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Interview: Mary Tamm talks about Doctor Who - and win a box set
MIDWAY through Tom Baker’s tenure as Doctor Who, the producers decided on an innovative idea.
The whole of the 16th season of the show, which was broadcast in 1978, would be one vast story-arc comprising six separate adventures.
The story was for the Doctor to find the six segments of the Key To Time, an artefact which, when assembled, resembled a cube and would restore the balance in the universe.
According to the White Guardian, the forces binding the universe are out of alignment and the key is needed to put things right.
At the end of the preceding series, the Doctor’s companion Leela (played by Louise Jameson) had decided to remain on Gallifrey and therefore a new companion was needed.
After first asking Elisabeth Sladen to return as Sarah Jane Smith, it was decided that the Doctor, and his robot dog K9 would be accompanied by one of the Doctor’s own race.
So it came about that Romanadvoratrelundar, or Romana, joined the crew of the TARDIS.
Cast as the 140 year old Time Lady was Mary Tamm, a Yorkshire-born actress of Estonian descent, whose looks, demeanour and costumes sent many a pulse racing during the 26 week series.
Sadly, Mary would only stay in the role for the one season and at the beginning of the next season she regenerated into Lalla Ward.
The Key To Time has been re-issued as a seven-disc box set that contains all six adventures along with a host of extras.
Mary remembers her time in the TARDIS with fondness as she told me recently.
“We (Mary and Tom Baker) got on very well and we’re still very good friends.
"There were plenty of nice little moments in the show.”
She said that she saw no real evidence that, despite some rumours, Baker tried to control the show.
“Not really, but he was the main driving force, being The Doctor.”
The filming, at times, was a bit difficult for Mary, as she had recently married.
“Yes, that’s correct, I had got married in the January which was just before we started filming.
"In fact, we had a little party in our flat when it was announced and we had some champagne left over from the wedding, which the journalists soon polished off.
“It was a bit stressful at the time, but sometimes in life, things happen all at once.
"We were both working very hard to get the money for a house together.”
Strangely, the idea of a story-arc wasn’t deemed by the producers to be risky, as Mary explained.
“No, they didn’t think that there was any risk involved as the format of the show is so ‘off the wall’; for many fans it’s their favourite season.”
Something else that is remembered from The Key To Time are the costumes that Romana wore, which were very feminine and far removed from the costume that Leela wore.
And what’s more, Mary had a hand in some of them, as she told me.
“I remember in the fourth story, The Androids Of Tara (in which she played herself and her android double), the costume was meant to be a horrible brown tweedy thing, and it was summer.
“It would have been very hot and uncomfortable to wear, as well as the fact that I don’t like brown or wearing wool.
“So I said in a tactful way that I’d like something else.
"So myself, the costume designer and the producer came up with a new costume.
"I actually picked the colours and the fabric.”
Location filming also presented its own problems costume-wise.
“Oh yes, when we were on location, the facilities can be a bit basic.
"In story two, The Pirate Planet, we were changing clothes behind trees, and the trousers I wore had to be sewn up.
“What was also annoying that we had to find somewhere to place the tracer (a device that enabled them to track the pieces of the key).
“It was attached to a wire and a battery, so with that and the radio mike, I had also to hide two battery packs.”
Once the segments of the Key To Time were assembled, The Doctor and Romana are asked to let the White Guardian have the assembled key; however, the Doctor realises that it is the BLACK Guardian who sent him on the quest and wants the key for it’s power.
So he scatters the segments throughout the universe.
After the filming was completed, Mary decided to leave the show.
After being promised that the character of Romana would not be your typical ‘damsel in distress’, she thought the character was becoming just that.
She is very philosophical about it today and harbours no ill-will.
“The show only had a half-hour format, and in that time you had to have a character to have things explained to (the traditional role of a companion).
“Plus, in those days, most main characters were still male orientated.
"I didn’t really have the self-confidence then to argue the case.
"I wasn’t worried about it and it was a years’ work.”
Many former characters from the series have made appearances in the ‘new’ series, could we perhaps see Romana back?
“Do you know, I’ve never suggested it. Perhaps I should.”
With David Tennant about to regenerate into Matt Smith, Mary has already been asked about what she thinks of ‘the new guy’. “I think he’ll add a new flavour to The Doctor.”
Hopefully, the twelfth Doctor will be as quirky as the best ones, as it seemed that the more popular Doctors (Tom Baker and David Tennant) are so revered as they are the more child-like and see everything as wonderful.
“I think you’ve hit the nail on the head,” said Mary. “They are definitely the more eccentric.”
On a historical note, during the fourth segment — The Androids Of Tara — the show celebrated it’s 15th anniversary.
The second segment — The Stones Of Blood — was the 100th story; and the first episode of the final segment — The Armageddon Factor — was the show’s 500th episode.
As previously mentioned, the six stories of The Key To Time are included in the box-set, and some excellent extras.
“The extras are very interesting,” Mary stated.
“There are extensive interviews with the more secondary characters, and it’s much more detailed than the version released in America.”
One of the extras is a documentary filmed at one of the locations of The Stones Of Blood (the third story), which features a stone circle.
“The documentary script only arrived the night before the filming,” Mary recalled.
“The budget was low so we just winged it, so it’s a bit rough and ready. I interviewed a white witch and a druid and I also tried my hand at water-divining.
“There’s a lot said about the power of these stone circles, but I really felt something.”
Mary has had a varied career in film and television; before her rile in Doctor Who she had appeared in the films The Odessa File and The Likely Lads.
Since Who she has been on Brookside (Penny Crosbie), Paradise Heights (Yvonne Edwards), and in August of this year, she turned up in EastEnders.
She has also returned to the role of Romana in some of the audio plays produced by Big Finish Productions.
Not only that, but in September, the first volume of her autobiography was published. First Generation is published by Fantom Films.
“It’s gone really well,” she enthused. “The first run has sold out and we’re on to a second.”
“They originally wanted 50,000 words and I did 65,000, and it goes up to about half-way through my time on Doctor Who,” she said.
“The second volume should be out next September, she says optimistically (laughing) and will have more about the show and what came after.
"About the fans and the conventions.”
Thanks to 2 Entertain, we have copies of the box-set of ‘ The Key To Time’ to give away in our easy to enter competition.
To have a chance of winning this superb set, just answer the following questions.
1. How many stories make up the ‘Key To Time’ story-arc?
2. Mary Tamm played Penny Crosbie in which TV Soap?
Answers to firstname.lastname@example.org