Tuesday, June 4, 2013

The Order of Rassilon #3: Tom Baker, The Original Mad Man

COUNTESS: My dear, I don't think he's as stupid as he seems. 

SCARLIONI: My dear, nobody could be as stupid as he seems. 

-"City of Death"

Tom Baker had the most companions of any Doctor who wasn't played by a senile old fool.
For a lot of people, Doctor Who begins and ends with Tom Baker.  He holds the record for lonest running Doctor.  He was the first to have his episodes broadcast in America.  He had the greatest companions of the series, from Sarah Jane, to Leela, to both Romanas, and, of course, K-9.  He made the role more fun than any of his predecessors.  It would take 6 more regenerations before anyone even started talking about someone else as the best Doctor in the franchise.  There wasn't much reason to even take a poll as to who was the most popular Doctor.  His image has become so associated with the franchise that he's been parodied and referenced in The Simpsons, Family Guy, and even Paris Hilton in a Saturday Night Live sketch:

I'm not sure Tom Baker should be proud of this, though.
I had a really hard time writing this one up, because what hasn't already been said about him in 32 years?  You don't explain to someone why Tom Baker was great.  He just...was!  A man lucky enough to become the Doctor while working as a brick hauler (his role as an evil sorcerer in The Golden Voyage of Sinbad may have won him the role, but he still wasn't rich yet) quickly won over the public with his portrayal of the Doctor as a whimsical mad man.  From his first appearance in "Robot," you could see that he was a very different kind of Doctor.  It's an interesting episode because, he seems to have gone off of his rocker in the regeneration, turning into a raving lunatic, but he later turns out to be fully in control of the situation.  That was usually his M.O. for the whole show.  He was a seemingly flighty, crazy person bouncing around the room like a curious child, but Tom Baker's Fourth Doctor was always way more in control of the situation than he let on. He rarely panicked.  He rarely raised his voice.  He didn't need to.  He was playing an elaborate chess game that nobody else knew they were playing with him.  He was, to paraphrase the Eleventh Doctor, the original madman with a box.

This is what it would look like if the Crypt-Keeper was given Buster's hand from Arrested Development
Reports from the set suggest that Tom Baker was a really love-him-or-hate-him kind of guy.  There were those who he truly loved, like Elizabeth Sladen, to the point where the writers left Baker and Sladen to write their own farewell scene together.  He married Lalla Ward, the actress to play his final companion (not counting the ones he really just picked up for the Davison era), making them the first--and, to date, only--Doctor and companion to marry on the show.

Take one look at this woman and realize that this is why Tom Baker is luckier than you've ever been.
Lalla Ward's marriage to Baker, however, lasted only 16 months.  When asked once what her favorite Doctor Who monster was, she answered "Tom Baker."  Whether this was real animosity or just a joke is hard to tell, but if it was true, it would make sense alongside so many other people's complaints about Tom Baker.  Amongst those that Tom Baker did not like were Anthony Ainsley (The Master), Jonathan-Nathan Turner (executive producer from the end of the Tom Baker era through the end of the classic series), Matthew Waterhouse (Adric), and Janet Fielding (Tegan, who, admittedly, has been bitter towards the entire franchise since she left).  Thankfully, Baker got along very well with his co-stars (excluding his two final-days companions mentioned above) accounting for his exceptional chemistry with all of them, but he was known for yelling at the producers about how they wanted him to play the part, and yell at the cast members in ways that made him a sort of proto-Christian Bale.

Tom Baker was lucky in many ways, most notably for one season of the show he was lucky enough to have, at the head of the writer's table, the second best writer in the history of the franchise (after Moffat, of course) the late, great Douglas Adams.  While there, Douglas Adams wrote two and a half brilliant serials for the Fourth Doctor:  "The Pirate Planet," "City of Death," and "Shada."  The third was cut short because of a BBC strike and, for some reason, the BBC chose to punish the strikers by not letting them finish filming "Shada."  Two versions are now available, though.  One is a flash animation that swaps the Fourth Doctor out for the Eighth.  One uses the footage they did shoot from "Shada," and fills in the gaps with still photos as well as narration from a stoned/drunk Tom Baker in the 1990s.

I can see Daleks on the ceiling!

Some rumors also suggest that Adams secretly wrote "Destiny of the Daleks" and put Terry Nation's name on it as a courtesy to the creator of the Daleks (this is helped by the Hitchiker's Guide reference in the serial).  His third Hitchiker novel was actually a Doctor Who story he came up with but never got a chance to write, so he changed the characters.  If you've read the Hitchiker's novels (and if you haven't, stop reading this and start reading them), then you know that Adams is skilled at both humor and high-concept science fiction ideas.  His guidance made some of the best Doctor Who writing of the classic series.  The episodes Adams wrote himself are, without questions, the best of the classic series, and it's because of the dual talents of Tom Baker and Douglas Adams.

While Tom Baker played the role longer than anyone, he has been more reluctant to make return appearances than anyone else, with the notable exception of Eccleston.  He pulled out of "The Five Doctors" at the last minute, forcing them to use archival footage to replace him.  He refused to take part in any of the Doctor Who audios until 2009, even forcing them to have another actor impersonate him in one of the audio adventures in 2006 because of Tom Baker's refusals to return.  It's easy to understand why he would want to break out of the typecasting of his role.  I certainly get tired of being "The Guy Who Wrote the Hitchcock Poem."  But when you play one of the greatest science-fiction icons of all time for seven years, sooner or later, you have to realize that this is a great thing that you don't need to run from.  He's 79, and hopefully he's realizing that there's no point in spurning his Doctor Who legacy.  Now, if we could just get one guest appearance by him in the new series, many Whovians would be able to die happy.

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