(Actor) Born : 20 January 1934 –
(Actor) Doctor Reign – 1974 – 81
“Homo Sapiens! What an inventive, invincible species. It’s only a few millions years since they’ve crawled out of the mud and learned to walk. Puny, defenseless, bipeds. They’ve survived flood, famine and plague, they’ve survived cosmic wars and holocausts, and now here they are, out among the stars, waiting to begin a new life, ready to outsit eternity. They’re indomitable! Indomitable!” – Fourth Doctor
The “Indomitable” Doctor
Tom Baker was a revelation even before he began playing the role. He was the then youngest cast Doctor to take the role – at 39 years old, when filming began. He caught the eye of producers playing the outstanding – evil Sultan – in The Golden Voyage Of Sinbad – 1973.
Baker quickly set about making the Doctor’s character his own. He was the most stand-offish alien Doctor yet, the most eccentric and arrogant to date and the human species was his favoured area.
He was quick witted and had a cheeky almost childlike playfulness – even with his enemies. He could castigate his opponents and supporters – with an icy cold stare and his booming – almost inhuman Welsh inflected voice.
His trademark was his scarf and hat and his never-ending supply of jelly babies. He would often break the tension, by offering his captor a jelly baby or telling a joke – in the middle of a life threatening situation.
His first companion – Sarah Jane Smith, had a great rapport with Baker’s Doctor. If Pertwee had been her elderly judgmental father figure, then Baker was her younger, hip and ‘with it’ dad.
To many people, Tom Baker came to be the Doctor – the only Doctor. He is currently still the longest serving actor in the role at 7 years. In a role which has usually been filled for no more than three years at a time – usually due to a morbid fear of actor typecasting.
Baker worked under three different producers, for nearly a decade. His era’s can be split into three very distinct phases – also linked to the producer of the time. Phillip Hinchcliffe’s era was dramatic stories, plenty of violence and gothic horror.
Graeme Williams era was more lighthearted, a little silly and stretching the boundaries of credibility in places but still good Sci-fi staple. John Nathan Turner’s era dragged Who kicking and screaming into the 80’s with garish pastely colours, concept stories and synthy keyboard music.
Baker’s first jaunt was a very Pertwee earth-based adventure Robot – 1974; which involved the newly regenerated Doctor and Unit trying to out maneuver a homicidal robot.
This is where the similarities with Pertwee ended, though. The first Baker season took off in new ways, thanks largely to Baker and then producer – Phillip Hinchcliffe.
Hinchcliffe brought a new sense of scope, characterisation and a good dose of horror to his tenure. The Doctor picked up lovable English UNIT buffoon Dr Harry and along with Sarah went off on a number of adventures in one whole season, all interlinked – by the same story arc. Something the new series of Who is all over – with story arcs!
The Ark in Space – 1975 featured the trio discovering the human race – in the deep freeze, aboard spacestation Nerva. Being munched through and impregnated by the Alien Insectoid race; known as the – ‘Wirrn’. This excellent story set the tone for the Baker / Hinchcliffe reign and was truly ahead of its time. It was Ridley Scott’s “Alien”; 4 years prior.
The Wirrn were horrific predatory and wasp-like. Beginning as huge slimy green larvae, a touch from one would cause a human metamorphosis. The adult versions were little better, hunting for new human hosts to feed on – or impregnate.
This is where Baker came into his own, orchestrating the human resistance – in his broody and sometimes arrogant, pushy manner. Occasionally, he would be brilliantly spontaneous, like when he gave his glowing reference to the human condition as he paced the human deep freeze cryo unit; “indomitable”.
Genesis of the Daleks – 1974had the Doctor cast back in time by the Timelords, (without the Tardis) to prevent the creation of the Daleks, on Skaro.
Here, the Doctor met the brilliantly mad – Davros, their mad creator. Sandwiched in between the Kaled / Thaal civil war, the doctor found his moment. Having wired up the Dalek embryo chamber with explosives, he had two wires in his hand which would finish the Dalek’s – before they ever began :
The Doctor: “If someone who knew the future, pointed out a child to you and told you that that child would grow up totally evil, to be a ruthless dictator who would destroy millions of lives…… could you then kill that child?”
Sarah: “We’re talking about the Daleks; the most evil creatures ever invented! You must destroy them! You must complete your mission for the Time Lords!”
The Doctor: “Do I have the right? Simply touch one wire against the other, and that’s it. The Daleks cease to exist. Hundreds of millions of people, thousands of generations can live without fear, in peace…… and never even know the word ‘Dalek'”
Sarah: “Then why wait? If it was a disease or some sort of bacteria you were destroying, you wouldn’t hesitate!”
The Doctor: “But if I kill…… wipe out a whole intelligent life-form…… then I become like them. I’d be no better than the Daleks!”
Unable to follow through, they returned back to the point in time they had left and found themselves back on Spacestation Nerva, being harrassed by the Cybermen and their Cybermat pets in Revenge of the Cybermen – 1974.
The Brain of Morbius and Pyramids of Mars – both 1975were also standout moments, in Baker’s era and would easily rank in any Who top ten. The Brain of Morbius was the sci-fi retelling of Frankenstein and Pyramids of Mars pitted the Doctor against the evil Egyptian god Sutekh. Pyramids of Mars ranks probably as Baker’s finest episode. It had the right blend of gothic horror, with the lumbering robot mummies and possessed minions – of the evil Egyptian God Sutekh.
When the final matchup came, Sutekh was easily a match for Baker’s huge personality and a fitting episode ended with the Doctor travelling to Mars, to play the treacherous games of the gods.
The Hand of Fear – 1976 marked Sarah Jane’s last story, before she left the Doctor. For a time, the Doctor travelled alone.
The Deadly Assassin – 1976 had the doctor returning to Galifrey and getting involved in a ‘Manchurian Candidate’ style plot, involving the assassination of the President and the Master returning to the fray.
Roger Delgado had died but the Master character was still brought back – albeit as a rotting corpse; he was dying at the end of his 12th regeneration but was prolonging his existence unnaturally, as his body fell apart.
This episode is also notable for the doctor entering a digital world called strangely enough – “the Matrix” to battle an unseen foe, where death inside the computer meant death in the real world also. Wachowski’s brothers watching this?
The Face of Evil – 1976 saw the Doctor joined by a new companion – an alien savage tribe girl – called Leela of the Severateem. He also had to deal with the consequences of an earlier visit, where he had meddled in societies past. By defeating a super-computer, modelled in his own image. The Sevateem worshipped a huge carved image of the Doctor – in a cliff side.
The Robots of Death – 1976 was set aboard a huge mining vehicle which was staffed by creepy looking killer robots (homaged years later as the Angel’s in the David Tennant episode Voyage Of the Damned – 2007). The Talons of Weng-Chiang – 1977 was an excellently atmospheric – but racially controversial Sherlock-piece, set in Victorian London.
Baker’s excellent first two season has been seen by many as Who at its absolute peak. A Doctor on top of his game, with the right stories and the right direction. Credit in the Baker era has to be given to the quality writing behind the show; Terrence Dicks and Robert Holmes to name but a couple of the pen-meisters.
In 1977, Philip Hinchcliffe was replaced by Graham Williams as producer who had the unenviable task of continuing the run of Baker’s brilliant first two seasons. Horror of Fang Rock was a relic from the Hinchcliffe era – lonely, claustrophobic – featuring a lonely lighthouse and a shape stealing Rutan, killng the lighthouse crew – one by one. Afterwards the tone got lighter, on orders of BBC chief’s; after years of complaints leveled at the show, led by moral crusader – Mary Whitehouse.
K9 – a robot dog joined the Doctor in the The Invisible Enemy – 1977, an instant hit with kids, K9 would go on to star in most of the Baker run and eventually its a spinoff show.
In the The Invasion of Time – 1978, the Doctor returned to Gallifrey to install himself as High President of the Timelord council, seemingly aided and abetted by a race of Energy-beings called the Vardans.
Then, after renouncing the Lord Presidency, the Doctor also gained a new companion – Romana, a fellow timelord. This fact was to prove rather useful as Romana eventually regenerated, due to the original actress Mary Tamm leaving the show at the end of The Armageddon Factor – 1979 – to be replaced by Lalla Ward.
A new season-long story arc, was introduced – in season 16; called “The Key To Time”. The Doctor was tasked by the White Guardian, to find and reassemble the Key To Time in The Ribos Operation,The Pirate Planet,The Stones of Blood,The Androids of Tara,The Power of Kroll, and The Armageddon Factor – 1978-79.
Destiny of the Daleks – 1979 had the Doctor landing on a planet, which he did not recognise, only to go and unearth Davros – still buried where they had left him. Finally, the Doctor realised he was back on Skaro.
“You know K-9, sometimes I think I’m wasted just rushing about the universe saving planets from destruction….. With a talent like mine, I might have been a great slow bowler!” Fourth Doctor – Creature From The Pit
City of Death – 1979 was a highlight of Baker’s later run. This one, had the Doctor and Romana (on location in Paris), happening across a collection of genuine Mona Lisa paintings being stashed by an alien; who was manipulating human history to push the envelope of technology so that it could repair its ship and leave Earth.
Shada – 1979 was a promising season finale but was never finished – or broadcast, due to a BBC strike. Graham Williams left as producer at the end of season 17 and was replaced by John Nathan-Turner.
Depending on your point of view, Nathan-Turner either dragged the show into the 1980’s and updated it – or ruined it. I like to think he did a bit of both but more on that in later Doctor profiles.
Season 18 began, with the reasonable The Leisure Hive – 1980. Romana was still the companion – albeit in her new regeneration, along with K9. The Doctor’s outfit had changed and was now covered in question marks. It was a bit too obvious and silly and Baker was not personally keen on the change.
In Meglos – 1980, the Doctor fought a doppleganger of himself, covered in Cactus spines! This gave Tom Baker a rare chance to stretch his acting ability; playing the villain, as well as the hero – which he was pretty good at.
Full Circle – 1980 began a trilogy of stories with decay and deterioration as its central theme. The Tardis had slipped through a doorway in space into another universe, known as “E-Space”. It also marked the introduction of companion Adric.
State of Decay was a return to Phillip Hinchcliffe’s era, gothic horror mixed with Sci Fi on an alien-medieval-era world, involving vampires harvesting a village of peasant’s to revive the great vampire, from a race – which the great Timelord Rassilon had tried to wipe out aeons before.
Warriors’ Gate.- 1980 was notable – as a minimal high-concept episode, set only against a blue screen as the Doctor tried to locate the gateway between E & N-Space. The episode was also notable as it marked the departure of Romana and a broken K9, who decided to stay in E-Space and help a race of Thundercat-like aliens – called the Tharils.
The Doctor then began the first part of another linked trilogy; beginning with The Keeper of Traken – 1981 where he bumped into the Master again, still looking like an extra from MJ’s ‘The Thriller’. The decaying corpse of the Master managed to prolong his existence by stealing the body of an inhabitant of Traken, called Tremas.
Meanwhile, the Doctor sensed a feeling of dread and forboding as he was followed everywhere by a mysterious white figure – who kept watch on his every move. Tremas’s daughter – Nyssa joined the Doctor in Logopolis, alongside Adric and Tegan – an Australian Air hostess.
The Doctor, intended to finally fix his chameleon circuit and travelled to the planet Logopolis. Where he met a race of brilliant mathematicians whose calculations kept the universe from collapsing. Only to bring down the wrath of the Master on the Logopolitan’s, who were promptly killed by the dastardly Timelord.
This then caused the Universe to collapse in on itself, without Logopolis to stablise it. The Doctor then traveled back to Earth to make use of a giant earth radio telescope to re-stabilise the collapsing universe.
The Master had followed, and realising that the Doctor was attempting to thwart his plans, tilted the Telescope causing the Doctor to plunge to his doom, where his companions flocked to him. His dying words were probably the most poignant of any Who regeneration :
The dying Doctor then pointed to the White Watcher, who approached and melded with the 4th Doctor and the regeneration began. And so ended Tom Baker’s reign as the Doctor.
He was – looking notably older in the last two seasons and he was beginning to tire of the punishing filming schedules. He didn’t always see eye-to
-eye with Nathan-Turner – or some of his companions, so he felt the time was right to bow out.
Baker’s Doctor was the most syndicated around the world, in terms of foreign sales; so he is probably still the best known and regarded outside of the UK – as he is in it.
When a new Doctor takes the role, the question is always the same : Could they be better than Tom Baker? Probably not.