I woke up to shocking news this morning – Mary Tamm, who played the very first Romana, has died at the painfully young age of 62.
Romana – this Romana – was my second companion. I have memories of the Leela era of the show, but the first series I really remember well, and in its entirety, was the Key to Time sequence. I remember playing Doctor Who with friends in our back garden in Scotland, with our home-made tracer. I was only 6 when the series started.
Mary’s portrayal of Romana made a big impact on me. She was like the Doctor – knowledgeable, wise and often witty. But she was more naive, with plenty still to learn. A sense of fun lurked under an often haughty exterior. For all the modern series’ claims to making companions more equal to the Doctor, here was one companion that genuinely had the ability to be his equal – and could sometimes out do him. She gave my young self a sense that life was a journey, than you developed and became more than you were. It’s a good lesson to learn when you’re six.
Rewatching that series with adult eyes, you can see the great ambitions for the character in the early episodes, and the slow erosion of her by the later ones. It’s a shame, and for all the fun of the second Romana, you can see someone who is less directly a threat to the Doctor’s authority. Those early episodes, though, are still a joy to watch.
For all the recent losses of great figures of Doctor Who’s past, this one has hit me hardest – this is one of the first figures from my Doctor Who to die. Liz Shaw, The Brigadier, Sarah-Jane Smith – these were all characters I learnt about through Doctor Who Weekly, not the TV itself. But Mary Tamm was a figure that helped defined my Saturday nights in the autumn and winter of 1978 and 1979. A little piece of my childhood has gone.
Still: we have seven new adventures in the company of The Doctor and the first Romana to look forward to. Earlier this year, Mary and Tom Baker recorded seven audio adventures for the Big Finish range, that go on sale in January. I have them pre-ordered, and hope I’ll be able to find my inner-six year old to enjoy their adventures as I do over 30 years ago.
To Mary: my thanks for the entertainment and wonder you brought me as a child. To her family: my best wishes and thoughts at this difficult time.