She may have been a brunette but, on screen, she always had the icy allure of a Hitchcock blond. In real life that chill melted away the moment that Mary Tamm spoke. Warm, witty and wonderfully free of show bizz froth, the actress who will forever be remembered as Romana to Tom Baker’s Doctor, lost her battle against cancer yesterday.
may have been a brunette but, on screen, she always had the icy allure of a
Hitchcock blond. In real life that chill melted away the moment that Mary Tamm
spoke. Warm, witty and wonderfully free of show bizz froth, the actress who
will forever be remembered as Romana to Tom Baker’s Doctor, lost her battle
against cancer yesterday.
Despite the cut glass accent, Tamm was born in
Dewsbury, Yorkshire, to émigré parents and didn’t learn English until she went
to primary school. It was there that she caught the acting bug.
After school she studied at RADA before
embarking on a successful theatre career, appearing with luminaries such as Derek Jacobi in Harold Pinter’s The Lover. However, it was on screen that Tamm really started to make a
name for herself. Roles in films such as The
Odessa File (1974) and the big screen spin off of The Likely Lads (1976) were followed by high profile TV dramas A Raging Calm (1974) and The Girls of Slender Means (1975).
Famously, when the call came to audition for Dr
Who, Tamm had little interest in playing what she felt would be just another
damsel in distress. However, when presented with the role Romanadvoratrelundar,
Romana for short, Tamm was taken by the possibilities that the character
Romana would be the first ‘Time Lady’ the show
had seen – and every inch the Doctor’s equal. From her elegant gowns (which
Tamm helped design) to haughty demeanour, Romana was a showstopper. But what
made the character so appealing was that beneath that confident, almost
arrogant, exterior Romana was a real babe in the woods – a wide eyed innocent
who gradually comes to appreciate the Doctor’s experience and eccentric ways.
There have always been smart, independent women in the TARDIS, but decades
before River Song came along, Romana was the one to tell him he was flying the
Although Tamm only played the role for a year
(1978-1979) during the Key To Time
story arc, she managed to create a character that we came to love. Compare the Romana we see in her first
story, The Ribos Operation, who
falls so charmingly for conman Unstoffe’s “honest face”, to the much
more worldly wise figure in the wonderful Prisoner
Of Zenda homage, The Androids Of
Tara. The subtly of her performance, infused with a dry wit and charm, made
her a firm fan favourite.
Sadly she left the show at the end of the Key To
Time arc, feeling that she had gone as far as she could with the character. It
was a testament to the popularity of her creation, though, that the Beeb chose
to have Romana regenerate rather than leave for good.
After Who, Tamm was busier than ever, working on
both stage and screen, with roles in soaps such as Brookside and Eastenders
as well as guest appearances in Wire In
The Blood, Poirot and Jonathan Creek. On stage, she won rave
reviews with a blistering Beverly in Abigail’s
Party at the Chichester Festival and as Amanda, in Private Lives. She returned to the Who, to huge fan acclaim, in
2005 with Big Finish’s Gallifrey audio
Her death leaves friends and family devastated
and, coming fast on the heels of the loss of Nicholas Courtney, Liz Sladen, Philip Madoc and Caroline Johns, has left the Whoniverse a bleaker place. Mary Tamm was the
noblest Romana of them all.