Mary Tamm was the first Romana, appearing in the ‘Key to Time’ season. Here, she tells DWM about getting the role, her time working with Tom Baker, the attempt to bring more humour to the show, and her annoyance at not getting a farewell scene.
“I wasn’t particularly keen on going for the part of Romana, but my agent suggested it would be a good career move. The producer Graham Williams and my first director, George Spenton-Foster, saw me and I was told it was planned to be something of a radical departure from the usual companion mould, with Romana matching up much more to the Doctor’s intelligence and skill. It was supposedly goign to be more of a challenge, as well as more of a starring partnership. Anyway, I read for it and then Graham and George screen-tested six actresses for the part before they contacted me and asked me to play Romana.
“The press are so funny. One of them reported me as saying that playing a ‘Doctor Who’ girl was like being a ‘James Bond’ girl, which I never said at all! I suppose there’s an element of truth in it, but I never said it! They’ll pick up anything that smells of behind-the-scenes tension and blow it out of all proportion, but fortunately with ‘Doctor Who’ that was never a problem.
“I didn’t really like the script for ‘The Ribos Operation’. For a start, I thought ‘Hold on, what’s happened to this incredible starring part?’, and then I realised that I was there to fill the traditional role of cipher to the Doctor. I still had to do my share of the screaming and the bungling that tends to go with being a companion. Looking back, the format doesn’t actually allow for much else. It’s only a half hour show. I did enjoy the year I had with the show, but it was a bit of a disappointment once I realised the truth about the character I was playing.
“Tom Baker’s a fascinating man in many ways, and very refreshing to work with, if occasionally a bit difficult. He was just so different, he suited the part down to the ground and in a rehearsal room he made everyone feel ‘this is my show’. We got on very well, which was nice because, as with everything an actor does, those first few days of rehearsal can be really nerve-wracking. He made me feel welcome quickly, and so we got down to thte work without any real hassles.
“In ‘The Androids of Tara’, we had to do this scene using an antique fishing rod worth literally hundreds of pounds. Tom was supposed to be casting it off, which, when he came to the take he did – throwing the thing into the water at the same time. It was awful, really, he felt so guilty, but it was very funny at the time.
“The worst filming experiences I had were when we did ‘The Power of Kroll’ in a dreadful marsh somewhere. Tom and I got totally stuck in the mud, we just couldn’t move until we were rescued. We were miles from anywhere and it was so bleak. There was absolutely nothing to do between takes, because if you wandered off you’d probably have been swallowed up!
“The Pirate Planet was written by Douglas Adams, and it was great fun to work on. I really enjoyed its inventiveness and humour, and the whole production glowed. Pennant Roberts was my favourite director, but that’s not meant as a slight on the others. They were all fine, but Pennant was something special, and he was wonderful on that story. As a whole, we didn’t have any difficult directors which, in a schedule like that, was a distinct blessing.
“I liked the humour element very much. In fact, Tom and I put a lot of comedy into our relationship which I think worked quite well and was certainly very popular at the time. I think there’s room for a lot of comedy in ‘Doctor Who’. If it concentrates too much on the frightening and more serious aspects of the situation, it can become too intense. The humour was a nice contrast to that, and we tried harad to work it into the scripts wherever possible. Tom and I were also very keen on the love / hate relationship (between the Doctor and Romana), and we would both have liked to have seen that develop even more than it did. I think, though, that both our producers and our writers were a bit scared of going any further into that set-up because it was deviating from the established and successful formula. It was a shame, but it’s typical of the limits of TV.
“John Leeson (as K9) was just as inventive as Tom and he was super to be with in rehearsal. He did everything as if he actually was the dog we had on screen, down to wagging an imaginary tail! The character of K9 took off with viewers very rapidly, and I think it’s easy to see why. I liked him, but one did have to suspend one’s disbelief when acting with him. He was fine because he was usually on Romana’s side in an argument, as well as the fact that, because of the sheer mechanics of working him, he wasn’t in every episode.
“We had some nice location stuff to do for ‘The Stones of Blood’, and I was rather impressed with the story. It was quite creepy. Because the cast was so small and so good, I got a larger part and it was a closer team. Susie Engel and I got on very well indeed, and Beatrix Lehman was a tremendous person to work with.
“The Androids of Tara was the one where I got to play two parts, which was fine in one sense but which meant that I had more than the usual number of lines to learn! It was a nice idea and it offered me a bit of the scope I had been promised by the part, and which had been somewhat lost along the way. There was a scene where I was being crowned or something, and I had this great big speech, something of a rarity in ‘Doctor Who’! I had a really heavy crown and my costume was so complex that even the slightest sharp movement would descend into disarray. On the first take, I had just about got to the end of this long speech when I forgot the last line. I was furious and we had to start all over again. On the second take I lost my balance and the crown went cascading off my head. Everyone – including myself – absolutely fell about.
“I’d very much have liked a leaving scene. I was rather annoyed that I wasn’t properly written out. I’d said to Graham Williams when I accepted the part, ‘You have to know, I’m only going to do the one year’, and he’d said ‘Yes, yes, fine’, hoping, I suspect, that I’d change my mind. And sure enough, when the time came and I said this is my last story, he said how much they wanted me to stay on. The character had been highly popular with the viewers, and I think to try and persuade me into doing extra time, I didn’t get a proper leaving scene. But I had made my position perfectly clear and so I felt rather annoyed by it all.”