RIP Mary Tamm
July 26, 2012 4:30 AM   Subscribe

Mary Tamm, best known as the first Romana from Doctor Who's Key To Time series between 1978–1979, has died. She left the show after just one year feeling that her role had devolved into the "typical assistant" trope, and went to to have a varied career on stage and screen in the UK, including a three-year stint on Brookside. She had been suffering from cancer for 18 months.
posted by Mezentian (56 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
posted by K.P. at 4:34 AM on July 26, 2012

Since I posted that I found this tribute at DWN.

It contains a much better subject line too:
"I never, ever thought of Romana as a sex symbol".


As Paul Cornell says, it feels like an obit every month these days.
posted by Mezentian at 4:38 AM on July 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

posted by pemberkins at 4:45 AM on July 26, 2012


posted by zerobyproxy at 4:49 AM on July 26, 2012 [7 favorites]


I've never been much of a Dr. Who fan, but I did enjoy her banter with Tom Baker. She will be missed.
posted by Cash4Lead at 4:50 AM on July 26, 2012

First Romana was the best Romana.

posted by condesita at 5:27 AM on July 26, 2012 [10 favorites]

Oh, no. Her portrayal of Romana was a huge influence for me as an awkward, lonely teenage girl -- the idea that a woman who was canonically nerdy (a triple first at the Academy! always going on about her thesis!) could be gorgeous and self-possessed and more than a match for the Doctor. She will be so missed.

posted by jeudi at 5:27 AM on July 26, 2012 [5 favorites]

Well that sucks.

posted by pompomtom at 5:37 AM on July 26, 2012

posted by Kitteh at 5:38 AM on July 26, 2012

There's a nice 1978 interview with her (and a suitably odd Tom) here

posted by brilliantmistake at 5:49 AM on July 26, 2012

posted by redheadedstepchild at 5:50 AM on July 26, 2012

i enjoyed the commentary she gave on the dr. who dvd's, she was very witty and full of life.
posted by camdan at 6:02 AM on July 26, 2012

posted by MrBobaFett at 6:09 AM on July 26, 2012

posted by The Great Big Mulp at 6:14 AM on July 26, 2012


I was SO MAD when Romana regenerated. This was back when Dr. Who was *only* Tom Baker on PBS here in Boston, so I didn't know about regeneration at all, and I thought it was a terrible cheat. I never warmed up to Lalla Ward, because I considered her too silly to be the "real" Romana.
posted by xingcat at 6:16 AM on July 26, 2012

This may or may not be the time to ask, but I'll try anyway. I've always liked the idea of Doctor Who, but have never watched so much as a single episode. At this point there has been so much of it over the years, and in what seems to be so many versions, I'm not sure where to start. Where does an interested fellow start watching this thing?
posted by datter at 6:26 AM on July 26, 2012

Oh man, this has not been a good couple of years for Dr. Who companions. I, too, always liked the first Romana better. This is sad.

posted by DiscourseMarker at 6:34 AM on July 26, 2012

And datter, you might try searching through AskMe. I'm pretty sure people have asked that question before, and you will get a sense of the various possibilities better.
posted by DiscourseMarker at 6:36 AM on July 26, 2012

posted by saulgoodman at 6:37 AM on July 26, 2012

Detter - Series 1 or Series 5 of 21st century Who are both designed as good starting points for new watchers.
posted by brilliantmistake at 6:48 AM on July 26, 2012

posted by stoneweaver at 7:15 AM on July 26, 2012

posted by Artw at 7:21 AM on July 26, 2012

posted by Smart Dalek at 7:23 AM on July 26, 2012

I've discussed my appreciation of Tamm's Romana here before; so I will simply say that this is very sad news, particularly in light of the recent passing of Caroline John and Liz Sladen. When Louise Jameson goes, I don't know what I'm going to do.
posted by Rangeboy at 7:24 AM on July 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

Have you noticed how everyone seems to be dead lately?

posted by localroger at 7:25 AM on July 26, 2012

Detter, I'd do what was suggested, check the Ask Me, but start with "Rose" (the resumption from a few years ago).

I love the older episodes more than should be humanly possible, but I grew up with them, and they are potentially and acquired taste as they conform to older style story telling modes.

Since you are in my age group I'd start with some Tom Baker and sample a bit (I like Genesis of the Daleks or the Ark In Space, personally) and then, if that grabs you, try random stories.
Continuity doesn't matter per se.
posted by Mezentian at 7:31 AM on July 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

Xingcat I loved both Romanas greatly. If you think Lala was too silly I'd suggest giving the Big Finish audio drama "Gallifrey" a chance. Lala stars as Romana now Lord President of Gallifrey,MIT also features Louise Jamison as Leela. Without giving too many spoilers at some point they cross paths with Mary Tamm as the original regeneration of Romana.
posted by MrBobaFett at 7:37 AM on July 26, 2012

Thanks all, and RIP to Ms. Tamm of course.
posted by datter at 7:37 AM on July 26, 2012

posted by vibrotronica at 7:42 AM on July 26, 2012


I've got the Key to Time queued up in Netflix and I'm inclined to rearrange it so I can watch it next.
posted by immlass at 7:44 AM on July 26, 2012


In case you were, as I was, wondering if there were some that we missed, here is a list of the other actors who played friends and companions of The Doctor who have taken their last TARDIS ride, in order of the date of their death:
  • Ian Don Marter (28 October 1944 – 28 October 1986) — Harry Sullivan
  • Gerald Robert Flood (21 April 1927 - 12 April 1989) — Kamelion
  • Jacqueline Hill (17 December 1929 – 18 February 1993) — Barbara Wright
  • Adrienne Hill (22 July 1937 – 6 October 1997) — Katarina
  • Michael Craze (29 November 1942 – 8 December 1998) — Ben Jackson
  • David Brierly (1935 – 10 June 2008) — second voice of K9
  • William Nicholas Stone Courtney (16 December 1929 – 22 February 2011) — Brigadier Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart
  • Elisabeth Clara Heath-Sladen[2] (1 February 1946 – 19 April 2011) — Sarah Jane Smith
  • Caroline Frances John (19 September 1940 – 5 June 2012) — Liz Shaw
posted by ubiquity at 7:53 AM on July 26, 2012 [2 favorites]

That's a lot of people this year, and most of them rather young too.

posted by philipy at 8:14 AM on July 26, 2012

Might be worth mentioning that Big Finish also has a series of 7 new audio stories with Tom Baker and Mary Tamm already recorded and due for release next year. Listening to them will be extra poignant now.
posted by slothdog at 8:14 AM on July 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


I was just watching The Androids of Tara last night.
posted by medeine at 8:42 AM on July 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

Oh, how sad. I loved her as Romana, so beautiful, poised and serene. Here's an article with a picture of her in that outfit with the feather collar.

Oh and now I suddenly see why I aspired to wear purple and teal in junior high. So I guess the first Romana was a fashion icon to me, in a way the second Romana, with her school-girl hat and pink coat, just couldn't touch.
posted by Squeak Attack at 10:10 AM on July 26, 2012

I would suggest to start from the very very beginning, or at least what survive of them. (Many 1st and 2nd Doctor episodes are lost.) There are places (which I leave it to you to find) where you can find the very oldest surviving episodes. We watched them up through about halfway through the 3rd Doctor and may yet return to them (we've got it on hold for now). Doing it this way I think is the only way that brings in the full scope of the show, which has changed vastly several times throughout its history.

Doctor Who began as the story of a weird old coot, his unreasonably bright granddaughter, and their time machine. The Doctor was actually a real jerk in his very earliest appearances -- he outright abducts the original companions to preserve their privacy, and makes to kill a caveman in the first serial. But Ian and Barbera kind of humanize the old guy in the early serials. Susan, the Doctor's granddaughter, does her part too.

So the show was just beginning to settle in for a nice long run in that format when the young actress who played Susan left the show. In the next serial another young girl joins the cast, beginning the show's revolving-door casting, which is part of what has allowed its longevity, since when one actor gets tired of a role they can just return him home, or in the Doctor's case have him "regenerate." And yet, Susan is hardly ever referred to in later episodes! Once in a great while the Doctor will make a cryptic reference to having a family, but it almost never plays into things. But just knowing that the Doctor had a granddaughter doesn't have the same impact as seeing those episodes for yourself, which later on help to remind the viewer that Susan isn't some backstory element in a script bible somewhere but an actual character who had several very good adventures on screen.

Classic Doctor Who did stuff like that quite often, take up some interesting style or prop or idea or something for two or three seasons then discard them, often when the title character regenerates or a notable companion leaves. Unless you see the show from the beginning, you'll miss out on the historical serials (some of my favorite episodes, where the Doctor and his companions face entirely earthly dangers which helps keep the stories grounded in a way that later episodes have trouble with right up into the modern series), the monster-fighting years of the Second Doctor, the adventures of the 3rd Doctor when he's stuck on Earth helping the Brigadier and UNIT (and Robert Delgado's original Master, by far the best version of that character, mostly but not quite entirely evil), and the 4th Doctor's whimsicality -- which at times contrasted oddly with the darker side of his personality when dire portents are about.

I think after that the classic episodes become more optional, and I have difficulty keeping my own interest in the show up during the 6th Doctor. But long before you get to that point you'll have watched decades of classic stories, sometimes with embarrassing special effects and highly questionable science, but also some wonderful stories and concepts that you really can't find in any other science fiction show.
posted by JHarris at 11:05 AM on July 26, 2012 [2 favorites]

I giggled a lot at Mary Tamm's performance as Terry's Scandinavian girlfriend in the Likely Lads film. "Where are the crockery?". RIP.
posted by gdav at 11:11 AM on July 26, 2012

ubiquity leaves out Roger Delgado, not a companion but the original Master. I read somewhere (I think it was the BBC's excellent site on the classic series) that the plan had been to give the Master a kind of redemption and have him eventually give his life to save the Doctor's, but Delgado died in a car crash before that could happen. You can see in those serials that they were coming around to making the Master less of a one-note villain.
posted by JHarris at 11:14 AM on July 26, 2012

I had always heard that Mary Tamm was pushed off the show to make the role available for Tom Baker's girlfriend Lalla Ward.

'Course, we found Ward much less likable in the role, and Tom ended up marrying her, which made the rumor seem more believable.

Glad to hear Mary quit of her own accord.
posted by IAmBroom at 11:31 AM on July 26, 2012

Like all of you I've spent countless hours watching Doctor Who, and I remember Mary Tamm's performance very fondly. It's a damn shame that she died so soon. I hope she was as comfortable as possible, there in the end. :(
posted by Xenophon Fenderson at 12:17 PM on July 26, 2012

posted by MelanieL at 12:45 PM on July 26, 2012

Wow... I was watching some of The Key to Time just yesterday.

I liked Mary Tamm more than Lalla Ward when I was a child and the episodes were airing, but after rewatching over the last couple of years I think they're evenly matched. Actually all the companions of the seventies (and their portrayers) are excellent (if badly served by the script editors), but there was something in Mary Tamm's performance - the cool, intelligent confidence of her - that kicked the series up a notch for me.

Damn shame.
posted by Grangousier at 12:51 PM on July 26, 2012

I'd enjoy the new stuff first, starting with "Rose," rather than wade through the "classic" Who. At this point, I think that's only interesting for the very devoted or intensely nostalgic. I've deliberately not re-watched the Tom Baker years to preserve them in rosy childhood memories.

At one point, I very geekily made a spreadsheet of doctors and companions and actors, initially because I wanted to compare lengths of tenure and ages, but it grew from there.

Consulting it again, I'm sad to realize how old iconic people are getting -- though it's not age that took Sladen or Tamm. Cancer's a motherfucker. I thought I'd be noting how delightfully young my personal favorite classic (surviving) companions were, but it turns out they're basically the same age as Tamm. Louise Jameson (Leela) and Lalla Ward (the second Romana) were both born in 1951. Sixty creeps up on you eh?

No Doctor has died since Jon (Three) Pertwee in 1996, which stands to reason because there's a big age jump after him. The oldest surviving Doctor, it pains me to note, is the 78-year-old Tom Baker, born in 1934 -- who, at the time, was the youngest guy to take the role to date (at 40).

Peter Davison followed him (another 1951 baby), and pushed the youth bar further; he was only 30. After him came two born in '43. Colin Baker and Sylvester McCoy are nearly 70 today, but their Doctors were in their apparent 40s, which is sort of the "normal" range if you look at the figures.

Anyway, this clustering means we'll have a sad sequence of years indeed at some point, but I hope it's many years off. I'm still holding out hope for an "Eight Doctors" special while we still have so many alive.
posted by uberchet at 1:03 PM on July 26, 2012

posted by Start with Dessert at 1:51 PM on July 26, 2012

Dammit, 62 is too young. She was definitely the superior Romana, and a teenaged Sphinx may have had more than a little crush on her. This hits a touch too close to home.

posted by Sphinx at 2:46 PM on July 26, 2012

I really think that the Key To Time arc is as good as Doctor Who has ever been.
posted by vibrotronica at 3:51 PM on July 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

Other than the vaguely science fictioney stories, the new Dr. Who is nothing at all like the old one. Liking/hating one will have little bearing on your opinion of the other.

For me, the good stuff starts with Jon Pertwee and peters out starting in the middle of Peter Davison's run. If you are just testing, maybe start with the The Sun Makers.
posted by Chuckles at 4:59 PM on July 26, 2012


posted by twidget at 6:18 PM on July 26, 2012


(As to what Who to watch, maybe randomly sample a couple from different seasons until you find something that you enjoy? Maybe its Pertwee and his odd ways, or maybe its Baker and his even odder ways. Or maybe you will only like the new stuf, in which case, definitely watch season 1 as it has the best doctor ever. And Rose, who is ace.)
posted by marienbad at 6:41 PM on July 26, 2012

No Ace was with Sylvester McCoy, and she was far superior to Rose. :)
posted by MrBobaFett at 8:57 PM on July 26, 2012 [3 favorites]

No Ace was with Sylvester McCoy, and she was far superior to Rose. :)

Cannot favorite this hard enough.
posted by DiscourseMarker at 11:36 AM on July 27, 2012

I think Chuckles is pretty close, except I'd actually start with William Hartnell. I can't believe how much I've enjoyed his Doctor. He lays down the template for everything that follows, right down to being something of an asshole sometimes.
posted by JHarris at 9:24 PM on July 27, 2012

So eventually the main characters of Doctor Who (actors who played the Doctor, actors and actresses who played companions) were introduced to me before I saw them on screen via various forms of Doctor Who non-fiction, which was the only way to learn about the show before watching it back in the day before the Internet.

So my judgments on characters and episodes were informed by accepted fan wisdom; the huge exception to this was those from the Fourth and Fifth Doctors era, and in no time was this more the case than with Mary Tamm's Romana because my first episode of Doctor Who was episode two of "The Ribos Operation", Romana's first story. In post-2005 Who terms, Romana I was my Rose.

For those of you who aren't familiar with the story, Romana has been assigned as a companion to the Doctor by the White Guardian in order to assist with his quest to the Key to Time. He didn't want her around at all, preferring to do all the work himself but the all-powerful guardian demanded that he have an assistant, and informed him if he didn't like it, there'd be nothing left for him -- ever. (If you're at all familiar with behind the scenes working of mid-1970s Doctor Who, you can't help but wonder if this was the producers sending a message to its temperamental star -- as Baker infamously (especially if you were a co-star) often wanted to be the show's only star and thought the companion role unnecessary.)

So even though the show was well established, and even though I came into the story in the middle, Romana was still my audience identification character. While the Doctor was goofing around in the dangerous pseudo-medieval-Russian planet of Ribos, pissing off folks right and left, and amused at the trickery of the con men and threats of the violent warlords, Romana was taking this time traveling quest thing Very Seriously, and as a Very Serious 10 year old, I saw her point and thought the Doctor was somewhat of an ass. (Then, he blew K-9's whistle in order to call him from the TARDIS, and I was more amused by his antics; not that I found the tin dog so impressive, but anybody who has a dog whistle to call his robotic dog seemed all right to me.)

And Romana continued to grow on me. She was smart without apology. She was scared, not because she was a woman, but because she was in legitimately scary situation. The Doctor wanted to go fishing; Romana got shit done in his absence (and managed to care about looking fabulous while doing so). Mary Tamm was the only woman who graced my walls in a poster, and it was as close to heterosexuality as I got under my parent's roof.

I was disappointed when Mary Tamm left the show (and up until that point unfamiliar with regeneration, a little confused until my father was able to explain) and though Lalla Ward's version was different, it was still the same character as created the season previous. I can understand why Mary Tamm left -- like I said, being a companion during the Baker years couldn't have been easy. But even under those conditions, Tamm was able to create a smart, not-always-impressed-by-the-Doctor, focused but sometimes flirty character who even thinks she can pilot the TARDIS -- it's no wonder folks online probably thought she was River Song. The more things change, the more things stay the same. And I'm so glad that Mary Tamm in her long white dress and boa kept my attention that summer night so many years ago because it's led to a lifetime love affair with my favorite show.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 3:11 PM on August 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

Late as always, I am, but Tom Baker has written a tribute.
posted by Mezentian at 4:23 PM on August 1, 2012 [2 favorites]

I just came here to post that.
That's so sad.
posted by Mezentian at 5:23 PM on August 9, 2012

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