The recent explosion of Big Finish audios, mining classic series companions, monsters, guest charatcers and actors had shown us one thing recently: the Doctor Who universe had an embarrassment of riches to call on in the time of the series revival and new ascendancy.
And, without putting too fine a (morbid) point on it, much of the classic Doctor Who universe was still with us until the last couple of years. We had lost Jacqueline Hill and Ian Marter tragically young, while Mike Craze departed in the late 90s. But of the former Who companions all were still going strong, popping up in spin-offs, audios and conventions here and there.
The last 18 months has been a sad time to be a Doctor Who fan though. Nick Courtney, Lis Sladen, Carry John and now Mary Tamm have passed away. Nick’s loss, as a kind of spiritual leader of the Doctor Who family, was felt keenly but the passing of the three lady companions was shocking and seemed unfair.
They were not old, by today’s standards, and we did not know of their illnesses – so learning off their loss has, for me, been tinged with a kind of disbelief. I reacted to the news of Sladen, John and Tamm dying with a kind of instinctive noise of dismay.
We clearly experience the deaths of Who alumni with sadness – and I always find myself asking myself why. Clearly that connection to childhood nostalgia is part of it – a reminder of the passing of time and the gentle melancholy that is inspires. But I think, beyond that, is a fundamental fondness for the people who made our show what it was. More than other TV personalities we might recognise from our youths; more so, possibly, than people in the public eye to whom we should pay more respect: public servants, charity workers, good eggs.
Perhaps that’s what it is to be a fan. A sense of ourselves as part of a big family, no matter how slightly, how much we may disavow it and how much we’ve found ourselves drift away from a programme. Our big, dysfunctional, ramshackle Doctor Who family is diminished a little – and somehow we feel that loss more than we’d expect to, if only for a second.
I met a couple of Who companions, but never Mary Tamm – someone I always thought was the most beautiful Who companion among dozens of beautiful women.
I’m not going to attempt a retrospective of her career or assessment of her role as Romana I. But I do mourn her passing, as I expect will the rest of fandom for the same reasons. RIP Mary.