Thursday, July 26, 2012
DOCTOR WHO: Memories of the First Romana
Another one gone now, far too many.
Just less than two months after the death of Doctor Who actress Caroline John, Whovians around the world are once again in mourning following news of Tom Baker era actress Mary Tamm, who played the first incarnation of the Fourth Doctor's Time Lady companion Romana. Tamm passed away this morning at the age of 62 from a reported 18-month battle with cancer.
As I've mentioned in previous "Doctor Who Memories" posts, I didn't start watching the series until very late in the Tom Baker era, so I missed both Romanas the first time. I had to wait until my local PBS station, WVIZ out of Cleveland, cycled through the entire Peter Davison era and then about halfway through a repeat showing of Tom Baker's era before watching my first Romana story, "The Ribos Operation."
I liked her right from the start. Although deliberately cold and haughty at first, the character Romanadvoratrelundar quickly settled down into a clever and charming companion for the Doctor. Here at last was a companion not only capable of being on the Doctor's level, but occasionally surpassing it. However, because Romana was centuries younger than the Doctor and less experienced in fighting all sorts of alien monsters, the mentor/student relationship kept the character from taking the series' focus away from the Doctor. And okay, it didn't exactly hurt that she was one of the most attractive companions in the series' history.
I was disappointed to find out that Tamm's Romana only lasted one season, the entire "Key to Time" story arc of Season 16. There were some solid Doctor Who classics in this season -- the aforementioned "The Ribos Operation," Douglas Adams' "The Pirate Planet," "The Androids of Tara," and the final story of the first Romana, "The Armageddon Factor." The less said about "The Power of Kroll," however, the better.
"The Androids of Tara" was the true spotlight story for Tamm, where she acted once again as Romana, but also as physical match Princess Strella and both of their android doubles. Wearing a distinctive purple outfit that Tamm supposedly designed herself, she stole as much attention as anyone could away from Tom Baker. She gets to do some very Doctorish things like facing the monster and finding the segment to the Key to Time early on, but because she's a companion, of course, it's not long before she's twisting her ankle and ends up on an operating table about to have her head cut off. I did, however, quite like the bit where Romana tries to "start" a horse.
At the time, it was a little frustrating as a fan to see Lalla Ward take over as Romana at the beginning of "Destiny of the Daleks" and also a bit weird, considering Tamm and Ward had shared scenes together in "The Armageddon Factor" with Ward playing Princess Astra. The idea of Romana being able to try on different bodies before settling on her second incarnation's appearance seemed pretty frivilous and convenient, but hey, you just have to roll with these things sometimes with Doctor Who. Later on in 2007, I read that Tamm was willing to come back a film a regeneration scene but wasn't invited to do so, another tragically missed opportunity for the series.
So one season and done for Mary Tamm's Romana, apart from appearances here and there in Fourth Doctor novels and Companion Chronicles audio adventure stories from Big Finish. Thankfully though, Tom Baker's recent agreement to create new Fourth Doctor audio adventures has resulted in seven new Fourth Doctor and First Romana stories, with Tamm reprising her role. The first one, "The Auntie Matter" is scheduled for release in January 2013, followed by "The Sands of Life," "War Against the Laan," "The Justice of Jalxar," "Phantoms of the Deep," "The Dalek Contract" and "The Final Phase."
It's going to be a bit sad though, listening to those audio adventures recorded prior to Tamm's death and realizing these seven stories will be the last we'll get to hear of her Romana. In the meantime, if you haven't watched "The Key to Time" season (and shame on you big time if you haven't), I definitely recommend seeing for yourselves what made Mary Tamm's Romana such a wonderful, and far too brief, addition to the series.