Merseyside police drama Z-Cars helped launch more than a few TV careers in the 1960s and 70s.

Brian Blessed, Stratford Johns, Frank Windsor and James Ellis all became household names as a result of the BBC TV series which ran from 1962 to 1978.

So too did a group of actors who made guest appearances on the long-running show.

William Ellis, right, in The Long the Short and the Tall, October 1965

William Ellis, right, in The Long the Short and the Tall, October 1965

Monkees’ lead singer Davy Jones featured in three episodes and John Thaw, later known for The Sweeney and Inspector Morse, played a detective constable in four.

But none owed more to Z-Cars than Liverpool actress Elisabeth Sladen. Her appearances in a couple of episodes landed her the plum role of Sarah Jane Smith on the BBC flagship sci-fi series Doctor Who.

Z-Cars producer Ron Craddock was impressed enough to recommend her as the Time Lord’s travelling companion to Doctor Who producer Barry Letts in 1973.

Elisabeth Sladen, centre, in the Five Doctors, March 1983

Elisabeth Sladen, centre, in the Five Doctors, March 1983

Sladen played the part for three seasons alongside Jon Pertwee as the third Doctor and Merseyside actor Tom Baker as the fourth. She also teamed up with robotic dog K-9, forming he basis of a spin-off special in 1981.

Born in Liverpool in February 1946, Sladen started dancing lessons at the age of five while a pupil at Mosspits Lane Primary School. One of her contemporaries was the future politician Edwina Currie.

Sladen then attended Aigburth Vale High School for Girls and the Elliott-Clarke School of Dance and Drama before becoming an assistant stage manager at the Liverpool Playhouse.

Fourth Doctor Tom Baker with Elisabeth Sladen, December 1974

Fourth Doctor Tom Baker with Elisabeth Sladen, December 1974

It was at the playhouse that her future husband – actor Brian Miller – made her giggle on stage when she was supposed to be playing a corpse.

Miller himself appeared in a number of stage and TV roles, joining his wife on Doctor Who and the later series The Sarah Jane Adventures. He was also Cliff Pughes in Coronation Street.

In 1965, he starred alongside Stephen Berkoff, Warren Clarke and William Ellis in the Liverpool Playhouse production of the war drama The Long and the Short and the Tall.

A young Doctor Who fan with robot dog K-9, August 1978

A young Doctor Who fan with robot dog K-9, August 1978

Rehearsals involved the cast being drilled by Sergeant Bill Davies of the Scots Guards at the Alamein Barracks in Huyton, as our picture shows.

Sladen and Miller married in June 1968 after moving to Manchester and appeared together in the Alan Ayckbourn farce How the Other Half Loves in 1969.

After playing various roles for Granada TV, Sladen was cast as barmaid Anita Reynolds in Coronation Street. Her character briefly dated Len Fairclough, played by Liverpool actor Peter Adamson.

Liverpool actress Elisabeth Sladen, August 1973

Liverpool actress Elisabeth Sladen, August 1973

Sladen’s big breakthrough came in 1973 when she started playing investigative journalist Sarah Jane Smith on Doctor Who. The part was originally promised to comic actress April Walker, but she failed to gel with Jon Pertwee during rehearsals.

Sladen made her debut in the 1973-4 adventure The Time Warrior where she sneaks aboard the Doctor’s spaceship the TARDIS posing as a famous virologist.

She quickly gets transported back to the Middle Ages and a battle with a soldier race of aliens known as the Sontarans.

Edwina Currie – Elisabeth Sladen’s former classmate, October 2017

Edwina Currie – Elisabeth Sladen’s former classmate, October 2017

When Pertwee left in 1974, Sladen continued to appear with Tom Baker before leaving herself in 1976. She made a one-off special with K-9 in 1981 and returned in 1983 for the 20th anniversary episode The Five Doctors.

After Doctor Who was revived by the BBC in 2005, Sladen appeared with tenth Doctor David Tennant in the 2006 episode School Reunion.

She was also the star of the spin-off series The Sarah Jane Adventures from 2007 to 2011, which included guest appearances by various Doctor Who characters.

Tenth Doctor David Tennant, February 2007

Tenth Doctor David Tennant, February 2007

Sladen bowed out of Doctor Who in 2010 in a scene of Tennant’s final episode The End of Time.

Outside Doctor Who, Sladen appeared in plays with her husband after moving back to Liverpool. She also portrayed Lady Flimnap in the BBC Classics production of Gulliver in Lilliput.

She played Dr Pat Hewland in four episodes of the medical drama Peak Practice and starred as Alexa with former Doctor Who actor Colin Baker in the audio adventure The Stranger.

Colin Baker starred with Elisabeth Sladen in The Stranger, April 1986

Colin Baker starred with Elisabeth Sladen in The Stranger, April 1986

Sladen died from cancer at the age of 65 on April 19th 2011. Many tributes were paid to her, including a special dedication at the start of the Doctor Who episode The Impossible Astronaut broadcast days later.

Fans believe 2012 companion Clara Oswald, played by Jenna Coleman, was called after Sladen whose own middle name was Clara.

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