The regeneration of Romana at the beginning of Destiny of the Daleks was always something of an oddity. Mary Tamm had already left the show, and so the production team decided to go for humour rather than angst in the exchange of actresses.
Lalla Ward emerges, still wearing her Princess Astra dress (that’s quite a lot of trouble to go to for a sight gag, Romana, actual cosplay) and manages to bemuse the Doctor with her presence before mentioning quite casually that she is regenerating.
He is cross at her for blatantly copying the princess’s form, and her cavalier attitude that they’re not going back to Atrios so what does it matter?
(do all Time Lords borrow patterns from other existing people in the universe? Is that why Romana I looked so suspiciously like Princess Strella on Tara, has she done this before?? Does this explain the similarity between the First Doctor and the Abbott of Amboise, the Second Doctor and Salamander?)
The Doctor sends her back to try out another form, and Romana proceeds through a veritable fashion parade of bodies before tricking him into approving of her favourite, the Astra/Lalla body, by covering it in an outfit that matches his.
I always thought this was an interesting scene, and read it as a demonstration of how regeneration is supposed to work – after all, the Doctor always reaches for his new bodies in a time of great stress and physical trauma, not caring what he puts on. Romana, on the other hand, was doing it by the book – a calm and unhurried chance to choose her next body, no mess or fuss, and a great deal of forward planning.
Imagine my surprise to discover much later that a large segment of Doctor Who fandom actually believes that Romana’s fashion parade of bodies each represents one of her lives, and that she burned through five or so on a whim. I just – don’t understand why anyone would read that scene in such a way to the point that yes, there is a YouTube vid that re-edits the clip to include a suicidal bullet sound in between every ‘costume’ change.
I always wondered if in fact there was a ‘missing’ adventure in which Romana I was gracefully fatally wounded and that is why she is now regenerating, I will admit. It was one of those few ‘what if’ aspects of Doctor who that drove me in the general direction of fanfic.
But of course Lalla Ward is Romana II and not Romana VI!
New Who has given us something of a solution to all this, with the idea that a regeneration has a certain period in which things are malleable – the Tenth Doctor’s hand, for example. I see no problem with the idea that Romana can switch her desktop setting around until she finds the one she likes – this is also reflected many years later in River Song suggesting that ‘I might take the age down a little. Just gradually. To freak people out.’
More to the point, if Romana was actually using up lives just on a whim in this scene, it’s not her whim – it is the Doctor who keeps telling her to, sending her back over and over again until he gets one that he is willing to approve. Which is… beyond problematic if her lives were substantially at stake.
I don’t see Romana’s Regeneration Fashion Parade as being a symbol of her frivolity or carelessness (though these are both terms which sum up the new, flightier Romana) but instead yet another sign that she knows how to fly this thing better than the Doctor.
ELSEWHERE ON 1979:
Romana II [Marlow Inc]
Destiny of the Daleks Re-enacted with Dolls [Fabric of Time and Space]
City of Death [Wife in Space]
Creature From the Pit Part 1 [Chronic Hysteresis]
Nightmare of Eden [Radio Free Skaro]
Getting into Sharon’s Head [Doctor Her]