Who Marathon: Tom Baker
Well, on 9 Jan 2023, I reached another milestone in my Doctor Who Marathon. I completed the Fourth Doctor’s run with episode 4 of “Logopolis”. In some ways getting through all the Tom Baker episodes themselves felt like a marathon. There were just so many of them. Most of Tom’s era talks about what he had “most of”. Tom Baker / Fourth Doctor had the most of:
- Most episodes – 172 (178 if you count Shada)
- Most stories – 41 (42 if you count Shada)
- Most seasons – 7
- Most calendar years – 8 (1974-1981, unless you count McCoy when the show was canceled after 89, which I do not)
- Second most companions – 9 (I’m not counting K9 twice – Hartnell had 10)
- Most attention in the classic era
That last one is more a goof, but it does lead into the point that I made during my run of his episodes. When most casual/non fans of Doctor Who talk about classic Doctor Who, they invariably talk about “the guy with the scarf”. To many non fans and fans he WAS Doctor Who. It was for that exact reason that I mostly avoided his era. I resented the fact that to many people there was no Doctor Who without Tom Baker. I said much the same thing in the modern show when people said the same thing about David Tennant. My response to them was “He couldn’t have been the 10th Doctor without 9 before him”. Same with Tom. Saying he WAS Doctor Who ignores all the others before him (and after him).
Having said all that, he did a ton to popularize the show, as his era did produce a ton of classic stories. Partially because there were simply so many to choose from, or mostly because a lot of them were just damn good. When I went into Tom’s era, I knew there was a lot. There were also a healthy amount of stories that I had no memory of. Mostly in his second to fourth years. That’s not to say I didn’t know any – I knew several, but the bulk of them were ones where I’ve only seen once in the past and/or forgot what the plots where, so they were mostly new to me again in this run through. That allowed me to rediscover a few that I really liked that I thought I didn’t or forgot. A few of those were The Sun Makers, Robot, Nightmare of Eden, & State of Decay). Likewise a few that I thought were atrocious remained atrocious (Creature from the Pit & Horns of Nimon come to mind).
What I had forgotten about was how much he smiled in his role – especially early on. That lessened as his time in the role went on, but for a lot of his early years, there was a ton of smiling in Tom’s episodes. It was ALMOST like mugging for the camera, except he wasn’t looking into the camera. Although some times he did. Most notably in the story Shada. That’s the one that started production, got stopped due to a strike, and then never finished. Many years later (in 2017), it was “finished” with animation for the missing bits. There was a tag at the end of the episode that was scripted but not filmed in 1980 originally. For that bit they got Tom Baker to agree to suit up as the Doctor, and they filmed a short scene put on that version (and the final 2022 Blu-Ray edition) with Tom being the Fourth Doctor again. Now he’s decades older, but you just ignore that, and take joy in the fact he did that again. At the end of the episode he had the biggest smile and stared down the camera. I loved that.
If there’s anything I can take from Tom’s portrayal it’s the joy of the Doctor exploring the universe. Blasé at parts, mad when he had to be, but his Doctor took a joy from most of what he did, and having just watched 175-ish episodes of his, that comes through. I’m not sure if that ever clicked with me before. In fact one of my favorite moments of his in any episode was from The Pirate Planet when he was so upset he burst a blood vessel (not literally) screaming “WHAT’S IT FOR?!” – one of my favorite Tom moments.
Of course what’s Doctor Who without companions, so as I’ve done in the other sections, here’s a few words about the companions Tom’s Fourth Doctor traveled with…
- Sarah Jane Smith (Elizabeth Sladen) – Carrying over from the Pertwee era, Sarah Jane Smith became the quintessential Doctor Who companion. She started in Jon Pertwee’s final season (the show’s 11th), and lasted through middle of Tom’s third (the show’s 14th). She was cute, she was acted well, and is well remembered by many. After Liz left the series, she probably came back in more (and bigger) ways any any companion who returned. She first returned in the failed spinoff pilot K9 & Company. She returned again in the 20th anniversary special in 1983, “The Five Doctors”. She then returned again many years later in 2006 during the David Tennant story “School Reunion” (with K-9). From there she spun off for good in “The Sarah Jane Adventures” (where she met David Tennant’s doctor again as well as Matt Smith’s). Liz played Sarah Jane on that show for five seasons and 53 episodes, the last season cut short by her death in 2011. She was the best companion the show has probably produced. She also looked smoking hot in the camo pants she wore for a time there. Missed those.
- Harry Sullivan (Ian Marter) – Harry was a UNIT Doctor first put in charge of the Doctor’s health by the Brigadier. In real life, Ian Marter was cast much in the same reason that Ian Chesterton & Steven Taylor existed. They were there to be the “young, action types” for an older Doctor. It was originally thought that the Fourth Doctor was going to be an older chap, hence Harry’s existence. Then they changed to Tom, and Harry’s presence wasn’t really needed. He did travel with The Doctor & Sarah during the first series. However, after the first story of the second series, Harry stayed behind, and made a cameo appearance in The Android Invasion later that series, and then he was done. Ian himself went on to write a few novels for Doctor Who before his death in 1986 at the age of 42.
- Leela (Louise Jamison) – Leela had the same problem that Peter Davison’s Fifth Doctor had. They both followed what was the most popular one, so they were going to run into resistance. This apparently extended to the relationship with Tom & Louise behind the scenes too (something they’ve both said got patched up later). I always felt the producer’s idea to counteract the most popular companion would be to do something that would get people’s attention, which was to have the new companion not wear a lot of clothes. A comment made at the time was “have something for the dads”, and well, yeah – Louise showed a lot of skin. Her character oddly remained consistent through till the end, but Leela was a mostly simple character. Not stupid as such, just not one with a ton of emotional depth. She did however have one of the WORST companion departures of all time – she just out of the blue announced she was staying on Gallifrey with a Cmdr Andred to marry him. It was really odd, as there was no build up, no nothing, just “I’m staying Doctor”. Course, this viewer being a red blooded American male enjoyed the outfits she wore (or didn’t as the case may be). I met her at a few conventions in the 80’s, and she was always a fun guest to listen speak about her time on the show. On screen, she only returned once more for the much derided 1993 special “Dimensions in Time” where she interacted a bit with Sylvester McCoy’s Seventh Doctor.
- K9 (John Leeson & David Brierly) – K9 was a robot dog that I always imagined was something thrown in totally for the kids. He was a super smart computer who could roam around and be a portable weapon. As a physical object, K9 wasn’t the easiest thing to deal with apparently, as the real world prop couldn’t handle odd surfaces very well. It was the same exact problem the physical Dalek props had. Needed super flat studio floors to work much of anywhere. K9 was fun – I liked him, but towards the end of his time, it was obvious they didn’t know what to do with him. In Tom’s final season, K9 took a lot of physical abuse because then producer John Nathan-Turner said that he just didn’t care for the character, so he was blown up, had his head knocked off – that kind of thing. Canonically, the original K9 stayed on Gallifrey with Leela, and the Doctor immediately had a K9 Mk II. That version of K9 stayed in E-Space with Romana (see next entry). In the failed spinoff K9 & Company, the Doctor gave Sarah Jane a K9 Mk III – this variant showed up in The Five Doctors as well as the Tenth Doctor story “School Reunion” where he was blown up. At the end of that story, the Tenth Doctor gave Sarah Jane a K9 Mk IV – this version stayed with her throughout the “Sarah Jane Adventures” serial (K9’s most recent appearance). There was also a separate “K9” TV Series which was outside of the Doctor Who canon and legally had nothing to do with Doctor Who – that model has nothing to do with the K9’s I-IV that existed in Doctor Who.
- Romanadvoratrelundar (Mary Tamm & Lalla Ward) – more popularly known as Romana was a Time Lady who traveled with the Doctor through the whole of Seasons 16, 17, & most of 18. During Season 16, she was played by Mary Tamm, and then in the first story of Season 17, she regenerated into Lalla Ward. I’ve always preferred Romana II to the original version, but having just watched all of Romana I’s stories, my memory did her a great injustice. Mary Tamm’s version was far better than I recalled. She had a very snooty feeling towards the start, believing she was better than the Doctor in most things. She wasn’t afraid to call him out on his bs, which I thought was a fun angle. She mellowed towards the end of course, but I enjoyed her stories here far more than I ever remembered in the past. Having said that I still preferred Romana II – part of me wants to be shallow and say it was a “physical attraction” issue, but I think it was more that her version gelled with Tom Baker’s Doctor more than Mary’s did. That must have been something as Tom & Lalla were a thing in real life at the time and they ended up getting married shortly after she left the series. Romana de-evolved towards the end of her time as the “screaming girl to be saved” and some of her qualities that made her a supposed equal to the Doctor disappeared. But she was still all kinds of fun to be around, and I was bummed when she left (taking K-9 with her from the series at the same time). Romana I was more regal I thought than II was – that even extended to her clothing I thought. Now Romana II had some great outfits (I especially loved the pink clone of The Doctor’s outfit), but the first Romana’s felt more Time Lord-ish if that makes any sense. After leaving the series, Romana I never returned in any capacity, and Romana II returned first in The Five Doctors (via unused at that time footage from Shada), and then again in the 1993 (non-canon) special “Dimensions in Time”. Lalla Ward did also contribute to the Paul McGann webcast animation version of Shada in 2003.
- Adric (Matthew Waterhouse) – Introduced in Tom’s last season, Adric is probably the most disliked companion in the show’s history. Now I think a lot of that had to do with Matthew himself, as he wasn’t the best actor the show had. However, I personally never really had an issue with Adric – especially when he was paired with Tom Baker’s fourth Doctor. I really wish we got more Adric with Tom’s Doctor. Once Peter Davison came in, I thought Adric didn’t work nearly as well, and he got the chop when they realized that a Tardis crew of four was a bit too many. In real life, he was contracted for one more story after his character’s death (one of the rare ones to be killed), so there was a cameo on screen (via an illusion) for Matthew. After that, the character never canonically appeared again, although he did make an appearance via a specially filmed insert in the last moments of the Fifth Doctor before he regenerated. In fact, The Fifth Doctor’s last word was “Adric”.
- Nyssa (Sarah Sutton) – Introduced in Tom Baker’s penultimate story, and becoming an actual companion in his last, Nyssa was mostly a function of the Fifth Doctor. As such, I’m going to hold of commenting on her until such time as I wrap up the Fifth Doctor’s era.
- Tegan Jovanka (Janet Fielding) – Tegan came in during the Fourth Doctor’s final story, and as such has even less of a connection to Tom Baker’s era than Nyssa did. Same thing, I’ll talk about her during the Fifth Doctor’s wrap-up.
It’s not a surprise I guess with 178 episodes Tom Baker would have a lot of companions during his time in Doctor Who, but when I think back on his era, I think of Sarah Jane, Leela, Romana & K9. I mean I know there’s more – I just listed them, but it doesn’t feel like he has 9 companions (if you count the two Romana’s separately). But he does.
Is there an essential Fourth Doctor story? I suspect if you ask that question of fans, they’ll probably say something like Pyramids of Mars or City of Death. Both excellent, but the story that I consider canonically most important is probably “The Deadly Assassin” – the lone story where the Doctor has no companion. It’s set on Gallifrey, creates and/or expands on several Time Lord facts – and was the place where the 12 regeneration limit was established. Tom’s got a lot of great stories – a lot of them. But Deadly to me is the only truly essential one (although the fight in the Matrix does go on a bit). To me, excellent story doesn’t automatically equate to “essential”. For me that means something that furthers the back story or the core understanding of the program itself. That’s Deadly Assassin.
I met Tom at a few conventions back in the 80’s. I don’t recall a ton about it other than he was there and told stories. It’s coming on four decades and I can barely remember what was said. We should consider ourselves lucky that these guys remember anything for the Blu-Ray documentaries, cuz I probably wouldn’t 4 and 5 decades later.
Tom was quite militant about not wanting to come back to Doctor Who after he left. He was supposed to come back for the 20th Anniversary Special, “the Five Doctors”, but he didn’t at the last minute. They still included him via use of some footage from the then unaired Shada, so at least there was some “New 4” in there. After that… wasn’t until 1993 in the “Dimensions in Time” special that he returned to Doctor Who. However, the canonicity of Dimensions is up for debate. Most consider it non canon. But it was his first return to the screen. It then took until 2013 for him to return again, this time as “The Curator” in the 50th Anniversary special, “The Day of the Doctor” with Matt Smith. He has since done a lot of Big Finish audios as well. His Doctor has been in various sequences over the years of flashbacks to prior eras of Doctor Who. The one that was “Mostly 4” was in the 2015 Peter Capaldi story “The Magician’s Apprentice” where Davros projects footage of Tom’s doctor from Genesis of the Daleks for the purpose of manipulating Peter Capaldi’s Doctor. I thought it was a brilliant use of old footage, vs just throwing it up on screen (which can be fun too).
As I write this on 9 Jan 2023, Tom Baker is still with us. He’s now the elder statesman of Doctor Who. In a week or so from this post, he’ll turn 89. He’s lasted longer than any of his predecessors as well as they died far earlier (Hartnell at 67, Troughton also at 67, and Pertwee at 76). He’s still pretty active in terms of doing talks and Doctor Who audio work. But he isn’t 25 anymore either. Hopefully we still have Tom for awhile yet, and the light stays on, too.
As I come to the end of this post, I know Tom’s time is one loved by most. I’ve mostly ignored it in the past as I’ve said, but I thoroughly enjoyed it on this recent rewatch. Of course there’s a few klunkers – there always are. But I enjoyed way WAY more than I did not, and there was some outstanding TV made along the way.
Thanks Tom Baker for quite a large pile of fun I’ve enjoyed over time. You were the definite article, I might say!