I’m very sad to have to again report on the passing of a beloved Doctor Who actor. Mary Tamm, who brilliantly played the first incarnation of Romana to Tom Baker’s Doctor, has passed away from cancer at the age of 62.
Though Tamm appeared for just one season from 1978-1979, the season-long “Key to Time” story arc, the mark she left on the series was indelible. Romana was the Doctor’s very first Time Lady companion since his granddaughter in the very beginning. Brought in to assist the Doctor in retrieving the Key to Time by the mysterious White Guardian, Romana, short for “Romanadvoratrelundar,” was a glamorous and intelligent young (139) Time Lady fresh out of the Academy on Gallifrey. Initially, she was dismissive of the Doctor’s eccentric ways and considered him her intellectual inferior; however, as the season progressed, they grew to compliment each other and become a team, with Romana’s book smarts pairing nicely with the Doctor’s experience and cunning. Romana is one of my favorite companions, and her interplay and quip-exchanging with Tom Baker makes even some of the “Key to Time”‘s sillier stories delightful to watch.
Tamm decided to leave the series after one season on good terms, though she cited that she didn’t think there was much more she could do with the character. She offered to come back to film a regeneration scene (she would turn into Lalla Ward for another season and a half) but for whatever reason was not invited to do so. In recent years, Tamm has returned to the role of Romana I in audio form for Big Finish’s Gallifrey range and had just recorded a new series of adventures with Tom Baker to be released soon.
Tamm’s non-Doctor Who work includes stints on such television dramas as Coronation Street and Brookside and in the Jon Voight film The Odessa File. She is survived by her husband Marcus, daughter Lauren, and grandson Max. There’s a very lovely tribute to Ms. Tamm by our friends at BBC America’s Anglophenia.
There are a woeful lack of Mary Tamm as Romana clips on YouTube, but I did find this one of her very last scene of the series. You get a good sense of who Romana was and of Tamm’s great acting in the role. I might also point you, if you haven’t already, to watching the “Key to Time: series, several stories from which are available on Netflix Instant.