pop-break’s resident Whovians jason stives and michel dworkis look at one of the most famous Doctors, Tom Baker …
Known all over the world, Tom Baker portrayed the fourth and most popular incarnation of the original Doctors. His quirky personality, quirky styles, and quirky behavior made the Fourth Doctor one of the most beloved by viewing audiences of all ages. Baker holds the longest running tenure as Doctor, lasting seven seasons. Who can forget the incredibly long scarf worn by The Doctor on his travels? Who can forget his fondness for Jelly Babies?
He’s easily the most recognizable Doctor in history, thanks to the charm and upbeat persona Baker portrayed on-screen. The fourth Doctor was a cheerful soul, capturing the attention of all viewers who felt captivated and excited for the next adventure. When the situation called for serious attention, the mood changed and The Doctor unleashed the cerebral vault of knowledge to solve even the most perplexing of puzzles. A true legend in Doctor Who mythology, Tom Baker catapulted Doctor Who to new fame and recognition worldwide.
Before David Tennant took up this mantle, Tom Baker was the Doctor — the definite article you might say. For seven years, Baker’s fourth Doctor was the symbolic identifier to the show with his trademark scarf, floppy hat, and Cheshire-cat grin. Part of this was in part to his overwhelming acceptance as this strange traveling bohemian who could be utterly irascible as much as he could be charming. The fourth Doctor was also the first Doctor to transcend the pond over to the United States, with Baker’s stories being the first to be picked up by many public television stations in America. What became then a cult following in the States was officially a worldwide phenomenon in the U.K. and elsewhere. Though suffering like his many predecessors and successors through the throws of low-budget effects and wobbly sets, the Fourth Doctor approached everything with a sense of pines that showed him to be trusting, humorous and no doubt the smartest man to ever offer up a jelly baby to a stranger.
While Baker’s latter seasons sadly hit a dull formula, thanks in part to constant behind the scenes changes, his first four seasons are normally viewed as the go-to for beginners of the classic series, thanks in part to the men who headed up Baker’s first three seasons: producer Philip Hinchcliffe and script editor Robert Holmes. Hinchcliffe vowed to change the tempo from his predecessors by offering shorter, punchier stories that relied less on familiar foes but more on original material that was action-packed and at times truly frightening. Indeed, this era was criticized for its violent tensions and its Hammer horror-like gothic style, but this was always balanced out by the on screen banter between Baker and his then-companion, Sarah Jane Smith. Yes, to new Whovians, this is where it all began for the budding journalist friend of the Doctor. While Smith’s first season took place in the Third Doctor’s final year, it wasn’t until Baker came on board that a friendship was spawned and an onscreen partnership was created that has since acted as the proper template to all Doctor/companion relationships.
Baker’s latter three seasons are normally viewed as the fly in the ointment of the series — the ones that created much of the hokey reputation the series was known for — but it did offer some bright spots. The season-long “Key To Time” series, which saw the Doctor searching for the missing six segments of an ancient artifact, was a fun romp even if it did get repetitive, and Season 17 is notable for featuring Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy creator Douglas Adams as the show’s then script editor. Regardless, many are indebted to Baker’s legacy, and from here on out, all actors would have to wrestle with Baker’s success in the role.
Below are six essential stories from Mr. Baker’s time as the Fourth Doctor. We found this to be a difficult task and we want to point out before anyone goes any further that these are our FAVORITES — not the cream of the crop of his seven seasons. It was really difficult to choose just six, and we contemplated expanding it to eight, but we feel these are definite classics worth checking out.
‘Genesis Of The Daleks’
During the ’70s, the Daleks were in a bit of a dry spell as far as story content. After abusing the ’60s with some of their best appearances, they disappeared quietly in 1967, only to return in the early ’70s with a story each season for almost five years. Sadly, the Jon Pertwee stories were mostly rehashes of previous Dalek stories and for a lack of a better term, dull. Then in Tom Baker’s first season, Dalek creator Terry Nation wrote the six part “Genesis Of The Daleks,” a story that speaks for itself in both presentation and its dubious title.
Freshly picked up from a transmat beam, the Doctor, Sarah, and Harry are sent on a mission by the Timelords to stop the creation of the Daleks. They land on the war-torn Skaro, the homeworld of the Daleks, where war between the Thals and the Kaleds has reached nuclear-like levels. Inside the bunker-ridden halls of the Kaled City, the Doctor encounters their chief scientist Davros, who has created the ultimate war machine from some of the mutants of the planet, which he christens a Dalek. With his intent to stop the war and rule the world, the Doctor and company must find a way to stop their evolution into the greatest evil force in the universe or die trying.
Nation always stated that his creations were no more than a allegory for Nazism, and here it shines prominently in every bit. From the SS saluting of the Kaled soldiers, the dislike for the unlike tendencies of the two sides, and the totalitarian nature of Davros, “Genesis” is a frightening display of humanity’s seemingly impossible capabilities for hatred and conquering. The middle section of this story turns into a lot of backstabbing and rushing down corridors but it’s the performances as well as the look of the story that creates a barn burner of sci-fi drama. In a great scene from mid-serial The Doctor discusses with Davros the notion of possessing a virus so deadly it could wipe out all of creation. Much of the fascination of the character of Davros lies in the performance of Michael Wisher, who makes Davros into an almost logical mad man with over the top tendencies.
‘Pyramid From Mars’
Are you my mummy? With loyal companion Sarah Jane Smith, The Doctor is confronted with a dilemma of ancient and alien proportions. The TARDIS is thrown back in time to 1911 where an Egyptian lord rises from the grave. A fun twist on this Egyptian mythology brings Sutekh back to life by an eager archeologist. As it turns out, this tale of Egyptian lore began on the planet Mars, where a sentient race of beings known as the Osirians fought and imprisoned Sutekh in the Black Pyramid on Earth. Now that he is free, all living things must die.
An interesting turn of events takes place as Sarah Jane remarks that clearly Sutekh fails since they just came from the present and everything was normal. A quick trip in the TARDIS back to 1980 proves otherwise, as The Doctor demonstrates how these unnatural forces can cause the timeline to change, as Sarah Jane is brought screaming into the present day, as Earth is a barren wasteland of death.
The action becomes intense as a game of cat and mouse is played with The Doctor and Sarah Jane as they try to stay one step ahead of Sutekh, but each time the time traveling heroes are thwarted. Evil almost prevails as the being from Mars is about to be set free, but we witness The Doctor using time travel itself to outsmart the alien lord of death and trap the evil entity in a time tunnel for the next 7000 years. An interesting conclusion is the destruction of the mansion is the eventual location of the UNIT headquarters.
‘The Deadly Assassin’
Have you ever wondered what it would be like if Doctor Who crossed itself with The Manchurian Candidate? Yeah, me neither, but Hinchcliffe and Holmes did back in 1976, and the result is this writer’s personal favorite Doctor Who story of all time. When the Doctor has a premonition of the Lord President’s assassination, he returns to his home planet of Gallifrey to stop events from unfolding. When it does, The Doctor is caught in the crossfire and is accused of murder by the high council of Time Lords. Lurking in the shadow is a bigger plot involving Gallifrey’s own existence and the Doctor’s arch enemy, The Master, now in a decrepit, skeletal-like state. In order to stop his arch nemesis and to clear his name the Doctor must enter the virtual world of The Matrix, and what lies there may be the death of him.
“The Deadly Assassin” is a very notorious story because of its pseudo-political thriller structure and also the violent nature of the story (also the incredibly redundant nature of the title). The story greatly altered for some the perceived notion of the Timelords, which up to this point had been viewed as God-like beings who watch over the universe and never interfere. Here, the political undercurrent shifts and the Timelords are a group of glue-sniffers who fight to keep up their reputation rather than their power. It adds greatly to this story and probably wouldn’t have worked as well in its previous form. It’s also one of only two appearances of the decaying incarnation of The Master. While he is intricate to this story, he is pushed into the background due in part to how he is portrayed here (it was decided to make him scarred since the original Master, Roger Delgado, had died some four years earlier). This is also the only story in the classic series to feature the Doctor travelling alone, a decision Tom Baker tried to impose permanently after Elisabeth Sladen left the role of Sarah Jane in the previous story “The Hand Of Fear.”
Long before the Wachowski Brothers created their own version, Doctor Who loved the concept of the Matrix, and it became an instant part of the show’s folklore. The dreamlike landscape of the Matrix is filled with nightmarish images that only the Doctor’s greatest foe could concoct. The Doctor doesn’t have it easy in The Master’s world as he almost operated on by an insane Doctor, killed by a Samurai, an oncoming train, and even a squadron of planes, and is subjected to creepy looking clown. This part of the story is famous for getting the show in hot water by parent groups for its depiction of the Doctor being drowned by an assassin in the third episode’s climax. You look at it now and it seems mundane compared to today’s television, but for a Saturday tea-time show for families, it was too grizzly to handle for some.
‘The Face Of Evil’
Could The Doctor be evil? In this episode, he is briefly portrayed as the series antagonist. How could the good Doctor sway from the righteous path? As goofy as it sounds, it was not his fault. Well, not entirely. Picture Mount Rushmore, but instead of our presidents, we get a big stone mountain with the face of Tom Baker etched into it. Now, aside from being the best prop ever, it leads to the question, is The Doctor the true face of evil?
Shockingly, the answer is yes. The back-story for the series is fascinating. The Doctor had repaired a computer on a spaceship by giving it part of his personality. Unfortunately this caused the computer to develop a split-personality, resulting in erratic and malicious behavior. The people on the planet are divided into two tribes, the Sevateem and the Tesh. The Doctor, travelling alone encounters a woman named Leela on the run from her captors. The Doctor and Leela meet, and as other soldiers encounter them, accuse The Doctor of being The Evil One. A very interesting altercation takes place as they are held captive, but Leela uses poisonous thorns called Janis, which paralyze and kill its victims. Here we see a more serious side from The Doctor as he sternly commands Leela, “No more Janis Thorns … EVER.”
As they escape The Doctor sees why he is accused of being The Evil One, as they encounter the giant mountain with his face embedded into it. Various hand motions by tribesmen seem familiar to The Doctor, as if one were checking a spacesuit. In a moment of clarity, he realizes that Sevateem is actually “Survey Team” and Teshs are “Techs” two occupations aboard the Starfall Seven Earth Colony Ship, the very ship which The Doctor used his personality in order to repair the main computer. This allows the machine, known as Xoanon to possess mental powers which control and manipulate the people of the planet. As The Doctor attempts to undo his prior work, a countdown timer to a nuclear bomb begins. Could it get any worse? Of course, as he is also being attacked by various tribesmen and the computer itself. Thankfully, a crazed prophet fires a blaster, causing an explosion which allows The Doctor to succeed. As the mission is accomplished The Doctor attempts to leave, but Leela begs to go with him. He denies her request, but before the TARDIS can dematerialize, she jumps aboard in the nick of time.
‘The Horror Of Fang Rock’
Oh! The horror indeed! Taking place on an eerie lighthouse island, The Doctor and Leela find themselves in a bit of a horror mystery. The island they are on? The Island of Fang Rock, just outside of England, and the time is at the beginning of the 20th century. The encounter some very lonely workers, and one, is already dead. Matters get worse when a ship carrying some uppity corporate businessmen with a get-rich-quick scheme crashes onto the island.
The Doctor figures out there is a presence among the fog, who is also controlling the electricity in the tower. An alien presence lurks around in the guise of one of the deceased. This tale of horror becomes a quest of survival as one by one, as the body count rises and the number of employed staff of the lighthouse quickly drops to zero. The Doctor confronts the alien, a Rutan, who explains that its ship crashed on Earth. Now a mother ship will arrive soon to use Earth as a base to attack their enemies, the Sontarans. Not concerned with their war, The Doctor, with Leela and the sole survivor of the ship design a plan to finish off the alien menace. A fight ensues against the Rutan on Earth, and the final member of the crew is killed. In an intense moment of scientific brilliance, The Doctor builds a giant light laser cannon using diamonds and the lighthouse. Firing a bright blast at the Rutan mother ship, it explodes so violently that the eyes of Leela change from brown to blue. As the series concludes, The Doctor quotes from the poem Flannan Isle, by Wilfrid Wilson Gibson. The poem is a short tale of three lighthouse workers vanished without explanation. — MD
Baker’s seventh and final season as The Doctor is a somber and a dark one at best, greatly dividing loyal Whovians over its worth. It was the first season with long time producer John Nathan Turner at the helm and was the start of a radical makeover that would sum up the show in the ’80s. Much is reflected in Baker’s performances throughout the season, which were part old man and part sad to see you go and the deconstruction of what the show was ends with his swan song, “Logopolis.” For many, “Logopolis” is memorable for being so strange, and some feel it is an inferior send off for a Doctor who basically became the face of the show worldwide. For me, it’s a uniquely mysterious tale that deals with man’s fear of death, and Baker plays up his demise very well here.
The Doctor has decided to buckle down and fix the TARDIS’ damaged chameleon circuit after so many years but must measure a real police box to make sure he gets it right. His intensions? To bring the coordinates to the city of Logopolis, a place compromised of brilliant mathematicians capable of solving the great mysteries of the universe. Along the way, he picks up an irascible air stewardess named Tegan, but not before suffering two blows: the return of his arch enemy The Master and the prophecy that he will die before his mission is complete.
“Logopolis” is a foreboding story with The Fourth Doctor spending most of the story trying to stop evil and possibly himself from breaking down in fear of his imminent demise. Baker plays it well, keeping everything secret until the very end. Our only indication of what is to happen is through The Watcher, a ghostly cloaked figure that basically sets into play all the major events of the story and holds a far more important role than we are let on to believe. The story itself almost seems like background noise to the main plot, which is basically waiting for The Doctor to regenerate into his fifth incarnation.
Outside of Baker, much has to be given to Anthony Ainley’s take as The Master, here portrayed as a body snatcher who takes on other forms to save his dying self. Ainley would be The Master for the rest of the ’80s, and sadly most of his appearances would suffer the same formula of simply trying to kill The Doctor. Here the most important personal enemy becomes the Wylie Coyote of Timelords, but in “Logopolis” and The Fifth Doctor’s first story, “Castrovalva,” he is a maniac who thinks without consequence until it’s too late. The Doctor’s regeneration is very sincere, and the clip montage that accompanies the Doctor’s regeneration is wonderfully done. Baker’s sendoff, all teeth and curls, is sad but rewarding, and personally may be the last great moment the show produced in its original run.
All Photos Credit: BBC America