You don’t just get a stellar selection of extras with the UNIT Files DVD release – you also get the answer to one of the most speculated upon secrets laid to rest after 39 years: who was the actress originally cast as Sarah Jane Smith?
Over the years there have been mentions of the original Sarah Jane – the late, great Elisabeth Sladen knew her identity but refused to be drawn on the details as she rightly believed it would be unfair to the actress concerned – but now in, of all things, the text commentary to Invasion of the Dinosaur, the cat is finally out of the bag.
SFX reports that the actress who was nearly Sarah Jane Smith was April Walker.
Perhaps not a household name, Walker has a varied CV including appearances in Dad’s Army, Terry and June, this turn as Jean Wilson in Fawlty Towers and ‘The Attractive Barmaid’ in this Two Ronnies sketch.
So why was she dropped?
The rumours go that the Third Doctor Jon Pertwee like his Doctor to be a paternal figure to his young, petite, vulnerable co-stars – which Elisabeth Sladen believed stemmed from Pertwee’s own need to impose himself physically on smaller women – meaning that Walker, tall and in her 30’s didn’t fit the bill and her contract was cancelled (Barry Letts did go some way to make amends by offering Walker in his 1976 production of The Prince and the Pauper).
With Lis Sladen now firmly placed in our hearts as the ultimate companion its interesting to think of what could have been? Could the woman we associate with Sarah Jane Smith have appeared in Fawlty Towers in some parallel universe?
Read about it yourself in the new UNIT Files DVD boxset, featuring Invasion of the Dinosaurs and The Android Invasion, out now and available from Amazon for just £22.47