Tuesday, 19 November 2013

The Fourth Doctor: Tom Baker

In the week that marks the 50th anniversary of the first episode of Doctor Who, Ruth Richmond argues that the Fourth Doctor, played by Tom Baker, was the greatest.

I have never been a real Doctor Who fan. Rather, I have dipped in and out of the show since the early 1980s when I watched avidly as a teenager (while regularly hiding behind the sofa --- even though I was almost a teenager).

And then I lost interest again. Why?

The greatest Doctor HAS to be the wonderful Tom Baker (1981-84). After him, nothing could compare. I though David Tennant was good but his performance didn’t hook me. Then Matt Smith took on the role….and that just finished off my interest. Perhaps Peter Capaldi will be interesting (Tom Baker has high hopes for him recently saying “Capaldi has got a big range, and he will give it a lot of authority too. He will come with such a wave of fascination. They will want him to be good, and he will be good”) – bringing his talent for comedy acting to the role of the Doctor.

Dr Who, a comedy act? Well yes, that is what made Tom Baker so great. He brought a tongue-in-cheek element to the role which was gripping, funny and oh so clever. Yes, some of the scenes are ridiculous – who can forget him racing a group of half-men-half-bulls in platform shoes! But what is about The Fourth Doctor that makes him the best of the best? Tom Baker’s manic, alien, comical, dramatic performances? A run of brilliant companions? Some of the very best stories ever committed to screen? Visionary writers and executive producers? Great monsters? Terrifying villains? It’s that manic-eyed craziness, the seemingly disregard for everyone around him -- and a killer wit -- that makes the Fourth Doctor so enjoyable to watch.

The truth is, it is all of those elements. Across seven series, Tom Baker had opportunity after opportunity to shine, and, even when some stories were weak, he was always at his best. A great deal glittered in the Fourth Doctor era and you can find some of it in the wonderful serial The City of Death, penned by the ingenious Douglas Adams (clip at the top of this post). But for a really fun afternoon, spend some time with Doctor Who and The Seeds of Doom. However, the best moment for me is this little encounter in the first episode of The City Of Death. The Doctor and Romana are enjoying their little holiday in Paris, sitting at a quaint cafĂ©:

The Doctor: You know, I think something very funny is going on. You remember that man that was following us?Romana: Yes.
The Doctor: Well, he's standing behind me, poking a gun in my back.
(We immediately cut to Duggan (a detective hired to investigate a plot to steal the Mona Lisa from the Louvre in Paris) holding a gun to the Doctor's back. The comic timing is priceless).

I will be tuning in to see Peter Capaldi in 2014. If he has Tom Baker’s approval, then he could be enough to pull me back into the show. Just maybe.

See Tim Bustin's profile of the Ninth Doctor.

1 comment:

  1. Great choice Ruth - my favourite Doctor and my favourite story -'City of Death'.
    D Garnett


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