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Today I attended the British Film Institute's annual 'Missing Believed Wiped' event, where the organisers present some of the long-lost televisual treasures that have been returned to the archives during the last twelve months. I don't go every year, but this year's programme looked quite enticing: A Dennis Potter play, a David Bowie clip from Top of the Pops (Jean Genie, fab), a Peter Cook & Dudley Moore sketch. Oh, plus a mystery Christmas treat for Science Fiction fans...

So I went with a similarly addicted friend.

And lo! We did get to watch a lengthy clip from a recently returned Doctor Who episode, followed by -- to our by now thoroughly disbelieving eyes -- the whole of another episode, both from the vintage 1960s B&W era. The last such find was in 2004; the one before that in 1999.

Kudos to the BFI, BBC and all involved in the return. How the news blackout was maintained, I will never know. As a result, a couple of hundred jaws dropped and their associated pulse rates soared, because, trust me, this stuff really is damned nearly as rare as the equine deposits mentioned in this post's subject line.

Happy Christmas indeed!
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Wretched news for all Doctor Who fans: Elisabeth Sladen died today at age 63. For someone who always looked so youthful to die so comparatively young seems a particularly grim irony.

I find debates about who was the best Who companion essentially futile. So much has changed since 1963. How would one measure "best"? To my mind, the only meaningful question is: who was (or is) your favourite? I think you can guess that mine was Sarah Jane Smith, played by Sladen from 1973 to 1976, with several cameo appearances thereafter.

She was lovely, so likeable, but assertive and modern too; not some dumb bimbo. Put it like this: if I had been the Doctor, she would have been my companion.

Some regarded her acting ability as limited. I don't agree. Typecast maybe, role-cast certainly, but she was perfect for SJS. And she could certainly act. To my mind, her best performance was in an episode of New Who. When, in School Reunion, she opens a door, enters a darkened room and finds herself standing in front of the Tardis, for the first time in many years (of Who time), the look on her face, in her eyes, is wonderfully convincing. She is shocked almost out of her skin; it's written all over her face.

I only saw her once in real-life, at a rather tawdry one-day Who event in London, probably in the early 90s. After an on-stage interview, the audience was invited to ask questions. I put up my hand and got to ask some dumb, convoluted question about The Five Doctors (which I don't even like!). I bumbled my way through it, red-faced. Sladen answered with what I don't doubt was typical grace, emphasising the joy she had felt while working with so many Who veterans from the various eras.

Farewell, Sarah Jane Smith.

Rest in peace, Elisabeth Sladen.

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