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Tansy Rayner Roberts

Romana’s Regeneration Fashion Parade [WHO-50—1979]

March 5th, 2013 at 9:05

1979The 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?)

Romana_regenerationThe 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.

Doctor_Who__Destiny_of_the_DaleksBut 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.

B&WRomanaK9

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]

PREVIOUSLY:
1978

NEXT:

1980

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7 Responses to “Romana’s Regeneration Fashion Parade [WHO-50—1979]”

  1. Kate C Says:

    Oh, Romana II was always my favourite companion! Looking forward to reading your comments on her tenure in the Tardis. I think I loved her because she was little (like me), brilliant and also fun. Little did I realise what a rare combination that was in female characters… we were spoiled all right back then.

  2. Dave Versace Says:

    The reading of Romana-as-multiple-suicide has always been just utterly crazy to me. But there is still the troubling notion that she is giving up one perfectly good incarnation on apparently not much more than a whim. Didn’t they mention at the Academy that she only has twelve regenerations?

    As a dyed-in-the-wool anorak it used to bother me that Romana would waste a life. But in retrospect it’s pretty obvious that she’s making a life-decision about as radical as getting an ankle tattoo. Which suggests that maybe there’s more to the whole 13-lives thing than we’ve been led to believe.

  3. Grant Watson Says:

    1. The new series has now suggested there’s a remarkable amount of plasticity to a Time Lord’s regeneration – Tennant regrows a hand, for example. It’s not out of the question to assume that, should a Time Lord regenerate the proper way, they can shift in and out of shapes for a good 24 hours or so before settling on a final appearance.

    2. If that’s true, but the Doctor just regenerates into spontaneous new appearances, it’s not inconceivable to think of Peter Davison’s last thoughts being not “Adric?” but rather “God, I hope I don’t wind up looking like that prick Maxil”. And since it was on his mind…

    3. Romana gets tortured by the Shadow during “The Armageddon Factor”. Again it’s not too far a stretch to assume she was tortured a lot more severely than she let on. On the other hand, Big Finish have now slapped in a whole season of audio dramas between S16 and 17, so who knows?

  4. tansyrr Says:

    Not sure if it was in any way deliberate (probably not) but there is nothing about the scene to confirm either way whether Romana is regenerating for a specific reason, or on a whim. Which means we can read it any way we like!

    There were books inserted in between that season as well, so it’s always been considered a ripe bit of “canon-fodder” as my fellow podcaster Deb might say!

    The torture of the Shadow could still be relevant even if it doesn’t get her straight away – as could some unseen fatal strike. After all, the Doctor doesn’t succumb to the aging ray he is hit with in The Daleks’ Master Plan until several stories later, but he does inevitably succumb…

    There might be a third option of course, other than Fatal Unseen Mission and Frivolity. I wonder if shedding one’s first skin could be seen as something of a coming of age moment, something traditionally done to mark a form of intellectual graduation. It could be a way of Romana showing, in the traditions of Time Lords, that she is the Doctor’s equal now rather than his assistant/apprentice.

    After all, there must be some reason (other than a lot of assassinations) why the Time Lords on Gallifrey regenerate as often as they do – Borusa switches bodies more often than the Doctor!

    (Grant, I love your Maxil theory, though – I guess we’re lucky we didn’t end up with Matthew Waterhouse playing the Sixth Doctor?)

  5. Grant Watson Says:

    When I was a kid I always assumed Borusa had some kind of disease, like cancer or something, that kept killing him off no matter how many times it regenerated: I think it may have been my seven year-old brain trying to make sense of “The Five Doctors”, and why Borusa would suddenly be so obsessed with immortality after being the Doctor’s friend for all the other stories.

  6. tansyrr Says:

    Grant it’s mildly adorable that your seven-year-old brain went directly to ‘disease that crosses regenerations, possibly cancer.’ I don’t know why I find that sweet instead of alarming, though…

    Maybe Borusa was just totally into danger sports.

  7. Juan Sanmiguel Says:

    I remember at a convention in the early 80s where John Nathan-Turner suggested that Romana did waste regenerations in “Destiny of the Daleks”. He thought she was being silly. Doctor Who Magazine’s Matrix Data Bank suggested that Romana was checking out her possibilities much like The Doctor at the end of “The War Games”. I agree with the latter theory.

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