Wednesday, June 9, 2010


Sorry I let this thread drop, y'all--things got busy. Plus, when consider that the subject of this entry in the Doctor Who epic is the longest-tenured Doctor, pretty much the most memorable (OK, David Tennant comes close, but when the Doctor shows up on The Simspons, f'rsintance, he always looks like Baker) and pretty much everything that can be said has been said about him, so . . .yeah. Made it hard to build an essay around it.

So, let us consider the case of Tom Baker, the Fourth Doctor. Tom Baker, like Brian Blessed, is a favourite actor of mine, and for much the same reason, actually--they both seem like right madmen that the directors may or may not have told them they're acting, and as such they don't so much act in movies, as they are let loose upon them like an invading horde of barbarians. Or Hottentots.

Tom Baker came to the role after playing Rasputin (played as Tom Baker being leery and drunk and not really all that Russian) and a wizard in a Sinbad film (wherein he portrayed it as Tom Baker in a turban) Baker's great moves include: bugging out his eyes, grinning manically, and being generally unpredictable--manic one minute, gravely serious the next.

And so, as the Third Doctor was on his way out, the Fourth Doctor came on the scene, armed with manic energy and a big long scarf. This would dispose one to think that his stories would be wacky, adventurous romps, full of great humour and absurdity, and while they ultimately would become that, at first . . .no.

The Tom Baker years divide up into two eras. The first half era is characterised mostly by gothic horror stories and a generally dark tone. And while Baker would occasionally take the piss out of the threat du jour, he could also flip and confront the threat with the appropriate amount of gravitas (which, considering Doctor Who's rather penurious special effects budget often needed all the help it could get) and really sell that the Fate Of The Universe balanced on the resolution of the conflict with the monster of the week.

This era reaches its apogee in "The Deadly Assassin," wherein the Doctor, flying solo for once, goes to Gallifrey, deals with more Time Lord stuff (as this period in the show's history will graphically illustrate, there are two Time Lord stories, and only two--either they're meddling busybodies trying to get the Doctor to do their dirty work or they're totally corrupt and planning some hellish scheme) the Master returns as a rotting corpse (considering how the original ended up, I'm not sure that's all that good an idea in retrospect) and a very grim story wherein the Doctor is nearly murdered several times.

And I should add that this kind of stuff came on in the afternoon, right after Mister Rogers' Neighborhood, which may or may not have warped my 7-year-old brain in some unforeseen direction and sown the seeds for me to grow up and be some kind of sociopathic murderer, demagogue, or worst of all--comics blogger. Thank God none of those worst-case scenarios came to pass, eh?

Things gradually shift after this point--the Doctor picks up a new companion, Leela (not, not that one) who was the first girl I didn't find icky (I was seven, remember?) I doubt it was because of the fact she always ran around in a jungle-girl type outfit as much as when she killed a Sontaran from across the room by throwing a knife at it, which is bad ass. The initial dynamic of the Doctor playing Henry Higgins to her Eliza Doolittle (assuming Ms. Doolittle had spent most of My Fair Lady trying to kill the hell out of people, in which case I would have actually made it through the damn thing) helps to drive things along at this point in their era.

Oh, and he gets a robot dog named K9 who shoots lasers. Kids (yeah, me too) love the robot dog. Love him.

But another shift takes place, and the humour elements being to take precedence, and Leela gets sent away to Gallifrey (geez, what did she do to deserve that?) and the Doctor takes up with Romana. This is a rather big deal, as Romana is a Time Lady herself, which puts her on slightly more equal footing with the Doctor than Companions usually get to be.

The show gets more humourous, not least of which because the dynamic between the Doctor and Romana gets to be much like that of a happily married couple (possibly because they were in real life) breezily hopping from place to place in the TARDIS and having all sorts of adventures that when you get right down to it weren't really treated as that much of a threat, but it's cool, as Douglas Adams--yes, that one--was penning a couple of these and when you combine his wit with the amount of goodwill Baker had built up keeps things from degenerating too much into camp.

By the time his last season rolled around, Tom Baker was rounding his seventh year as the Doctor, and change was in the air. For his final season, the look of the show changed dramatically, Romana and K9 get written out of the show, the Master returns as something other than a rotting corpse, and we get Adric (geez, what did we do to deserve that?) and a small army of other companions in preparation for changing times.

That change, of course, is that the Doctor is going to be replaced by hotshot Yorkshire vet Tristan Farnum.

No, that's not right. Be here next time when Peter Davison takes over as the Fifth Doctor, the show celebrates its 20th anniversary with an epic story that succeeds in being epic even though it features 3 1/2 Doctors and a bloke in a wig, and the wheels begin to come off the wagon a bit as the show takes a darker turn. Join us, won't you?


C. Elam said...

Tom Baker is a force of nature, as I think that SHADA video amply demonstrated. He made standing in front of a camera telling a story seem like the height of drama!

I always liked that WHO could change gears from things that were deeply frightening to a young kid to the out and out ridiculous. There are many times even today when I find it slightly surreal it was still "just a kid's show." I know it wasn't high-budgeted, but stuff like "Ark in Space" creeped me the hell out when I saw it.

Ha, my captcha is "comismor". Or should that be "Der Comismor"?

Kazekage said...

I still have that tape, and I must say, I'm not wholly certain that Tom really knew there was a camera on him. Can't tell you how many times my friends and I quoted that line in college.

"Ark In Space"--making green bubble wrap scary since 1975. One of the things I like about current Who is that they keep that balance between "scary" and "fun."

Alles klar, herr comisor?