Here’s Lalla Ward talking about her time as Princess Astra and Romana, as well as her marriage to Tom Baker, the loss of ‘Shada’ and her decision to leave the show in ‘Warriors Gate’:
“I must have been the most unusual entrant into the series. My audition was, unwittingly, a six-week story! Naturally, at the time I had no idea it would blossom into the offer of a regular job. I was fortunate because when I joined, I knew everybody, so the first-night nerves, so to speak, were not so concentrated. Everybody had been so surprised at Mary Tamm’s decision to leave. It was all so quick, before I knew it there I was – the new Romana!
“The director of ‘The Armageddon Factor’, Michael Hayes, had worked with me on ‘The Duchess of Duke Street’ and also noted my work in ‘Shelley’. He contacted my agent because he saw me as right for the past of Princess Astra. I think one of the reasons they asked me to take over from Mary was that my original character had received a favourable response from the viewers. I’d got on so well with Tom – and with Mary – that I was suggested and I certainly had no qualms about taking it on.
“I just couldn’t be the same as Mary. It wouldn’t have worked. I had to approach it differently. I kept thinking that I was in somebody else’s shoes and they didn’t quite fit. So it was weird – but a challenge. Besides, when Time Lords regenerate, they don’t stay the same, do they? None of the Doctors have, and I’m sure Romana wouldn’t have either. It was never easy to do ‘Doctor Who’ – it was very hard work, very taxing at times for all sorts of reasons.
“We used to have the most awful problems with our writers. Tom and I used to have the rewrite most of our dialogue with the director, usually because it wasn’t right for the parts we were playing. And it happened from the very st art. Our actual rehearsal time, which was incredibly tight, was reduced still further as a result. So the programme was always a heavy workload – we had this responsibility for the show and we were doing so many a year against the problems of a small budget and scripts that we wouldn’t have done without at least an element of rewriting.
But our writers were under pressure too. They had to work with severe limitations, and in making it adventurous the characters were often neglected. And in some ways, I felt the show was more about people than adventure situations.
“The schoolgirl outfit was my idea – so was the riding look in ‘The Horns of Nimon’. I took the whole thing to its limits because I knew I’d probably never have such a chance again. In ‘Destiny of the Daleks’, we came up with that smashing idea – a joke on the Doctor, really – of having a version of his costume for Romana. She was an individual charaacter and her clothes had to show this – a fantastic mixture of all the different worlds at her disposal. I’m ashamed of the way I bossed my poor designers around. They’d suggest something, which might be alright, but then I’d see myself in something else, so I’d insist on that. They were always letting me have my own way, so I had a tremendous time. I always bore n mind what would appeal to the viewers and make them laugh. It was all fantasy and I enjoyed every minute of it.
“City of Death was very challenging. For a start, we had to film loads of scenes in the rain and cold and as quickly as possible because we only had a few days – there was no glamour at all! Then we had tov irtually rewrite the whole thing, because it just wasn’t working out. Luckily the excellent cast helped and it was stimulating, but very difficult. In retrospect, it was different from the ordinary stories too, and I liked the finished result.
“My favourite was ‘State of Decay’. It had the most amazingly real designs – the sets made me feel so eerie, it wasn’t difficult to act. I think perhaps the horror element was over-played, but it was a powerful script, one of our beset, and beautifully directed.
“Tom works incredibly hard, too hard. He’s a perfectionist at heart, and with ‘Doctor Who’ we often didn’t have time for perfection. He love the fans he got through playing the Doctor – especially the children – and he always kept up an incredibly conscientious role while he was in the series – he never smoked or drank in public. That was something he saw as his responsibility. He is a superb actor and his popularity reflects this. The trouble is our careers came to be just as important as each other, and we grew apart. I was angry at suggestions that it didn’t work because I was too young – or that Tom was unreasonable to me. It was a decision we discussed and felt was for the best.
“On ‘Shada’, we had stupendous problems for a while. We shot the series out of order anyway, and because of delays and over-running we got steadily more and more behind schedule. The team were all working at breakneck speed to complete it all in time. Tom was a hopeless punter, so that scene on the gondola took hours! We lost everything we’d done – which was a lot, unfortunately. As I remember, the filming in Cambridge was superb, but overall I wasn’t happy with it. Douglas had written a superb script, but it just coincided with a time when I felt fed up with everything. To have worked so hard and got so far advanced was heartbreaking when all that happened was its cancellation. Morale sank very low.
“I know it’s a cliche, but it’s best to get out on top. I’d had my era – it was time for a new look and the programme never keeps its cast for too long anyway. I’d made up my mind before the start of recording for the new series that I’d like to go halfway through. John Nathan-Turner had exactly the same feeling, so we had no conflict over the decision – it was entirely amicable, and a relief, because I’d been dreading telling him – and vice versa, I think. I absolutely loated ‘Warrior’s Gate’ because it was my last one. I felt particularly regretful, I’d become so very close to the show. The story itself was a good one – a fine leaving story – with a sufficient air of mystery to it. I hadn’t wanted to be killed off or fall in love or anything tame and silly, so I was pleased that I got a nice open-ended departure. I was also delighted I got K9 as company. It somehow eased the break. An excellent story – good for Romana – but terribly sad for me.
“I discovered quite early on that a camera never lets you down. Your acting is unrestricted by its presence, whereas an audience will react in different ways. I love the theatre and I do like to work ‘live’ every so often, but my first loyalty is to television. I’d done so much there – I feel a sense of attachment. The atmosphere of television is right for me.”