The recent death of Mary Tamm after a long battle with cancer marks a solemn conclusion to a brief but memorable tenure with Doctor Who. Tamm’s Romana, as much as Hartnell’s First Doctor is the definitive incarnation of her Time Lord, the blueprint devised by Graham Williams and Robert Holmes without which we would not have had the re-interpretation (some might say continuation) by Lalla Ward, and mimeses portrayed by the likes of Michelle Ryan and Alex Kingston.
Sometimes dubbed the “ice maiden”- partially from her debut on the snowbound planet Ribos, Tamm’s Romana was refinement and composure at a critical time for Tom Baker’s portrayal of the Doctor. It has become trendy of late to dismiss much of the Williams era for offering too long a leash to its star, of indulging the more ridiculous and self-conscious side of the Fourth Doctor. Tamm’s circumspect high-achieving student was an excellent foil to this Doctor, as much a counterpart as her would-be opposite Leela. While the character would inevitably be ‘softened’, an aspect Tamm was reportedly less than keen on, her attitude to a universe she has yet to experience first hand changes through the Doctor’s influence. We should acknowledge that the transformation is as much in Tamm’s hands as its result – a regeneration and the tightest unit in Who history. All in six stories.
This isn’t to ignore the importance of Tamm’s and Baker’s working relationship, which by all accounts was as mutually easy as that of the star and Lis Sladen. The two shared a similar sense of humour, a common intelligence and regard, and the playful element of their infamous BBC inside ‘Christmas Who’ tape speaks for itself. The Fourth Doctor and First Romana were recently reunited by Big Finish for the second season of Fourth Doctor audio adventures which, alongside roles in Gallifrey and two Companion Chronicles, mark the only Who outings for Tamm in character; having made the transition from the series after a short tenure, her career continued without the curse of the Who Girl stereotype. As with the recent passing of Caroline John, it’s bittersweet consolation that we have not yet heard the last of a much loved and admired companion.