Sunday, June 8, 2014

40 Years of Tom Baker!


Who would've thunk it? Forty years ago today, Tom Baker made his very first appearance in the Jon Pertwee classic, Planet of the Spiders. As a tribute to the man who many see as the definitive Doctor Who, the writers here at Blogtor Who, along with a few very special guests, have got together for a big Tom love-in. Below you'll find our favourite The Fourth Doctor stories (or ones that have a special place in our hearts) and just why the curly-haired, wide-eyed, scarf-wearing, jelly baby-brandishing Time Lord is such a legend.

THE BRAIN OF MORBIUS
Edward Russell (Doctor Who Brand Manager)
When Blogtor Who asked me to write about my favourite Tom Baker story, I honestly didn’t know where to begin. I was four years old when Tom began his tenure. Back then, I had no concept of a favourite adventure. It was all wonderful. Every episode was such a magical experience and I’ve tried to carry that feeling into everything I do today. I began to wonder if it’s only when we get older, when we become “a fan” that we start ranking stories against each other?

But it then occurred to me that we’re talking about the Philip Hinchcliffe years. A truly golden era in Doctor Who’s rich history. I find it hard to fault anything from those three series but, with Blogtor holding a metaphoric gun to my head (he’s more Countess Scarlioni than Scorby) I’ve decided to go for Brain of Morbius. Famously, Terrance Dicks was so unhappy with his script for the story that he asked for his name to be removed. It’s hard to see why, but giving Uncle Tel the benefit of the doubt, a lot of this story’s greatness comes from the performance. I still laugh like a drain at the “can you spare a glass of water?” line (allegedly improvised by Tom and Lis in rehearsal) and Sarah Jane’s temporary blindness is truly frightening – so believable is Sladen’s performance.

But it all boils down to Tom. A year into the role and truly at this top of his game, no other story showcases his ability to turn from comedy to pathos to anger to euphoria. I was six years old at the time, but I’m positive it was this story that made me want to one day work on our favourite TV series. As Tom would say, some 37 years later, “You know, I really think you might”.
@edwardrussell
 

PLANET OF EVIL
Chris Chapman (Doctor Who documentary maker)
Back in 1994, Planet of Evil was the very first Tom Baker VHS I got my grubby 12-year-old mits on. For some ungodly reason, I got up at 5am the next morning to watch all 4 episodes in the dark before I went to school.

And it scared the living shit out of me.

What Planet of Evil does so well (and what certainly had a big impact on me that early morning) is atmosphere. The jungle sets are rightly acclaimed, but it's more than that - more than most Who stories there is a real sense of impending doom here, of life and death hanging in the balance. David Maloney's taut direction is a big part of that, but it's the performances of Tom and Lis that really seal the deal. It might be Sarah Jane going all twitchy-fingers in the jungle, or the Doctor shouting dire warnings at the naive Morestran crew - they sell every moment.

So imagine my surprise when I got more involved in fandom and realised this was seen as a pretty average adventure. Well, fandom, you are wrong. It's frikkin awesome.
@ChrisChapman81 

GENESIS OF THE DALEKS 
Richard Starkings ((DWM comic strip editor, 87-89)
If there’s one DOCTOR WHO story that has stayed with me over the years, not just from the Tom Baker era but from the entire canon, it is GENESIS OF THE DALEKS. Long before STAR WARS drew upon the iconography of World War II, long before BATTLESTAR GALACTICA featured a war of attrition depicting freedom fighters as terrorists, Terry Nation, Robert Holmes and Philip Hinchcliffe delivered a harrowing morality tale that set the tone for Tom Baker’s seven year reign as The Doctor.

It not only gave us a completely satisfying new villain in the shape of Davros, and his compelling “Up above the Gods” exultation; it also gave us Daleks who — despite having played second fiddle to Davros through most of the story — delivered their own chilling manifesto “When the time is right, we will emerge and take our rightful place as the supreme power of the universe!”

Best of all, when the Doctor decides he cannot complete his mission for the Time Lords, the humanistic Doctor established by Barry Letts, Terrance Dicks and Jon Pertwee is evident when Baker’s Doctor considers… “If I kill. Wipe out a whole intelligent life form, then I become like them. I'd be no better than the Daleks."

In that moment, in all the moments like this that followed — and preceded his decision — the Doctor manifests his enlightened nature as the World Honoured One, the Buddha, and encourages us to do the same. THAT is my Doctor.
@RichStarkings

THE DEADLY ASSASSIN
Richard Dinnick (The Underwater War author, Big Finish writer)
Deadly. Assassin. I know. The qualifier is unnecessary. We all know. And yet... It is an amazing story for so many reasons. And I don't think "The Assassin" has quite the same ring.

At the time I was jumping about this story was so exciting. The Doctor. On his home planet. Framed for being the titular lethal killer by the grimmest and most ruthless portrayal of the Master to date. I thrilled at the Time Lords robes and it seemed absolutely right at as characters they should appear as old duffers. This was what the Doctor had run way from. As a kid, I totally got that.

I loved Runcible the fatuous (had to look that one up) and the whole police procedural thing. And The Doctor suddenly rising and being Byronic while waxing lyrical about facets of legal precedent. This was meaty. This was serious. And Gough. I loved Gough. I think he's actually the best renegade Time lord we've ever had. And I include this, perhaps my favourite Master, in the line up.

Some people get hot under the collar about taking away the mystery. I don't think this is true. The Doctor was still a mystery after this. We just knew a bit more about why he ran away. There was character development here. And real jeopardy for the Doctor and something personal. Great, great stuff. Who cares if the title was a tautology? It was a great tautology and it sounded scary and serious and important. All of which the story was. So I think it works just great. In fact, if an assassin isn't deadly, he or she is pretty rubbish. So there, it's a great story. Quixotic fools!
@richarddinnick 

CITY OF DEATH
Tommy Donbavand (Shroud of Sorrow author)
City of Death has to be the ultimate outing for Tom Baker as The Fourth Doctor. With location filming in Paris, a fracture in time, the last of the Jagaroth race and the creation of all life on Earth - it has, literally, everything.

In this story, Tom is at his playful best - delivering the lines provided by Douglas Adams and Graham Williams with gusto. From flirting with fellow Gallifreyan, Romana II, to trading quips with the irrepressible Duggan - here is an actor who is finally comfortable enough in the role of the Doctor to leave the scientific gobbledegook for another day and just have a little fun.

That's not to say there aren't problems here. We never get to know who the character is that draws Romana quite so strangely, and there is the on-going wobble to Scaroth's mask and gloves - but these issues fail to detract from a stunning location, solid direction and joyful performances.

"I say, what a wonderful butler! He's so violent!" remains one of my all-time favourite lines from Doctor Who - and who better to deliver it than all teeth and curls? Truly brilliant television!

@tommydonbavand

THE HAND OF FEAR
Niel Bushnell (The Timesmith Chronicles author)
My earliest memory of Doctor Who goes back to the autumn of 1976 when I was six years old. The Hollywood glamour of Star Wars was still somewhere in the future but I was already showing early signs of an obsession. I was introspective, I played with LEGO and read comics. My condition was still in its dormant stage until one Saturday night, while eating a slice of banana cake, The Hand of Fear began and I became a highly contagious geek.

The climax of episode one is what sticks in my mind the most - the stone hand coming to life, wriggling like a finger-nailed spider, scaring me half to death. But it was the wild eyes of the Doctor that kept me coming back for more, week after week. Tom Baker really shines in this story. He's intelligent, playful, inquisitive, and very alien. Yet it's all reigned in here, bubbling just under the surface. He takes every moment seriously, from mishaps in a quarry to navigating a crisis at a nuclear power station. His intensity compels us to believe it all. He makes the story all the more terrifying. Even now his genius is evident.

Thank  you, Tom, for helping to make me the proud geek that I am today.
@NielBushnell

ROBOT
Hayden Black (The Dr Who Ultimate List Of Lists, Behind The Sofa)
It was a few days after Christmas, 1974 when the world realized there was an unopened present hidden under the tree. It opened the wrapping and out popped one of the best Christmas pressies ever.

Oh, Tom. The perfect man for the perfect role – and with the team of Hinchcliffe, Holmes, Sladen & Marter behind him, the world got a few perfect years. Never mind the budget (or lack thereof); just look at that first Doc-splosion, Robot. His personality dominated the screen along with his wide eyes, curls and teeth. Within seconds it was "Jon Pertwee-wee-wee, all the way home". Throwing himself in and out of Bessie, a stupidly long scarf blowing in the wind that became cooler than any Fez or bowtie could EVER be, Baker stamped his unique impression on the series faster than any other Doctor before or since. 

Robot brought us many memorable moments. The sequence where he keeps emerging from the TARDIS in different outfits; skipping rope with Harry; throwing a bucket of metal-eating goop onto the giant robot (okay, well, maybe not that sequence. After all, K1 wasn't the best-realized robot. I much preferred the eighth-next version, K9). But it brought with it a man born for the role.  

Tom Baker has become my most treasured Christmas present ever.

NIGHTMARE OF EDEN
Cameron K McEwan (The Who's Who of Doctor Who author)
In the world of Doctor Who this Tom Baker four~parter has rather a sour name; "laughable" is usually the word it arouses. But not for me.

When I was "getting" back into Who (around 1992), I was collecting all the stories I could - usually taped off UK Gold (using various friends who had such a remarkable thing as "satellite" TV) and purchasing the odd one here and there. Heading this journey was my quest to find a story which utterly horrified me as a youngster and one that stuck in my mind as scaring me to my very core.

There was a story that included a painting, or screen, that came to life. People would go into it and bad stuff would happen.... *shivers* And then whatever was in there, escaped... *double shivers*

Even worse, these things, these monsters, were disgustingly malevolent beings and THE MOST SCARIEST, MOST BONE~CHILLING THING EVER!

After a LOT of searching (before the internet, fact fans), I found it. Watching it again back in the early Nineties was an eye~opener. Although I could recognise the facets that had terrified me so, some fifteen years previous, the comedy of the performances and production was most overwhelming. I had truly put my demons to bed. And slept with them. Twice.

I'll never tire of Nightmare of Eden. It's of its time, for sure, but it always reminds me that I was once scared. Once terrified, even. A feat that no television programme or film, for that matter, has managed. Now, of course, I sit and watch it laughing uproariously wasted and blitzed out of my mind on Vraxoin.

LOGOPOLIS
Gavin Dunbar (Camera Obscura bass player)
Tom Baker was my first Doctor. He's probably still my favourite. I can't remember which series I first saw at the time, I remember watching Leela, and I'm sure I saw some with Sarah Jane (or I could just be getting mixed up with my much listened to LP of Genesis Of The Daleks that I played regularly, even though it scared me senseless and the explosions near the start were really loud).

It's really hard to pick a favourite, but I'm going to go with Logopolis. It was the first time I'd seen a regeneration, and we all knew it was coming. The Master had returned and we knew he'd escaped. The Fourth Doctor's time was up, and the funereal tone of the whole story is set out for all to see.

We get to see the more of the TARDIS, I loved to see more of the TARDIS, but it was proper TARDIS corridors and rooms, and not like in The Invasion of Time. The Cloister Room was a thing of beauty.

Tom is majestic, an amazing swan-song performance. A proper last chance to show us his Doctor chops. You can really believe Tom Baker was The Doctor, probably cause he believed he was. This was his last performance and he went for it. He has great lines like the TARDIS wheezing like a Grampus, and spouting the second law of thermodynamics. I still love the burgundy coat and scarf get up. Logopolis gave him the send off he deserved.

@kingofpartick

THE ROBOTS OF DEATH
Emrys Matthews (Blogtor Who contributor)
This is my favourite ever Doctor Who story largely because when I was young it scared the bejesus out of me and nostalgically still does. The placid murderous Robots are so scary and the claustrophobic, inescapable locale aboard the sand miner add to the tension. Tom is on particularly good form here.

Regardless of all of the above, he is calm and makes the viewer feel safe in the face of adversity. His wit and wisdom is at its height with the immortal retort, “You're a classic example of the adverse ratio between the size of the mouth and the size of the brain.” I love his relationship with one-off secret goodie robot D84; he treats the undercover agent droid like a human in only the way Tom Baker could.

Even though Tom and Louise Jameson apparently didn’t get on very well, you can’t tell and even after just one prior adventure their camaraderie is perfect. The Doctor saves the day in a typical Doctor way, even when up against a particularly terrifying genius madman, he wins the day with science.

Another favourite, even though it makes little sense, is when Tom shows up as “The Curator” in The Day of The Doctor, when I heard his voice I had shivers, a magical moment indeed.
@Emrys_Matthews
 
REVENGE OF THE CYBERMEN
Dave Prince (Blogtor Who contributor)
When I was asked to write a piece on my favourite Tom Baker story - The stories that sprang to mind first were Genesis Of The Daleks, The Hand of Fear and City of Death. However I then found myself coming back to one story that I always seem to watch and go to when I want some Tom action – I always watch Revenge of the Cybermen.

The return of the Cybermen was, for me, one of the highlights of The Fourth Doctor's era and still to this day the emotions I start to feel at the sight of the Cybermat attacking Sarah-Jane are those of complete dread.

This story for me has everything in it – Sarah Jane & Harry – tick, Amazing Double Entendre – tick (Just check out - "Take the Cybermen from behind.", "We're still heading for the biggest bang in history" and "Pull it harder, it's coming.") and some great edge of the seat cliffhangers. It was also the very first Doctor Who story to be released on home video back in 1983.

This was the perfect end to Tom's debut season and one I will truly cherish forever.
@daveprince37

CITY OF DEATH
Andrea McGuire (Blogtor Who contributor)
There’s simply nothing that compares to City of Death for bringing together everything that is great about The Fourth Doctor’s era.  Douglas Adams gives us a sparkling script that is fabulously played by everyone involved from the big chap himself to the wonderfully dour Tancredi’s guard, and every single line is a total delight in what is one of Doctor Who’s most quotable episodes.

The supporting cast in City of Death are especially memorable and the villains are so sartorially elegant, you’d be happy to join them just for the swish threads. Heck, even the henchmen sport dashing trilbies. But I digress.

Tom Chadbon’s clobbering, bashing detective Duggan is a great part, well played as is the tragic Countess and poor old Kerensky, who only wanted to feed the world.  The standout role, of course, is Julian Glover’s fractured Scaroth. Glover brings wit, elegance and 400,000 years of agony as the last survivor(s) of a pretty nasty race. Scaroth is a one-off characters you long to see again.

And, of course, I can’t finish without mentioning Tom Baker and Lalla Ward who were never better than they are here, romping through Paris to solve a centuries old crime and save the human race. The chemistry between them is so great, you can see why they merrily waved Duggan a swift goodbye and skipped off together past the Eiffel Tower.
@FixingMyDrawers

THE INVISIBLE ENEMY
Nick Fraser (Blogtor Who contributor)
Familiar twin strips of time tunnel stab their way across the television screen, expanding to envelop the TARDIS, travelling outwards topped by its peculiar dome-shaped blue light. Then the gradual reveal of the unsettling gaze of the curly-haired Fourth Doctor, staring straight ahead, no reassurance offered for what might be coming.

“Contact has been made”. Yes, it’s The One With The Giant Prawn.  I’m cheating really.  For my favourite Tom Baker adventure, I’ve chosen one that’s been stored away in my memory by the six year old me, and never been viewed since. Probably for the best, if only for the sake of that giant prawn.

The Invisible Enemy is worthy of attention though. Doctor Who voyaging properly, and perilously, into space. The Doctor infected by a deadly virus.  A race against time to find a cure. A futuristic space hospital. The virus’s growing band of sinister hosts. Clones of The Doctor and Leela sent on a tour around the inner spaces of the Time Lord’s mind. The swarm’s bubbling breeding tanks on Titan (I was suspicious of mushrooms for a long time after).

No wonder the opening titles offered no comfort. For the six year old me this was deadly serious.  The Doctor was under the control of an evil entity. Who was going to save him?

Cue sound of whining motors…”Affirmative…master”.
@NicklebyWhelks

THE SEEDS OF DOOM
Philip Rowntree (Blogtor Who contributor)
I remember my first Baker story. I was around at my cousins and I was introduced to The Seeds of Doom (also my first extended story... TWO VHS TAPES!!!).


I'd enjoyed other Doctor adventures, but as my mother had just obtained a greenhouse, I was genuinely terrified.  

There is something playful and unreliable about The Fourth Doctor. Baker has the power to switch from happy go lucky traveller ambling his way through the universe to a man in perilous danger. 

Dare we mention those eyes? Whether under the control of Sutekh, offering an unsuspecting enemy the timely distraction of a jelly baby or the heartbreaking moment he bade goodbye to Sarah Jane; those eyes told a story like no other Doctor.

Not enough to be all of the above, The Fourth Doctor has (in my opinion) the best costume... So much so, I may have asked my mother to provide me with my very own scarf!

So here's to The Fourth Doctor, Tom Baker!
@PhillipRowntree


CITY OF DEATH
Darren Chadwick-Hussein (The Bloody Mary Show writer)
Tom Baker’s Doctor grins too much. He grins in the sort of way that sets off alarms with Operation Yewtree investigators.

The reason I would say such a blasphemous comment? First, it was the Seventies. And they were all at it. And ,secondly, HE SCARED ME.

Not personally, of course. The stories did. They were tales of terror that these days would carry warnings in the Radio Times. Daleks, Cybermen – pffft. Tin cans and silver paint. They were nonsense. The most pant-wettingly terrifying moment? Scaroth unmasks in City of Death. Here was the reveal of a wholly new organic terror and to this day I still find myself explaining this in the offices of psychotherapists. Yes, I screamed. Yes. I peed myself. Nothing else has ever had the same effect.

Does it still fill me with terror? Not really. Not in the same way a weather station outside Burnley still does. But that’s because my parents told me it is where the Sontarans landed and were busy conducting experiments.

Is Baker adored because of his performance? Absolutely. But he heralded, in my eyes, the last of the truly terrifying antagonists. Baker was great and needed equally impressive villains – and he got them.

So yes, we all loved Tom Baker. And his incessant gurning. If he ground his teeth at the same time you’d think he’d be discovered crystal meth forty years before the gays did.

@ChadwickHussein

PLANET OF EVIL
Sami Kelsh (Blogtor Who contributor)
It took me a while to warm up to Tom Baker. In hindsight, it's hard to say exactly why: I suppose, in part, that as a perennial champion of the underdog, I was entirely prepared to feel more or less lukewarm about such a well-loved and well-remembered Doctor. That said, it was inevitable that good old Crazy Eyes Bob Dylan would eventually charm his way right into my heart, with his toothy grin always towing the line between precious and unsettling, and, of course, his evident fondness for quality knitting.

Artwork by Sami Kelsh
What really made me love him, though, weren't the jelly babies or the monsters or adventures, but those little character moments, the little instances of warmth and friendship between Doctor and companion, like that little scene in Planet Of Evil, and that little smile the Doctor shares with Sarah Jane before they make their escape. The Doctor's inherent playfulness is such an integral element of Baker's performance, and it's hard not to be charmed by his irreverence in the face of danger, but for me, it's those little moments of sincere affection and rapport that make his Doctor nothing short of magic, and a part of some of my favourite television friendships.
@samikelsh
_____
Special thanks to everyone who contributed to this piece - your time and thoughts are very much appreciated.

6 comments:

Paul Mount said...

Wot, no 'Seeds of Doom'?? Shurely shome mishtake???

Cameron McEwan said...

Paul, two entries were added late last night - one of which was The Seeds of Doom.

Oddly, nobody chose Talons or Pyramids!

WhoFan86 said...

What about the horror of fang rock?

DAVID WALSTON said...

CITY OF DEATH is one of my favorites!

Cameron McEwan said...

Just to point out, these were all the choices of each individual contributor.

Valery said...

I'm so glad I didn't have to chose one favorite. I could call half of Tom Baker's stories my favorite.
"Robot" of course: that scene with the Doctor and Harry, ending up with Sullivan in the locker made me love Tom's Doctor immediately.
"Genesis of the Daleks": at last we know were they come from! That story really marked me and my vision of the Daleks.
"The deadly assassin": Gallifrey! I mean 'Gallifrey'! A proper political intrigue, with Time Lords, and that line "I can feel my hair curling!"
"The hand of fear": for days after watching it I wanted to say "Eldrad must live" to everybody, and the scene with "a sort of un-explosion" makes me laugh just thinking about it.
"Logopolis": Teagan, the Cloister, the regeneration... And that music setting the mood so perfectly during all the story...
I really couldn't pick only one favorite.