If you’ve got your copy of the latest Jon Pertwee era Doctor Who story to hit DVD, you may learn something that few Who fans knew–the identity of the original actress cast as Sarah Jane Smith.
In the production notes track for “Invasion of the Dinosaurs” it’s revealed that another actress besides Elisabeth Sladen was cast in the iconic role.
Actress April Walker was the original choice of the production team for Sarah Jane and Walker even had a few rehearsals with star Jon Pertwee. SFX reveals that commentary track says that after the first few, Pertwee went to producer Barry Letts and said he didn’t think the chemistry between he and Walker was right for the show.
“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”),” says SFX. “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.”
Sladen reportedly knew the name of the actress she replaced but kept it mum out of respect to Walker.
Walker may be best known to American audiences for her guest spot on John Cleese’s Faulty Towers. She appears in “The Wedding Party.”