Thursday, July 26, 2012

Mary Tamm Passes On

Mary Tamm, perhaps best known for playing the first incarnation of the Time Lady Romana on Doctor Who, died today at the age of 62. The cause was cancer.

Mary Tamm was born in Bradford, West Yorkshire on 22 March 1950. She attended Bradford Girls Grammar School and later studied at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. It was in 1971 that she joined the Birmingham Repertory Company. While with the Birmingham Repertory Company Miss Tamm appeared in Good Time Johnny and in Harold Pinter's The Lover. She would appear the following year in the rock musical Mother Earth in London.

It was in 1973 that Mary Tamm made her television debut in an episode of the TV show Hunter's Walk. That same year she appeared in the mini-series The Donati Conspiracy. Over the next few years she appeared on such television programmes as Coronation Street, A Raging Calm, The Inheritors, Warship, Public Eye, and Return of The Saint. She made her film debut in Tales That Witness Madness (1973), and went onto appear in the films The Odessa File (1974), The Likely Lads (1976), and Rampage (1978).

It was in 1978 that Mary Tamm was cast in what may be her best known role, Romanadvoratrelundar ("Romana," for short), in Doctor Who. At first Miss Tamm was hesitant to accept the role, with concern that she would simply being playing a damsel in distress in what was then widely regarded as a children's show. Romana would be very different from most of The Doctor's previous companions. Like Sarah Jane Smith (played by Elisabeth Sladen), Romana would be independent, intelligent, and resourceful. Unlike Sarah Jane or any other companion before or since, Romana was explicitly said to be a member of The Doctor's own race, a Time Lord (or in her instance, a Time Lady). Mary Tamm remained with Doctor Who for one series, after which the part of Romana was taken over by Lalla Ward (like The Doctor, Romana regenerated into a new form).

Following Doctor Who Mary Tamm appeared in several series and mini-series. In 1980 she appeared in The Assassination Run. In the Eighties she appeared in The Treachery Game, Only When I Laugh, Jane Eyre, Bergerac, The Hello Goodbye Man, Worlds Beyond, Agatha Christie's Poirot, and Casualty. She appeared in the film Three Kinds of Heat (1987). In the Nineties she was a regular on the series Brookside and Headless. She appeared on such shows as Perfect Scoundrels, The New Adventures of Robin Hood, Crime Traveller, Heartbeat, Loved by You, and CI5: The New Professionals. She appeared in the films Pressing Engagement (1992), Melody's Her 2nd Name (2000), and Sorted (2000).

In the Naughts Mary Tamm was a regular on Paradise Heights. She appeared on such shows as The Bill, Jonathan Creek, Rose and Maloney, Holby City, Diamond GeezerDoctors, and EastEnders.

Mary Tamm was a very talented actress capable of a number of roles. Her incarnation of Romana on Doctor Who was aristocratic and arrogant, initially looking down on The Doctor. More recently on EastEnders she played Orlenda, a Russian con artist about as far as Romana as one could get. She also played Blanche Ingram, the beautiful, but hard hearted and greedy socialite courted for a time by Mr. Rochester. Miss Tamm was capable of playing nearly any role to which she set her mind and play it well.

Mary Tamm's Romana was among the first of The Doctor's companions I encountered when I began watching Doctor Who and she remains my favourite. The first incarnation of Romana was different from nearly every other companion in that her distinct awareness of her aristocratic heritage and as a result she tended to be a bit haughty as well. As a Time Lady she was certainly different from the various humans with whom The Doctor has travelled. While I felt Lalla Ward did quite well as the second incarnation of Romana, her character never quite appealed to me as much as Mary Tamm's Romana. Regardless, I must say that I am saddened by the passing of Mary Tamm, a great actress who played one of my favourite of The Doctor's various companions.

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