Doctor Who Secret Revealed After 39 Years

A new DVD release has finally named the actress originally cast as Sarah Jane Smith

It’s a mystery that’s been the subject of speculation amongst Doctor Who fans for nearly four decades: who was originally cast as Sarah Jane Smith, then unceremoniously dropped from the role after several rehearsals and replaced by Elisabeth Sladen?

Lis Sladen knew, but refused to say, believing it was unfair to the actress concerned, but now the cat’s been let out of the bag. The truth’s emerged in, of all places, the text commentary track on the DVD of “Invasion Of The Dinosaurs”, part of the new UNIT Files box set.

So, who was the original Sarah Jane Smith?

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 here she is 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. Producer Barry Letts obviously felt bad about the whole affair, as he later went on to cast Walker in his 1976 production of The Prince And The Pauper.

Lis Sladen went on to make a huge success of the role, turning Sarah Jane into the quintessential Who companion, but you can’t help wondering what might have been. Who knows: perhaps, in a parallel universe somewhere, April Walker is the star of The Sarah Jane Adventures

Read our review of Doctor Who: The UNIT Files, which is available to buy now.