Doctor Who: The Baker Conundrum

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Tom Pheby attends the strangest gatherings...


I'm going to set the scene. A few friends, a few more acquaintances, a few drinks, bowls of nibbles, and a film that no one's really interested in. Then the conversation turns to Doctor Who.

A good half an hour passes. And then,
"Tom Baker was very overrated"
There was an awkward silence, we looked at each other, then at the perpetrator.
"We'll he was, the eyes, the hat and the scarf thing....."
More awkward silence. One person heads off to the toilet in a huff, another stares at the ceiling.
"Does anyone agree with me?"
Even more awkward silence.
"Peter Davison was better."
What? That was the last straw! Baker now had to be defended, at first the comments were simply misguided and probably influenced by alcohol or sitting too close to a scented candle. But it couldn't go unanswered, not now Davison was in the room - not literally but figuratively speaking.

Before I had the chance to speak it was pointed out that Davison wore a cricket jumper with a stick of celery! Someone on my right said they thought it was a leak. Either way it was bloody ridiculous.
"What and the hat and the scarf weren't?"
We all wanted him to leave immediately. He had bought shame on the house and all those present. All of us no longer liked his toggle jacket, but unabashed, the ignorant man stood firm.
"Baker couldn't act, let's be honest, worst Doctor ever."
At this point a few people had to be restrained. The tension in the room was unbearable. One timid guest turned and faced the corner, shaking his head whilst trying to guess the length of a breadstick.

The case for the defence began.
"Baker was a legend, with the best stories."
"They were classics, he was Doctor Who!"
"Seven years. SEVEN YEARS"
"No one has made more episodes of Who."
The wretch looked unimpressed, eating a handful of nuts with his obnoxious mouth. His crunching just annoyed the room more.
"We'll, they never got the chance did they. Fat Baker got sacked and Malloy got the elbow"
Malloy?
"McCoy!"
Came the stern corrective tone of a school teacher.
"Yep, him, and now everyone's worried about type casting so they don't want to do loads."
It was horrible, the evening had been significantly tainted. I did what anyone would do. I finished my beer, ate a small sausage roll, picked up another one for later and then walked out in disgust.

On the way home I replayed the conversation over in my head and it led me to think about Tom Baker. He  was my favourite Doctor, still is and it's interesting trying to establish why. They say everyone has a favourite and that it's usually the one that you grew up watching. Whether that's true or not, I don't know. Troughton was my first, and he was excellent, probably ranks as my second favourite of all time but even the brilliance of this quirky little genius didn't have a lasting hold. So what was it about Tom Baker that made such a lasting impression? Why is he my Doctor?


I know it wasn't the hat, the scarf or the jelly babies, although they are all great eccentricities and add to his charm. The stories during the reign of Hinchcliffe and Holmes obviously made a massive contribution, they gave Baker something to get those substantial teeth into. Then there was the voice, very authoritative, incredibly measured and dramatic. If there was an award for best sounding Doctor, Baker would still be winning it now.

I considered that perhaps it was just a combination of factors that I've already mentioned, but then I realised I was overlooking the most obvious element, the one ingredient that has made him so iconic in the role - Baker himself.


Tom Baker plunged head first into the part with charisma, charm and personality. He never seemed as if he was actin , it was as if Tom Baker was speaking as Doctor Who. It didn't feel as if he was making any conscious effort and the camera couldn't get enough of him. Which is something even he acknowledges.
"The difference between Matt Smith and me is that he’s an actor and I’m… well, I’m just Tom Baker. When I realised they liked Tom Baker, that’s what they got. It was entirely me. Tom Baker in space. Shovelfuls of Tom Baker."
When it was suggested that he was guilty of overacting, tongue in cheek Baker replied...
"I enjoy overacting and I'm very good at it. I suppose you could say I've made a career out of it."
On many occasions the lines blurred, it was as if the viewer was unable to tell where the character of the Doctor started and Tom Baker ended, and as his era developed the scripts employed large helpings of the actors personality adding to the conundrum.

Away from the Tardis Baker entertained in exactly the same way. Self deprecating and honest, able to add some perspective on acting unlike many of those performing around the same time. He was a considerable star of the small screen but always came across as ordinary man that stumbled upon acting, and one who never took himself or his profession very seriously but was extremely grateful of the opportunities that came his way.


Tom Baker with Mavis Nicholson - Afternoon plus.

Behind this smokescreen was an immensely ambitious man who wanted stardom, found it and used it in a respectful way. A man that was mindful of his audience and did everything to maintain the legacy he was creating.
He smoked, but would never been seen with a cigarette. He was a frequent visitor to pubs and clubs in Soho, but managed to avoid the medias attentions. He loved women, but wasn't subjected to awful kiss and tell yarns in the tabloid press every weekend. Baker kept a low profile to protect the image of Doctor Who, his livelihood and the fans he adored. He made time for them everywhere he went and ignored the strenuous demands that went with the job. He was gracious and level headed, which probably comes from the fact that before his big break he was grafting hard, draped in a thick coat and knee deep in mud on a building site.


There are some stories, although few and far between, of unreasonable behaviour towards the end of his tenure. Stories that he was dissatisfied with elements of the show which noted fractious arguments with John Nathan-Turner, but by today's standards these were trifling and unlike the tantrums of modern day actors. On this subject he said,
"I began to realize that I was not much fun to work with from the point of view of the producer because I got very, very opinionated. I thought that I knew what worked. It meant that I was quite difficult to deal with. And so when I offered my resignation I was quite astounded at how swiftly it was accepted."
I have no problem with the fact that he was probably a handful for those around him in those later years. Many of us may have found ourselves in similar situations, having done a job for so long only to have a new team arrive and try and tell you a new way to do it. It can be frustrating, especially when the 'old way' was so magnificent.

The arguments will continue to rage as to how good he was and whether he was the best Doctor or not, but, for me, as Doctor Who Baker clearly excelled. He fashioned a brilliant and spellbinding Doctor, one that is as mesmerising to watch today as he was 40 years ago.


Tom Baker looks back fondly on his time in the Tardis and still loves the show, admitting that everything he did after he left Doctor Who was an anticlimax in his career (apart from his hilarious contribution to Matt Lucas and David Walliams Little Britain).
"It was the happiest time of my whole life.
They give me the credit for making Saturday more fun than it really was, in between the football, Basil Brush and Bruce Forsyth. I was right up there with all those legends and I'm grateful."
Basil Brush and Bruce Forsyth should be the ones grateful, as they were there with the legend that is Tom Baker.

Script Writer, Poet, Blogger and junk television specialist. Half English, half Irish and half Alsatian, Tom is well known for insisting on being called Demetri for reasons best known to himself. A former film abuser and telly addict who shamefully skulks around his home town of Canterbury after dark dressed as Julie Andrews. Follow Tom on Twitter

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