m 45 secs in), and in The Two Ronnies.”

“Why was she replaced? Well, the story goes that Pertwee liked his Doctor to be a paternal, protective figure, and felt that his co-star should be young, petite and vulnerable (Sladen’s take on this was that Pertwee was the sort of man who “likes to impose themselves physically on smaller women”). Walker – tall and in her early ‘30s – didn’t fit the bill, as far as the star was concerned. And so her contract was cancelled.”


What would Doctor Who have been like with April Walker as Sarah Jane Smith?  Opposite Jon Pertwee and Tom Baker’s Doctor?  Would it have worked?  What of her stint in modern times as the hero of her own Sarah Jane Adventures?  Was it the character or the actress?  Or a singular synergy that made Sarah Jane so endurable? 

We will never know…



Not quite true, Rod in two respects…

1) Fawlty Towers didn’t air until 1977, so I doubt any headline in 1973 would have featured it.

2) Whoever April Walker was cast to play, it wasn’t quite Sarah Jane Smith. That’s also been stated in interviews in the past. She was cast as a companion, but Sarah came later in the process.

Posted by Graeme  on  01/09  at  11:53 PM

‘77!  Sorry….yeah ‘73 is Time Warrior. Mixed me dates. 

But it would have been a great headline….  drat.

Posted by Rod  on  01/10  at  01:12 AM

“Sarah Jane”, was practically all Elisabeth Sladen’s creation, with guidance, suggestions and script from Barry Letts, Terrance Dicks and Robert Holmes.

While any actress could have initially portrayed Sarah Jane, the ONLY actress who could have made “Sarah Jane” connect so powerfully to the WHO audience that the audience would never let go of her, was Elisabeth Sladen.  She had an unforgettable, heart-warming, feisty screen presense that was totally charming and absolutely unique.  She was the only actor capable of stealing the camera from Tom Baker, and Tom so adored her, that I don’t think he minded at all.

My intro to Doctor Who was ROBOT, on American PBS in the late 70’s.  I wasn’t impressed by Tom Baker in the first scenes I witnessed, but I couldn’t ignore the cute little brunette in the blue dress. There was SOMETHING about her.  Enchanted and charmed by “Sarah Jane” I continued to tune in show after show, until I grew to love the program, and even finally got used to Tom Baker!

To answer your question, it was the ACTRESS that made the character, and without Lis Sladen, Sarah Jane would be just another passing, dimly remembered companion.  Sarah Jane is unforgettable to 3 generations of WHO fans, because of Lis Sladen. That the internet came alive worldwide with grief upon news of her passing, and grandparents, parents and children were grief-stricken is testament to the powerful connection that Lis Sladen made to the audience as Sarah Jane. 

Lis Sladen’s audience may not have been as large as Liz Taylor’s, but I doubt any actress has been genuinely loved more than Lis Sladen was by the WHO audience.

Posted by Greg  on  01/10  at  05:33 PM

Fawlty Towers started in 1975, not 1977. So you’re both wrong! smile

Posted by Luca  on  01/11  at  09:09 AM


Posted by efhjgsp  on  01/12  at  06:18 PM


Posted by fbjfupq  on  02/28  at  11:23 AM

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