The title of your autobiography appears to refer to your role as Romana’s first incarnation, but what is the deeper meaning behind it?
"Originally the title was given to me by a friend I told my life story, because I’m the first generation in England of Estonian refugees. It was only when I started writing it that I realised it does tie in to Romana, so how neat was that?"
How did you go about process of gathering information and anecdotes for the book?
"I had a diary that I kept from the age of five to twenty-eight. It wasn’t very comprehensive but was enough to pinpoint various dates. Of course with the internet I chronologically went through my career from when I left drama school until I did Doctor Who, because this is only the first volume. Once all the facts were there, I found that was a trigger for the memories associated with that time. It’s quite extraordinary how things do come back to you."
Did you encounter any false stories about yourself on the internet?
"Yeah, I went into Wikipedia because they’d written in there that I left Doctor Who because I was pregnant – so I actually changed it. I didn’t leave because I was pregnant, that was just a story that [former Doctor Who producer] John Nathan Turner put around. God knows why. So I altered that."
The closing chapters of the book cover your Doctor Who stories in depth. Did you dig out the old DVDs for research?
"Yes, I had to watch the DVDs again, which were not that helpful in themselves, but it was the commentaries that I did on them a couple of years ago that were more helpful. So I did have to watch the whole 'Key To Time' series, which was probably the most time-consuming part of the whole process."
Did you know back then, when you signed up to Doctor Who, that you would be part of such a huge ongoing legacy?
"No, no I didn’t. It had been going for quite a while when I joined, but I’d done a lot of work before and it was just a job. Of course, once it was out I was going to conventions all over the world because that was all to do with the show having been screened in new places. The conventions at the beginning were absolutely wild because the fans had never met any of us. So whenever we went over we’d be mobbed and there would be hysterical people screaming and throwing autograph books under loo doors for us to sign – literally! That’s going to be expanded on in the second book because I’ve got some very, very entertaining stories."
“I do love the new programme, absolutely love it. We didn’t have those production values, we didn’t have the budget. A lot of fans have said that they did love all the creaky sets. I think the difference is that the old series, because it didn’t have the monetary scope, very much relied on the scripts and was very character driven. The new series obviously has very good scripts as well and good ideas, but they’ve got the technical stuff, which I personally like. I love all that technical stuff. It’s a very different programme but it still captures the essence of what everybody always loved about Doctor Who - which is the concept of time travel. It seems to really stimulate people’s imaginations because I suppose we’d all like to travel in time. Maybe it will be possible one day?"
Nowadays being a Doctor Who companion opens the door to many other acting possibilities. Was it the opposite back in your time on the show?
"It was the opposite. In those days Doctor Who wasn’t considered a drama. It was considered a lightweight children’s programme, whereas now it’s like the top drama series that the BBC has got. I do feel slightly envious because I think we all did that hard work and we did it for a long time, although I didn’t do it for as long as others. It wasn’t a springboard for me, but luckily I had all the work that I’d done before to rely on."
One of the book’s chapters details a highly amusing and very perilous ‘Who Cruise’. Is that kind of camaraderie on the convention circuit still around and has the renewed interest in the show given it a major boost?
"Well it has. I was in Swansea last weekend doing ‘Regenerations’. As the years have gone by you’ve met all the people and become friends, as it’s like a club you belong to. At the weekend I met Sir Derek Jacobi, who I worked with at Birmingham Rep and I’ve referred to him in a chapter in the book. I haven’t seen him for twenty years but his ambition was always to appear in Doctor Who. This convention at the weekend was his first convention. It was really bizarre - he’s joined the club now. There were some people there connected with the new series, so the circle gets bigger and bigger.
"The irony is that all the people that are producing and writing the show now were all Doctor Who fans and hiding behind the sofa as kids. And of course David Tennant, the best example of them all, was a big Doctor Who fan. That’s the real surprise for me – the fans are writing it, directing it, producing it, appearing in it. Their ideas for the show are so imaginative. Maybe watching the show in the old days expanded their consciousness and they’re all linked on some astral plane in some time warp!"
First Generation by Mary Tamm is published by Fantom Films and is out now