R.I.P. Mary Tamm, Doctor Who’s Romana

British actress Mary Tamm, known for playing the first incarnation of Romana during Doctor Who’s “Key To Time” season in 1978 and 1979, has died of cancer. She was 62.

The child of Estonian refugees, Tamm graduated from the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London, starting her career in the early 1970s with appearances in British TV shows like Coronation Street, as well as the films The Odessa File and The Likely Lads. She joined Doctor Who in the sci-fi series’ sixteenth-season opener “The Ribos Operation” as the haughty but inexperienced Time Lady Romanadvotrelundar—”Romana” for short—who was assigned to help the Doctor search for the six segments of the Key to Time, a missing artifact with vast cosmic powers. Her character made an effective foil for Tom Baker’s Fourth Doctor, contrasting against his bohemian, devil-may-care personality with an icy sophistication of her own, and matching his arrogance and high-wattage charisma with often-superior intelligence and competence—not to mention a healthy disdain for her older colleague’s eccentricities.

Tamm also played Romana’s doppelganger, Princess Strella, in the season’s fourth serial, “The Androids Of Tara.” But Tamm was unhappy that the format of Doctor Who kept its focus tightly on its title character and didn’t allow for his companions to rival the Doctor in importance, and she left the show after the season finale, “The Armageddon Factor.” Her character was assumed in the following season by a new actress, Lalla Ward (who would later marry Baker).

After Doctor Who, Tamm was seen regularly in British TV dramas including Agatha Christie’s Poirot, Paradise Heights, Wire In The Blood, and EastEnders. Like many other Doctor Who series regulars, she returned to reprise her character in audio dramas produced by Big Finish, including a series of six new serials with Tom Baker that will be released next year.

Originally published July 27, 2012 on avclub.com. Read the complete article.

TV Club: Doctor Who, Black Orchid

“Black Orchid” (season 19, episodes 17-18. Originally aired March 1-2, 1982)

The most succinct description of what sets “Black Orchid” apart from the rest of Doctor Who is that it’s the last of the “pure historicals”—that is, a tale that is set in the past, taking advantage of the Doctor’s ability to travel through time, but otherwise not involving any science-fictional element. In fact, it’s not only the last of them but a weird anomaly, because this is the kind of story that Doctor Who simply stopped doing at all very early in its run. The pure historical is almost entirely an artifact of William Hartnell’s First Doctor era, when the show not only hewed closer to its original mission to educate as well as entertain, but had a much broader conception of what kind of stories Doctor Who should be trying to tell.

I’ve noted before that one of the strengths of Doctor Who is that its format allows it to drop into not just any time or place, but any genre, any kind of story. The Doctor can appear in the middle of a pastiche on Victorian pulp fiction or Frankenstein movies or Asimov’s robot tales, swashbuckle with pirates or match wits with Emperor Nero, teach cavemen the secret of fire or carry the Olympic torch. After the pure historical died out, though, whenever the series played around with other genres, it followed a basic rule: Whatever kind of story the Doctor drops into, it’s always warped into a Doctor Who version of that story. “The Unicorn And The Wasp,” for instance, tweaks the standard format of an Agatha Christie mystery by sandwiching it between Doctor Who’s science-fiction elements—the Doctor replaces the traditional detective figure, and a giant alien wasp replaces the traditional Christie killer. “Talons Of Weng-Chiang” does the same thing with the Sherlock Holmes/Fu Manchu style of late-1800s adventure fiction. But the sci-fi element is always there—without it, you don’t really have a Doctor Who story at all. In the Hartnell era, the pure historicals were the exception to that rule, but that loophole was closed quickly and firmly after Patrick Troughton took over the lead role in season four: His second serial, 1966’s “The Highlanders,” was the last time history would trump science fiction in a Doctor Who story.

Except once.

Originally published July 22, 2012 on avclub.com. Read the complete article.

TV Club: Doctor Who, Revelation Of The Daleks

“Revelation Of The Daleks” (season 22, episodes 13-14. Originally aired March 23-30, 1985)

The thing about Eric Saward, who wrote this script and helped set the tone of Doctor Who overall as script editor during much of the Fifth and all of the Sixth Doctor eras, is that it’s sometimes hard to tell whether he actually liked Doctor Who at all. The worldview he brings to the show is so grim and bleak, so full of pointless violence and brutal ugliness and repugnant imagery, and so insistent on presenting the Doctor and his companions as incompetent and basically useless, that it can feel like he was deliberately trying to torpedo the whole concept of the series from inside.

And I think to some extent that’s true: Especially in Britain, early-‘80s sci-fi was full of dark, nilihistic, punk-influenced satire that spit on the utopian idealism of the 1960s and sneered at the future, which a lot of us thought was disquietingly likely to end in nuclear holocaust. Uncomplicated heroism and optimistic outlooks weren’t fashionable, and even though Doctor Who had never been merely that kind of simplistic adventure show, it always changed with the times, and it makes sense that it should have gone in the direction of Terry Gilliam, Repo Man, The Road Warrior and 2000 AD when that was the trend.

And so in season 22, we got a Doctor Who replete with black-comedy elements like “Vengeance On Varos,” which skewered capitalism, violence-crazed media and the passive complacency they create in their citizens; the pro-vegetarian “The Two Doctors,” which briefly turned Patrick Troughton’s Second Doctor into a cannibal; and the season-ending “Revelation Of The Daleks,” which takes aim at consumerism, fear of death and the hypocrisies they create in us—the shoddy way we sometimes treat the memory of the deceased, and our tendency to ignore the unpleasant side of how our food and the other things we buy are actually made. (In other words: Meat-is-murder cannibalism again.) And it has a twist ending that, at least as an idea, is truly shocking and puts a knife in the heart of one of Doctor Who’s core concepts.

Sounds great, right? Yeah, not so much. The problem is that Eric Saward is simply not a strong enough writer to pull this off, failing to provide the clever dialogue, well-thought-out underlying concepts or basic plot mechanics that might have made this work, and also apparently actively hostile to the notion that anyone in Doctor Who, or watching it, should be having any fun. (Quite literally: At the end of the story, Peri begs the Doctor to take her “somewhere fun,” and he reacts as if he thinks it’s the stupidest idea he’s ever heard.) Like far too much of the series during this period, “Revelation Of The Daleks” is a grim, depressing slog. It shouldn’t surprise anyone that this was the last serial broadcast before Doctor Who was forced into an 18-month hiatus by BBC executives who had grown hostile to it.

Originally published June 25, 2012 on avclub.com. Read the complete article.

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